Visiting the Wieliczka Mine: Is it Worth its Salt?

Visiting this salt mine near Kraków is hugely popular but is the Wieliczka Mine worth it?

As I have visited the Wieliczka Salt Mine, this is where I can help you. Discover all you need to know about visiting the Wieliczka Mine, including how to get there from Kraków and the best tours.

exterior of mine building

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Wieliczka: A Mine of History

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Wieliczka Salt Mine is over 700 years old. It is variously known as theKraków Salt Mine and Salt Mines Kraków, and is located in the small town of Wieliczka, just under 9 miles southeast of Kraków.

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.

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.

Why Visit the Wieliczka Mine?

This underground world of salt-carved chambers is a testament to human skill and creativity.

The Wieliczka Salt Mine is the oldest of its type in Europe and showcases the development of mining techniques in Europe from the 13th to the 20th centuries. A small fraction of its 300-kilometre length has been transformed into galleries with works of art, underground chapels and statues sculpted in the salt.

Whether you want to admire the artistry or learn more about salt mining, a journey into Wieliczka’s salty depths is fascinating.

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.

Wieliczka Kraków Salt Mine Routes

The only way to visit 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.

There are two main types of tours available – the Tourist Route and the Miners’ Route.

Tourist Route

I took the popular Tourist Route tour of the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Think of it as the Wieliczka’s Greatest Hits, allowing you to experience the surreal underground wonderland of the 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.

Miners’ Route

The Miners’ Route is 2 km long and takes about 3 hours. It is designed to give you a sense of what life was like for Wieliczka’s miners.

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.

Graduation Tower

If descending into the earth’s salty depths isn’t for you, consider visiting the Graduation Tower.

You’ll get a good view of the mine from its 22-meter height but the tower is promoted on its health benefits. It’s claimed that the salty mist benefits those who are struggling with stress and fatigue, helps to improve your immunity and cleanses the airways.

What It’s Like to Visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine

Unsurprisingly, visiting the Wieliczka Mine 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 were encouraged to touch and lick.

At the start of the tourist route tour of the Wieliczka Salt Mine, you 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.

set of wooden steps leading up from a mine shaft
Descending into the Kraków Salt Mine

From here, the tour takes you from chamber to chamber, through narrow corridors hewn into the mine’s salt base. These chambers are supported by cylinders of pale wood ‘painted’ with a mixture of brine and lime.

Our guide 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.

salt sculpture of Casimir the Great seen when visiting Wieliczka Mine
Casimir the Great sculpture: Wieliczka Salt Mine

Going back further 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 underground chapels at the Wieliczka Salt Mine where they could pray.

The most spectacular of these chapels is 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.

interior of chapel carved into a cave with wall reliefs and chandelier
Chapel at the Wieliczka Salt Mine, Poland

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, 135 meters below the surface. 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 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 underground restaurant.
salt-statues-seen-when-visiting-wieliczka-mine-near-krakow-poland

Is it Worth Visiting the Wieliczka Salt Mine?

Although fascinating, the Wieliczka Salt Mine is super-touristy.

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.

Plan Your Visit

Essential information

OPENING HOURS

The salt mine is open daily except for a few religious holidays.

At the time of updating this article (August 2023), Tourist Route tours in English take place every 30 minutes from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. Miners’ Route tours operate three times a day.

Check here for up-to-date information.

TICKETS

You can buy tickets for the mine here. Alternatively, purchase them from the machines and ticket office at the mine.

They may be purchased online up to 90 days before the planned date of the tour, but no later than one hour before the tour starts.

Best time of year to visitthe Wieliczka Salt Mine

Save a few holiday closures, the salt mine in Wieliczka is open year-round.  As throngs of tourists descend to its salty depths between June and September, try to visit in late autumn, winter or early spring. 

How to get to the Wieliczka Mine from Kraków

Visiting the Wieliczka Mine is easy to do independently.

By train

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.

You can buy your train ticket for this 25-minute journey through Kraków’s suburbs from machines at the station or from the conductor on board.

Check the train timetable here.

By bus

To reach the salt mine from Kraków by bus, take line 304 from the Main Railway Station or Galeria Krakówska. It also stops close to the Old Town.

Buses leave Kraków every 20 minutes and take about 30 minutes to reach Wieliczka. From the Wieliczka Kopalnia Soli stop, it’s a five-minute walk.

On an organised tour

The easiest way to get from Kraków to the Wileiczka Salt Mine is on an organised tour. Most local tour operators offer excursions from Kraków but I have selected a few of the most popular and highly-rated tours.

Organised Excursions

If you opt for an organised excursion from Kraków, you are looking at 4-5 hours of your time. All of these tours take the Tourist Route.

None will include a photography permit which you will need to buy at the mine. This costs peanuts though.

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. You have the flexibility to choose between a shared transfer or a private one.

>>> CHECK PRICES HERE

DAY TRIP TO THE KRAKÓW SALT MINE AND AUSCHWITZ

Can’t choose between visiting Auschwitz or Wieliczka? Problem solved.

Combine a tour of the salt mine with a visit to Auschwitz in an affordable and time-efficient way

>>> CHECK PRICES HERE

converging railway lines at Auschwitz II - Birkenau

SCHINDLER’S FACTORY, JEWISH GHETTO &  KRAKÓW SALT MINE TOUR 

Or perhaps you want to explore Kraków’s Jewish heritage and visit the mine?

Fear not. This value-for-money guided full-day tour excursion includes three of Kraków’s must-see attractions.

>>> CHECK PRICES HERE

old shop fronts in krakows jewssh quarter
Kraków’s Jewish Quarter

And That’s a Wrap!

I hope this review helps you decide if it’s worth visiting Wieliczka. If you want to make the most of your time in Kraków, take a look at these posts:

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About Bridget

Bridget Coleman has been a passionate traveller for more than 30 years. She has visited 70+ countries, most as a solo traveller.

Articles on this site reflect her first-hand experiences.

To get in touch, email her at hello@theflashpacker.net or follow her on social media.