There is salt in just about everything, whether naturally occurring or otherwise. You probably have a pot of salt on your dining table or kitchen side. It comes in different forms and colours and has been found useful for more than just flavouring our chips. But have you ever thought about where it comes from? Surprisingly, not just the sea.
In South Poland, just outside of the city of Krakow, deep underground, salt has been mined since the 13th century. After a flood and the drop in salt prices, work stopped in the mid 90’s but you can still visit Wielicka and see just how it was done.
You can reach the mines yourself by bus or you can join a tour. Tours are offered by various companies in numerous languages, best to look around first and compare prices, either on the internet or once you’re actually in Poland. If you have only a short amount of time in Krakow then definitely book your tour in advance.
We chose escape2poland as we have used them before and they have small tour groups and fantastic reviews. You can even book your whole trip, hotel and airport transfers with them if you want to.
We chose to do the tourist route but if you’re more adventurous you can do some much more active routes. The staff even give you overalls and put you to work on one of them! If we were better with small dark spaces, it would have been a great experience but I don’t think I could have seen it through. So the tourist route was perfect for us!
The whole mine is made up 287km of tunnels and various chambers, at a depth of 327m in places. To get to the first level of the tour you have to take 350 wooden steps down! While you’re at the top, don’t forget to look over the edge and see just how deep it is, but don’t worry, a lift will bring you back up!
As you head through the tunnels, your guide will tell you stories about the mines, you can decide which of them you think are true! There are legends of how they believe the salt was first discovered, possibly thanks to a Hungarian princess and her choice of wedding gift! You’ll also hear about how the miners managed to get the salt out of the ground and up to the surface. They faced terrible conditions and dangerous situations but most of the tour makes the mining seem like an ideal job. If they are to be believed, the miners where happy and paid well and their animals where healthy and retired after only a few years of working.
Throughout the years, the miners developed new ways to do their job and you can see some of the methods in motion and even help demonstrate! One of the greatest dangers they faced was fresh water as this would destroy the structure of walls and could collapse the tunnels. Various ways of keeping water out and walls up were created and you’ll even see an underground lake. It is said that the lake has more salt than the Dead Sea and so it would be impossible for anyone to drown!
*These horses look real, but aren’t! All models, human or animal, are just for show! Phew!
That’s made out of what!?
Wood is preserved by salt, so any structures or doors you see are generally wooden. Metal doesn’t last well in these conditions so there is much less of it. But in some cases, Salt is all you need! The walls and floors are made of salt so dark and solid it looks and feels like cold stone. Give it a lick if you don’t believe me! But more impressive than that is the art! Over the years the minors actually created places of worship and beautiful pieces of sculpture. Very little of the work you see has been created by professional artists, which just adds to the attraction. There are even chandeliers made of, yup, you guessed it! Salt.
As well as the beauty created by man, you’ll see various types of natural salt formations as you make your way through the chambers. Learn about how the salt ‘behaves’ under different conditions and the names of some of the different shapes created by the dripping water. You’ll hear about the health benefits of your trip underground and, if you have time, there’s even a spa! Did you know that breathing in salt air can improve conditions such as Asthma, bronchitis, sinus congestion and even help with allergies?
Make a day of it!
If you have some extra time, or if you’ve made your own way to the mines, theres lots to keep you busy after taking the tourist route. There are shops, a museum and even a restaurant where you can stop for a meal. The mine even has rooms used for events and conferences and is said to have fantastic acoustics! So grab yourself a souvenir and a bite to eat before returning to the surface in the original mine elevator.
For anyone concerned about small spaces or being underground, this lift was the only part that really made me feel closed in and uneasy, but, when you’re 135m underground, it is still the preferred method of returning to the surface!
Before you go…
Remember that the temperature is around 15℃ at all times in the mine. The tourist route has a total of 800 steps and the ground is not totally even so wear sensible shoes! It takes about 3 hours in total so If you have concerns about your health or any phobias, I would recommend doing some further research on the mines website. Check out the various routes and use reviews and photos to see more before you book. Don’t push yourself into anything you don’t feel comfortable with! The lift is cramped, dark and fast, but it’s also over quickly and (in my opinion) worth it for everything that comes before.
The tourist route goes through 20 chambers and although smoking is strictly prohibited, there are opportunities to use the toilet. Children can go on the tour and are free if they’re under 4. Apart from the ticket prices, any other costs are optional, including a photography pass if you wish to take pictures. You can buy this at the start, or later on in the tour. There is no option to explore the mines by yourself, but the guides are informative and enthusiastic so you wouldn’t want to miss out on their knowledge anyway!
Have you been on one of the tour routes, or even visited another mine!? If so, I would love to hear what you thought of it!