The first time I visited Poland, I was on a fairly tight budget. I decided to pick just one of the tours available and went with Auschwitz. This year I revisited the city and finally got to see the salt mine in Krakow. I was seriously impressed and can say I’d no idea what I missed on my first visit. After all, there’s a reason Wieliczka is known as the Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland.
I took a guided tour with several other friends. We had an evening tour, as visiting an underground attraction doesn’t depend on outside temperatures or conditions. The only problem was our group was quite large, and sometimes my audio receiver wasn’t completely in range of the guide. The tour guide used a series of receivers and headphones to talk with us, but they didn’t have the greatest range. Here are some cool things I learned about the mine.
10 Cool Facts
1. The salt mine in Krakow is over 700 years old
The first mine shafts were dug in the 13th century in the town of Wieliczka, about 8 miles south of Krakow. Commercial mining continued all the way up to 1996. I might have missed all the information on the history, but it included the Germans using the mine as a base, among other tidbits.
2. The mine is as deep as the Eiffel Tower
The lowest part of the mine is 1073 feet below ground, 10 feet more than the Eiffel Tower is high. The total length of the mine tunnels is a staggering 178 miles! To get into the mine, we had to walk down 380 stairs just to reach the first of nine levels. In total, the tour had over 800 stairs, although we were able to take the lift back to the surface. I kinda wanted to run back up the stairs, especially after hearing about the race that firefighters have up them with all their gear.
3. The mine is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Not only is the mine a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was actually one of the first 12, established in 1978, with Krakow’s historic center also on the original list. The site also includes the Wieliczka Saltworks Castle as well as the nearby Bochnia Salt Mine.
4. Most of the mine is made from salt
This is a salt mine after all. There are wooden beams in many of the tunnels, but otherwise the floors, walls and ceilings are hewn directly out of salt. So are the dozens of sculptures and reliefs around the mine.
Perhaps the most stunning are the crystals hanging from the numerous chandeliers in the mine. They might look like glass, but they’re actually giant salt crystals from rock salt which has been dissolved and reconstructed.
5. Tools used in the mine have been preserved by the salt
The few things in the mind that weren’t made of salt, such as mining tools, winches, buckets and some sculptures, were made of wood. Salt is an excellent preservative and many of the tools and apparatus are still in good condition to this day.
5. There’s a salt formation known as cauliflower
Most of the rock salt in the mine has a dull grey look. However, there are some batches where the salt takes on a fluffy white appearance. The miners nicknamed this cauliflower, although I don’t think that’s the official name.
6. Hot air ballooning and bungee jumping have occurred in the mine
In 2014, a hot air balloon lifted 65 feet off the floor for 4 minutes. The guide said that this was a world record, but there’s no evidence of that online outside of their own website. The only Guinness world records that the town of Wieliczka hold are the largest polonaise (a Polish dance) and the world’s largest lasagna! A Croatian mine has the record for first and deepest underground hot air balloon ride.
Other than a bungee jump, sports activities which have taken place in the mine include soccer games and even windsurfing on the subterranean lake! Of course, those weren’t in the days when the mine was in operation. Now there are areas that can be rented out for formal dinners, weddings and even concerts.
7. The mine has four chapels
As can be imagined, conditions within the mine weren’t the best. As such, the miners created four chapels to pray in. Princess Kinga of the 13th century is the patron saint of the mine. The grand St. Kinga’s Chapel is dedicated to her and has a large salt statue in her honor. This is also where you can see several of the chandeliers with their rock salt crystals.
8. Horses lowered into the mine to work could never leave
This next fact might be unpleasant to modern-day environmentalists. Horses were used to turn the “horse treadmills.” Those are the pully contraptions you see in movies where horses turn a winch to raise and lower baskets. To get the horses into the mine, they were lowered on a harness, which was probably a terrifying experience for the horse. It was also a one-way trip, as no one needed or wanted to lift the horse back out of the mine. Thanks to the aforementioned preserving nature of salt, the treadmills can still be operated, although the horses are long gone.
9. Most table salt is rock salt from mines
This was a surprise to me. I always assumed that all table salt was from the sea, but it turns out that sea salt is usually called just that, while table salt is rock salt and almost always comes from mines. Himalayan salt is also just rock salt, and from Pakistan, not the Himalayas. Since the salt is in its natural form, there’s no harm in licking the walls…if you can find a spot that hasn’t been touched by the countless millions of visitors before you.
10. There is a private rehabilitation and wellness complex underground
I think the coolest fact about the salt mine is the “hidden” wellness center in the lower levels of the mine. For as little as $40 a night, you can spend time underground breathing in some of the cleanest air in the world. Something I look forward to experiencing myself on my next trip to Krakow.
How to Visit the Salt Mine in Krakow
The easiest and cheapest way to get to the salt mine is by train. Leaving from the main train station in Krakow every half an hour, the train takes about 20-30 minutes and costs less than $1. Another easy option is to take the 304 bus from the city center for just over $1.
Otherwise, there are tour companies throughout the city and nearly every hotel and hostel offers tours to the mine. They usually cost around $40-50 and include the entrance fee.
- Location: Daniłowicza 10, 32-020 Wieliczka, Poland
- Nov-Mar: Mon-Sun 8:00 to 17:00
- Apr-Oct: Mon-Sun 7:30 to 19:30
- Admission: Adults – 89-94 PLN (about $25); children and students – 69-74 PLN (about $20)
- Phone: (+48) 12 278 73 02
- Website: Wieliczka Salt Mine
- What to bring: Warm clothes and comfortable walking shoes. The mine has a constant temperature around 59°F and as mentioned, it’s about 2 miles of walking.
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- Click here to read about my first adventure in Krakow back in 2015.
- A Humbling Day in Auschwitz
- Taking a Homemade Pierogi Class with Krakow Urban Adventures
Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.
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