The Wieliczka Salt Mines with their mysterious and evocative halls, the sculptures made over the centuries by the passionate and devoted work of the miners, the underground lakes and the impressive underground cathedrals, are undoubtedly one of the must-see on a trip to Poland.
The Wieliczka Salt Mines are located near Krakow, making them the perfect destination for a day trip suitable for the whole family. That’s why I thought I’d write a complete guide for you with all the information you need to plan your visit to the Wieliczka Salt Mines.
What you will find in this guide to the Wieliczka Salt Mines:
- Where are the Wieliczka Salt Mines located?
- What makes the Wieliczka Salt Mines a must see in Krakow?
- What to see and do in the Wieliczka Salt Mines
- How to visit the Wieliczka Salt Mines
- What to Expect from Visiting the Wieliczka Salt Mines
- How to get to the Wieliczka Salt Mines from Krakow
- What are the best Wieliczka Salt Mine tours from Krakow
- Wieliczka Salt Mines Tickets and Prices
- Frequently Asked Questions
Where are the Wieliczka Salt Mines located?
The Wieliczka Salt Mines are located near Krakow, in the south of Poland, approximately 16 km from the city center of Krakow. This makes them easy to visit on a day trip, there are great guided tour options, or you can go there on your own by train or bus.
What makes the Wieliczka Salt Mines a must see in Krakow?
The Wieliczka Salt Mines are a masterpiece of ingenuity, art and creativity that is unique in the world. These mines have been Poland’s main source of wealth for centuries, as well as the oldest Polish industry, owned directly by the King.
From the 12th century to the end of the 19th century, the Wieliczka Salt Mines worked at full capacity, employing thousands of miners and even donkeys and horses, which were used for work in the mine.
The tons of salt produced each day were brought to Krakow, where they were traded for precious goods, fabrics, carpets, precious stones, spices and fragrances from the Far East. Krakow was right on a very important trade route, and its Main Market Square swarmed day and night with merchants from everywhere.
If Krakow flourished as a rich medieval city full of wonderful works of art, this is mainly due to the wealth from the Wieliczka and Bochnia Salt Mines, as salt was considered a very valuable and expensive commodity.
Over the centuries, about 300 km of tunnels, horizontal passages and chambers have been excavated, reaching a depth of 327 meters in the heart of the earth.
Over time, miners began to decorate the empty chambers of the mine’s upper levels, sculpting statues, inscriptions, chandeliers and even creating underground chapels and a huge cathedral carved out of salt.
Since ancient times the mines have attracted visitors from all over the world. In ancient travel diaries, the Wieliczka Salt Mines are listed as one of the main wonders of Krakow and Poland. Among the visitors there are important names such as Nicolaus Copernicus, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Fryderyk Chopin, Dmitri Mendeleyev, Pope John Paul II, the former U.S. President Bill Clinton and many others.
The Wieliczka Salt Mines were active until the late 90s, today the salt is no longer extracted with the mining method, but there is a modern plant (called “saltworks“) that extracts the salt from the water that flows into the mine and that is collected and pumped out, otherwise it would end up dissolving the entire mine.
Since 1978 the Wieliczka Salt Mines have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the first protected sites in the world.
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What to see and do in the Wieliczka Salt Mines
The Wieliczka Salt Mines have welcomed visitors since 1722, attracted by the magnificence of its halls, the splendor of the underground cathedrals and the incredible and mysterious natural wonders of the underground world.
The Wieliczka Salt Mines are an underground labyrinth of over 300 km of tunnels, spread over 9 levels and largely unexplored and inaccessible to the public.
A small part of the mine, about 3.5 km of tunnels (2% of the total), is accessible to visitors who can explore the wonderful chambers, underground lakes and amazing masterpieces carved in salt by the miners.
The so-called Tourist Route is the original visitor route, which allows you to visit the mine in total safety: the halls and galleries are very large, you won’t even feel like you’re underground. The path winds through paved tunnels, solid wooden walkways and stairways that allow you to move between the levels of the mine.
Get ready for a long, but suitable for everyone, walk. Descend from the Daniłowicz Shaft, it is about 380 steps to reach Level I of the mine, about 64 meters deep. From there you will walk around 3.5km through a breathtaking path. The route is sufficiently illuminated and safe, there are also some points where the guide will allow you to rest for a while and where you can find toilets, bars and a souvenir shop.
During your visit to the Wieliczka Salt Mine you will see some of the most famous rooms, first of all the St Kinga’s Chapel, a huge and amazing cathedral carved in salt.
St. Kinga’s Chapel is the largest underground cathedral in the world, located 101 meters underground and capable of holding over 400 people. It took over 30 years of work to build this chapel. Here everything is made of salt: the floor you walk on, the statues, the bas-reliefs, even the chandeliers are made of salt and crystal.
The chapel is dedicated to St. Kinga (also known as St. Cunegunda), patroness of Poland and Lithuania, as well as patroness of the miners of the Wieliczka Salt Mine. She was the daughter of King Béla IV of Hungary and she dedicated her life to helping the poor. During the visit to the mine her guide will tell you many legends about her.
The St. Kinga chapel was completed in the late 1800s and today is also used for concerts and ceremonies, thanks also to its particular and excellent acoustics.
There are over 20 magnificent chapels in the Wieliczka Salt Mines and as many impressive halls, such as the scenic Michałowice Chamber with its breathtaking wooden architecture and the Stanisław Staszic Chamber, located about 130 meters below ground level.
You will also be able to see scenic underground lakes and rivers, their salinity is very high (much higher than that of famous salt lakes, such as the Dead Sea).
Along the way, the official guide will tell you the history of the mine and many mythological legends about miners. You will also be able to see the tools, trains and machinery used by the miners to extract the salt from the mine.
Over 125 meters deep you will even find a restaurant, the Karczma Górnicza (Miner’s Tavern), which serves simple traditional Polish dishes, cooked with salt from the mine. Eating in the depths of the earth will surely be an unforgettable experience!
How to visit the Wieliczka Salt Mines
The Wieliczka Salt Mines can only be visited on a guided tour. There are several tours per day, in different languages. Official guides take you to discover the wonders of the mine, tell you stories and legends and make sure you have a safe and enjoyable experience.
There are two different types of tour routes in the Wieliczka Salt Mines: the Tourist Route and the Miners Route. The classic tour itinerary is the one called Tourist Route, and it is the one that allows you to visit the magnificent and breathtaking halls of the mine.
The Miners’ Route instead starts from the Regis Shaft and is more a game experience than a cultural visit. You will have to dress like a miner, and they will take you to a different area of the mine, where there are no decorated rooms, but rough, dark and dusty mine.
Here you will learn how to move by the light of the lamp and do some typical mining tasks, such as testing the air in the mine and finding the right route underground, using the methane tester or other tools. It is an RPG that takes place in groups of 20 people, but I would recommend it only to those who have already seen the classic route (Tourist Route) at least once.
The classic tour of the Krakow Salt Mine starts from the Daniłowicz Shaft and lasts approximately 2 hours. During the visit you will walk around 3.5 km of mine tunnels and climb around 800 steps. At the end of the visit you will be brought back to ground level by an elevator in the Regis Shaft.
Tours start at set times, so make sure you arrive on time for your visit time. Keep in mind that ticket lines are usually very long and can take up to an hour.
From Krakow there are pre-arranged guided tours that allow you to easily visit the Krakow Salt Mines and include ticket, full visit with official guide (in a language of your choice between English, Spanish, Italian, German, French, Russian, Polish) and return transport.
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What to Expect from Visiting the Wieliczka Salt Mines
Once you enter the Daniłowicz Shaft, you will pass through a series of heavy wooden doors. This is a system that prevents outside air from entering and ruining the mine.
After you leave the last heavy door behind you, you will arrive in a dimly lit room, with walls and ceilings made of huge wooden poles.
The Wieliczka Salt Mines are practically entirely made of salt and wood. Due to the microclimate of the mine and the high salinity, the wood becomes solid as a rock.
From Daniłowicz Shaft you will begin your descent to the heart of the earth, to discover the secrets of the mine. You will descend approximately 380 wooden steps, until you reach Level I, where the labyrinth of tunnels begins.
The first room you come across is the Copernicus Grotto. Copernicus was one of the earliest visitors to the mine, and to celebrate this famous guest here is a salt sculpture of him.
Along the way you will encounter different tools and machinery that were used by miners for their work. In addition to machinery, horses and mules were also used. Horses were used to move heavy loads.
You will follow the old mine train tracks, there is also an ancient station that once served to transport visitors and miners around the mine.
The Wieliczka Salt Mine hides, among the myriad of rooms and galleries, some incredible wonders of nature: the Crystal Caves are a complex of caverns covered in sparkling halite crystals. These caves were formed thanks to the particular microclimate of the mine and are a unique case in the world. They are not accessible to visitors: to visit them it is necessary to obtain specific study and research permits.
Continuing along the path you will come across the Chapel of St. Anthony, dating back to the 17th century, in Baroque style and subsequently the Janowice Cave, where the legend of the Polish prince Boleslao V the Chaste and the Hungarian princess Kinga (Cunegonda) is represented.
According to legend, Princess Kinga was very religious and therefore she remained chaste even after marriage. The girl threw her engagement ring as a sign of devotion to God and it was found set in a salt crystal in the place where the Krakow salt mines now stand.
Going down to the Level II you will discover the magnificent main chapels, including the Holy Cross Chapel, with its characteristic wooden architecture, and the huge and famous Chapel of St. Kinga.
From here the path continues along various halls, until it descends to the lowest level that can be visited. You will be able to see underground lakes and rivers and reach the Level III, located 135 meters below the ground level. Here is the Grota Józefa Piłsudskiego, which can only be reached via an underground lake.
This is the deepest point of the visit, after which you can spend some time visiting the Mine Museum or having something to eat at the tavern located 125 meters below the ground.
The last part of the route winds through a series of tunnels that allow you to reach the elevator and then exit the mine by going up through the Regis Shaft.
How to get to the Wieliczka Salt Mines from Krakow
The Krakow Salt Mines can be easily visited by booking a convenient guided tour from Krakow, which includes round-trip transport, skip-the-line ticket and full guided tour with an official guide in the language of your choice.
Otherwise you can go there on your own, taking a bus or train from Krakow. Bus 304 leaves near Krakow Central Railway Station and leaves at a stop located just a few hundred meters from the entrance to the Wieliczka Salt Mine.
If you prefer to go by train, you can take one of the suburban trains which from Krakow Central Railway Station take you to Wieliczka Rynek Kopalnia Railway Station in about 20 minutes. The station is located approximately 500 meters from the entrance to the Wieliczka Salt Mine.
If you have a car, or if you want to rent one, it will be quite easy to get to the salt mines from Krakow. Just follow Wielicka street in the direction of the A4 motorway and from there go straight to Wieliczka.
You can find more information on how to get from Krakow to the Wieliczka Salt Mines here.
What are the best Wieliczka Salt Mine tours from Krakow
The easiest and most comfortable way to visit the Wieliczka Salt Mines is to book a guided tour from Krakow.
Guided tours include round-trip transport from Krakow city center, skip-the-line ticket and guided tour usually available in several languages, such as English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Russian and Polish of course.
If you are looking for an even more peaceful and comfortable experience you could book a guided tour with round-trip transport from your hotel in Krakow, and maybe even add a dinner at the best restaurant in Wieliczka, the Karczma Pod Wielka Sola, which serves excellent local specialties.
If you are short on time, you may want to opt for a combo tour that allows you to visit Auschwitz and the Wieliczka Salt Mines on the same day. The tour is planned so that you can easily visit both, but if you have the opportunity to visit the two places on two different days, in my opinion, it is better. Visiting both on the same day could be a bit tiring.
Wieliczka Salt Mines Tickets and Prices
Wieliczka Salt Mines tickets can be purchased at the ticket office located near the entrance to the Tourist Route, or purchased in advance online.
The regular ticket price for the Wieliczka Salt Mine is 93 PLN. For children it is possible to get a reduced ticket, at the price of 73 PLN. Admission is free for children up to 4 years old.
Students up to the age of 26 and with a valid student card can get a reduced ticket for the price of 84 PLN.
Prices may be higher (eg 100 PLN for a regular ticket) during the high season (eg July to September).
Keep in mind that entry is only possible with a guided tour, led by an official guide. This is because it is a mining site, and it is a labyrinth of nearly 300 km of tunnels. The visits are organized in small groups and are held at fixed times.
Make sure you arrive early enough for your tour as queues for tickets can be very long. In winter, dress warm, as you may have to wait a long time in the cold (same goes for waiting for the bus or train back to Krakow).
If you decide to go on your own rather than go on a guided tour from Krakow, you may want to book your skip-the-line ticket online so you can avoid queuing for tickets.
Frequently Asked Questions
These are some of the information you might find useful to know before visiting the Wieliczka Salt Mines.
How deep are the Wieliczka Salt Mines?
The depth of the Wieliczka Salt Mines is 327 meters below ground level.
However, not all 9 levels of the mine can be visited, so the maximum depth that visitors can reach is 135 meters below ground level.
What are the opening hours of the Wieliczka Salt Mines?
The opening hours of the Wieliczka Salt Mines are:
- from 07.30 to 19.30 in the summer
- from 8.00 to 17.00 in the winter
In some periods (e.g. from January to April) the opening hours are from 10.00 to 15.00 on weekdays and from 9.00 to 17.00 on holidays and Saturdays.
In any case, remember that you can only visit the mine during the scheduled tour times. There are several tours in English per day, and some in other languages as well.
Opening hours may change without notice, better check the official website of the Wieliczka Salt Mines before you go.
What are the Wieliczka Salt Mines also called?
The Wieliczka Salt Mines are often referred to in different ways, which may confuse you. Often they could be called Krakow Salt Mines or Kopalnia Soli Wieliczka or Krakow Salt Caves.
It may also happen that you simply find it written in other languages, such as zoutmijn wieliczka, saltgruven wieliczka or wieliczka saltgruva, salzmine wieliczka. Don’t worry, it always refers to the Wieliczka Mines.
Is it possible to combine the tour to Auschwitz and Wieliczka Salt Mines from Krakow?
Yes, even if I don’t recommend it. The ideal would be to visit them on two different days, so as to be able to make the most of each visit.
However, it could be a good solution for those short on time. There are excellent tours to Auschwitz and Wieliczka Salt Mines from Krakow that allow you to visit both places on the same day, saving you a lot of time and money.
Useful Tips for Your Trip
Many people choose to visit the Wieliczka Salt Mines on a day trip from Krakow, so here you can find the best useful tips to better plan your trip to Krakow and the wonderful region of Southern Poland: