Day Trip from Krakow #1: Wieliczka Salt Mine

When looking into what to do in Krakow, Poland, one day trip kept coming up as a must-see: a visit to the Wieliczka Salt Mine. I had never heard of walking through a salt mine as a tourist attraction, but was intrigued by it’s well-known reputation and shiny UNESCO status.

So off we went. The mine is only about 10 kilometers from central Krakow and while we ended up opting for the easy transfer our Airbnb host coordinated for us, the official website gives directions by public bus and train too.

And then down we went - the regular “tourist route” visit involves 800 stairs, the first 350 which happen in the very beginning to reach the starting point of the tour, 135 meters below the surface. 

Michael captured the staircase on the descent - you can spot a few hands holding on to those railings on the way down!

Once in the mine, we started to learn more about its story. Miners began to dig out the mine in the 13th century and salt excavation only stopped in 1996. We were introduced to different displays that portrayed how these hard working miners created this place over hundreds of years, carving out 300 kilometers of passageways in the mine!  

It wasn’t all about the mining work (thankfully for me). There was a surprising amount of sculptures in the mine, all carved out of salt. 

This one is of King Casimir the Great who ruled in the 14th century. He is known for the laws he put in place regulating the management of the salt mines. Salt was a huge source of income for Poland during his reign - it made up for an estimated third of the state treasury income!

These statues depict the legend of St. Kinga. This Hungarian princess married a Polish king and is credited with bringing salt to Poland. The story goes that she threw her engagement ring in Hungary’s Maramures salt mine (while other accounts say that she simply lost it). After the wedding, she ordered the digging of a well at Wieliczka. Low and behold, a miner uncovered her ring (the moment depicted above) which had been carried to Poland by salt deposits. 

And some sections of the mine really reminded me we were walking the tourist track in the footsteps of the over 37 million other visitors who have been in the salt mine since 1945!

Then came along the highlight of the visit: the huge St. Kinga's Chapel. We passed by a few chapels on the way that the miners had built, a reminder that working here was a dangerous job and the devout Catholic miners needed places to pray. But none of those chapels compared to this huge chapel that is fully functional and able to accommodate up to 400 people!

Here we are, at the back of the St. Kinga's Chapel about to enter.

Just look at the details all around - all made from salt. Even the crystals of the chandeliers are made of salt!

101 meters underground lies this wonder - the St. Kinga Chapel

Of course there's a salt sculpture of Pope John Paul II in the chapel.

You can even book an event or a wedding at the chapel!

The excitement had built up to see that chapel, so the portion of the tour afterwards wasn’t as interesting or stunning in my opinion. Though we did get to see some of the lakes in the salt mine. The official website says that a windsurfing competition was even held in the largest of the lakes in 2004! 

And even during the slower moments of the tour, I just had to think of all the walking I was doing and be amazed. The tourist route covers only 3 kilometers  - a mere 1% of all the passageways the miners had dug out over the centuries. 

(And if you do want a different type of experience, the tourist route isn’t the only tour offered. You could get a completely different experience on the miner’s route, putting on a hard hat and getting a more physical experience. Or there’s the most physically demanding trail called the Mysteries of the Wieliczka Mine route. But personally, I was happy to take the “pretty” route!)

One of the lakes in the Wieliczka Salt Mine

Not pictured here is the ascent up. The good news is that you don’t have to climb all the way up to ground level again. The bad news is the elevator that takes you to the exit. If I was able to make use of my arm and hold out my camera, you would see Michael and I squeezed VERY tightly in the middle of a lovely Italian family who we got to know intimately in this elevator that looked like a cage, as we all freaked out a bit until we at last saw the light of day. Never have I been so glad to make it above ground! 

Have you ever visited, or heard of, the Wieliczka Salt Mine? Would you visit?

Wieliczka Salt Mine
Daniłowicza 10, 32-020 Wieliczka, Poland
Admission: Regular price (for foreign tourists) is 79 PLN (prices as of Jan 2015
Check the official website for hours of tours depending on the language 

And take a look at the recommendations depending on which tour you are taking. Comfortable shoes and  warm clothing are two things to consider before you go!

Linking up for Travel Tuesday with BonnieCourtneyYalanda, and Cynthia!