Wieliczka Salt Mine was the second part of the tour. We left the Birkenau Memorial ground at 1-pm, taking around 1 hour and 30 minutes to arrive, thanks to a smooth traffic flow along the motorway. The journey time allows for a resting of the feet, it also gives you time to reflect after the emotional tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
When we arrived at the historic Danilowicz Shaft and main entrance, there was a queue ahead of us with a wait time of around 30 minutes. While waiting, I explored the small but charming Kingi park just opposite the mine. When it was our turn to enter, a very energetic and humorful tour guide welcomed us. We were each handed an entry card and headset system along with a brief safety instruction.
In 1978, Wieliczka Salt Mine became a UNESCO world heritage site, one of the world’s oldest operating salt mines. Excavated from the 13th century on, the mine produced table salt continuously until 2007.
As you enter, timber beams prop-up many parts of the chambers. You’ll descend approximately 380 steps to Level I (64 m) to enter the mine. It forms a complex of underground shafts over nine floors, to a depth ranging from 64 to 327 metres. With around 3000 chambers connected making a total length of 300 kilometres, it’s vast! From Level I, you go down to Level II and finally to Level III. The return to the surface is by lift from Level III (135 m). The ambient lighting along the walking track creates a dramatic effect making every step an adventurous one, though it can feel a little claustrophobic in parts.
Salt carvings that the miners had carved out were fascinating and the stories that our guide told us brought them to life. Some of the details are so intricate and surreal.
Miners work was performed manually, very hard and extremely dangerous! Digging all day long. Horses were introduced at the beginning of the 16th century, mainly used to operate the pulley system hauling the salt to the surface.
The crown jewel of the mine is the underground Chapel of St Kinga, the patron Saint of miners carved entirely out of rock salt. It’s impressive and a proof of extraordinary artistry. It took over 30 years for three sculptors to complete the interiors.
Not to be missed inside this enormous chapel are the altar pieces, various bas-reliefs, The Last Supper as inspired by Leonardo da Vinci, resurrected Jesus Christ, Mother Mary and Child Jesus, a wooden Baroque crucifix, Pope John Paul II and all the eye catching chandeliers made from salt. Aside from the church services, the chapel is also use for weddings, classical and religious music concerts.
Deep underground you’ll visit a number of brackish lakes along with ones that glow green due to the presence of sodium chloride.
Extensive infrastructure, just like an underground metropolis! Drozdowice Chamber is where a rock salt monument of two mine carpenters by Antoni Wyrodek stands. It symbolises the remarkable skills and the ingenious workmanship of the men who constructed all the amazing timber structures that hold up large portions of the mines. This chamber is popular for exhibitions, concerts, banquets, conferences and training groups.
Michałowice Chamber has built-in wooden stairs which run between two massive timber pillars with a dramatic and massive salt chandelier hanging overhead. Its grandeur will take your breath away!
Another stunning space suitable for all kinds of events is the Warszawa Chamber. This can be transformed to hold dinner parties, conferences, business meetings and concerts. This is also the pit stop for lavatory use, souvenir shopping and to grab a snack or drink.
After a short break, our group was directed to form a queue to wait for our turn to travel by lift to the surface. It’s a high-speed elevator and the return to the surface was fast and rather exciting!
The place is awe-inspiring, the way it is setup is amazing and truly majestic! Route for our tour was the “Tourist Route”, it took nearly 3 hrs with a length of 3.5 km so wear comfortable shoes. Note; the average temperature inside the mine is 17 – 18 degrees, so prepare accordingly. My admission fee was included in the tour package. Standard ticket is 100 pln / 1person and concession tickets are available, check out tickets prices here. We left the grounds of Wieliczka around 6-pm. I opted to be dropped off by the bus in the Main Square, Rynek Główny. Time for a drink and a hearty meal after such a challenging day.
Drive: Wieliczka Salt Mine is located 10 km south-east of Krakow city centre, near the exit from the A4 motorway at the Kraków Wieliczka junction.
Bus: Krakow Card provides Free public bus to and from Wieliczka Salt Mine with bus number 304 from Old Town, city centre. Timetable here. Courtesy of Krakow Card.
Tour Operators: Plenty of tour operators, I booked through Viator Krakow. I must say, I was very satisfied with their service.
Staying longer: Wieliczka Salt Mine offers an overnight accommodation in the Eastern Mountain Stables Chamber, at a depth of 135 metres. Check in is at 7:10 pm and check out is 7:25 am. There are suggested health benefits of staying overnight inside the salt mine.