About the salt mines
The salt mines in Wielizka and Bochnia date back to the 13th and 12th centuries, respectively. World Heritage sites, Wielizka has been accessible to tourists longer than Bochnia, and is hence better known. Both offer tours, both are interesting – visitors to one often plan to visit the other on their next trip to the area.
The Wielizka mine opened in the 13th century and produced table salt until 2007. Small amounts are still mined, largely now for “souvenir” purposes. Commercial mining ended in 1996.
The huge mine reaches a depth of over 320 metres and the tunnels reach over 280km. There’s a number of underground lakes, dozens of statues, three chapels and an entire cathedral carved out of the rock salt by the Wielizka miners. During World War 2, the occupying German forces used the tunnels for, amongst other things, a number of war-related industries. Note that Kraków emerged remarkably unscathed in 1945. The old city is a true case of what you see is what you get.
The mine offers a number of tour options, including one which takes visitors to otherwise unused areas, off the tourist trail. All but the disabled tour begin with a descent of over 400 steps on wooden staircases and continue for roughly 2.5 km. During the tour the route includes some stairs up and well as down, but the tour ends roughly twice as far down as it began – at an area containing a café, restrooms, a souvenir shop and the lift back to the surface.
The lift carried up to 36 people at a time for the 30-second ascent.
The only lift down is used for wedding parties and those taking the disabled tour. The disabled tour is fully accessible, but obviously limited in terms of the ground covered.
Full details of the tours offered by the mine are on the mine website. http://www.wieliczka-saltmine.com/visiting You’ll find this an excellent website, packed with information, and you can buy tickets on-line. On the website you can also find details of the underground health resort and the surface hotel.
Tickets can be booked on line. Prices run down from 52zl per adult, with discounts and group tickets available.
Getting to Wielizka
For those staying in, or starting from Kraków, there’s a good bus or tram service. You can also leave the tram at the Schindler Factory Museum and spend some time there, before returning to the city centre. The mine is roughly 10km from the centre of Kraków. Bus 304 from Galeria Krakowska (ul. Kurniki) or a minibus from Dworzec Główny will get you to Wielizka in about 30 minutes.
Trains are slightly faster – from Dworzec Główny to Wielizka Rynek Kopalnia station in 25 minutes.
For those going to Wielizka by car, easy access is from the A4, the main highway passing East-West to the South of Kraków.
Wielizka Salt Mine GPS co-ordinates 49 58 59 20 03 21
This is the older of the two mines, but the more recent addition to the tourist map.
The mine opened in the 12th century. Smaller than Wielizka, the mine has two shafts – Sutoris is 176m deep, while Campi – about 1.5 km away on the surface – is 212m deep. The main tunnel, the August Passage, links the two shafts. Commercial operations at the mine ended some time in the 1950s.
The tunnels and shafts at Bochnia form a complete underground town, over 16 different levels. Like Wielizka, the mine includes a health resort.
248m underground, you will find the Ważyn Chamber – measuring a huge 225m long, 14.4m max width and with a maximum height of 7.2m, the chamber contains no pillars, but a 300-bed sanatorium, fields/courts for volleyball, basketball and handball, a restaurant and conference facilities.
The mine’s web site is here http://www.kopalniasoli.pl/en/
It’s worth noting that descent for individual tourists visiting the mine is at the Sutoris shaft (Solna Street 2), whereas the ascent from the mine is at the Campi shaft located about 1.5 kilometers away (Campi Street 15).
Tourist groups are informed of the place of descent by the Tourism Service Office at the time of booking.
Tickets cost 27zl in Jan-March and Nov-Dec, 35zl at other times. There’s a 5zl “camera” charge. Discounts and group tickets are offered – see the site for full details.
To get there from Kraków, catch one of the mini-buses (marked ‘Bochnia’ inside the windscreen) that leave frequently from the parking lot in front of Galeria Krakowsa at the corner of ul. Pawia and ul. Worcella (D-2); journey time, 50mins.
Times of mine trips for individual tourists:
- Monday – Friday at 9:30, 12:00, 15:30
- Saturday, Sunday 10:15 – 16:15 (every hour)
Times of mine trips for groups:
- Monday – Friday 8:30 – 18:00
- Saturday, Sunday 10:15 – 16:15
Visiting Auschwitz and Wielizka on the same day
Several companies in Kraków offer tours to one of the mines, sometimes combined with a visit to Auschwitz. People ask if both Auschwitz and Wielizka can be visited on the same day – a tour is the only way we’d recommend, but it will be a long and exhausting day – exhausting both physically and emotionally.
Many people like to spend more than the time allotted by a tour company at Auschwitz, or prefer to keep things flexible. On the other hand, especially if time is limited, a tour will take you directly from Auschwitz to Wielizka, perhaps even providing a packed lunch to enjoy en route.
Websites for tours and combination tours
Kraków Tours http://www.krakowtours.co.uk/auschwitz.html#combined