Just 25 minutes from Krakow is one of Poland's most visited attractions, the miniere di sale in Wieliczka. On the surface, a visit to a salt mine may not seem like the most exciting thing to do in Poland, but the Wieliczka Salt Mine is different. Comprised of over 186 miles (300km) of tunnels, underground lakes, and even a cathedral made entirely of salt, this place is impressive on all levels.
The mines were opened in the 13th century and have played a vital role in Poland's economy for hundreds of years, during which time miners have transformed the dark and narrow tunnels into a veritable art gallery, making it one of the attractions today. most famous tourist attractions in all of Poland.
Update July 2021: the mines are open! To prevent any COVID-19 infection in the mine, special disinfection procedures have been introduced. Read later for more details.
A Wieliczka gallery, no claustrophobia problem!
There are so many things to do in Krakow: visit the Wawel, wander aimlessly around the market Square, get lost in Jewish ghetto or take a walk along the Vistola.
But surely in addition to all this there are two excursions out of town that should not be missed: the Wieliczka salt mines e visit the concentration camps of Auschwitz
Other articles on Krakow:
- Where to sleep in Krakow
- How to go from Krakow airport to the city center
You might think that visit the salt mines is not on many travelers' lists.
In fact, the 1,2 million tourists who go underground here in Wieliczka every year prove the opposite.
RECOMMENDED TOUR in ENGLISH
Tour in ENGLISH of the Wieliczka Mines: the best tour you can find around - visit, transport from your hotel e including a free Krakow Pub Crawl tour! Not to be missed (in my time it didn't exist otherwise I would have taken it absolutely)
Although a tour to the Krakow Salt Mines is easily booked through agencies, hotels and hostels, I went there alone simply because there was no tour I recommended above.
I got on the bus that left me directly at the entrance to the mines, but I had to wait a little bit before the visits because I hadn't checked the timetables: visits in fact are schedulate, if you don't want to waste time and wait, check the timetables first.
Some underground lakes here in Wieliczka have a higher salt concentration than that of the Dead Sea
When I arrived at the mines I bought the ticket and I waited for my turn sitting at the bar, sipping a hot tea (in early March, despite the day it was sunny, the temperatures were still pungent) and I took advantage of this moment of pause (it happens to me rarely to have any down time especially when traveling) to pick up the guide and read something about this place, UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- 1 - History and legends of the Wieliczka mines
- 2 - Visit of the Krakow salt mines
- 3 - Organized tours to the Wieliczka Salt Mines
- 4 - How to get to the Wieliczka mines
- 5 - Itineraries for visiting the mines
- 6 - Tips for visiting the Wieliczka mines
- 7 - COVID-19 prevention measures
History and legends of the Wieliczka mines
Unbelievable, but the water in the Wieliczka region has always been salty and the mines are among the oldest in the world: they remained in operation for more than 700 years.
An ancient legend tells that they were discovered thanks to the Hungarian princess Kinga who would soon become the wife of the King of Krakow. Kinga asked for a salt mine as a wedding gift, because there was a shortage of salt in Poland and her father gave her one.
She threw her ring in the mine before leaving for Poland and getting married.
When she arrived after the trip she asked the people to dig a deep grave.
During the excavations, salt was found and around a large crystal they found the ring thrown.
Thus it was that Kinga earned a place in history as theKrakow miners' angel.
In the Middle Ages, this place was called Magnum Sal (The Great Salt). In fact, at the time, salt had a very high value, above all because it was used to preserve food.
Subsequently, the salt mines were enlarged until they became the largest industrial enterprise in Poland: the "Krakow Salt Pans", together with the nearby Bochnia, were from the thirteenth century until 2007 one of the major sources of enrichment for the country.
Visit of the Krakow salt mines
Le miniere di Wieliczka they are spread over well 9 levels and reach a depth of 327 meters.
Its tunnels and passages extend underground for more than 300 km: just think that the 3,5 km available for visiting represent less than 1% of the total length to realize how big they were.
One of the salt sculptures
The guide told us that in the mines there are more than 2000 rooms: hard to believe, right?
After asking us to wait in line, we went down the 380 steps of the well Danilowicz that penetrate the bowels of the earth to a depth of 135 meters.
The visit lasts about 3 hours and the lower levels which are closed to the public are not reached for safety reasons.
The visit is easy and very touristy, the galleries are large and even those suffering from claustrophobia should not have any problems.
During the 3,5 km we traveled underground, we often encountered underground rooms, lakes, statues and salt sculptures depicting historical and religious figures, all sculpted by miners.
Don't expect dark tunnels and narrow passages: more than a mine, the salt mines look like a small art gallery.
As the guide told us the history of the mines, I felt a shiver run down my spine at the thought of the miners' life.
The mines were not simply a place of work, but became a second home: miners entered in the morning and left in the evening, spending most of their lives underground.
The work was hard and very dangerous, you went into the mine and you didn't know if you would get out. For this reason the miners tried to make the mines more human: the large blocks of salt took the form of statues and altars, the rooms became chapels in which to pray and in which to ask to be guided and protected.
A reconstruction of life in the mines. it is said that the horses that entered it would never leave it ...
It goes without saying that when you lead such a life you somehow need spirituality and self a direct line to God.
Inside the mine, sets have also been set up that recreate the working environments and tools that were used by miners, but not only. The miners were not only religious but also believed in gnomes.
A light show accompanied by Chopin's music is performed on the shore of an underground lake.
We walked along the rails of the trolleys carrying the salt, passed through the excavated rooms and observed the sculptures that follow one after the other.
I stopped with my nose up and admired her Copernicus cave who, in the distant 400, was one of the first to visit the mine (many famous people besides him have come here, such as Wolfgang Goethe and Chopin just to name two, but you will find many in the Book of celebrities of the mine), the chapel of Sant'Antonio, in Baroque style and the Janowice cave, but without a shadow of a doubt the best part of the tour was Chapel Kinga, the cathedral carved entirely in salt and which takes its name from the famous princess.
Altars, sculptures, even chandeliers ... all carved in halls inside the Cathedral!
It took the miners 67 years to excavate and decorate it, complete with a bas-relief depicting the Last Supper, an altar and candlesticks.
The cathedral is still in operation today: it can be booked for weddings, conferences and religious functions.
At the end of the visit, I walked almost 3 km passing through tunnels, chambers, passages and stairs and at the end a narrow and narrow elevator, brought me back to see the sunlight.
The mines today are very popular because the air you breathe seems to cure various kinds of respiratory diseases: a curative center has even been set up inside.
Organized tours to the Wieliczka Salt Mines
The most popular way to visit Wieliczka is to participate in a tour organized from Krakow.
There are tons of tours - from small group tours to private tours and even the tours that combine a visit to Wieliczka with other places such as Auschwitz.
If I can recommend two tours I recommend these with the visit IN ENGLISH (highly recommended, Civitatis is a guarantee, I have taken tours with them several times):
Auschwitz and Salt Mine in one day: this tour includes the visit of the Auschwitz concentration camp and in addition on the same day you also visit the Wielizcka salt mines (the entrance ticket is already included). Perfect if you don't have much fear to spend in Krakow.
Tour in ENGLISH of the Wieliczka Mines: best tour you can find around - Visit, transport from your hotel and a free Krakow Pub Crawl tour included! Not to be missed (in my time it didn't exist otherwise I would have taken it absolutely)
Taking a guided tour in English is the best way to visit the salt mines from Krakow because your local guide will take care of all the details upon your arrival at the mine. This can be very useful as sometimes the mine can be very chaotic, with many people and long queues.
Guided tours of the Wieliczka mines from Krakow usually last 4-5 hours, including transfers. Organized tours follow the "tourist route" (see later).
Most tours includes transportation to the mine and entrance fee, but please check the description carefully, because some only include one but not the other.
The tours I have listed above include both (as of the July 2021 update).
How to get to the Wieliczka mines
The salt mines are located about 10 km from Krakow.
The easiest way to get to the salt mines is with the bus 304 starting from Galeria Krakowska (ul. Kurniki) and get off at the stop Wieliczka Salt Mine Zone I. The same bus can be taken for the return from the other side of the road.
By train we leave from Krakow Central Station (Main station) and get off at the station Wieliczka Market Square Mine.
By minivan you go up near the Krakow train station and get off at the stop Wieliczka Salt Mine.
Itineraries for visiting the Wieliczka mines
It is not possible to visit the Wieliczka mines on your own, you can only take part in a guided tour.
Several are offered visiting itineraries among which:
1 - Tourist tour
The tourist tour (the one I took part in) is the easiest and most popular route and visits the most touristic part of the mines, including the Underground Cathedral.
The tourist route is 3,5 km long and the tour lasts approximately 3 hours. The temperature in the mine is a constant 16-18 degrees, so even in the middle of winter, it will feel pretty warm underground.
You'll see salt lakes, tunnels, chambers with beautifully sculpted salt sculptures, and even some chapels, one of which is nothing short of spectacular. The huge chandeliers in the Cathedral are made almost entirely of pure salt, so the "crystals" are almost completely transparent and look just like the real ones. It is truly an amazing sight.
During the tour, you are encouraged to touch the salt walls and if you want you can even lick the walls (at your own risk) to verify that it really is salt. Of course, if you have kids they will dive in to lick the wall.
Everyone, even children, gets a headset to hear what the guide is saying.
The tourist route tours are in Polish, English, German, French, Italian, Russian and Spanish. Unless you book the tour in English first, please check the official website at what time the tour takes place for our language.
2 - Miner's tour
On this tour you dress up in the role of miners and descend into the bowels of the mines.
With the right equipment, in addition to visiting the chambers and galleries, everyone is assigned a role as a miner and under the supervision of the guide, you can taste what it was like to work and life underground.
To take part in this tour you must be in good physical condition.
The Miners' Route Tour is only available in English and Polish. The tour runs at 10:30 am and 14:00 pm. It is 2km long and takes about 3 hours. Visitors must wear protective clothing.
There are no restaurants or restrooms on this tour, so you need to go to the bathroom before it starts. The temperature on this tour is between 14 and 16 degrees Celsius.
3 - Tour of the mysteries of the Wieliczka mines
The most adventurous tour must be booked at least two weeks in advance and lasts approximately 4 hours.
Tips for visiting the Wieliczka mines
Buy your tour tickets here in advance: It is highly recommended that you purchase your tickets in advance, as the lines can get extremely long. If you have a ticket, you can skip the line and enter directly.
There are toilets in the mine on the tourist route, but you will have to wait until the "stopping point" which is just over halfway so be sure to go to the bathroom before starting the tour.
At this point in the mine there is also a bar and a small gift shop and free wifi (there is no phone signal in the mine).
At the end of the tour (still in the mines) there is a large café and toilets.
Wear smart clothes. The temperature will be between 17-18 degrees.
Wear comfortable shoes. There is a lot to walk and a lot of stairs to go up and down.
Bring water and a snack with you.
Consider leaving your tour a couple of minutes earlier than everyone else (at the end, when you are already at the exit). There are only a couple of lifts to get back to the surface that take around 6 people at a time and you might waste some time waiting for your turn.
Although it was much longer than we thought, the tour was really interesting.
COVID-19 prevention measures
In the mines Special cleaning procedures have been introduced in all facilities on the surface. Practices include frequent disinfection of handles, handrails, window sills, benches, and other places and equipment that guests and employees come into contact with.
All toilets and other public spaces are also disinfected daily at the end of the tourist reception with equipment spraying with disinfectant.
Every day after the end of the tours, all toilets, passages and vents are disinfected by misting, and the barriers, handles and other places that tourists and employees come into contact with in the underground excavations are disinfected.
Special procedures have also been implemented regarding the use of elevators, includingobligation to use protective masks e disinfect your hands before entering the elevator. Gates and railings are constantly being disinfected.
Hours and prices
All the necessary and updated information for 2021 are found on the official website of the Krakow Salt Mines.
This article was updated in July 20215 / 5 ( 1 vote )