One step after another.
Bit by bit, metre by metre, that’s how they built this enormous underground complex. And that’s also how you visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine – with 810 steps to get to the bottom of the tourist route, deep in the bowels of the earth.
This is no ordinary mine, not just a warren of small dark tunnels and dangerous industrial pitfalls. The Wieliczka Salt Mine is a small city, an art gallery, a place of work, and a house of worship… and it’s all carved out of salt.
First used in the 13th century, the Wieliczka Salt Mine was one of the most significant industrial centres for Poland – a driving force in the local economy and one of the main employers of the region
And since work stopped here in 1996, it has become one of Poland’s most popular tourist attractions and one of the country’s greatest sources of pride, with a story that goes to the heart of the national character.
Why is the Wieliczka Salt Mine important?
For a large part, the fame of the Wieliczka Salt Mine comes from its spectacular appearance – a huge mining complex filled with statues, chandeliers, and other decorations. But Wieliczka has also been named a World Heritage Site because of how well it shows the stages of the development of mining techniques in Europe from the 13th to the 20th centuries.
Is the Wieliczka Salt Mine still active?
Although Wieliczka Salt Mine was in use for centuries, from as early as the 1200s, operations declined in the 20th century and the final commercial salt extraction took place in 1996.
Can you visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine?
The underground labyrinth of tunnels is enormous and you can’t see it all – you wouldn’t even have time to! But parts of the Wieliczka Salt Mine are open and you can visit them on one of the public tours.
One of the things that makes the Wieliczka Salt Mine so impressive is its size.
After 700 years of continuous operation, the site ended up reaching a depth of 327 metres, with more than 240 kilometres of galleries and 2350 chambers!
But beyond that, it’s the beauty of these galleries and chambers that makes Wieliczka so special. Carved with care and decorated with pride, the complex is more than just utilitarian.
Generations of miners have left a remarkable legacy.
Visiting the Wieliczka Salt Mine takes you deep into the underground city, through a fair amount of the important parts. But, of course, you’ll only ever see a small fraction of those 240 kilometres of galleries.
If you’re looking for a tour to the Wieliczka Salt Mine from Krakow, I would recommend this excellent trip that includes hotel pickup.
But it’s clear to see why this was one of the first places to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage List – one of just 12 that made up the list in its very first year.
Below, I have lots of tips for how you can see inside the Wieliczka Salt Mine yourself. First, though, I want to briefly cover some of the background.
History of the Wieliczka Salt Mine
For the miners who worked underground, the tunnels and caverns were a second home and they took great pride in treating it as such.
From the very start of operations in the 13th century, they began to decorate the mine with statues. Carved out of salt, the statues they created gave life and spiritual meaning to the catacombs.
Pockets that the workers mined became rooms and many of those rooms became chapels. Religious iconography and altars gave them places to ask for guidance and help.
When you spend so many hours a day so far underneath the ground, it’s important to have a direct line to the heavens.
The largest of the chapels took three men the course of 67 years to decorate, chiselling and sculpting artwork from the salt. Today it has large chandeliers hanging from the roof and can be used for weddings and other ceremonies.
In fact, many of the rooms in the Wieliczka Salt Mine can be used today.
What to see at the Wieliczka Salt Mine
There are function rooms, conference facilities, restaurants and bars that are available for hire. The city underground may not be a working mine anymore but it still has life.
Visiting the Wieliczka Salt Mine
It’s also full of tourists on the day I visit. You can only access the mine as part of a guided tour and although it takes about two and a half hours it’s just a tiny part of the complex that you’ll see.
“There are two thousand chambers in the mine”, our guide tells us. That’s hard to imagine.
“You are only seeing one per cent on our tour.” That’s hard to believe.
“To see it all would take more than seven weeks.” That’s hard to walk!
Where is the Wieliczka Salt Mine?
The Wieliczka Salt Mine is about 12 kilometres southeast of central Krakow. The official address is Daniłowicza 10, 32-020, Wieliczka.
You can see it on a map here.
How do you get to the Wieliczka Salt Mine?
It’s quite easy to get to the Wieliczka Salt Mine from Krakow. By train, you can go direct from Krakow Główny station to Wieliczka Rynek Kopalnia and it’s just a short walk from there.
By bus, catch number 304 from Dworzec Główny Zachód to Wieliczka Kopalnia Soli.
If you’re driving, there’s lots of parking at the site for 30 zł (US$7.50) per car.
What are the Wieliczka Salt Mine opening hours?
You can go into the Wieliczka Salt Mine with one of two tours.
The ‘Tourist Route’ tour is open from 08:00 – 19:00 with English tours every 30 minutes.
The ‘Miners Route’ is open from 10:00 – 17:00 with English tours at 10:30, 14:00, and 16:30.
How much is the Wieliczka Salt Mine entry fee?
You can go into the Wieliczka Salt Mine with one of two tours. They each cost the same.
General: 126 zł (US$31.30)
Concession: 116 zł (US$28.80)
Children (age 4-19): 106 zł (US$26.30)
Family (2 adults/2 children): 379 zł (US$94)
Are there tours to the Wieliczka Salt Mine?
Once you reach the site, the only way to go into the mine is on one of the official guided tours that leave regularly.
There are also good tours from Krakow that will take care of your transportation from the city, such as this half-day trip.
Another popular option is this full-day tour from Krakow that also includes a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
In the end I walked 2.5 kilometres – down staircases, through small chambers, into cavernous halls, past chapels, around lakes and finally into a tiny elevator that carried us back up to the top in seconds.
It was nice to see daylight again although I’d almost forgotten how far I was underground. I suppose that was the whole point of the wonderland the miners built over all those generations.
If you’re interested in visiting, there are some great tours. I would recommend one of these ones:
Time Travel Turtle travelled to Poland as a guest of the Polish National Tourist Office but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.