During our visit to Krakow in Poland, we had two must visit locations on our to do list – an Auschwitz-Birkenau tour and the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Both these tourist attractions are located fairly close to each other, so we opted to book a combined tour with Viator.
We started the day visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau, stopping for lunch before proceeding to Wieliczka Salt Mine.
It was the perfect combination, with the stunning Salt Mine bringing light relief from the horrors of Aushwitz.
A visit to the Salt Mines must be guided because the salt mine is a labyrinth of nearly 250 km of tunnels and you could easily get lost, however the groups are fairly small, with approximately 25 of us.
This tour is not for those who have mobility issues as there are over 800 steps descending underground, with the first wave consisting of 254, which take you 64 metres underground. These are sturdy wooden stairs and we never felt rushed as we headed down, as we had to wait for other tours to finish descending in front of us.
The route follows the history of the 13th-century mine, with exhibits of how they found the salt deposits in brine in the stone age and on to how they used to mine the salt.
As you make your way around the mine, you find underground saline lakes, chapels with intricate salt carvings and even the opportunity to taste the walls, the water, or both.
Some of the chambers are massive and supported with giant wooden beams, whilst others are smaller and more intimate, with an insight into some of the local legends associated with the mine. Some to be taken with “a pinch of salt”.
By far the most spectacular chamber is St Kinga’s Chapel, which is located 101 metres underground.
The enormous chandeliers are made almost entirely out of pure salt so the ‘crystals’, which are almost completely transparent. The decorations of the chamber are spectacular and were carved over the course of nearly seven decades.
The tour takes around three hours and half way round, just after St Kinga’s Chapel, there is a short 15 minute break where you can enjoy refreshments, peruse the underground shop and use the toilets.
The guides are available in several languages and I have to sing our guide’s praises – he was amazing and talked about each cavern with infectious enthusiasm and pride.
There were more steps to traverse, but never more than a few after the initial climb down, so the visit wasn’t a work out, although you will walk around 3.5km.
We both took jumpers as mine’s we have visited before have been cold, but the temperature was a comfortable 18°C, a welcome break from the 30°C it was outside.
At the end of the tour is a larger gift shop selling lots of salt related gifts, from seasoning to bath salts, salt lamps to gift sets. Thankfully getting back up to ground level is done via a lift, so no climbing back up all those stairs!
The Wieliczka Salt Mine was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1978 and was my favourite location to visit during our short break to Kraków.