Wieliczka Salt Mine: a wonderful underground world
What is Wieliczka Salt Mine?
Wieliczka Salt Mine is one of the original UNESCO World Heritage Sites from 1978 and an intriguing underground place made of salt with centuries of history (some 700 years to be exact). Wieliczka is an example of the wonders that can be created when nature, technology and humans join forces. Here you can see an underground lake, as well as breathtaking chambers and statues, carved out of salt and learn how mining equipment has developed over centuries. Wieliczka Salt Mine is even home to a salt carving of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. As you can see, a salt mine’s walls can hide many treasures.
An underground spa?
As a side note, not many people know that there’s a Health Resort in the lower levels of the mine (the only underground health resort in Poland). You might find this surprising, but it actually makes a lot of sense. The air there is incredibly clean, free of pollutions and allergens. The microclimate in the salt chambers provides relief to people suffering from respiratory diseases and asthma.
Where is Wieliczka Salt Mine located?
This popular salt mine is located in the town of Wieliczka in southern Poland. It is situated just about 16 km (ca. 10 miles) from Kraków, one of Poland’s most famous cities. If you’re visiting Kraków, a trip to the salt mine is a must, so don’t miss it!
Is Wieliczka Salt Mine worth visiting?
Yes! Wieliczka Salt Mine is among the most popular attractions in Poland and welcomes a lot of visitors every year. Don’t be afraid that it’s a tourist trap, though, this one really is worth a visit. You also don’t need to worry if you have little interest in mining or salt mines. If we’re being completely honest, we’re not that interested in them either. Fortunately, Wieliczka Salt Mine offers much more than that. Most people visit it mostly because of its artistic side and beautiful sights that will blow your mind. However, it is also great for those interested in mining history, the mine’s geological features or miners’ daily work. Needless to say, with 7 centuries of history, 250 km (ca. 155 miles) of tunnels and some 327 metres (ca. 1070 ft) of depth, Wieliczka Salt Mine offers an interesting journey to a world below the surface.
A few words about the mine’s history
Wieliczka is one of the oldest mines in the world, producing table salt continuously until 2007. Its history goes all the way back to the 13th century when rock salt deposits were discovered in Bochnia and Wieliczka (two towns close to Krakow). Since that moment, extracting salt became a very profitable business for the Polish kings. Back in the day, salt used to be called “white gold”. It was not easy to produce, but due to its ability to preserve food, especially meat, it was of great value and quite expensive. Want a quick fact? Thanks to the profit from the production and sale of this mineral, in the 14th century, King Casimir the Great founded the first Polish university in Krakow (Jagiellonian University).
Commercial salt mining at Wieliczka mine was stopped in 1996 because of falling salt prices and mine flooding. Today, the mine has more of an artistic and touristic function and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (since 1978) and an official Polish Historic Monument.
A world carved from rock salt
What makes Wieliczka Salt Mine unique is the fairytale-like underground world that was created there by gifted miners. Once their hard work was finished, they used to unleash their creative talents inside the mine’s walls. The total length of the salt mine is estimated to be more than 250 km, which makes it one of the largest in the world. However, only around 3,5 km (ca. 2 miles) are open to tourists. There’s no reason to be disappointed, though, since the part we can visit is already a gift for the senses. Endless corridors, underground saline lakes, chapels carved from salt… The mine leaves most tourists full of wonder, and it’s hard to imagine what the rest of its tunnels are hiding!
The biggest highlight: Saint Kinga’s Chapel
Yes, you’re reading that right. There’s a chapel in a salt mine below the surface. In fact, it’s a small cathedral. St. Kinga’s Chapel is the most impressive chamber in Wieliczka and an absolute must. Located at 101 metres below ground level, this chamber is dedicated to a Hungarian Princess Kinga, patron saint of salt miners. The whole chapel is made of salt, including the floor, and it took almost 70 years to finish it. There’s a big sculpture of St Kinga and a salt carved Nativity scene. Make sure to also look up at the stunning salt chandeliers.
The legend of Saint Kinga
By the way, you may be asking, “Who was Saint Kinga?”. There’s actually a legend that claims that it’s Kinga who brought salt to Poland. Want to hear it? Here is its very short version.
Princess Kinga came to Poland to marry Bolesław V the Chaste. She refused a dowry from her father, believing that gold and other jewels won’t bring her subjects anything good. Instead, she wished to bring her new homeland salt (there were no salt mines in Poland at the time). In the form of dowry from her father, she received the largest and wealthiest mine in Hungary. Unfortunately, the mine was too far away from Poland which made Kinga very worried. The legend claims that she threw her engagement ring into the Hungarian mine shaft after asking God for advice. Once in Poland, she was determined to find salt and ordered the miners to dig in the area of Bochnia and Wieliczka. They finally encountered a rock of salt and inside they found her engagement ring.
An underground journey with a tour guide
To visit Wieliczka Salt Mine, you have to join a guided tour. There are 3 routes you can choose from Tourist Route, Miners’ Route and Pilgrim’s Route. Each tour takes about 2 to 3 hours but focuses on different aspects of the mine.
The Tourist Route is of course the most popular and gives you a proper introduction to the salt mine. Apart from getting insight into the history, you’ll walk through more than 20 chambers, see mining equipment, a saline lake, salt crystals hanging from beautiful chandeliers and sculptures made of salt.
The Miners’ Route
If you’re feeling adventurous and want to experience first hand what salt miners’ work looked like, the Miners’ Route will be a lot of fun. This is your chance to put on a miner’s jumpsuit, a hard hat and a lamp, take a shovel and do some salt digging.
The Pilgrim’s Route
Finally, though you probably wouldn’t have thought that a salt mine could be a religious site, this salt mine has around 40 places of religious worship. It is believed to be the way miners expressed their deep faith. As a result, tourists can take the Pilgrim’s Route which follows sites of religious significance such as St Anthony’s Chapel, St Kinga’s Chapel, a salt copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper or a salt statue of John Paul II.
What to expect and how to prepare for a visit to Wieliczka mine?
Being prepared is the easiest way to ensure a successful visit, so here are a few things to keep in mind when making a trip to Wieliczka.
- Season: Many tourists come to Krakow and Wieliczka in the summer months, so if you’re visiting in the summer, don’t be surprised by crowds and long lines to buy entrance tickets.
- Dress appropriately: The temperature in the mine is around 17-18ºC. We recommend taking an extra jumper, even when it’s hot outside.
- Footwear: There are in total around 800 stairs to tackle during the Tourist Route, so comfortable shoes are essential. Once you make it all the way underground, you can take an elevator back to the surface.
How do I get to Wieliczka Salt Mine?
You can reach Wieliczka from Kraków via public transport. You can catch a train leaving every hour from Krakow Główny station to Wieliczka Rynek-Kopalnia station. Alternatively, you can hop on the bus at the Dworzec Główny Zachód stop. The ride by public transport will take around 30 minutes.
Wieliczka Salt Mine tours with MrShuttle
If you’re looking to have a stress-free ride and not bother with all the logistics, we recommend booking our private transfer from Krakow to Wieliczka. If you’re looking to simplify the whole trip, you can join our Wieliczka Salt Mine Tour. With a click of a finger, you’ll get a hotel pick-up and drop-off, transfer to Wieliczka and back, and an entrance ticket that comes with a guided tour of the mine. The best part is that there’s no need to wait in line. We also offer a private tour in case you’d like a private transfer or have the tour guide all to yourself. And for those of you who are really short on time and don’t want to miss out, we have a one-day trip to both Wieliczka Salt Mine and Auschwitz Birkenau.