My second day in Krakow began with a train ride from the main station out a bit into the country to visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Truth: taking the train saves you money, but is a hassle if you don’t speak Polish. The train was eerily empty except maybe 3 other people spread in 4 different cars. I pulled out brochures from the Salt Mines to ask them if they knew which stop to get off at, since all of the announcements were made in Polish, I couldn’t quite make out what was being said. Do not take the train – take the public bus.
Almost every major tourist attraction outside the city of Krakow has it’s own complete tour package that includes the private coach bus ride to the site, a tour guide, and commentary. Almost every single one of these tours costs much more than visiting the attraction on your own. This is why I was daring enough to take the train, but I wouldn’t recommend it. On the way back, I took the public bus and even though it took longer and cost more – there were many other tourists taking it so I was able to easily identify where to get off.
Once arriving at the mines, I bought my ticket and waited for the tour to begin in English. The first thing you do upon entering the mines is descend about 15 flights of narrow stairs into the depths of the mine. Looking down, it is impossible to see the bottom until you get about halfway down. All visitors are given headsets in order to hear the tour guide. More than 1 million people visit the mines every year – they have been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978, warranting lots of visits. I just did the basic mine tour – but the mine now offers a “miner’s route”, an underground spa, an underground hotel, and an event venue! It’s like an underground empire and much, much larger than I had imagined.
Many of the miners created artwork out of salt and when the mines became a public attraction, other artists contributed salt sculptures to the mix. Although the sculptures made entirely of salt as well the walls and caverns carved completely out of salt were impressive, by far the most impressive part of the tour was getting to see the Chapel of St. Kinga. The chapel features a stunning chandelier and salt engravings of Biblical tales all along the walls. After spending some time in the Chapel, the tour path continues along the shore of a large underground salt lake. The guide said the salt content is so high in the lake that it is impossible to swim, only float in the water. The size, magnitude, cultural and artistic importance of the mines make them a must visit when vising Krakow. When I return, I would love to take a more in-depth tour of the less frequented areas of the mine or take a yoga class and get a massage at the underground wellness center.
Visiting the mines took up a good chunk of my day with the total time underground around 3 hours and the half an hour of travel time to reach the mines and another 45 minutes on the way back. However, I’m not one to sit around so upon arriving back in Krakow, I got a quick bite to eat and headed over to a bike shop for my reserved sunset bike tour of a monastery several miles out of town. I got my rest during transportation (train rides, buses, planes) and while in a city tried to do as much as I could during the time I had.