Located on the geological rock salt deposit in southern Poland, the Wieliczka Salt Mine is one of the earliest and most important European industrial operations. Because it is not far from Krakow, the Wieliczka Salt Mine becomes one of the perfect day trip destinations from the city.
There are 287 kilometers of tunnels in the mine, around 3,5 kilometers are actually accessible to the public. It is difficult to imagine that there are more than two thousand chambers in the mine. However, only a few are open to the public. The only way to visit the salt mine is to join a guided tour, that’s how we did.
Besides, the following tours with different options have very high review rates.
About the Tourist Route Tour to Wieliczka Salt Mine
The Tourist Route starts at the Danilowicz Shaft and takes about 3 hours. The tour visits numerous ancient chambers and chapels in which almost everything in the surrounding is made from rock salt, including the tiled floors, chandeliers, sculptures and stringy stalactites that hang down.
The guided tours are available in many languages. At the entrance, everyone will get a headphone and a small receiver. The receiver receives the messages from the tour guide. During the entire excursion, the tour guide will tell tourists everything they want to know about the mining history and its secrets. The tour covers only 1% of the entire underground world. Therefore, all visitors must stay with the group and not go off wandering in other parts of the mine which are not open to tourists.
The underground journey starts with 350 steps at the beginning which take tourists down into the mine. Visitors don’t need to climb up the stairs but to take elevators to get back to the surface at the end. The following chambers are the highlight during the entire tour I have joined.
Salt Statue in Copernicus Chamber
The first one is the Copernicus Chamber. The salt statue there commemorates the famous tourist Copernicus who visited the Wieliczka mine. Goethe and Pilsudski were also among those famous visitors. During the tour, we have also seen their status.
Here the life-sized salt statues illustrate one of the oldest and the most beautiful legends of the Wieliczka Salt Mine. The legend said, when the Hungarian Princess Kinga married, she received as dowry one of the salt mines in the Marmaros region, and she cast her engagement ring into the mine. Her ring, together with salt deposits, miraculously traveled to Wieliczka. Kinga ordered to dig in a particular place. In the first block of salt, however, the miners found her ring. Since then salt has been plentiful in Poland.
St. Kinga’s Chapel
The story is a fairy tale but St- Kinga was a real person, a Hungarian Princess. As a patron saint of salt mine workers, St. Kinga’s Chapel in the Wieliczka Salt Mine is dedicated to her. Made exclusively of rock salt, the world’s biggest church built underground is located at the depth of 101 meters in the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Chandeliers made of salt crystals light the entire area. The chapel has amazing acoustics and features bas-relief carvings from the New Testament done by miners on the walls. These are incredible scenes. Besides, there are many religious figures carved in the walls of the chapel. In my view, it is rather a ballroom than a chapel.
The chamber is a recreation of dangerous mine jobs. In old times, methane explosions were a great danger for the mine. This colourless gas accumulating under the chamber ceiling was burnt out by experienced miners, known as the Penitents who dressed in wet clothes with torches on long poles, and crawled on the floor of the excavations.
Due to the lack of machines, humans and animals did the majority of work back in the old times. It was very dark as well, with torches as the only source of light. In the Sielec Chamber, tourists can see a collection of authentic devices used to transport salt in underground galleries. In the old time, the miners used wooden carts, known as Hungarian dogs, chests, and special sledges to carry out their jobs. Fine salt was put into barrels, and large blocks of salt were stored as barrel-shaped rolls and rolled on wooden platforms. Horses were used for helping miners in transporting salt to the ground level.
An underground saline lake
Along the way, we followed a narrow shaft which leads us to an amazing saline lake. I would imagine scenes of a fantasy movie in the darkness. The lake holds more than 300g of salt per litre. It is so salty that no single gram of salt will dissolve in it. The lake had a nice glow of blue even in the twilight of the chamber. I don’t know if it is a natural one or not.
The music of Chopin accompanied us with a light and sound effect on the shore of the saline lake.
The chamber has an incredibly high ceiling. Here the wooden mine support system is impressive. It was built to prevent the collapse of the chamber. The remarkable timber constructions, for example, the cluster pillars in the Michalowice Chamber are surely the carpenter’s masterpieces.
Józef Piłsudski Chamber
It also has wooden supports painted in white much like the Michalowice chamber’s support. What makes this chamber different is that there is a pool of water here as well as a tunnel which connects to another chamber. The illumination alone the wooden stair look stunning and mysterious.
Stanislaw Staszic Chamber
This is the largest chamber accessible to visitors. The Wieliczka Salt Mine was one of the first among 12 sites from all around the world to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On a large UNESCO marker, the 12 UNESCO sites are listed.
Here is also the end of our guided tour. It took us two hours to see all the things described here. Our tour guide told us that we would not be possible to get lost in there and would find our way out.
A shop is now selling souvenirs such as salt crystal products. There are some seating areas for visitors to relax. Toilets are also available there.
Restaurant, Museum and Ballroom chambers
We followed a long walkway to the underground restaurant where fresh and appetizing meals are prepared and served. The sitting area looks quite modern. There is an exit with a high-speed elevator that shoots you back up to the surface.
Be aware that the tour does not end at the restaurant. Those who still have enough strength can continue the journey to the Krakow Salt Works Museum. It is included in the price and will take an hour or so to look around.
Thanks to EU co-financing in April 2014 the Wieliczka Salt Mine opened two new chambers 125 meters within the depths of the mine: Lill Gorna and Kazanow. This is the only underground 5D cinema in the world.
We were able to see a film in the 5D cinema area, a spectacle at the salt crystal and use over 20 interactive multimedia stands, games and applications. It is a good education centre for kids as well. The main theme of the exhibition is salt presented from many points of view and in various applications.
The historic Wieliczka Salt Mine shows an underground metropolis. During the journey, I have seen unusual places and the power of human hands that once excavated rock salt. Having walked through kilometres of meandering corridors and ramps, I was so much attracted by impressive chambers, wooden structures, lakes and breathtaking salt statues.
Besides, those who eager to learn more about the mine can benefit from the multimedia technology coming across along the route. That makes the tour being very informative and attractive. It is definitely a place worth a visit. Now, are you interested in seeing the magic underground world? If yes, please book a tour on the following platforms:
Or, you can buy tickets on site and check the outside display for the time of the next guided tour in your language (tours are offered in Polish, English, Russian, French, Italian, Spanish and German). As it is a well-visited place, you should expect a long waiting time.
What to wear
We visited the place in May. The mine is constantly around 15 degrees Centigrade. So you might need to wear a warm jacket during the visiting. Nevertheless, it is recommended to wear comfortable shoes.
How to get to Wieliczka Salt Mine
Wieliczka Salt Mine is located 16 kilometres southeast from Krakow. There are many ways to get there from Krakow, by bus, by train or by car. Check here to get the detail information.