When spending a few days in Krakow during our Christmas in Poland a few years back, we were sure to put a visit to Wieliczka Salt Mine on the list of must see attractions during our stay.
We only had 3 days in Krakow, which is not a lot of time to spend in a city as beautiful as Krakow, but with so many wonderful cities in Poland, it can be a hard choice. Our time in Krakow was before heading to Zakopane for our first White Christmas.
The Wieliczka Salt Mine was a stand out attraction though, and well worth a visit if you happen to be in Krakow for a couple of days or more.
WIELICZKA SALT MINE
The Wieliczka Salt Mine was built back in the 13th century, continuing table salt production right up until 2007, making it one of the world’s oldest operating salt mines. Commercial mining was discontinued back in 1996 though, due to poor profits with low salt prices and the impact of the mine flooding.
Wieliczka Salt Mine is one of Poland’s National Historic Monuments, and was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list back in 1978.
Parts of the mine were used during WWII by German occupants for war related planning and related activities.
The Salt Mine
Wieliczka Salt Mine is massive. A depth of 337 metres and more than 287 kilometres long. It is difficult to even comprehend the size until you visit, and even then the tour only takes in a small fraction of the mine’s area.
During the tour, you only see 2% of the mines total passages. A crazy thought as it is quite a lengthy tour.
Within the mine are endless attractions carved from rock salt. This includes statues and sculptures, depicting various scenes and icons, but even more impressive is the fact that it also contains four chapels carved from the rock salt by miners.
The sculptures within the mine have been created both by historic and contemporary artists. Although nothing is quite as impressive as the Chapel of St Kinga, which needs to be seen to be truly appreciated.
Wieliczka Salt Mine is also the venue for many significant events in Poland, including concerts and functions held within the mine. It is also possible to get married in the Chapel of St Kinga, but trust me, you would want to forfeit the huge puffy wedding dress because there are a lot of stairs before you get there.
We visited Wieliczka Salt Mine at night, following our day time tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Being an attraction underground, natural light isn’t something that you have anyway, so night tours are just as viable as day tours to the salt mine. Plus it gets dark super early in Europe in Winter.
When you arrive, some safety instructions are given along with the welcome from your tour guide, and each guest is provided a hard hat as an extra precaution, which from memory I think was only required at the start of the tour. It is then an industrial elevator ride down the first shaft before the first massive set of stairs awaits you.
When we visited Europe on this trip, I was suffering some random leg and foot issues. My ankles and knee had swollen, possibly from all the walking and stairs we had covered in Paris and Germany before arriving in Poland.
So trust me when I say the hundreds of stairs on this tour are best taken when in good physical condition. But I wasn’t going to miss out, so I hobbled along for the whole tour, despite the horrendous pain.
The tour guide leads you through various chambers and tunnels, explaining their significance, the mine’s history and pointing out the various salt sculptures along the way.
It is amazing to consider everywhere you turn there are creations made from salt. And yes, we joked about licking the walls. The result of travelling with teenage boys (Simon’s younger brothers). Don’t worry… we didn’t!
By far the stand out for me though was the mammoth Chapel of St Kinga.
Words cannot describe how impressed and overwhelmed you feel first setting your eyes on this enormous area. There is so much detail, from the salt sculpted chandeliers to the traditional chapel style decorations, all underground and like nothing else.
The Chapel is a popular venue for concerts, and they demonstrate the acoustics during the tour by playing music and setting off a bit of a light show. Just WOW!
Photos do not do this place justice, and the fact that we were pretty lousy travel photographers back then! Thankfully things have come a long way in a few short years with our camera skills.
I won’t lie. A part of me wishes I got married there… vows renewal maybe? But then I also feel that way about the Łazienki Palace on the Isle in Warsaw. Seriously, Poland has all the stand outs!
At the end of the Wieliczka Salt Mine tour, your guide takes you to the underground tavern, a perfect place for a Polish beer and a meal. This is another mammoth building, considering it is all underground. Very impressive.
We had a very late dinner and enjoyed some drinks and a browse in the gift shop before our tour came to a complete end and it was time to head back to our accommodation in Krakow.
Is Wieliczka Salt Mine Suitable For Kids?
The short answer – Yes. While younger kids may struggle a little with the stairs, they are most welcome to visit the mine and participate in the tour.
Strollers are near impossible to use inside the mine due to all the stairs, so if travelling with very young children, a baby carrier would be best.
There is also a child specific program available during the mine visit, perfect for family travel.
Wieliczka Salt Mine is located in Wieliczka, in southern poland, within the greater Krakow metropolitan area.
Tours are conducted on a daily basis, with several different tour types to choose from. We did the Tourist Route, which is the most popular, however there is also the Miners’ Route and the Pilgrims Route, each targeting different interests.
The tour took approximately 3 hours and requires a good level of fitness, however there is a wheelchair alternative that needs to be booked in advance.
It is also quite cold, as you can expect for a place that doesn’t get sunlight. That was fine for us being that it was winter and we were rugged up anyway.
The Tourist Route tour costs 79 PLN per person, with kids under 4 free and discounts available for groups and families.
There are train and bus services travelling between Krakow and Wieliczka at regular intervals throughout the day. Alternatively you can take a cab, minivan or private transport, or consider a guided bus tour such as the one we did, incorporating other sights.
Wieliczka Salt Mine offers accommodation both above and below ground. The underground accommodation is believed to have health benefits due to the purity of the air underground, and ensuring a highly restful sleep.
There is also a health resort offering professional medical services and treatments, especially focused around respiratory issues and asthma, but also treating a range of other conditions. Or simply providing a restful place for rejuvenation.
You can find more information about Wieliczka Salt Mine and the related facilities on their website.