1 Day visit to Salt Mines – Wieliczka
You can’t visit Kraków without taking a trip out of town into the suburbs to catch a glimpse of one of the most unique worlds you may ever see. An underground city that is buried deep beneath the surface of the earth – over 327m to be exact. Wielisczka Salt-mines, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1978, is a must see whilst you are in Kraków. Only 20 minutes away, you can experience 2 hours of the most fascinating history and sights that honours ten generations of Polish miners.
The mines hold over 700 years of history and as you join your group of 30 people you enter into the belly of this darkened salt oasis, climbing down 350 steps. Once at the bottom which in fact is only level 1 of 9, you find there are no suffocating tunnels to crawl through, instead you will be wowed by the 2 miles of marble-like walls and floors that would look at home in any grand Palace. Salt, the root of all financial exchange and healing properties became a sought after commodity and back in the day it was privilege to work in this world of darkness underneath the surface. Although these men didn’t just hack these saline walls for salt extraction. No, they displayed their artistic talents by carving caverns, chapels and a Cathedral to allow their sub-terrean existence to feel as normal as possible.
The Salt-mines are an exhibition of life, art, history and a monument to a Polish way of life that has become unique on a global scale. Marvel at the salt chandeliers, the Biblical rock carvings, an alter in the Cathedral and a larger than life sculpture of Pope John Paul II. Around each corner of the labyrinth of tunnels, your breath will be stripped from you for a moment as your eyes feast on the vision in front of you; the colours, the textures and the secret world that is home to its very own saline lakes that are as green as any emerald. We were struck by the enormity of this underground world that tourists only see 1% of on this tour. Now that is mind-blowing given that our tour was well over 2 hours long.
Although you can book your tickets on-line if you know the specific day on which you want to visit, you can also just turn up and queue as long as you have the patience of a saint. Bear in mind that over the course of a year, 1 million visitors pass through this unique monument and many of those arrive on any one of the rainy days that blesses this region through the summer. So our advice is, book on-line if you can so you can avoid that queue. Or alternatively make sure you visit very early or late in the afternoon, otherwise in the height of the season you could have to endure up to four hours worth of queues and that is only for a ticket. We arrived at lunchtime and bided our time until 3.30pm. We got straight to the ticket desk without any queues and had just 45 minute waiting time for the tour. The later you leave it, the quieter it becomes. Out of season you will pay 89PLN (around £18) and high season you will pay 94PLN (around £19). You are also expected to pay 10PLN (£2.00) if you want to take any photos.
The opening hours of the mines vary depending on the season, although from May to the end of September you can enter from 8.00am until 9.00pm (and this is the last entry time for tickets – so you need to allow a further 2-3 hours for your tour). This can be a demanding tour with walking, climbing up and down 800 steps and walking through salt cladded chambers, so take with you perseverance, wear sturdy footwear and take warm clothing. Although I must say, I didn’t know quite where the time went – you will never feel bored.
And whilst you are there, you must have a walk around the village, which is equally beautiful with its castle, mine shafts and the Market Square which offers a 3D pavement painting of the underground Cathedral. It is well worth another hour around this quaint place taken over by the salt-mine master.