Wieliczka Salt Mine
Wieliczka Salt Mine information
Some 14km southeast of Kraków’s city centre, Wieliczka (vyeh-leech -kah) is famous for its ultra-deep salt mine, which has been in continuous operation for 700 years. It’s an eerie world of pits and chambers, and everything within its depths has been carved by hand from salt blocks. The mine was included on Unesco’s World Heritage List in 1978.
The Wieliczka mine is renowned for the preservative qualities of its microclimate, as well as for its health-giving properties. An underground sanatorium has been established at a depth of 135m, where chronic allergic diseases are treated by overnight stays.
The mine has a labyrinth of tunnels, about 300km distributed over nine levels, the deepest being 327m underground. A section of the mine, some 22 chambers connected by galleries, is open to the public as a museum, and it’s a fascinating trip.
You visit three upper levels of the mine, from 64m to 135m below the ground, walking through an eerie world of pits and chambers, all hewn by hand from solid salt. Some have been made into chapels, with altarpieces and figures, others are adorned with statues and monuments – all carved out of salt – and there are even underground lakes.
The showpiece is the ornamented Chapel of St Kinga (Kaplica Św Kingi), which is actually a fair-sized church measuring 54m by 18m, and 12m high. Every single element here, from chandeliers to altarpieces, is of salt. It took over 30 years (1895) for one man and then his brother to complete this underground temple, and about 20,000 tonnes of rock salt had to be removed. Occasional masses and concerts are held here. Other highlights are the salt lake in the Eram Barącz Chamber , whose water contains 320g of salt per litre, and the 36m-high Stanisław Staszic Chamber , with its panoramic lift.
Included in the entry price is a visit to the Kraków Saltworks Museum , accommodated in 14 worked-out chambers on the third level of the mine, where the tour ends, but most visitors appear to be ‘over-salted’ by then. From here a fast mining lift takes you back up to the real world.
Visitors are guided in groups and the tour takes about two hours. You walk about 2km through the mine, so wear comfortable shoes. The temperature in the mine is 14°C. In July and August English-language tours depart every half-hour from 8.30am to 6pm. During the rest of the year there are between six and eight daily tours in English.
Minibuses to Wieliczka (2.50zł, look for the ‘Salt Mine’ sign on the windscreen), depart Kraków frequently between 6am and 8pm from ul Pawia near the Galeria Krakowska shopping mall next to Kraków Główny train station. Alternatively, bus 304 travels to the salt mine from a stop just west of the minibus stands and requires a suburban ticket (3zł), which you can obtain from ticket vending machines at the stop and on the bus itself. Get off at the ‘Wieliczka Kopalnia Soli’ stop.
To avoid the tremendously long queues at Wieliczka, especially in the high season, you are strongly advised to buy your ticket in advance from the Kopalnia Soli office in Kraków before setting out. Note that the office only has a limited quota of tickets available for each day, so be prepared to be flexible about dates.