When traveling to Krakow in Poland, one of the more unique (and popular) attractions is the Wieliczka Salt Mine half an hour south of the city. Daily trips are offered from the city center. A morning or afternoon at this UNESCO World Heritage Site is well worth it.
Exploring the Caves
The tour begins with a descent down 380 stairs, which isn’t even to the lowest level of the mines. Don’t worry, there’s a lift which will take you back up to the top.
A live guide talks about the caves through an audio system. They will cover how the mines are over 700 years old, and what conditions have been like over the centuries. There are recreations of miners and horses that used to work in the mines. As salt is an excellent preservative, the original equipment, hoists and ropes are still extant and on display.
The network of caverns and tunnels is massive. Everything is built of salt, except for some wooden support beams in some of the tunnels. The floors, walls and ceiling are all made of salt. So are the dozens of sculptures, both old and new, located in the caverns. And yes, the salt is edible. You can even lick the walls…if you so fancy.
Throughout the mines are 20 chambers and 4 chapels. These weren’t so much for religious ceremonies as they were for prayers regarding the conditions of the mines. Miners were underground for extended periods of time, while the aforementioned horses had a one-way trip. They were lowered into the mines down a shaft on a harness, where they would spend the rest of their lives operating the hoists.
The Chapel of St. Kinga was far grander than all the rest, with massive salt-encrusted chandeliers, frescoes along the walls and elaborate statues. Another smaller chapel from ancient times had salt statues which have worn down to a nub, although the other statue made from wood is well preserved.
Getting to Wieliczka Salt Mine
The easiest way to get to the salt mines is by train. Leaving from the main train station in Krakow every half an hour, the train takes about 20-30 minutes and costs less than $1. Another easy option is to take the 304 bus from the city center for just over $1.
Otherwise, there are tour companies throughout the city and at nearly every hotel and hostel offering tours to the mines. They usually cost around $40-50 and include the entrance fee and guide.
Entrance to the park without a tour is $25 for adults. There are discounts for children and families. The tour lasts about 2 hours. The temperature in the mines is a constant 57°F, so you might want to dress warmly. Also, wear comfortable walking shoes. Aside from the stairs, it’s over a mile of walking. Most importantly, bring your curiosity and camera. And have fun!