On the return leg of a Baltic road trip we spent a few days in Krakow, Poland. We arranged for Jack and Izzy to spend a day with a dog-sitter, so we could visit a top local attraction – the Wieliczka Salt Mine. The mine was first opened in the 13th century and continually produced table salt up to 2007, when it became a historic monument. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The salt mine contains dozens of intricate statues and four chapels carved out of the rock salt by the miners during its 700-year history.
Wieliczka salt mine has various routes for tourists to take, a gift shop and also a health spa. You can also stay in the mine, if you have a mind to, so that you can partake in its health-giving properties. The Wieliczka Salt Mine actually approaches a depth of 327 meters and its tunnels are over 287 kilometres (178 mi) long, but the tourist route only involves barely 2% of the mine.
For our visit we drove from our apartment in Krakow and parked at the main entrance just outside the town of Wieliczka. The ticket office required some queuing as we had not booked in advance. We then followed an English-language tour guide down a wooden staircase (the Tourist Route – Danilowicz Shaft) to level 1 of the mine. This staircase consisted of 380 steps. It was a small taste of what was to come (the tourist route has over 800 steps in total!) Let’s say it’s one very good leg workout! When you visit – wear sensible shoes.
The tourist route is a 3 km (1.9 mile) walk along corridors and staircases, through 20 chambers, 4 chapels, past statues, and to the underground lake. The lake is 135 metres (443 ft) underground.
The tour takes about 2 hours. On the route we learned about its history from displays and media presentations and were able to appreciate the beauty of its art and magnificence.
Several times along the route you turn a corner and ‘wow’, something in front of you takes your breath away. The large open caverns, with a lake at the bottom, edged with long straight staircases that reminded me of the moving ones in the Harry Potter pictures at Hogwarts!
There’s a light show at the salt lake, where the lights dance to the sounds of Chopin.
The standout feature, though, has got to be the Chapel of Saint Kinga. This chapel is huge – it’s hard to believe you are so far underground. It is decorated with intricate salt carvings; it is a fully-functional, large church.
At the end of the tour you gain access to the surface via a lift. So, no climbing back to the surface! The lift takes about 30 seconds to make the trip. You get out near the gift shop where (surprise, surprise!) you can buy salt and also health spa treatments. We bought some bath salts – they are very good!
Other Options at the Salt Mine
The mine is not just a tourist attraction. There is a working chapel, a reception room that is used for private functions (including weddings), and also a restaurant.
There are actually several routes you can take, including a number of guided mining adventures. The Miners Route tour starts in the Regis Shaft and shows how the miners lived and worked. Activities include cutting salt and monitoring methane levels. There are also group adventures for corporate events (including a miner’s feast) and a mysteries adventure which is about 4 hours long and quite hard going (full miners protective clothing etc). There is also a Pilgrim’s Route that visits the chapels and considers them in more detail than the Tourist Route.
If your children are old enough, try and book onto one of the guided mining adventures; although you must book at least two weeks in advance.
For more information, please visit their website here.