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Wieliczka Salt Mine, Poland

By alison - September 28, 2010 (Updated: November 1, 2016)

Visiting the UNESCO-Listed Wieliczka Salt Mine, near Krakow, Poland

We visit the incredible UNESCO-listed Wieliczka Salt Mine, near Krakow, Poland, and discover and underground wonderland.

“When you’re in Krakow, you must visit the salt mine,” my friend said. I was underwhelmed, to say the least. If this fun-loving Polish gal couldn’t come up with anything better to see than an old mine, how exciting could Poland be? Luckily she emailed me the website of the Wieliczka Salt Mine. This is one mine you have to see to believe.

I’ve seen my share of mines over the years: salt, coal, and other dirty yet vital things we dig up from underground. But even though there is still salt being extracted from the Wieliczka Salt Mine, its primary function these days is hosting hundreds of tourists each day.

A UNESCO World Heritage Salt Mine

In fact, the Wieliczka Salt Mine (Kopalnia Soli in Polish) is so unique it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list in 1978.

“The historic Salt Mine in Wieliczka is the only mining site in the world functioning continuously since the Middle Ages. Its original excavations (longitudinals, traverses, chambers, lakes, as well as minor and major shafts) are located on nine levels and extend for the total of about 300 kilometres: reaching the depth of 327 metres they illustrate all the stages of mining technology development over time.”

But its age and demonstration of mining technology are only a small part of what makes this mine so fascinating. There are close to 3000 chambers in the mine, and over the years, many of these chambers have taken on new functions.

To explore these chambers, visitors to the mine must take a guided tour. They are available in a variety of languages, and English tours depart every 20-30 minutes.

Descending into the Salt Mine

Descending into the Salt Mine

You begin the 3 km tour (only 1% of the mine’s total 300 km length) by descending 378 stairs.  Luckily, there is an elevator to take you back to the surface at the end of the tour.

Salt Crusted Walkway

Salt Crusted Walkway

Carving the Salt

According to our tour guide, the miners were very religious and, because they spent most of their time underground, they began constructing small chapels out of wood.  In 1697 one of these chapels caught fire resulting in a ban on the use of flammable materials. The miners turned to the one thing they had readily available – salt. The tradition of salt carving began resulting in the incredible works of art you can admire today.

Nativity Scene in St. Kinga's Chapel

Nativity Scene in St. Kinga’s Chapel

The salt chapels are filled with religious icons and figures, such as the pope. There are carvings of biblical scenes from the nativity to the last supper. There is even a full-sized cathedral, complete with salt crystal chandeliers, which can be rented for your very own underground wedding.

St. Kinga's Chapel

St. Kinga’s Chapel was started in 1896 and finished in the 1920s.
Salt Crystal Chandelier

Salt Crystal Chandelier
Virgin Mary Carved from Salt

Virgin Mary Carved from Salt

Besides chapels and religious figures, the mine includes carvings of a range of historic figures from Copernicus to Goethe. There are illustrations of Polish legends and displays of how the mine looked and functioned during different stages of its past. There are also several chambers where you can admire the beautiful underground lake that takes on an aqua-green colour because of the salt.

Horses in the Mine

From the 16th century, horses worked in the salt mine to power hauling devices.
Miner burning out methane

This salt sculpture depicts an early miner burning out dangerous methane gas.

You can also spend time in the private rehabilitation and wellness centre and enjoy the curative properties of the salt. Or you can book the conference centre for your next business meeting.

At the end of the tour you can enjoy a meal in the underground Miner’s Tavern and, of course, you can buy all of your salt related gifts in the salt mine gift shop.

Getting to Wieliczka

The Wieliczka Salt Mine is an easy 40-minute public bus ride from central Krakow on line number 304 disembarking at the Wieliczka Kopalnia Soli stop. You can also take one of the many private bus tours lead from the city centre.

Ticket prices are 65 PLN for foreign language tours (about 16 Euro) for adults. There is also a 10PLN charge to film or take photos while on the tour.

Read about our adventures in rural Poland at our first Polish Wedding.

Visiting the UNESCO-Listed Wieliczka Salt Mine, near Krakow, Poland

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Alison

Alison

Big Cheese at CheeseWeb
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of Cheeseweb.eu. She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
Alison
Cheese + Goats = My personal heaven. We discover an oasis in the cheese desert. https://t.co/Os8U86UEiX - 7 days ago

12 comments

  1. Comment by Lee

    Lee September 28, 2010 at 22:35

    Simply fascinating – I’ve never seen anything like it!

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  3. Comment by Alison

    Alison September 29, 2010 at 10:53

    I hadn’t either. It’s really an amazing place.

  4. Comment by Nancie

    Nancie September 29, 2010 at 11:44

    Who would have thought a salt mine could be so awesome? Great post.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison

      Alison September 29, 2010 at 12:07

      Thanks Nancie! So glad I listened to my friend and checked it out!

  5. Comment by Andrew

    Andrew

    Andrew September 29, 2010 at 13:05

    Great post! The tour was fascinating… I don’t think I’ve ever done a mine tour. I know there are a couple mine tours in Nova Scotia (Springhill and Glace Bay Miners’ Museums come to mind) but I’ve not done that (at least I don’t remember). The closest for me was the Grotte de Han here in Belgium and I don’t think that is in anyway the same thing. 🙂

    I think there is something for everyone here: history, technology, art, and food.

    For those interested in history and technology it is fascinating to see how mining evolved from the middle ages to today. Starting with washing the salt out, to handpicks, all the way up to today’s machines. The ingenuity used in the mine to move salt or to keep water out is also fascinating to those of you who are engineers.

    For artists, it’s amazing to see how much detail the miners/artists got out of the salt. It was also interesting that in the 20th century some of the miners actually studied art and sculpture formally, resulting in some fabulous pieces some of which are found in St. Kinga’s chapel.

    For the foodies, there was also some really good polish sausages on offer on the surface! mmmmmm…. sausage!

    All in all, it was a great visit. One last note: plan for it to take you about 2.5 to 3 hours to complete the tour as you do go a fair distance and then you need to wait for the elevator at the end.

  6. Comment by Clive

    Clive October 8, 2010 at 00:29

    I visited about 12 years ago, a truly remarkable place and a must to visit in a fascinating corner of the world
    Clive

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison

      Alison October 10, 2010 at 11:19

      Absolutely Clive. We’d love to go back and spend more time in the area.

  7. Comment by translation agency

    translation agency November 25, 2010 at 10:13

    A salt mine? Wow, I wonder what it feels like down there. And i also wonder if those salts are as salty as those found in the supermarkets. What I wonder most is if these salts are edible. But still, this is indeed a site to be visited and conserved. Now my dream is to visit this salt mine in Poland. What an experience it will be. Next destination is Poland!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison

      Alison November 25, 2010 at 13:35

      They do extract some salt for use as table salt although most of it is more industrial like road salt. It feels pretty dry and the air is said to be good for your lungs. It’s a pretty incredible place to visit.

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