Visit to the Wieliczka salt mine near Krakow in Poland: a breathtaking experience!


Today, I’m taking you on a journey deep into the Wieliczka salt mine, located near Krakow in Poland. Just hearing the name makes you smell the sweet scent of adventure, and this place truly lives up to expectations – impressive, grandiose, and surprising, there aren’t enough adjectives to describe the experience!

So, how does one visit the Wieliczka salt mines? How can you book tickets? What can you expect to see on site? In this article, I’ll answer all of these questions and more, while also showcasing plenty of pictures, as this place is a photographer’s paradise!

Exploring the Wieliczka salt mine

Wieliczka is mainly known for this site, which attracts over a million visitors annually, while the city itself has only around 20,000 inhabitants! In fact, there is very little else to see in the area.

Entrance to the Wieliczka salt mine near Krakow
Entrance to the Wieliczka salt mine near Krakow

The mine has a long history, with documents dating back to approximately 1125, referring to it as “Magnum Sal” in Latin (“The Great Salt”), which translates into “Wielka Sól” in Polish, hence the name of the town.

It’s no wonder that the place is well-equipped to welcome visitors. As soon as you leave the parking lot, you’ll walk up a street lined with small cottages selling souvenirs from the mine, which are also available throughout the Krakow area, including the airport.

Souvenirs from the Wieliczka salt mine in Poland

Next, you’ll come across the entrance to the mine’s building, which is one of many structures on this massive site. At first, I was a little hesitant when I saw the entrance with its crowds of tourists and pergolas, but our guide Elisabeth quickly reassured us. She explained that the Wieliczka salt mines are a UNESCO World Heritage site, which certainly bodes well for some excellent photo opportunities!

Monument in front of the Wieliczka salt mine

Descending into the Wieliczka salt mine

Elisabeth tells us with a smile that the first part of the tour involves descending an endless wooden staircase with 360 steps, taking you deep into the earth. This is equivalent to reaching the second floor of the Eiffel Tower.

It’s actually quite fascinating because as you descend into the depths of the earth, you begin to fully appreciate the massive scale of these salt mines. Elisabeth explains that the tour inside the mine covers only 2% of the entire mine.

The staircase that descends into the Wieliczka salt mines

Initially, the salt deposit on the surface was simply exploited by the local population. However, as resources dwindled, shafts were dug deeper and deeper underground in search of salt. The mine was operational until 1996, when it was deemed more profitable to turn it into a tourist attraction instead of using it for salt production.

Our staircase seems never-ending as we reach the first level, situated 210 feet below ground level (also known as the “Bono level”). Here, the atmosphere is peculiar – it’s around 57°F, the walls are dark and don’t resemble salt as we know it, and the air feels incredibly pure.

Elisabeth shares with us that the air is rich in calcium, magnesium, and potassium, and according to legend, it can extend life expectancy!

We explore the massive machinery used to lift the salt, and observe the workers who literally turned in circles all day to operate the ropes that brought up the salt barrels.

Equipment of the Wieliczka salt mine near Krakow

Some corridors are painted white, a visual trick to reflect light and provide better working conditions for the workers, who spent their days away from the outside world and the sun. Nevertheless, it was an extremely physically demanding job – four men had to work together for 8 to 12 hours a day to operate the wheels and bring up the salt.

The white corridors of Wieliczka in Poland

The Room of Nicolaus Copernicus

Our steps lead us to the first room, the Room of Nicolaus Copernicus.

The typical tourist route in the mine includes a visit to about twenty chambers, spanning around 1.9 miles… but it feels like we’re walking much further as the Wieliczka salt mine visit is spread over three levels (there are a total of nine in the mine!) so we constantly descend stairs – 800 steps in total during the 2.5 to 3-hour tour!

The circuit goes down “only” to 443 feet deep (which is already a significant depth, mind you), whereas the mine actually extends to a depth of 1,073 feet!

To give you an idea of the extraordinary proportions of this place: the whole Eiffel Tower could fit inside it (yep, I’m French, I measure things in Eiffel Towers ^^)! That’s why it’s best to visit with a knowledgeable guide! Joking aside, it’s actually impossible to visit it without a guide and I’m sure you understand why ;)

Statue of Nicolaus Copernicus in Wieliczka
Statue of Nicolaus Copernicus

The Room of Nicolaus Copernicus was carved out of green salt around 1785. Copernicus, who was educated at the University of Krakow, was one of the few guests allowed to visit the salt mine in his time, a rare privilege. In honor of him, the sculptor Wladyslaw Hapek created this statue in 1973, on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Copernicus’ birth.

It’s one of the few sculptures in the salt mine created by a professional, as most of the sculptures you see on the tour were crafted by the workers themselves.

The Legend of Saint Kinga

This is evident in the Janowice Chamber, which depicts the legend of the creation of the Wieliczka salt mines.

In the 13th century, a young Polish prince fell in love with a Hungarian princess named Kinga. Her father, the king, asked what she would like as a wedding gift, something that she could take with her to Krakow. The princess asked for a gift that could be useful for the people: salt.

Kinga’s father gifted her a large salt mine in Hungary, but she didn’t know what to do with it. She came up with an idea to throw her engagement ring inside the mine and then left with a group of Hungarian miners to Krakow. Upon their arrival, she ordered the miners to search for salt. Suddenly, while digging the ground, they discovered a huge block of salt.

Breaking it, they found the young woman’s engagement ring inside. That’s how, according to the legend, salt became the main activity of Wieliczka.

The legend of rock salt in Wieliczka, Poland
The legend of rock salt in Wieliczka, Poland

The work of the mine: men and horses

Like most underground enterprises, the salt mines were dangerous places. Methane gas accumulated in the galleries, and the threat of an explosion was ever-present.

There were professionals, known as Penitents, who would bring long torches up to the walls to burn off the methane. Despite the risks involved, these extremely dangerous jobs were also extremely well-paid, so there were many volunteers to do the work.

Burning methane in Wieliczka salt mine
Burning methane

As we continue along the way, we discover other rooms. The Sielec room reenacts the miners’ work: we see the carts and the traces of their passage embedded in the ground.

Until 1925, horses assisted men in transporting salt in the mine. They were lowered into the mine using a strap under their body which scared them a lot, so the men created cages dedicated to transporting them. The mine had real stables, which have now been converted into visitor rooms. The horses were later replaced by electrical systems.

Horses and workers in the Wieliczka salt mine
Horses and workers in the salt mine

Some galleries in the mine had a salt stone floor specially designed for horses. When the horses worked, they sweated and lost a lot of salt. Licking a salt stone allowed the horse to satisfy its salt needs.

A corridor with a salt stone floor
A corridor with a salt stone floor

Visitors are also allowed to lick the walls in some places, but for obvious hygiene reasons, no one seems really motivated to lick them.

A vast room is dedicated to King Casimir III the Great (the only King of Poland to be called “The Great”). During his reign, the mines of Wieliczka brought in one-third of the state’s income. The sculpture of the king in the room was made by a miner.

Sculpture of Casimir III the Great in Wieliczka
Sculpture of Casimir III the Great

We continue our descent into the depths of the mine, discovering the astonishing universe of the place, including the staircases sculpted from salt.

Stairs carved in salt in Wieliczka, Poland
Stairs carved in salt in Wieliczka, Poland

The Wieliczka Salt Mine: a place of worship

The chambers in the mine are grandiose, especially in the deeper sections. Poland has a strong religious tradition, so it is not surprising to find several chapels inside the mine, featuring painted wooden ceilings and sculptures of Christ.

St. John's Chapel - Wieliczka Salt Mines
St. John’s Chapel – Wieliczka Salt Mines

Some chapels, like the Holy Cross Chapel below, were movable: workers could transfer the decorations to another room closer to their workplace.

Holy Cross Chapel - Wieliczka Salt Mines

But nothing compares to the largest chapel in the Wieliczka mines: the Chapel of Saint Kinga (Saint Cunegund). Just before arriving there, we encounter a gentleman stationed at the entrance. At this point in the tour, if you wish to continue taking pictures, you must purchase a photo pass (which costs 10 PLN or about 2.5 euros). This is a common practice in Polish monuments, so remember to bring some cash to avoid disappointment.

We then descend a majestic staircase to reach the bottom of this chapel, which extends over 177 feet in length, 59 feet in width, and 39 feet in height from floor to ceiling… all at a depth of 331 feet underground!

Chapel of Saint Kinga in Wieliczka, near Krakow

The Wieliczka Salt Mine, a place of worship

The grandeur of the rooms inside the Wieliczka Salt Mine is astonishing, especially as you go deeper into the mine. As Poland is a very religious country, it comes as no surprise that there are several chapels inside the mine, featuring painted wooden ceilings and sculptures of Christ.

St. John's Chapel in the Wieliczka Salt Mines
St. John’s Chapel – Wieliczka Salt Mines

Some of these chapels, like the Holy Cross Chapel below, were movable, so workers could take the decorations with them to another room closer to their workplace.

The Holy Cross Chapel in the Wieliczka Salt Mines

But the most impressive chapel in the Wieliczka mines is without a doubt the Chapel of Saint Kinga (or Saint Cunegund). Just before arriving there, visitors cross a checkpoint where they can pay for a photo pass (which costs 10 PLN, or about 2.5 euros). This is common in Polish monuments, but remember to bring some cash if you want to avoid disappointment!

Visitors then descend a majestic staircase to reach the bottom of this chapel, which extends for 177 feet in length, 59 feet in width, and has a ceiling height of 39 feet… all at a depth of 331 feet underground!

The Chapel of Saint Kinga in Wieliczka, near Krakow

Here, EVERYTHING is made of salt, and it is impossible not to be amazed at the incredible craftsmanship on display: a floor sculpted from salt, chandeliers made of salt crystals, bas-reliefs depicting religious scenes made of salt (including the Last Supper), an altar entirely made of salt with depictions of Saint Kinga, Saint Joseph, and Saint Clement, as well as a statue made of salt depicting the country’s child, Pope John Paul II.

The chapel is still used for Masses, but it is also a venue for concerts because its acoustics are said to be incredible.

Salt sculpture in the Wieliczka Salt Mines
Salt sculpture
The Last Supper in Salt at the Chapel of Saint Kinga
The Last Supper in Salt

Underground lakes and majestic rooms

In my opinion, the most memorable part of the Wieliczka salt mine visit is the final section. First, there are the subterranean lakes where colors blend together.

An underground lake in Wieliczka
An underground lake in Wieliczka

The Weimar Chamber is another example of the grandeur of these rooms. It is dedicated to Goethe, who once visited the mine.

Weimar Room in the Wieliczka Mines
Weimar Room in the Wieliczka Mines

There are rooms of breathtaking height, with incredible wood and salt architecture. The Michalowice chamber, with its 115-feet height, is impressive.

Michalowice Chamber in the Wieliczka Mine
Michalowice Chamber in the Wieliczka Mine

There are also artificial underground rivers, as in the Jozef Pilsudski Chamber, two excavations connected by a flooded tunnel. It seems that at one time you could take a boat ride on this improvised river. This is no longer possible today, given the number of people who visit the mine.

Jozef Pilsudski Chamber in the Wieliczka salt mine
Jozef Pilsudski Chamber

It’s still a memorable visit, the place is quite fabulous and has some very beautiful images! I highly recommend you to go there during your stay in Krakow.

The ascent to the surface is quite unusual: you go up in a typical “elevator” that was used by the miners. It is made of iron, we are 6 and already a little bit tight (these iron cages can contain up to 9 people) and while beginning its rise, the cage shakes everywhere. It lasts 45 seconds but it’s a good way to complete the experience!

Useful information for visiting the Wieliczka salt mine

How to purchase tickets?

As I mentioned earlier, it’s important to note that visiting the salt mine without a guide is not allowed due to the labyrinthine underground corridors that can lead to getting lost.

Therefore, since guided tours are mandatory, I recommend to use a travel agency, which will also arrange transportation from the center of Krakow. Although the city is easily accessible by train within 20-30 minutes, using a travel agency can simplify logistics. Additionally, the city is not really worth a visit outside the mine, so there is no reason to linger too long beyond the tour.

Which agency to choose? For an English tour, you can check the offerings of Cracow Visit or Discover Krakow. Both agencies are highly reputable and offer various tours in small or large groups.

For those with limited time in Poland, you should also know that there are day trips that combine a guided tour of Wieliczka with a visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, such as this tour. This is a long tour, and for some people, it may be difficult to transition from one to the other on the same day, so it’s up to you to decide.

If you plan to visit Auschwitz at another time, you can find tips on how to organize a tour of the camp in this article.

In any case, it’s recommended to purchase tickets in advance. Some times may not be available at the last minute.

The price is still quite affordable, usually around 40-45€ for a half-day tour with guide and transportation. As mentioned in the article, remember to bring extra cash for the photo pass if you want to take pictures.

How to get to Wieliczka by public transport or car?

To organize your own trip to Wieliczka, you can travel by car along “Wielicka” street in Krakow, which starts from the Podgorze district in the south of the city. It takes approximately 20 minutes to reach Wieliczka if the traffic conditions are good. A visitor parking lot is available at 22 Edwarda Dembowskiego, Wieliczka.

Alternatively, you can take the SKA1 train from Krakow station to Wieliczka. The train ride takes about 24 minutes if it stops at all stations. Alternatively, you can take bus 304 from the Jubilat station (west of the old town) towards Wieliczka Miasto. The bus stops near the mine (Wieliczka Kopalnia Soli station) and the ride takes approximately 25 minutes.

Duration and accessibility of the tour

The tour typically lasts between 2 and 3 hours, depending on the guide, the anecdotes shared, and the number of people in the group. Parts of the mine tour are wheelchair accessible, and there are sections specifically designed for children, complete with small animations.

For instance:

The legend of rock salt told to children in Wieliczka
The legend of rock salt told to children

Facilities available

At the end of the guided tour, the gift shop is located in the Stanislaw Staszic room with its 164-feet high ceiling. Visitors can purchase a variety of souvenirs from the mine, including salt lamps, table salt, beauty products made from salt, and postcards. I highly recommend the salt scrub, which I found to be an excellent exfoliant, and the coarse salt, which does not have a particularly “distinctive” taste but which makes for a great souvenir.

An online store is also available.

Additionally, a restaurant can be found at the bottom of the mine.

Toilets are conveniently located throughout the tour, including at the end of the 40-minute and 90-minute tours, as well as at the conclusion of the entire tour.

Special tours

There are other ways to visit the Wieliczka salt mine besides the tour I mentioned in the article: you can have a “real” miner’s experience by putting on a miner’s gear and going to learn about the mine work and mining traditions. This tour, the “Miners Route”, is quite physical and takes 3 hours. It has nothing in common with the tour described in the article (you don’t visit the same part of the mine at all).

More recently, the mine has opened the access to the graduation tower which requires a specific ticket. The tour lasts only 30 minutes, you can read more about it here.

You can even follow a kind of underground cure, as the air of the salt mine is said to be very beneficial for lung diseases: the mine can welcome people for the day… and you can even sleep underground in a kind of hotel if you want to live an out of the ordinary experience.

The salt mine plays the tourism card to the fullest since it is also possible to organize seminars, private events and even weddings!

Before ending this article, one last piece of advice… which is to cover yourself up to go there because it’s not very warm down there (57-61°F approximately).

It is a place which, in my opinion, is worth the detour when you make a stay in Krakow… because we must admit that it is not every day that we have the opportunity to see a salt mine closely!

Where is the Wieliczka salt mine located?
The Wieliczka salt mine is located in Wieliczka, Poland, about 9 miles from Krakow.

What is the temperature inside the Wieliczka salt mine?
The temperature inside the Wieliczka salt mine is around 14-16°C (57-61°F) approximately.

How deep is Wieliczka salt mine?
The Wieliczka salt mine is about 327 meters (1073 feet) deep but the tour only goes down 443 feet.

How long is a tour of the Wieliczka salt mine?
A tour of the Wieliczka salt mine lasts between 2 and 3 hours depending on the guide, anecdotes told, and the number of people in the group.

How to get to Wieliczka salt mine from Krakow?
To get to the Wieliczka salt mine from Krakow, you can use public transportation (train or bus) or book a tour with a travel agency.


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