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:
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!
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 Booking.com'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
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:
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.
Explore Małopolska Province: Underground Adventures and Natural Wonders
Venture outside Kraków to discover:
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 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:
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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