IMAGE: Getty Images

Kraków: Where Ancient History
Meets Green Conferencing

December 19, 2023

Many countries are hard to sum up in a few words, but Poland? Sheer impossibility. This vast country, with its tapestry of diverse influences and landscapes, has so much to offer. Spacious, elegant city squares and picturesque medieval towns and quaint villages. Fairytale castles and majestic grand palaces. An array of national parks showcasing spectacular lakes, dense forests and lofty mountains. Health and wellness resorts that promise ultimate relaxation and rejuvenation. Outstanding cultural and gastronomic experiences, vibrant nightlife spots, and a profound—and sometimes heartbreaking—history.


Poland defies simple description. This vast country, a tapestry of varied influences and landscapes, offers an abundance of riches. From its spacious, elegant urban squares to its quaint medieval towns and villages, the country is a visual feast. It boasts fairytale-like castles, majestic palaces, and an array of national parks showcasing stunning lakes, dense forests, and lofty mountains. The wellness resorts here promise ultimate relaxation, while the cultural and gastronomic delights, vibrant nightlife, and a profound, often poignant history enrich any visit.


Beyond its allure for leisure travellers, Poland is becoming a magnet for business tourism and events, thanks to its robust economy, burgeoning tech sector, and comprehensive MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, Exhibitions) facilities. Business visitors and event planners are drawn to its top-tier venues and sustainable event options, as well as the easy accessibility of Polish cities by air and more eco-friendly modes of transport.


We invite you to explore Małopolska Province, with a special focus on its vibrant capital, Kraków. Not just a historical city; Kraków is the crowning glory and the embodiment of Poland's commitment to sustainability.



IMAGE: Polish Tourism Organisation

Kraków: A Leading Light on the Path to Sustainability


Though Warsaw is the modern-day capital of Poland, it was Kraków that served as the nation's capital from 1038 until 1596—these days Kraków has also gained the distinction of being the first Polish city to join the GDS-Index. The Global Destinations Sustainability Index, familiar to our regular readers, rigorously evaluates worldwide destinations across four key areas: environmental performance, social initiatives, the role of local suppliers and facilities, and destination management strategies, including policies, certifications, practices, and research.


This aligns seamlessly with Kraków's Development Strategy 2030, which envisions a city enhanced by better air quality, energy-efficient buildings, improved green spaces, heightened ecological and climate awareness among its residents, and increased social engagement.


This was very much in keeping with the Kraków Development Strategy 2030, which envisages a liveable city enhanced by better air quality, energy-efficient buildings, improved green spaces, heightened ecological and climate awareness among its residents, and increased social engagement. To actualise these goals, the multi-faceted Zero Emission Kraków project unites various city initiatives aimed at achieving climate neutrality. Meanwhile, the Smart City Kraków project concentrates on leveraging smart technology. The city's recent launch of The Sustainable Mobility Plan for the Krakow Metropolis addresses the accessibility and sustainability of transportation and public spaces. In a pioneering move for Central and Eastern Europe, Kraków plans to introduce a Low Emission Zone (LEZ) in 2024, targeting a 50% reduction in NO2 levels by 2026 by restricting the most polluting vehicles from throughout most of the city.



IMAGE: Adobe Stock

For prominent cities and tourist destinations like Kraków, it is crucial that sustainable practices extend beyond local residents, businesses, and government to also include visitors, whether they're in the city for business or leisure. Since 2019, Kraków has been an active participant in the European URBACT Tourism-friendly Cities network, striving to balance cultural tourism with maintaining residents' quality of life. In March 2021, the Kraków City Council adopted 'A Sustainable Tourism Policy for Kraków in the Years 2021-2028', further cementing its commitment to sustainable tourism practices. The policy recommended measures for:


  • Educating visitors on the impact of tourism on the community and local economy, heritage and environment, and the need to respect the rights of the locals.

  • Creating a local partnership and maintaining relations with local communities, helping to reduce conflict between different stakeholder groups.

  • Protecting the residents, as well as social, cultural and natural resources of the city, from overly heavy tourist traffic and excessive growth of supply.

  • Better recognising the needs and experiences of visitors and providing feedback to local partners.

  • Strengthening the resilience of visited sites to the possible overgrowth of their tourism function.

  • Developing the role of technology and smart solutions in managing user experience and commercialisation.


The policy acknowledges that sustainable tourism is a shared responsibility—and emphasises the importance of solidifying Kraków's reputation as a historical city that cares for its unique heritage.


That commitment is vital here. Kraków is one of the country's oldest cities and the seat of former Polish kings. Nearly half of Poland's UNESCO World Heritage sites can be found in and around the city. Quite a responsibility!





IMAGE: Tomasz-Bartoszyńsk

The Practicalities: Travelling to Kraków and Booking Accommodation


John Paul II International Airport is just 15 km outside the city centre. It has ample trains, buses, taxis, and hire cars available to get you to the city centre, and direct flights to cities all over Europe, plus Chicago and Dubai. There's another airport available too: Katowice Airport, which is around 100 km away, although the transport links there aren't so good.


However, if you want to start your eco-friendly trip the right way, travel sustainably. If you own or intend to hire an electric car, this could mean coming by road; there's a good network of motorways connecting Poland's major towns and cities. But for most people, greener travel means using public transport.


Sindbad, Flixbus and RegioJet provide bus routes between Kraków and hundreds of European destinations, but it's quicker by rail. There are direct trains from Vienna, Budapest, Prague, and many other central European cities; direct overnight trains to Polish Silesia from Budapest and Vienna; and several cross-border routes to Germany, where fast TGV and ICE trains make the journey from western Europe smooth and speedy.


Eco-friendly accommodation is very easy to find here. There are several hotels belonging to the Hilton, Radisson and Sheraton groups that have achieved's Travel Sustainable Level 3+ certification—its highest level. If you prefer a hostel, Amber Hostel, Lorft Hostel&Coffee and 70s Hostel, all hold a Level 3 certification.





IMAGE: Polish Tourism Organisation

Explore Kraków


The city is very walkable, and there's a good network of trams and buses, so the city is easy to explore. For a great deal, purchase a KrakówCard: available as a 1-, 2- or 3-day pass, it gives you access to over 40 of the city's attractions and unlimited travel on Kraków's buses and trams.


The best way to see many of Kraków's historical highlights is to follow The Royal Route: the coronation path of the Polish kings when the city was the royal capital. It passes a plethora of churches, monasteries, mansions and museums. They include:


  • The 12th-century Floriańska Gate and Barbican, remnants of the city's medieval defences.

  • The Main Market Square, the largest medieval square in Europe, with its famous flower stalls and wonderful Renaissance buildings. In the centre stands the 13th-century Cloth Hall, restored after a 1555 fire. You'll find souvenir stalls on its ground floor and an art gallery above, featuring 19th-Century Polish Art (including Władysław Podkowiński's famous painting, 'Frenzy'). On the north side is beautiful St. Mary's Basilica. This gothic church is a 14th-century reconstruction of the 13th-century church destroyed by the Mongols. Stop off at one of the many cafés for refreshments and watch the horse-drawn carriages pass by. Before leaving the square, admire the 13th-century Town Hall Tower and consider exploring beneath the square, too. The Following Traces of Kraków's European Identity attraction is an underground interactive multimedia experience that takes you through 1,000 years of the city's history.

  • Wawel Hill, with its splendid castle displaying various architectural styles thanks to restoration through its millennia-long history, and 12th-centruy Wawel Cathedral, with Poland's largest bell. Carry on to its necropolis and the National Pantheon at the Church on the Rock where several famous Poles are buried, including Stanisław Wyspiański: an interior designer, playwright, painter and poet.





IMAGE: Adobe Stock

The more recent history of the city is inestimably sadder, but equally significant. The Jewish Heritage Route allows you to discover the Kazimierz district (the city's 'Jewish quarter' for over 500 years), Bohaterów Getta (Ghetto Heroes) Square, the ruins of the ghetto wall at 29 Lwowska St., and the exhibition at the Enamel Factory of Oscar Schindler, the humanitarian portrayed in 'Schindler's List'.


Where to shop:


LUZEM zero waste shop is a great place to buy healthy and organic snacks, natural cosmetics and cleaners, and anything that can be put in a reusable container.


KOKOworld uses environmentally-friendly fabrics, often recycled or upcycled, to make unique, multicultural, fair-trade fashion items.


Where to eat:


Kraków was the worthy holder of the European Capital of Gastronomic Culture title in 2019, and 18 of Kraków's restaurants are recommended by the Michelin Guide. One, Bottiglieria 1881, holds an impressive two Michelin Stars. The restaurant offers two tasting menus, but whichever you choose, your fine dining experience will feature creative, sophisticated dishes made from the very best Polish produce.


Vegetarians, vegans and those wanting more sustainable plant-based meals are well-catered for in Kraków. Nic Nowego is a zero-waste café with vegan and vegetarian options, and Raw Nest is a raw food eatery made from local products. Find vegan kebabs and fast food at Vegab, Polish and Italian dishes, and a full bar, at Veganic, and everything in between in restaurants around the city: vegan and vegetarian sushi, noodles, and Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes.




IMAGE: Piotr-Gołębniak

Explore Małopolska Province: Underground Adventures and Natural Wonders


Venture outside Kraków to discover:


  • The surreal subterranean UNESCO World Heritage Site, Wieliczka Salt Mine. This jaw-dropping mine extends for 287 kilometres and reaches depths of 327 metres. It features wonderful art, sculptures, and chapels carefully carved from the salt.

  • The sombre but highly significant UNESCO World Heritage Site, Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, reminds visitors of one of history's greatest tragedies.

  • Tatra National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve that crosses into Slovakia. There are paths suitable for walking or more strenuous hiking, and it has breathtakingly beautiful streams, forests, mountain peaks, and waterfalls. The Siklawica Waterfall is equally picturesque in winter, when it is often completely frozen. Wildlife lovers and birdwatchers should watch for lynxes, brown bears, golden eagles, and other wildlife.

  • Right on the border of Tatra National Park (and providing a great place from which to explore it) is Zakopane, known as 'the winter capital of Poland'. It's a fantastic place to enjoy all types of winter sports, including skiing, and it's magical at Christmas. However, its hiking trails, folklore, food, charming timber buildings and spectacular scenery can be enjoyed throughout the year.

  • The Dunajec River Gorge and its amazing limestone cliffs, best viewed from a raft if you're brave enough!

  • Ojcowski National Park, offering amazing caves, flora and fauna.

  • The picturesque painted village of Zalipie, known for the village tradition of painting… just about everything, from walls to wells!

  • The Wooden Churches of Southern Lesser Poland. UNESCO-listed, these novel churches are built in Gothic style, yet made of wood.




IMAGE: Adobe Stock

Responsible Business Events


While Poland, as we've seen, offers a wealth of cultural, historical, and natural attractions, it's most definitely not stuck in the past. Economically, it's thriving in comparison to many of its neighbours, set to match the UK's GDP per person by 2030. It's known for its thriving new technologies sector, and talent is both developing in, and flowing back, into the country. Poland has a particularly good record for its high proportion of female STEM graduates.


Major IT companies such as Google, Microsoft, Nvidia, and Dell Technologies have invested here, and in 2023, Intel, which has operated in Poland for 30 years, announced the largest foreign investment ever recorded in Poland: the USD 4.6 billion funding of a Semiconductor Integration and Testing Plant just outside Wroclaw.


This makes Poland particularly attractive for science and tech events, and every year, the Finals of the Intel Extreme Masters E-Sports League—the longest-running global pro-gaming tour in the world—are held in Katowice in southern Poland. The POWER OF 4 initiative has seen four venues in Poland—ICE Kraków, LCK in Lublin, ECS in Gdansk and Copernicus Science Centre in Warsaw—join forces to share knowledge and cooperate on events.


Kraków Means Business


Kraków is known as the Polish' Silicon Valley' and boasts 24 universities and academies, making it a melting pot for new ideas, tech and research. As the first Polish city to make it into the GDS Index, and with a convention bureau and business networks focused on sustainability, it's a great place to hold an eco-friendly and socially responsible meeting.


"In Kraków, we promote thinking about congresses through the concept of 'heritage'", explains Małgorzata Przygórska-Skowron, Head of Kraków Convention Bureau."We believe that they are not an episode in the life of our city but have a potential to impact local communities in positive ways."


The Kraków Network, an initiative of the Kraków Festival Office, brings together over 600 organisations involved in the MICE) sector to work towards increasing the number of academic and business events held in Kraków. The Kraków Network Protocol, created in 2021, covers good practice in inclusivity, environmental friendliness (reducing waste, energy use and single-use items) and event impact, stressing the importance of ensuring that events positively impact the city and vice-versa. The Network instigated a bank of legacy projects in 2021. The bank of legacy projects prepared by the Kraków Convention Bureau in co-operation with relevant departments of the Municipality of Krakow and municipal units, such as the Urban Greenery Administration in Krakow or the Municipal Social Welfare Centre in Krakow, collects ideas for CSR activities and projects addressed to specific groups of Krakow inhabitants.





IMAGE: Tomasz Bartoszyński

The ICE Kraków Congress Centre is one of the most influential members of the Kraków Network, and one of the brightest jewels in Poland's green venue crown. Located in the very centre of the city, it's Kraków's business and culture hub, and owned by the City. It was designed by Ingarden & Ewý Architects, and built to minimise energy and water use. The designers carefully considered the needs of the elderly, parents with strollers, and people with disabilities or reduced mobility, and the centre's spaces were built to exceptionally high standards of acoustics and illumination.


The Centre was completed in 2014 and has since won numerous awards, including the Accessibility Leader Award 2016 in the Public Utility Building category and the Congress category of the MP Power Awards 2017 for the 41st Session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.


The striking, glazed, three-storey foyer has stunning views over Wawel Castle and the Vistula River, and there are four event spaces:


  • The Auditorium (capacity 1915) is a multi-functional hall suited to conferences, concerts and congresses. It has a multi-segment stage with seven independently adjustable modules, allowing organisers a great deal of flexibility in space configuration.

  • The Theatre Hall (capacity 600) is a multi-functional rectangular hall with a box-type (or proscenium) stage, and a foldable lower-level stand means extra space can be used for exhibitions and banquets.

  • The Chamber Hall (capacity 300) is a flat-floored hall which can be divided in two to a with an acoustic wall. This, together with two independent director booths, means two separate events can be held at the same time.

  • The Conference Room Complex (capacity 400) is a bright, naturally-lit space that provides a conference space of approx. 500 m2, which can be divided into up to 10 smaller rooms via acoustic walls. The Complex includes rooms for organisers, restrooms and a hall with a buffet.


The Centre also offers Hybrid Studio S5, which provides everything required for professional production of any marketing and training materials, including 5 HD studio cameras, multimedia elements with LED panel technology, lighting and sound system, and a professional team.




IMAGE: Centrum Kongresowe ICE Kraków

The ICE Kraków Congress Centre has its own rigorous Sustainable Development Policy, which makes it clear that the "updated definition of sustainability" adopted by members of the Kraków Network "assumes that sustainability is caring for the environment, the immediate surroundings, social justice, openness and tolerance." As an important member, the Centre has organised presentations and lectures on zero waste MICE, green meetings and increasing event accessibility, in order to inspire others in the network and share good practices. The team at the Centre also urges those organising events in the Centre's hall to make green choices: electronic materials over printed, short distances between event locations and accommodation, and favouring local suppliers and hybrid events to reduce transport emissions.


The Centre practices what it preaches. Its caterers use reusable glassware, cutlery and crockery, or biodegradable dishes, and produce is sourced locally. Leftover food that is still fit for consumption is donated to the Food Bank. It hosts regular events where a range of activities, such as dance classes, are offered for free to local residents. Along Monte Cassino Street, a 'Congress Avenue' has developed, as trees selected for their ability to absorb pollutants are planted to mark important conferences.


ICE Krakow hosted the 61st ICCA (International Congress and Convention Association) Congress in 2023: the first in-person ICCA global event since the pandemic. Over 900 delegates, speakers, and ICCA staff from across the world gathered, and the ICCA used the congress to inspire them to think sustainably. ICCA led by example, carefully considering plastic use, transportation, food waste and operational collateral. ICCA is a founding partner of the Net Zero Carbon Events Roadmap, and sustainability is one of its four pillars.


As part of the Congress, the 36th tree was planted on 'Congress Avenue'. And a host of CSR (corporate social responsibility) projects were undertaken. ICCA members cleaned up the Liban Quarry area, and some delegates worked with Team Kraków for Ukraine to sort clothes. Others helped the Soup for Ukraine campaign, preparing 200 litres of soup, or made crafts and cards in a Polish handicraft workshop, for a local nursing home.

IMAGE: United Nations Women USA

'Rise and Raise Others' Awards


Demonstrating the burgeoning nationwide commitment to environmental and social responsibility, four inspiring Polish women earned nominations for the prestigious 'Rise and Raise Others Award', presented by United Nations Women in 2022. This award celebrates women who demonstrate a deep commitment to empowering others towards achieving the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Here's a glimpse into some of their remarkable achievements:


  • In the Climate Action category: Paula Fanderowska. Paula serves as the Vice-President of Kraków5020, the entity responsible for managing the ICE Kraków Congress Centre, and is the driving force behind the POWER of 4 initiative. Additionally, she holds the position of Chairman of the Board of the Polish Conference & Congress Association. In these capacities, Paula has pioneered numerous innovative approaches to developing more sustainable, hybrid events. She also leads the Kraków Network, an initiative committed to enhancing Kraków's reputation as a city that consciously and responsibly embraces sustainable development practices across numerous aspects of life, most notably within the tourism sector.

  • In the Good Health and Wellbeing category: Iga Świątek. Iga, at the young age of 22, holds the esteemed position of being ranked as world no.1 by the Women's Tennis Association. She is renowned not only for her athletic prowess but also for her philanthropic efforts, notably donating her prize winnings to various Polish non-profit organisations and charities in support of World Mental Health Day. She hopes to do more than provide financial assistance; she also strives to elevate awareness and understanding. Additionally, she has auctioned her victorious racquets to finance medical equipment for pediatric hospitals. Collaborating with others, she has also spearheaded a charity tennis event in Kraków to raise funds for children affected by the war in Ukraine.

  • In the Education category: Dr Agata Kołodziejczyk. Agata is a biologist, neurobiologist, astrobiologist and innovator, and co-founder of the Analog Astronaut Training Centre. She established and spearheaded the creation of analogue bases in Poland for space mission simulations , successfully orchestrating 26 lunar and Martian analogue expeditions and mentoring 85 analogue astronauts in the process. She has been honoured with numerous national and international awards across various scientific domains and holds the distinction of being the youngest Ambassador of Polish Congresses, a title awarded by the Polish Tourist Organization.

  • In the No Poverty category: Dominika Kulczyk, who went on to win the category.
    Dominika excels as an investor, entrepreneur, and is the co-founder of The Kulczyk Foundation. This family foundation works with both Polish and international partners to combat discrimination against women and girls, and provide sustainable humanitarian, educational and economical support. For her exceptional efforts in aiding children, Dominika received the esteemed Polish Order of the Smile (Order Uśmiechu). Her portfolio also includes the development of numerous documentaries and the production of impactful campaigns addressing critical issues faced by women and girls, including period poverty.



As we reflect on the exceptional achievements of these four Polish women, each a trailblazer in her own right, we are reminded of the profound impact individuals can have in shaping a more equitable and sustainable world. Their inspiring stories are a testament to the power of dedication and vision in driving a more equitable and sustainable world. In many ways, this mirrors Kraków’s own evolution from a historical hub to a beacon of sustainable development.






IMAGE: Polish Tourism Organisation

But Kraków's commitment to sustainability extends beyond environmental initiatives. It is a living example of how urban development and historical conservation can collaborate, creating a space that honours its past while embracing the future. Kraków’s initiatives in sustainability, its focus on social inclusivity, and its embrace of technological innovation are not just plans on paper; they are actions that resonate through its streets, in its people, and in the very fabric of the city.


As we look towards the future, Kraków stands as a beacon of hope and inspiration. It is a city that not only acknowledges its storied past but also embraces the challenges of the present, continuously striving to forge a path that others may follow. Whether you're drawn to its timeless charm, its culinary wonders, or its commitment to a greener future, Kraków offers an experience that is both enriching and transformative, a vivid illustration of Poland's vibrant heart and soul.






Bring your sustainable meeting or event to life in Kraków and other destinations in Poland with the Convention Bureau's expertise by visiting:


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