Experience a part of Poland like no other: Wieliczka Salt Mine will leave you awe-inspired. 327 metres below ground, at its deepest, waits a labyrinth of wonder, carved from salt with chapels, statues, impressive chambers, a museum and even an underground lake. It has to be experienced to be believed.
What is Wieliczka Salt Mine?
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978, Wieliczka Salt Mine is like nothing else you will experience on earth. It is a subterranean world, first excavated in the 13th Century, and still mining table salt as recently as 2007. The mine is a monument to history, and indeed is deemed a Historic Monument of Poland. Itshould be as high on the visitor’s agenda as Auschwitz, Wawel Castle and Krakow’s infamous Market Square.
Wieliczka Salt Mine is within the greater area of Krakow, 14 km from Krakow itself. Multiple tour agencies will provide a means of reaching the Mine, or alternatively you can drive yourself and book on to a tour directly on site.
Now open to the public as a world renowned tourist attraction, the mine is well worth a visit, no matter how short your visit to Poland. You can select from different tours to suit your interest and physical ability, and the guides are informed and entertaining, showcasing this incredible feat of human excavation.
The vast majority of the tunnels and chambers were excavated by hand, and the must-see sights include: the showpiece Chapel of St Kinga, a staggering 12 metre-high church carved by just one man and his son over 30 years, complete with salt chandeliers and altarpieces; the salt lake in the Erazm Barącz Chamber; and the 36m high Stanislaw Staszic Chamber.
The Visitor Experience
The Wieliczka Salt Mine welcomes in excess of 1 million visitors each year. Therefore a number of different routes, or options, have been established to enable you to choose the route that best suits your time, expectations, and ability, as well as the nature of your party.
The mines have an overwhelming total depth of 327m, over 9 levels, and stretch for 248km underground. Obviously you cannot explore this in a day! The area for discovery, as a visitor, is located 64 to 135 metres below ground, and comprises a total of 22 inter-connected chambers and galleries.
The mine has a constant and unique microclimate. The temperature within is a pleasantly cool 14°C and remains so, whether it is freezing above ground, or a warm summer’s day. Come with an extra layer for warmth, and good sturdy shoes.
The Tourist Route
The most popular option for exploring the impressive mines is the Tourist Route which is approximately 3 hours comprising of a guided tour of 20 chambers and the chance to spend time in the Krakow Saltworks Museum. This tour enables you to see the ‘big sights’ with a knowledgeable and engaging guide, in the language of your choice. English tours run half-hourly during peak season, and multiple times a day even in low-season.
Starting at the Danilowicz Shaft you will be guided down, listening to engaging facts and information about the different areas of the Mine. You’ll hear about the intriguing legend of the Princess Kinga before being led in to the incredible and resplendent ‘chapel’ which really could be described as a subterranean cathedral. You’ll also have the chance to witness the rousing music of Polish composer Chopin, accompanied by a light and sound show on the shore of one of the salt lakes. After a self-guided spell in the Krakow Saltworks Museum, where you can immerse yourself in even more staggering exhibits relating to the Mine, you then ascend to the surface in a 30 second lift.
The Tourist Route does require a degree of physical fitness to fully partake and experience, putting you somewhat in to the experience of centuries of miners. There are 350 steps to reach the area of the mines you will be exploring, and these are located between 64m and 135m underground.
The Miners’ Route
The Miners’ Route is a unique and totally different way to visit the Mines, well away from the typical Tourist Route. Suitable for ages 10+, and those who have a good level of fitness, you’ll don your mining overalls and helmet, be issued your tools and a lamp, before making your way down the Regis Shaft. The foreman in charge of your small group will assign you all miners’ roles. It will then be your task to measure, dig, and transport salt in much the same way as miners of old.
You won’t forget this incredible way of experiencing the Mines, but for newcomers we do recommend also enjoying the Tourist Route to see the main sights. Do make sure you arrive at the Regis Shaft at least 15 minutes before your tour departs.
The Graduation Tower
The Graduation Tower offers yet another distinct opportunity for an immersive experience at the Salt Mine, this time above ground. Looking somewhat like a fortress from a distance, the Graduation Tower is in fact made from wood. Within the Tower is a form on inhalation therapy where evaporation causes a saturation of the air with the therapeutic salt. A 30-minute stroll along the boardwalks of the tower is recommended for visitors with respiratory ailments, and the 22 metre high observation tower is worth the climb for the opportunity to view the wider Mine area
The Pilgrims’ Route
This route is for Catholics seeking a faith-based experience within the Mines. The Pilgrims’ Route was in fact blessed by His Eminence Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz in 2010, and whilst it meanders and interweaves with the main Tourist Route, it has some notable differences. You are guided along the route by a priest, and the focus is on prayer and thoughtful reflection. In total the route takes around 2.5 hours to complete and may include a Mass at the end. The Pilgrims’ route leads you through various chapels and views multiple religious sculptures. You will experience the Chapel of St Anthony before the renowned Chapel of St Kinga, and finish in the Chapel of St John
The Mysteries Route
Prepare yourself for a true adventure as you descend in to the natural darkness, and experience the eerie realities of the Mine away from the main Tourist Route. This is the hardest route to experience the mines, but if you’re physically fit then well worth it for the adrenalin pumping adventure.
You will swap your mobile phone (it interferes with equipment) for an overall, light, helmet, and carbon monoxide absorber before a specialist guide leads you down the Regis Shaft. Down here you will experience 4 hours of exploration of excavations that have both historical and geological value. You’ll squeeze through narrow slits, and crouch to get through low tunnels, leaving you in no doubt of the true nature of much of the mine.
The Mysteries Route needs to be booked at least 2 weeks in advance, and visitors must be a minimum of 13 years old. Make sure to wear good sturdy waterproof shoes.
Wieliczka Salt Mine is open year round except for:
New Year’s Day
Easter Saturday (closing at 3.30pm)
24th & 25th December
31st December (closing at 4.00pm)
Tickets for non-Polish nationals are approximately 85PLN, which is around £17. Children above the age of 4 must have a paid-for ticket, at a discounted rate. We strongly recommend that you purchase a ticket in advance, particularly during high season.
Many tour operators will arrange an ‘all-inclusive’ visit to the Mines, including transport to and from Krakow city centre.
There are accessible routes to experience the Mine for wheelchair users, but it is advisable to notify and book in advance to ensure you can be catered for on the tour of your choice.
Food can be purchased within the Mine itself at the aptly named Miner’s Tavern. Here you’ll find an interesting array of options. Alternatively you can get food ‘above ground’ at the restaurant in the Grand Sal Hotel, which offers a large choice of Polish and International options of both light lunches and full dining.
It should be noted that there are toilets within the touring areas of the Mine, spaced approximately 40-90 minutes apart. You will also need to purchase a permit if you wish to take your own photographs. This is available at the ticket kiosks.
The Health Spa
As well as the tours of the old mine, there is still a functioning health spa, bringing the benefits of the unique mine microclimate. There are both above ground, and subterranean, treatment areas. Various therapeutic options, on a daily and long-stay basis, are offered with the aim to take care of the body and improve fitness.
The focus of the health spa is on pulmonary tract health, as well as musculoskeletal, laryngology, ophthalmology, and allergy treatment.
Whilst the Wieliczka Salt Mine is easily accessible as a day trip from Krakow, many visitors choose a longer stay at the Mine site. Maybe you want to experience more than the standard Tourist Route, or to partake in some of the Health Spa facilities over a more prolonged period? For you there is a range of different accommodation options, both above and below ground.
Grand Sal Hotel
Above ground is the luxurious 4-star Grand Sal Hotel that makes a wonderful escape from city life. Here you can expect a professional, family-friendly welcome, in a beautifully quiet location. The restaurant offers delicious, seasonal fare in opulent surroundings, but nonetheless children are well catered-for. Also on site is a Relaxation Zone with massage and sauna, providing a restful haven. The rooms are beautifully furnished, with every amenity you could with for, and ideal for a romantic getaway.
Salt Mill Guest Rooms
Smaller and more intimate, there are 14 guest rooms within the old Salt Mill which is located within the health resort of the Salt Mine. Simply-styled rooms, which are spacious and welcoming, can be a home from home in this quiet and peaceful area of the park.
Eastern Mountains’ Stable Chamber
Underground, visitors can stay in the renovated old horse stables of the mines. 135 metres below the ground this is effectively a sleep-based treatment chamber, with the opportunity to spend the night inhaling the air from an underground saline graduation tower, as well as relaxing in the library, or exercising in the gym. Beds are provided in a ‘dorm’ style in twin-configuration. You literally get to experience the ‘salt air’ as you sleep as well as discover the restful aid of astounding silence. There are shower and toileting facilities within the chamber complex, and you descend around 8pm in the evening before returning to the surface around 12 hours later.
Visit Wieliczka Salt Mine
Without a doubt, a visit to Poland is elevated to impressive levels by a visit to Wieliczka Salt Mine. Globally you are unlikely to experience anything like it – culturally, historically, and even architecturally. It will be one of your most memorable experiences within the country, and one that you can’t begin to comprehend the power of, until you have experienced it for yourself.