ul. Daniłowicza 10
32-020 Wieliczka, Poland
(In full disclosure, I find geology fascinating, thus my rating of an A. I would probably give it at least a B if I wasn’t into geology because it is such a unique destination.)
The Wieliczka Salt Mine is a very unique tourist attraction that’s a short drive from Krakow. Opened during the 13th century, this mine is no longer a commercial mine; however, it’s more like a museum of sorts, hundreds of feet below ground.
About the Mine:
The Wieliczka Salt Mine is an important monument of material and spiritual Polish culture. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978 because it showcases the development of Polish/European mining techniques for seven centuries. Because of its intricate underground chambers, its extensive mining history, the spiritual elements and chapels within the mine, as well as the mine’s age, it is treated as a historical monument dedicated to the history of Poland. An interesting fact: the salt that you will see here in the mine was deposited 13.6 million years ago!
Spring/Summer Hours: 7:30am – 7:30pm (last entry)
Fall/Winter hours: 8am – 5 pm (last entry)
Closed: January 1, Easter Sunday, November 1, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
Admission & Tours:
Most tourists take the TOURIST ROUTE, although there are other tour options if you really want to explore the mine. Check their website for more information on different tours. Cost is 55-59 zloty per person for the Tourist Route, depending on what time of year you visit. Discounts are available for children ages 4 and up, students up to age 26, and for handicapped visitors. Children under 4 are free.
There are tours also in different languages, including English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, and Russian. Polish tours are available all the time, but tours for other languages are only at specific times. English tours are offered every thirty minutes year round. Click here for more information.
PHOTOGRAPHY NOTE: If you want to take photos during your guided tour, you will need to pay an additional 10 zloty. You will receive a “photographer” sticker that will you allow you take any photos or videos you want. TIP: I purchased the “photographer” sticker, but there were other patrons taking photos without the sticker (on their smartphones). If you want to discreetly take photos with your cell phone, you’ll probably get away with it. The only place staff really enforced paying for photos was at the entrance of their main attraction, St. Kinga’s Chapel. If you are a skilled photographer, especially in low light, I recommend getting the photo pass; there are many magical scenes to capture here.
- The temperature of the mine is always 57-60°F so be sure to wear proper clothing (jackets, pants) for the temperature.
- Also, I strongly recommend good walking shoes, as you’ll be descending many stairs and will be on your feet during the whole tour.
- You should allow yourself about 3 hours to see the mine. There is a museum that you can see after the guided tour. When I visited, I spent 10 minutes at a gift shop at the end of the tour, skipped the museum, stopped to take several photos, and I was at the exit elevator about 2 hours and 15 minutes from the start of my tour time. People can easily spend half a day here; however, most people seem to want out of the mine after the tour.
- In addition to the museum, there is a restaurant, a health resort, and hotel, all within the mine. On their website, the Wieliczka Salt Mine boasts about the “therapeutic microclimate of the saline excavations.” They also suggest spending time in their “microclimate devoid of any allergens, impurities and rich with microelements bring(ing) relief to people with allergies and improv(ing) body immunity.” The mine also highlights their unique environment which offers the ultimate peace and quiet for both physical and mental rest.
- There is a gift shop, snack shop, and restrooms available outside the mine, near the ticket office at the Danilowicz Shaft.
- There is no smoking in the mine.
- No bags are allowed in the mine. Leave bags at the luggage area, which can be found close to the tourist information office.
- Restrooms are said to be provided around 40 and 90 minutes into your tour.
Touring the Mine
When your tour starts, you will be equipped with a one-ear headset and receiver to better hear your leader. With groups of about 30 people, you will definitely rely on this to hear your guide properly. The tour descends down 350 wooden stairs, around and around, until you’re 440 feet underground. I have to admit I was a bit dizzy by the time I reached the bottom from the countless rotations. Be sure to wear good shoes because there is a lot of walking and more stairs to descend later.
After reaching the bottom of the stairs, you will make your way into the Wieliczka Salt Mine’s tunnels. One thing you will notice right away is that the walls of salt are not white, but a grey color. There are several variations of grey as well as white streaks seen throughout the rock.
The Wieliczka Salt Mine is a tangle of corridors and rooms nine levels deep. The deepest area in the mine is over 1,000 feet. You will see about 20 chambers in all during your tour. On some hallways and chambers, you will see signs which designate the name of the hall/chamber and when it was mined.
Statues that adorn the chambers of the mine were all carved out of the salt by hand. Some rooms contain salt statues representing scenes from Polish history. The statues are quite a marvel, carved into the hard salt, hundreds of feet down in the mine.
During your guided tour, you will also learn about the mining process. There are recreations within some chambers which show how the salt was mined hundreds of years ago. You’ll see replicas of machinery, tools, the clothes miners wore, as well as working animals. The logistical details of having animals in the mine, getting and using lumber, the structural work of keeping the mine safe and passable, as well as the mining work that went on must have made this mine a marvel of an operation.
There are also a few chapels within the Wieliczka Salt Mine that are complete with altars, statues, and seating. Three hundred and thirty-one feet underground, sits the salt mine’s grand attraction – St. Kinga’s Chapel. St. Kinga’s Chapel honors Kinga, the Hungarian princess who married Polish prince Bolesław and brought salt to Poland, according to legend. Weekly holy services, as well as Christmas Eve mass and other religious services, occur in this very chapel. St. Kinga’s Chapel (as well as the Chapel of St. John) is also available for weddings and religious or classical concerts.
The tour guide will first introduce you to the chapel by leading you onto a balcony that overlooks the impressive chamber. St. Kinga’s Chapel was quite a site to see after being in so many smaller chambers. Almost everything around you is grey rock salt, but it’s all carved in such intricate patterns and pictures. The floor of the chapel is cut into patterns, salt crystal chandeliers light your way, and religious rock relief carvings decorate the walls. We were allowed about ten minutes in the chapel to walk around independently.
Along the way, you will see larger chambers with vaulted ceilings. You begin to appreciate the massive scale of this salt mine, the amount of work that went into digging the mine, extracting the salt, preserving the mine, and making it accessible for tourists today. There are also a couple of saline lakes to see, lit up so you can see the bottom.
Approximately 75 minutes into the tour, your guide will take a short break and you’ll have access to restrooms, a gift shop, as well as snacks and drinks. I was amazed they had such a nice snack shop this far underground!
After this short break, there are a few more chambers to see before your guided tour ends. When your tour is finally over, there is an area where you can shop and buy salt products from the mine. If you like, you can go to the surface via elevator or continue on towards the salt museum.
For me, I chose to follow the pathway towards to the museum to see what else the Wieliczka Salt Mine had to offer. I was amazed to see the full restaurant they had for tourists. There were plenty of places to sit and relax, with a variety of food and drink to choose from. I also was able to see the large beautiful banquet rooms for weddings and large group events. Everything underground was so clean and modern that it was easy to forget where I was hundreds of feet below the surface. I decided to skip the Saltworks museum, but enjoyed all the different rooms I passed through to get to the exit.
In order to leave the mine, groups of people are escorted by staff to the elevators. When my group got to leave, a guide led us to the elevator, walking approximately another 5-8 minutes, down dark, narrow hallways with old tracks embedded in the floor. Once at the elevator, the entire group of us (about 30 people) were crammed into the elevator. No matter people’s sizes, how crammed the elevator is, our level of comfort, or the number of children, your entire group will be forced onto that elevator. It was terribly uncomfortable for me, rubbing up against so many people, but fortunately the ride up is relatively quick.
The biggest negative from my experience is my confusion upon exiting the mine. When we reached the surface, we were inside a new building that didn’t seem familiar to me. I walked around for a bit outside and realized I was nowhere near where the mine was. Later on, I figured out that if you take the elevator to the surface after the guided tour is over, I believe you’ll come out of the same shaft that you went down; meaning you’ll be in the same location as when you entered (Danilowicz mine shaft). If you wander to the museum and the rest of the dining areas/banquet facilities while inside the mine (as I did), you will come up the Regis shaft, which is a 5-10 minute walk away from the entrance/Danilowicz shaft. You can easily see both of these locations on Google maps; just be aware that you won’t be exiting where you entered if you check out the museum and restaurant!
Overall, I did enjoy my visit to the Wieliczka Salt Mine. It’s definitely a one-of-a-kind place! However, it’s not one of those sites that you tour twice unless you do something different, like take a much different tour to another part of the mine or visit the health spa.
TIP: Parents with young children might want to skip the salt mine tour or wait til the kids are older because of the amount of walking, stairs, and dangerous nooks and crannies that a little one can fall into. I don’t recall climbing up any steps (only descending) but carrying a wiggling toddler for over an hour could be a bit of a task. Any young children that walk on the tour would need to be constantly supervised as well.
If you have any questions or comments about the Wieliczka Salt Mine, I’d be happy to hear them!
sources: lonelyplanet.com, wikipedia.org, wieliczka-saltmine.com, whc.unesco.org, maps.google.com