Visiting the Wieliczka Mine is a popular day trip from Kraków. But is it worth it?
“How many times a day do you say ‘salt’?” inquired Martin from Malta.
Kaja, the guide for our visit to the Kraków Salt Mine, was momentarily flummoxed.
“I’ve never been asked that before,” she replied. “Perhaps I need to count one day?”
Because visiting the Wieliczka Mine near Kraków is all about salt.
It’s everywhere. From the roofs, down to the floor. In the ‘crystals’ hanging from elaborate chandeliers to the walls, which we are encouraged to touch and lick.
But is this mine near Kraków worth its salt? Discover all you need to know about visiting the Wieliczka Salt Mine, including how to get there from Kraków and the best tours.
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Wieliczka: A Mine of History
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Wieliczka Salt Mine, 12 km south-east of Kraków, is over 700 years old.
Exploration was halted in the 1990s, partly to preserve the mine’s historical status but also because of the risk of flooding. Nonetheless, it still produces 15,000 pounds of salt each year.
The mine has been a tourist attraction since the 19th Century when the Russians opened the first tourist route with miners acting as tour guides. As a nod to Wieliczka Salt Mine’s provenance as a tourist attraction, today’s guides wear uniforms modelled on the miners’ workwear.
A mere 1% of the mine’s 300 km labyrinthine network of tunnels is open to the public. Over the years such luminaries as Goethe, Chopin and Pope John Paul II have paid a visit. In 2019, nearly 1.9 million visitors descended into its salty depths, making the Wieliczka Mine one of Poland’s biggest tourist attractions.
Where is the Wieliczka Salt Mine?
Although it is variously known as the Kraków Salt Mine and Salt Mines Kraków, this Polish salt mine is located in the small town of Wieliczka, just under 9 miles to the southeast of the city.
To help you plan your visit to this salt mine near Kraków, you’ll find your options for making the journey to Wieliczka later in this article.
When is the Best Time of Year to Visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine?
The salt mine in Wieliczka is open year-round. with a few holiday exceptions. As throngs of tourists descend to its salty depths between June and September, try to visit in late autumn, winter or early spring.
Wieliczka Kraków Salt Mine Tours
First and foremost, the only way of visiting the Wieliczka Mine is on a guided tour. As it would be easy to get lost in its labyrinth of tunnels, you are expected to stay with your guide at all times.
If you want to book a tour in advance, check out GetYourGuide. This is my go-to platform for booking day excursions, with a brand range of providers and extremely generous cancellation terms.
There are two main types of tour available – the Tourist Route and the Miners’ Route.
I took the Tourist Route tour of the Wieliczka Salt Mine.
The Tourist Route is 3.5 km long and the tour takes about 3 hours. These tours are in English, Polish, German, French, Italian, Russian and Spanish. English-speaking tours are frequent.
The Miners’ Route is 2 km long and takes about 3 hours. This tour is only available in English and Polish and is less frequent than the Tourist Route tours. You will be required to wear protective clothing.
What to Expect on a Visit to the Wieliczka Salt Mine
At the start of the tourist route tour of the Wieliczka Salt Mine, you first descend 47 flights of stairs, helpfully numbered, to the first chamber, ‘The Bono’, at 64 meters below the surface. I’d like to think that there is a connection between this chamber and U2’s frontman but think that this is unlikely.
From here, the tour takes you from chamber to chamber, through narrow corridors hewn into the mine’s salt base, which are supported by cylinders of pale wood ‘painted’ with a mixture of brine and lime.
Kaja assures us that they only lose one tourist a month.
Nature’s white gold
Salt played a major role in the fortunes of the Kingdom of Poland.
During the reign of Casimir the Great (1310 – 1370), one-third of the royal revenue came from salt. Casimir gave refuge and privileges to Poland’s Jews and Kraków’s Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, is named after him.
Going back further still to the Neolithic Age, 6,000 years ago, salt was known as ‘white gold’ as it was the only means to preserve food. The word ‘salary’ is a Roman term derived from the word ‘salt’.
Wieliczka salt mine’s chapels
But salt mining was a risky business.
Fear was the miners’ constant companion. The fear of being poisoned by methane gas, the fear of flooding.
Asking God for his protection and giving thanks for this was important to these miners, and they created a number of underground chapels at the Wieliczka Salt Mine where they could pray.
The most spectacular of these chapels is the St. Kinga’s Chapel. Hewn from a single block of salt in 1862, this is pure sodium chloride, right down to the ‘icicles’ hanging from the chapel’s Christmas tree.
Elaborate bas-reliefs of scenes from the life of Jesus are carved into its walls, including a copy of Da Vinci’s Last Supper. When I visited on 26th December, there was an exquisitely detailed nativity scene carved out of salt.
A salt statue – what else? – of St. Kinga takes centre stage on the altar, flanked by Saints Joseph and Clement. At the rear, a statue of Pope John Paul II towers over an adjacent illuminated Virgin Mary.
Are you searching for an unusual wedding location? Then why not get married at St. Kinga’s Chapel? It is available for hire and, at just over 100 meters below ground, it really will prove How Deep Is Your Love.
An indoor hot air balloon ride anyone?
Leaving St Kinga’s Chapel, we pass a small salt lake, which is saltier than Israel’s Dead Sea. It is said that if you are determined to sink the nine meters to its bed, you would need to strap on a 40 kg ballast.
The final chamber is the deepest at the Wieliczka Salt Mine, at a depth of 135 meters. Reaching a height of 36 meters, the Stanislaw Stasiz Chamber has been the setting for two records. These were the first indoor bungee jump and the first indoor hot balloon flight.
Tour over, we exit through the gift shop. Salty souvenirs anyone?
Tips for Visiting the Kraków Salt Mine
- When your guided tour finishes, that is not the end of your visit to the Wieliczka Salt Mine. The ticket price includes the museum, a further 2 km walk. There is also a museum showing a ten-minute film.
- If you are timing your exit with a scheduled train departure, note that from the ‘exit’ there is a 15-minute walk to reach the elevator to the surface. It wasn’t busy when I visited and this took around half an hour.
- It can get humid below ground. Therefore, even if it is cold outside, bring a bottle of water.
- Comfortable shoes are a must. I walked approximately 5km during the course of my visit.
- You are allowed to take photographs in the mine. However, the low light conditions make capturing a decent image challenging (there’s a good reason why there aren’t many images included in this post).
- If you are feeling peckish at the end of the tour, there is a large restaurant available.
Plan Your Visit to the Wieliczka Mine
Visiting the Wieliczka Mine is easy to do independently.
However, you may prefer someone else to take care of the travel arrangements for you. If so, local tour operators offer excursions from Kraków.
To make life easy, check GetYourGuide to identify day trips from Kraków to the salt mine. Here are a few of the most popular and highly-rated tours available.
WIELICZKA SALT MINE TOUR FROM KRAKÓW
Explore the salt mine on the Tourist Route and benefit from a transfer from your hotel and a drop-off in Kraków city centre.
KRAKÓW SALT MINE TOUR WITH PRIVATE TRANSFER FROM KRAKÓW
Enjoy the convenience of a private transfer with this affordable half-day excursion that includes your guided tour of the salt mine.
SCHINDLER’S FACTORY, JEWISH GHETTO & KRAKÓW SALT MINE TOUR
Are you are short on time or struggling to decide where to visit? Fear not. This guided full-day tour excursion includes three of Kraków’s must-see attractions.
How to get to the Wieliczka Salt Mine from Kraków
It is very easy to get to the Wieliczka Salt Mine from Kraków under your own steam.
Take the train from Kraków Glówny (the central station) to the end of the line at Wieliczka Rynek Kopalnia. The salt mine is a five-minute walk from the train station; the route is clearly signposted.
This 30-minute journey through Kraków’s suburbs costs 4 PLN (less than £1). You can buy your train ticket from the machines at the station or from the conductor on board.
Check the train timetable here.
How much does it cost to visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine?
In 2021, the standard ticket price for both the Tourist Route and the Miners’ Route tour is 100 PLN.
What are the opening times of the Wieliczka Mine?
The Wieliczka Mine is open from 9 am until 5 pm.
Where to stay when visiting the Wieliczka Salt Mine
Most people visit the slat mine on a day trip from Kraków, where there is no shortage of places to accommodate all budgets. Here are a few options.
Planning your trip to Kraków & around
Getting your hands on a good guidebook to help you to plan your trip to Krakow and to explore the city and its surroundings whilst you are there, is a smart move. I recommend this Lonely Planet Pocket Krakow guide.
Is it Worth Visiting the Wieliczka Salt Mine?
The Wieliczka Salt Mine is super- touristy and you could be devoting your time in Kraków to other, more cultural, activities.
It is expensive by Polish standards and I did get the feeling of being processed through the site. I visited Wieliczka during a Christmas trip to Kraków, a quiet time of year, and I shudder to think how rammed it becomes during peak season.
That said, it’s not often that you are given the opportunity to visit a Disneyfied mine complete with chapels made from salt. Embrace the kitsch!
On balance, if you have a half-day to spare, visiting the Kraków Salt Mines is a good option, if only to see something unique. However, if time is short, skip it. You are better off focusing on exploring Kraków, its churches and its museums, and taking a day trip to Auschwitz.