Krakow vs Warsaw – will this battle over the event capital of Poland ever end?

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Warsaw or Krakow? Which location is better for your next event?

Warsaw and Krakow have been competing against each other on many fronts for centuries.  If someone asked me to recommend one or the other I would probably answer…hmm, I guess it depends. Not the answer you expected? Sorry to disappoint, but even for someone who is Polish born and bread it is not such an obvious choice.

I would struggle to identify which of these two well-known Polish cities is more famous?

Warsaw has an obvious advantage of being the country capital.  International flights are more frequent and business thrives, as it likes to be centered around  the decision makers and law creators. Whenever there is a mention of Poland in the British media (sadly not often enough) we get to see images of the Polish Parliament, Presidential Palace or Government Headquarters – all of which are based in Warsaw.

While Warsaw has an obvious advantage of being a capital city Krakow is the most recognisable Polish brand in the world 

Krakow is the most internationally recognized Polish brand name and is sometimes called the “Athens of the North”, “Slavic Rome” or “Polish Jerusalem”. Its history and charm gives it additional benefits. Krakow can lay claim to the largest and most perfectly preserved medieval square in Europe and also the location of Wawel, the original residence of Polish Kings.

But which of these two cities would be better for your event?

Lately Krakow has realized that you cannot win with just historic buildings and charming cafés. They are trying to increase their footprint in the exhibition and conference market by building two impressive exhibition halls, set to welcome new events from 2014.  They missed out on Euro2012 (by not being one of the host cities) but Krakow still managed to steal a lot of media attention as a training camp for the English, Dutch and Italian football teams.

Although Krakow did not receive the same level of funding as the host cities, they are catching up with the (almost) completed build of the new main train station (the only such station in Poland to be located beneath the train tracks). Construction work has already begun on the new airport, which should be completed in 2015. The new terminal will have the capacity to service up to eight million passengers a year. To support these major infrastructure builds, the city is increasing the already impressive hotel base (over 120 to choose from), by building a new four-star hotel (the Hilton Garden Inn) that will be built as part of the airport expansion.

Since we have started talking about numbers, it might be useful at this point to make a comparison of Krakow’s and Warsaw’s corporate events capabilities.

In Krakow there are around 170 buildings with conference facilities. Organizers of larger conferences and congresses should be more then satisfied with venues such as the Gromada Hotel and Conference Centre (total seating capacity of 4880, including a large conference room seating up to 2200 people), the Jagiellonian University’s Auditorium Maximum (seating 1200) and the multi-functional conference room at the Krakow University of Economics (seating 1500). Conferences can also be held in the auditoriums of the Krakow Opera House (about 800 seats) or Philharmonic Hall (about 700 seats) that can be specially adapted for this purpose. An additional advantage of medium-sized conferences and congresses held in Krakow is the possibility of organizing them in a stylish, historic setting, such as the Juliusz Słowacki Theatre, regarded as Krakow’s “exclusive salon” with 570 seats and an air conditioned auditorium.

Krakow is investing in new conference centers but Warsaw has been doing that for years and continues to do so

Warsaw can also impress with its numbers: 10 five-star hotels, 9 four-star hotels and over 23 three-stars hotels, providing more than 190,000 beds.  One of Warsaw’s two purpose build exhibitions centers, The MT Polska Centre, is capable of organizing events for between 300 and 10,000 people in its fully dividable 10,000m2 hall. There are 18 conference and exhibitions centres in the capital, including those modern locations such as the National Stadium, Golden Globe Conference Centre and The Warsaw International Expo Centre EXPO XXI. The latter organises 150 conferences and congresses yearly, on top of 60 business meetings and 50 fairs. In addition, there are almost 30 cultural and historical venues in Warsaw and 6 Academical Centres with a large amount of conference rooms to choose from.

Numbers can be boring but they clearly illustrate that Warsaw is more prepared for bigger events (such as exhibitions and shows) then Krakow. Krakow is trying to catch up (and some may say successfully so) but Warsaw is not resting on its laurels and continues to develop new event spaces. Venue choice, although very important, does not guarantee the success of the entire event. Both of these major Polish cities have a lot to offer in terms of catering, entertainment and other professional services. 21 restaurants in Warsaw and 19 in Krakow earned a mention in the Michelin guide last year (2012), and the first Polish Michelin Star has recently been awarded to Warsaw’s Atelier Amaro Restaurant.

In the Warsaw vs Krakow debate the former is usually seen as vastly modern and pragmatic while the latter is often described as rich with monuments and romantic undertones.

So, how can you possibly choose between charming, cultural and (equally) progressive Krakow and business orientated, modern (but historically rich) Warsaw?

The answer? Both cities have a lot to offer in the events field and I would not cross any of them off until I checked all the options appropriate for my event.

And then…I would probably toss a coin.

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