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. It is also one of the perfect day trip destinations from the city of Krakow.
The Wieliczka Salt Mine has 287 kilometers of tunnels, but visitors can only access around 3,5 kilometers. It is hard 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. And, that’s how we did.
The tourist route of the Wieliczka Salt Mine Tour
The guided tours were available in many languages and ours was in English. We got a headphone and a small receiver at the entrance. During the entire excursion, the tour guide told us things about mining history and its secrets. As our tourist route covered only 1% of the underground world, all visitors had to stay with the group and not go off wandering in other parts of the mine, which were not open to tourists.
The underground journey started with 350 steps at the beginning, which took us down into the mine. Luckily, we could take elevators to get back to the surface at the end.
Sites on the tourist route
Our tour group followed the tourist route in Wieliczka Salt Mine. Before we started the round walk, our tour guide made a brief introduction to the salt mine. Later, we explored the following chambers:
- Salt Statue in Copernicus Chamber
- The life-sized salt statues in Janowice Chamber
- St. Kinga’s Chapel, the largest underground church in the world
- Recreation of dangerous mine jobs in the Spalone Chamber
- Authentic transport devices in Sielec Chamber
- An underground saline lake
- The massive support system in the Michalowice Chamber
- The illumination inside the Józef Piłsudski Chamber
- UNESCO marker in the Stanislaw Staszic Chamber
- Restaurant, Museum and Ballroom chambers
- The interactive multimedia in 5D cinema
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.
The life-sized salt statues in Janowice Chamber
Here the life-sized salt statues illustrate one of the oldest and the most beautiful legends of the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Legendary said, when the Hungarian Princess Kinga married, she received one of the salt mines in the Marmaros region as dowry.
She cast her engagement ring into the mine. Her engagement 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 world’s biggest underground church
St- Kinga in the fairy tale was a real person, a Hungarian Princess. To memorize her, a patron saint of salt mine workers, people built this chapel.
Made exclusively of rock salt, at 101-meter deep in the Wieliczka Salt Mine, St. Kinga’s Chapel has become the world’s biggest underground church. Chandeliers made of salt crystals light the entire area.
The chapel has marvelous acoustics. It features bas-relief carvings from the New Testament done by miners. These are incredible scenes. Besides, there are many religious figures carved on the walls of the chapel. In my view, it is somewhat a ballroom than a chapel.
Recreation of dangerous mine jobs in the Spalone Chamber
The chamber is a recreation of dangerous mine jobs. In old times, methane explosions were a great danger for the mine. Experienced miners, known as the Penitents dressed in wet clothes with torches on long poles and crawled on the floor, could burn out this colourless gas accumulating under the chamber ceiling.
Authentic transport devices in Sielec Chamber
Miners and animals did the majority of work back in the old times due to the lack of machines. 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. Salt was stored in the barrels or as barrel-shaped rolls. Miners used horses to help themselves in transporting salt to the ground level.
An underground saline lake
Along the way, we followed a narrow shaft, which leads us to a miraculous 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 massive support system in the Michalowice Chamber
The chamber has an incredibly high ceiling. Here the wooden mine support system is impressive. It would prevent the collapse of the cell. The remarkable timber constructions, for example, the cluster pillars in the Michalowice Chamber, are absolutely the carpenter’s masterpieces.
The illumination inside the Józef Piłsudski Chamber
It also has wooden supports painted in white, much like the Michalowice chamber’s support. The room has a pool of water as well as a tunnel, which connects to another room. The illumination of the wooden stair looks stunning and mysterious.
UNESCO marker in the Stanislaw Staszic Chamber
The Stanislaw Staszic Chamber is the largest one that visitors can access. On a large UNESCO marker, I could see the first 12 Unesco sites, including the Wieliczka Salt Mine.
Our guided tour ended here. It took us two hours to see all the things described above. Looking around, I saw a shop 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 walkway to the underground restaurant where fresh meals are prepared and served. The sitting area looks 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.
The interactive multimedia stands in 5D cinema
Thanks to EU co-financing in April 2014, the Wieliczka Salt Mine opened two new chambers, 125 meters deep in Wieliczka Salt Mine.
We could watch 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 an education centre for kids as well. The principal theme of the exhibition is salt presented from many points of view and in various applications.
Tips for visiting the Wieliczka Salt Mine
Two tours in one day
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. If the budget allows, you can combine Auschwitz and the Wieliczka Salt Mine tour in one day.
What to wear
We visited the place in May. The mine is regularly around 15 degrees Centigrade. So you might need to wear a warm jacket during the visit. Nevertheless, the tour operator recommends wearing comfortable shoes.
How to get to Wieliczka Salt Mine