Wieliczka – A Salt Mine You’ve Never Seen Before
A lot of people have heard of Krakow, the charming one-time capital of Poland. Not too many people, however, have heard about a small town just outside of Krakow called Wieliczka with its spectacular “Wieliczka” Salt Mine.
I’ve visited “Wieliczka” three times: 1) with my high school class during a school field trip which was a long, long time ago, 2) with my American relatives just after I got married (also more than a few years ago) and 3) quite recently, with my two 5 year-old children. Each time I have discovered and learned something new about this place and each time I found myself mesmerized with the endless corridors, majestic timber constructions, and underground chapels and statues sculpted in solid salt (no joke!).
“Wieliczka” offers several interesting tour options (a new development since the first two times I visited): the Miners’ Route, Pilgrim’s Route, Mystery Route and Tourist Route. I was really tempted by the Miners’ Route but I figured with the two small kids in tow, the standard Tourist Route, tailored to families, would be the best option. So this is what we chose.
I wasn’t sure how my twins would handle the whole thing, but to my amazement, despite the long duration of the tour (over 2 hours); an extensive, 3 kilometer-long walk; and 800 steps which we had to take down to reach the depth of 135 meters (443 ft.) underground – our kids loved the experience!
They were excited to walk (and sometimes run) through meandering corridors, lick salt straight from the walls (no judging, please), hoist up a barrel of salt using a horse ring (made for horses to turn, but ably done by three young kids), search for the mine dwarfs and salt dragon, and listen attentively to our super knowledgeable tour guide who was telling us legends about Princess Kinga and sharing other secrets of the mine.
During the tour, we visited three chapels, including the largest one named after the Saint Kinga which was simply astonishing. The chapel had detailed religious relics craved out of the salt rock and royal chandeliers made out of salt crystals (apparently the largest one has over 2,5 thousands of them).
We also stopped at the salt lake in the Eram Baracz Chamber that contains so much salt you would never be able to drown, but would float on the surface for hours (too bad that wasn’t part of the attraction).
And at the end of the main salt adventure, you can fulfill your new love and appreciation for the salt by visiting the Wieliczka gift shops which sell salt lamps, salt carvings and jewelry, bath salts and other “salty” knickknacks.
You can also stop at the Miners’ Tavern to try some Polish gourmet food while the kids can enjoy themselves at the interactive playground which is adjacent to the restaurant. But if you are ready to move on, you can always take the miner’s elevator which, within 30 seconds, will bring you back up to the surface.
I hope to get back to Wieliczka when the kids get older so together we can experience the Miners’ Route, which offers a visit to the oldest existing mine shaft, the Regis, and provides a real taste of miners’ work.
10 curiosities about Wieliczka you can impress your child with:
- The salt deposit in Wieliczka formed in the Miocene Epoch, 13.6 million years ago.
- The deposit of salt has been mined since the 13th So, at the time when Christopher Columbus “discovered” America, Wieliczka was already a well-organized enterprise and had mined salt for over 200 years.
- The most notable visitors to Wieliczka include astronomer Nicolas Copernicus, writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, composer Frederic Chopin, Pope John Paul II, actor Danny de Vito, Princess Sophie and Prince Edward Windsor, and former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush senior.
- Wieliczka is 327 meters (1,073 ft.) deep and over 287 kilometers (178 mi) long.
- The depth of 327 meters would be enough to bury the entire Eiffel Tower.
- Wieliczka was one of the 12 original objects featured on UNESCO’s World Cultural and Natural Heritage List.
- The extracted salt from Wieliczka would be enough to build three pyramids of Cheops.
- Wieliczka’s microclimate can cure respiratory problems. The air in the mine is completely free of bacteria, viruses and dirt.
- Wieliczka is a labyrinth of 2391 chambers and approx. 245 km (152 mi) of sidewalks.
- At the depth of over 100 meters (328 ft.) you can still connect to the Internet and use cellular phones.
Know before you go:
- Wear comfortable shoes.
- It can get quite cool in the mine, so remember to bring with you a warmer jacket.
- Have with you a spare few coins to throw into the underground lake (your kids will love it).
- Bring a camera that takes good photos in low light and remember to buy a photo/film permit (approx. € 5)
- All tours are guided (available in several languages) and start at a set hour. To avoid lines and waiting (approx. 1 hour), the best way is to order tickets online ahead of time.
- Be prepared to spend around 3 hours underground (the tour takes approx. 2 hours but you might want to use some time to explore the Saltworks Museum, gift shops and the Miners’ Tavern – after all, when will you have another chance to eat a meal 125 meters underground?)
- Make sure your child goes to the toilet before starting the tour. Once underground, the toilet facilities are spaced along the route respectively 40 and 90 minutes from the starting point.
- The best way to get to Wieliczka from Krakow is to use:
- Train (that’s what we used): a 20 minutes ride from the Krakow main train station. Trains leaves from Krakow every 30 minutes between 5:10 and 21:10 and drop you off within easy walking distance to the mine.
- Bus: # 304 departs in the vicinity of the shopping mall Galeria Krakowska (ul. Kurniki). You get off on the 13thbus stop called Wieliczka Kopalnia Soli (Wieliczka Salt Mine).
- Mini-buses: depart frequently in the vicinity of the Main Railway Station in Krakow. Pick the one that goes in the direction of Wieliczka Rynek. Get off at a stop called Wieliczka Kopalnia Soli (Wieliczka Salt Mine).