Located just out of Poland's ancient capital of Kraków (which is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe) is the ancient Wieliczka Salt Mines. The ancient mines are now a museum and national monument that's open to the public. Visiting the salt mines is done in tours where one is led down into the depths of one of the greatest salt mines in the world. No trip to Kraków would be complete without a trip to Wawel Royal Castle (the world's first World Heritage Site) and the salt mines.

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In the mines, one is greeted with much of Poland's history and some of its legends. The mine operated continuously for around 800 years. One of the other top things to do in Kraków (for a more somber and soul-searching occasion) is to visit the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camp - it is a day tour from Krakow.

What To Know About The Wieliczka Salt Mine

The kilometers-thick salt deposits were formed by an ancient sea that once covered the region. The salt from these deposits under the surface had been well known since Neolithic times from the upwelling brine from springs.

The Wieliczka salt mine started excavation in the 13th century and was mined continuously for hundreds of years up until 2007. At that time it was one of the world's oldest operating salt mines. In its really long history, it was a royal salt mine that was operated by Żupy Krakowskie (Kraków Salt Mines in English) company.

The mine reaches deep underground, going down to a depth of some 1,073 feet or 327 meters. In total, its passages and chambers extend for over 178 miles or 287 kilometers.

  • Max Depth: 1,073 feet or 327 meters
  • Full Length of Passages: 178 miles or 287 kilometers

Falling salt prices and problems with the mine flooding lead to the commercial salt mining ending in 1996. It has been a tourist attraction for hundreds of years with ancient kings and other elites touring the mines. Today it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Poland attracting around 1.2 million visitors annually.

  • Listed: As A Polish Historic Monument and UNESCO World Heritage Site

Related: What You Need To Know About Touring America's Only Vertical Shaft Gold Mine (And Gold Mining)

What To Expect On The Tour In The Salt Mine

The mines are a labyrinth of mind-bending passageways and grand chambers. The tour lasts for 1.5 hours through the main part of the mine open to the public and then there's the option (included in the entrance ticket) for another tour of the museum part of the mine for another 1.5 hours. There are also toilets deep in the mine.

Tours Of The Salt Mine:

  • Type: Guided (Self Guided Is Not An Option)
  • Duration: 3 Hours (In Two Segments)
  • Break: There Are 20-Minute Breaks At Underground Cafés and Souvenir Shops

During the tour, one will see long passageways, historic minding machinery, theatrical displays, underground lakes and brine pools, great chambers, salt stalactites, and even gift shops and cafés. Adding to that there are four chapels and numerous statues that the miners carved out of the rock salt.

What One Will See In The Mine:

  • Chapels: Four Chapels (Including One Very Large And Impressive One)
  • Cafes: Two Underground Cafes, A Restaurant, and Gift Shops
  • Lakes: Underground Lakes and Brine Pools
  • Stalactites: Many Stalactites and Salt Growths

The mine is truly huge and only a tiny fraction of it is open to the public (it is bewildering to think how large it is). In the whole 3-hour tour (with a lot of walking), one will only see 1-2% of the entire mine.

Related: What To Know When Visiting The Gold Mines Of Sado, Japan

Booking The Tour of The Salt Mine

The salt mine is open every day and is only a short bus or train ride from the neighboring city of Kraków. Tickets should be purchased online - one books time slot tickets.

  • Cost: 119 Polish ($27)

There are many tours running in many languages, but one should plan ahead as the tickets can sell out. To see the available time slots and calendar, refer to the salt mine's official website.

There is a lot of walking, so wear comfortable shoes and take water (although there are also underground cafes along the way). In the mine, one will feel like one is entering an alien world or some mythical underworld. It is a must for anyone visiting Poland.