1 Best Sight in Wieliczka Salt Mine, Malopolska and the Tatras

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Fodor's choice

The salty underground labyrinth stretches and meanders for hundreds of miles. Old maps show 26 shafts starting at the surface and more than 180 smaller underground shafts joining two or more neighboring levels. The mines have nine levels in total and more than 2,000 chambers where excavation has now been abandoned. The Tourist Route, starting at the Daniłowicz Shaft, takes you through a small stretch of this fascinating underworld, a mere 1½-mile walk between levels 1 and 3.

The following legend attempts to explain the discovery of the salt deposits at Wieliczka. Thirteenth-century princess Kinga (also called Kunegunda), daughter of the Hungarian King Bela IV of the Árpád dynasty, married Bolesław Wstydliwy (Boleslaus the Bashful), Duke of Kraków and Sandomierz. She brought with her to Poland a large dowry, which helped rebuild the country after it was destroyed during the Mongol raids. Boleslaus and Kinga were highly respected by the subjects for their piety and goodness. Legend has it that Kinga has given Poland yet another, very precious dowry. When touring the land of her father, she came to the salt mines of Maramures. Seized with sudden inspiration, she asked King Bela to give her one of the shafts as a present. Her father consented, and Princess Kinga threw a gold ring off her finger into the pit as a sign of her ownership. Back in Poland, when the salt mines were founded, some say that it was Kinga who showed the miners where to dig. When they unearthed the first nugget of salt, they found the very same ring that the Princess had thrown into the shaft in Hungary. Remember that in those days, salt was as precious as gold.

The underground itinerary takes you to several chapels that have been carved from the salt; huge, fantastically shaped multilevel chambers; and salty subterranean lakes that send off phantasmagorical reflections of light. Look especially for the 17th-century Chapel of St. Anthony's, with the saints' expressions softened with the moisture coming through the shaft. The colossal Chapel of the Blessed Kinga is rather like a cathedral hewn out of salt. Along the way you will notice powerful and ancient timber beams conserved with salt, mosslike saline deposits called "salt flowers," and even grandiose chandeliers made entirely of salt crystals. You will meet many salt-loving sprites and gnomes, along with and the most powerful of all the spirits of the mine, the Treasure Keeper—all carved out of salt, of course.

After finishing your sightseeing tour, if you are not too tired of walking, you can visit the underground museum that shows the history of salt mining at Wieliczka, as well as the archaeology and geology of the salty region.

Another sightseeing option is the Miners' Route expedition, which is a bit of an adventure trail. You get your helmet and play the role of the miner apprentice, going down the mine for the first time under the watchful eye of the chargemaster. It is a chance to learn more about the miner's profession, which is not an easy one, but it can be exciting. The Miners' Route starts at a different location than the "regular" Tourist Trail—at the Regis Shaft (about 10 minutes walk from the main Daniłowicz Shaft).

You can get to Wieliczka by a modern and comfortable suburban train (przewozy regionalne); the journey takes only 20 minutes (get off at Wieliczka-Rynek stop and walk for about 10 minutes to the mine). There are also minibuses (both tour buses and regular connections by private companies) leaving from the Kraków train station. It is a good idea to book your ticket in advance online, as visiting the mine is a very popular attraction. In high season, it may be more practical to join a guided bus tour leaving from Kraków (inquire at tourist information points or your hotel).

Visiting the mine involves a long walk underground, so make sure you wear comfortable walking shoes. A visit will last about three hours and requires you to walk down 350 steps. There is a lift, but it has an extra charge and must be reserved in advance. Leaving requires climbing even more stairs (some 450 steps in total), this time with no lift option available. There is an alternative route for persons with impaired mobility (not all, but some parts of the mine are wheelchair-accessible). Bring warm clothing: the temperature down the mine is always the same, about 15ºC (60ºF).

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Daniłowicza 10, Wieliczka, Poland
Sights Details
Rate Includes: zł 84 (includes guide\'s fee), Mine Apr.–Oct., daily 7:30–7:30; Nov.–Mar., 8–5. Museum daily 8–4