Jenny Southan discovers a range if unusual event venues in Krakow.
A mere two-hour flight from London, Krakow has not only become a popular destination for stag weekends (beer is, after all, about £2 a pint) but in recent years it has also developed as an attractive place to do business and host events.
Although it only has a population of 800,000, it sees close to eight million people visit annually. To cater for this demand, the number of five-star hotels has risen from one in 2004 – when the Sheraton opened – to ten.
The four-star 154-room Hilton Garden Inn is one of the newest properties in the city, having opened in January, and several more hotels are also due to be unveiled, including the four-star Gromada in October, and an airport hotel next year.
That Krakow prides itself on its unique cultural heritage means there are numerous historical venues available for hire, some of which are located on or near the cobbled Market Square (Rynek Glowny), which is lined with heaving restaurants and well-trodden by ornate horse-drawn carriages. Others are a little further out of town.
But being a forward-thinking and ambitious city, there are also contemporary options in unusual settings that will provide stimulating environments to host any meeting, reception or dinner. A space-age congress centre is also in the works, although the riverside site remains bare earth at the moment.
Juliusz Slowacki Theatre
This elegant baroque-style venue was opened at the end of the 19th century and is said to have been the first building in the city to have electric lighting. Although plays are still performed on a regular basis during the summer in its sumptuous show hall – complete with red velvet seating, painted ceilings and tiered balconies decorated with cream and gold stucco – the theatre can also be hired out for private events of up to 600 delegates.
Other options include the Foyer room, lavishly decorated with rich murals and heavy curtains, which is better suited to informal drinks receptions or banquets (it holds 60 diners) rather than large panel events. The broad corridors on each of the three floors can also be used for breakout sessions or buffets, and a grand staircase leading up from the ground-level entrance makes for a dramatic welcome, especially when the red carpet is laid out.
Plac Swietego Ducha 1; tel +48 124 244 527; slowacki.krakow.pl
The oldest eatery in Krakow, dating back to 1364, this grand establishment sits on the corner of Market Square, by Grodzka street. In the summer it is fronted by dozens of umbrellas, tables and chairs, upon which scores of visitors stop for a bite to eat in the sun. Step inside, though, and you will find interiors of palatial splendour – think ochre marble columns, wood panelling, gleaming silverware and flickering candles.
Legend has it that the restaurant was inspired by a great feast held here almost 650 years ago by Mikolai Wierzynek, a wealthy merchant, for the King of Poland. It’s said it was attended by numerous European monarchs and, since then, the venue has continued the tradition, playing host to world leaders such as George Bush senior and François Mitterand, as well as stars such as Steven Spielberg and Robert de Niro.
The four-floor building has nine dining rooms, some with great views of the square. Wierzynek’s is particularly good for gala dinners of 24 people, and has an impressive oil painting depicting the regal feast of 1364. Medieval weaponry hangs on the walls of the Knight’s room, which seats 50. The menu is mainly traditional Polish (think dumplings, soup in bread bowls and salted herring) but there is a good choice of other fish and meat dishes.
Rynek Glowny 15; tel +48 124 249 600; wierzynek.com.pl
Jan Noworolski Café
If it hadn’t been for Communism, this charming confectioners and café would by now have been run by the Noworolski family continuously for 100 years, but after the Second World War it was taken away by the Soviet authorities. It wasn’t until 1992 that they were finally able to reclaim it, and it has now been restored to its former glory.
Located on Market Square opposite St Mary’s church, there is outside seating beneath a covered arcade for 300 people. Inside has an art nouveau feel, with chairs upholstered in red and green velvet, white tablecloths, murals and mirrors. As well as specialising in liquid nitrogen vodka ice cream, and home-infused vodkas in flavours ranging from cherry to honey, the café can accommodate dinner or drinks parties. About 120 guests can be seated in total across the four ground-floor salons, and several sets of French doors open on to the terrace outside. Food is traditional and bookings are best made via email ([email protected]).
Rynek Glowny; tel +48 124 224 771; noworolski.com.pl
Jagiellonian University Museum
Enjoying a more peaceful Old Town location, a few minutes’ walk from Market Square, this college dates back to the 1400s and is built around a central courtyard. In the mid-1800s, the building was reconstructed in neo-Gothic style, and nowadays many of its rooms – all beautifully preserved – are designated to the museum.
Four spaces are available for private hire. On the second floor is the Bobrzynski boardroom for 70 delegates, while downstairs is the 57 sqm subterranean Kazimierz the Great room, with arched red-brick ceilings and capacity for 40 people seated.
The highlights, though, are the Stuba Communis room, which has a dark-wood baroque staircase and heavy tables in a horseshoe arrangement for 30 diners, and the Jagiellonian room, which features some 102 portraits of Polish kings and bishops. This seats about 100 people along three wooden stalls and is ideal for seminars.
Ul Jagiellonska 15; tel +48 126 631 307; maius.uj.edu.pl
Moored on the banks of the Vistula river, near the Jewish quarter of Kazimierz, this 19th-century Dutch barge was converted into a stylish restaurant and bar in 2009. It has a fresh, nautical look, with light wood floors, white drapes, blue canvas director’s chairs, stripy cushions, and starfish table decorations. The seasonal menu includes dishes such as baked cod with asparagus, salmon with lemon mousse and spinach, and lamb in thyme sauce.
As well as being open daily to the public for lunch and dinner, both the open-air deck (seating 50 people) and the two interior rooms can be hired for private functions. The bar area is best for informal gatherings of about 25 people seated, while the restaurant section can host 100 people theatre-style. Wifi internet is available, and a VIP lounge in the wheelhouse can also be booked.
Kurlandzki Boulevard; tel +48 668 820 454; alrina.pl
Museum of Contemporary Art
A flayed Adolf Hitler made of silicone and a pile of old furniture behind a metal fence are two of the provocative installations at this new museum. Located about ten minutes’ drive from the city centre, it also incorporates some of the renovated factory buildings that once belonged to German industrialist and Nazi Oskar Schindler, who earned fame for saving the lives of more than 1,000 Jews by putting them to work. (There is a museum dedicated to his endeavours next door.)
The 10,000 sqm gallery, which was unveiled in May, offers a series of stark, minimalist, concrete-clad spaces that function well as blank canvases for meetings, conferences or parties, and wifi is free throughout. Although functions can’t be booked in the exhibition spaces themselves (unless they are between shows), there are a number of other options, such as an 80-seat auditorium and a covered open-air space for 200 people. The corridors can also be used for breakouts and buffets, and private art tours can be arranged.
Ul Lipowa 4; tel +48 122 634 001; mocak.com.pl/en
Polish Aviation Museum
A ten-minute drive from the Old Town, this museum and working aerodrome, mainly used for police helicopters, private jets and air shows, is a dream come true for aviation buffs. More than 200 planes, ranging from Messerschmitts to Lockheed Starfighters (see the website for a full list), have been donated by aviation clubs and the army and are displayed in the exhibition spaces and on the 40 hectares of land the site occupies.
The museum was founded in 1963 on a former military airbase but last year the New Main Building was unveiled, featuring a multi-functional conference room with floor-to-ceiling windows and a capacity of 150 delegates reception-style. Events can also be hosted among the planes in the museum after hours or, in the summer, in the 3,000 sqm main hangar, which can accommodate 500 people for dinner. Other options include a purpose-built 49-seat screening room or a marquee that can be set up on the lawn. Catering and technical companies can be recommended on request.
Aleja Jana Pawla II 39; tel +49 126 409 960; muzeumlotnictwa.pl
Wieliczka Salt Mine
A UNESCO World Heritage site situated about 10km from Krakow, this decommissioned mine produced salt (around 1,000 tonnes a day during the Communist era) for about 700 years until being shut down in 1996. There are nine levels, the deepest of which is almost 330 metres below ground (roughly the height of the Eiffel Tower), plus more than 245km of tunnels, 2,390 chambers, 36 chapels and even lakes.
Descend the 400-plus steps to the first and second levels (there is a lift to go back up) and you will discover a 375 sqm underground cathedral, complete with hand-carved statues and great rock salt chandeliers, that can be hired for concerts or weddings. These levels also offer two restaurants, gift shops, toilets, full phone reception, wifi, and state-of-the-art conference space.
There are five venues for corporate hire, and these include the Warsawa Chamber, which hosts annual New Year’s Eve parties for up to 500 people, the Drozdowice IV conference hall, which seats 110 people classroom-style and has an adjacent bar and cloakroom, and a banquet room for 120 built into the rock, which looks like the lair of a Bond villain. The mine is available for rental every day of the year and also has a four-star above-ground hotel with 18 bedrooms (visit grandsal.pl).
Ul Danilowicza 10; tel +48 122 787 392; kopalnia.pl
ICE Congress Centre
Krakow plans to unveil a cutting-edge convention centre in 2015 that will fill the gap in the market it has in catering for large events. It will be positioned next to the Park Inn hotel, on the banks of the Vistula river, and will feature an auditorium for concerts of up to 1,500 people. There will also be a 520 sqm multi-functional hall that can be divided into 11 rooms measuring 30 sqm, and, on the eastern side of the building, a 3,150 sqm foyer that will be used for breakout sessions and exhibitions.