A day in the suburbs of Kraków in the lovely settlement of Wieliczka can be a very rewarding experience. The town itself (which is a mere 15 km from the centre of Kraków) is attractive with vibrant, colourful parks, a small authentic town square and a thriving rural buzz.
Amazing 3D salt mine art on the cobbles of the town square in Wieliczka
However, most people are unaware of this as they simply troop in as part of an organised tour and immediately descend deep underground into the salt mines. That said, this is an excellent tour to do. These salt mines really are impressive! In fact they are so impressive they were included on UNESCO's first ever world heritage list back in 1978.
THE TOURIST ROUTE
THE TOURIST ROUTE
Salt in medieval times was the equivalent of oil today - it was very valuable and brought much wealth. The 900 years of the salt mine's existence has meant that today some 200 km of tunnels and 2040 caverns exist within it. Of these, the main tourist route takes you 135 metres below the surface following various tunnels and chambers all with associated sights, legends and stories which your guide will enthusiastically entertain you with. There is even a highly impressive underground chapel carved entirely out of salt (the Chapel of St Kingi - Kaplica Św Kingi).
The tour takes around 2 hours and involves walking around 2 kilometres. Cost is 84zl for tours in a foreign language.
Most people pay around 130zl to be taken to the salt mine as part of an organised tour. However, it is very easy to arrive and organise your own visit. There are trains to Wieliczka every half hour from Kraków Główny and numerous minibus services. Cost of the train is extremely cheap - around 5 zl. You can get the times of tours in your particular language from the salt mine website. You can even buy tickets in advance online. Wieliczka Salt Mine website
THE MINERS' ROUTE
Followers of this blog will know however that we like to offer advice on alternative sights away from the crowds. More adventurous tourists therefore maybe more interested in visiting the salt mines using the Miners Route. This is accessed at the Regis Shaft (the oldest shaft in the complex) just a stone's throw from the train station. The idea is that visitors can experience the mines from the viewpoint of what it was like to work in them. For a truly authentic experience therefore you must put on overalls, hard hat and headlamp. You are also issued with a carbon monoxide/gas detection meter and talked through what to do in the event of coming across a gas pocket. Visitors then descend deep into the mine by use of an elevator (don't worry - this a very modern compared to the elevator in the tourist section). Your guide will take you through real mine tunnels, propped up by tons of wood to learn about the life and work of a salt miner. You even get the chance to chisel out some salt, pound it and take away a sample as a souvenir.
This tour is not for the infirm as it involves climbing ladders, walking long distances in tunnels lit only by your head lamp and crawling on your hands an knees through a small tunnel at one point. However, this is a very interesting, informative, entertaining alternative to the tourist route. It is also not as popular as the tourist route so you will find yourself being guided in comfortably small groups.