Only 14km from the city of Krakow you will find one of Poland’s most visited attractions, the Wieliczka Salt Mine. I visited the mine in July 2019 and it didn’t disappoint, I was amazed at the sheer scale of the place as well as the amazing detail in the chambers that included chapels with altarpieces and figures, while others are adorned with statues and monuments, there is even an underground lake.
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If you have the time, then I really recommend a visit to the mine which can easily be reached via public transport or as part of an organised tour. The following article tells you everything you need to know to make the most of a trip to this interesting and unusual tourist attraction!
Why visit Wieliczka Salt Mine
The mine has been welcoming visitors since 1722 and in 1978 it became only one of twelve objects on the UNESCO’s World Cultural and Natural Heritage List, it is easy to see why. The mine is a labyrinth of tunnels and chambers over 300km long and in places 327 metres deep with the first mine shafts dating back to the 13th century. The many corridors and chambers have all been carved out of rock salt and with the additions of incredible wooden structures and beautify crafted carvings this place truly is remarkable.
Most visitors will take the ‘tourist route’ though the mine which only shows a tiny percentage of what can be seen. Although this route will be enough for most visitors there is a more intense and longer route taking visitors through the ‘miners route’ which may be more suitable for those interested in the mining techniques and wanting a more hands on experience.
How to get to Wieliczka Salt Mine:
There are various ways to get to the mine depending on how much time you have and whether or not you want to travel independently or part of a group.
For independent travellers:
The No 304 bus leaves Galeria Krakowska shopping mall direct to Wieliczka Kopalnia Soli. Zone I (Strefa I) and II Agglomeration (II Aglomeracja) and cost 4.60Zt
Catch the train from krakow’s main train station to Wieliczka Rynek Kopalnia train station. Trains run roughly every 30mins and cost 3.50 Zt
For those who would prefer to visit as part as an organised tour or those short on time then there are lots a different tour operators to choose from. I personally used Get Your Guide as I had left it to the last minute and only booked the night before, however it was an extremely organised trip and had us back in Krakow around 2pm.
There are 3 different types of tour:
The tourist route:
The tourist route is the most popular route taking you through almost 3km of corridors and 20 different chambers. The journey starts at the Danilowicz Shaft where you will initially descend around 350 steps into the mine.
During the tour the guide will talk about the mine’s history and some of its secrets. Our guide was excellent and even did a fabulous job of entertaining some of the children who were on the tour!
Ticket prices (for foreigners): Adult 94 Zt Children 74 Zt Children under 4 go free.
The miner’s route:
The miner’s route gives you a chance to see what life was really like as a miner. After getting into some overalls and gathering your equipment the tour leader known as the Forman will guide you on various mining tasks giving you the chance to become novice miners. The tour starts from the Regis shaft, located in the centre of Wieliczka leading you away from the busy tourist route!
If I had my chance to visit again I would defo be signing up for this as it looks so much more fun and a great way to learn about the mining history without the crowds!
Ticket prices (for foreigners): Adult 94 Zt Children over the age of 10 74 Zt No under 10’s allowed.
The pilgrim’s route:
For those interested in the religious significance of the mine, special group tours can be arranged with a minimum of 20 people that will take you through the underground “God Bless” Pilgrims’ Route. This route leads through the excavations of the Tourist Route and the Salt works Museum. At the end there is also a chance to partake in mass with any accompanying priest.
Ticket prices (for foreigners): Adult 94 Zt Children Zt Minimum of 20 per group, smaller groups can be arranged by paying the minimum 20 person cost.
The graduation tower measures 7,500 square meters of surface area as well as a 22-meter high observation tower from which one can admire the panorama of the park and mine shafts.
The Tower holds many therapeutic properties which can help cleanse the respiratory tract. This treatment may be especially beneficial to those suffering with respiratory conditions. If you want to visit the tower then I recommend visiting the salt mine independently as most group tours will not have time to visit the tower as well.
Ticket prices (for foreigners):
For those who have purchased mine tickets: Adult 6 Zt Children 4 Zt
For those without mine tickets: Adult 9 Zt Children 6 Zt
The Tour (tourist route)
You start your tour at the entrance to the Danilowicz Shaft; it is here that you will meet your guide. These guides will not only show you the way round the route but will also share with you all its history and some of its secrets including the legend of Princess Kinga and how she brought the salt treasure to Polish land.
The first part of the tour is descending 350 steps to an underground depth of 135 metres. Gradually you will wander deeper in to the mine though it’s many corridors and a further 450 steps.
The tour itself is approximately 3 km and takes you through about 20 chambers all beautify carved out of the rock salt.
Some chambers are small with carvings of some of the mines historical figures, some show more of the equipment and how the miners used to live and work within the mine and others are more religious structures such as chapels.
For me some of the most impressive sights were the timber structures used to maintain the site and keep it structurally safe!
During the tour you will also come across a coffee shop and gift shops selling souvenirs made from the local salt.
Towards the end of tour you find the fabulous Chapel of St Kinga which is 54m by 18m, and 12m high and all painstakingly carved out of the salt rock.
Every single element here, from chandeliers to altarpieces, is made of salt. It took over 30 years (1895) for three men to complete this underground temple, and about 20,000 tonnes of rock salt had to be removed.
This place is the climax to the tour and if you haven’t already been made to pay 10 Zt to take photos you will defo have to pay here! It’s totally worth it though, this place is amazing, the detail in the carvings is incredible and like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
Your guide will give you some time to walk around and take it all in and if like me take hundreds of photos!
After the main event you then taken to another large chamber that includes a fully functioning restaurant, children’s play area and another gift shop.
Again you are given a bit of time to wander round and then the whole group then meets up to get the very tiny lift back up to the surface. Be warned though, this lift is small and you are squeezed in very tightly, I’m not at all claustrophobic but even I felt uncomfortable squeezed next to strangers in such a tiny space. Thankfully the ride to the surface was only around 30 seconds to you don’t have to bare it for long!
Tips for visiting Wieliczka Salt Mine:
- Book in advance or get there early – the mine opens at 7.30 am with only a trickle of visitors however by the time its 9.30 there will be heaves of tourists arriving via tourist buses. At peak times tickets for the day may also be sold out. Your best bet of getting a ticket is to book in advance online, that way you will be guaranteed your choice of time and won’t be disappointed waiting in long que.
- Bring a jacket – if heading to the mine during summer then I recommend bringing a light jacket or cardigan as the temperatures are a lot cooler down in the mine. It’s not cold but its notably cooler than the summer sun.
- Be prepared to walk – All together there is around 3 km of passageways as well as about 800 steps throughout the tourist route, make sure you have comfortable shoes!
- Allow plenty of time – From start to finish takes around 3 hours especially in the peak season as you may need to wait a wild for the lift back up to the surface.
- If you’re claustrophobic – be warned you will need to walk down a large spiral staircase at the start of the tour, although it’s quite roomy some people may find this uncomfortable. Once down in the mine the corridors are generally very spacious and not very crowded so you shouldn’t have too many issues, however as I’ve said previously the lift back up is very small and you are packed in like sardines! Even I felt slightly anxious!
- Make the most out of the mines micro climate – The mine has its very own micro climate with no pollution that is great for those will respiratory conditions. If you really want to take advantage you can even stay overnight in the mines very own spa, if not just remember to breathe deeply as you wander through the mine to get the most out of the clean air.
Before visiting Krakow I didn’t really know much about this place, however I really enjoyed learning about the mines history and was fascinated with how these miners managed to carve out such spectacular chambers all hundreds of metres below the ground!
I enjoyed it so much I would love to return one day and do the ‘miners tour’ and maybe check out the spa.
If you are looking for something different to do whilst in Krakow then I highly recommend a visit to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, however I would say to buy tickets on line and travel independently to the mine to allow more time at the site and to maybe check out the Graduation tower which unfortunately I never had the chance to visit.
If however you are short on time then I would visit with an organised tour like I did. Most tours leave Krakow around 8.30am and have you back in the city by around 1pm just in time for lunch.
Have you visited Wieliczka Salt Mine? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments below.
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