Be prepared to do a lot of walking (comfortable shoes, people) and bear in mind that the mine is a constant 15 degrees Centigrade. If you want to endear yourself to the guides, memorise the wonderful words Szczęść Boże (shtench boes-yuh); this essential, unpronounceable bit of miner’s lingo effectively means ‘God be with you’ and substitutes for Dzień dobry (‘hello’) when underground.
Your tour begins in earnest by descending 380 wooden stairs to the first level 64m underground; don't worry, you won't have to climb them, but just descending will give your calves a work-out. Of nine levels, the tour only takes you to the first three (a max depth of 135m), with the 3.5km covered during the 3 hour tour (including both parts) comprising a mere 1% of this underground realm. While wandering the timber-reinforced tunnels you’ll gain insight from your guide into the history of the site, the techniques used to extract the salt and the lives of the men who worked there. There’s the opportunity to not only operate a medieval winch used for moving massive blocks of salt, but also to lick the walls (bring some tequila). The tour visits numerous ancient chambers and chapels in which almost everything around you is made from rock salt, including the tiled floors, chandeliers, sculptures and stringy stalactites that hang down.
The highlight of the tour is the magnificent 22,000m³ St. Kinga’s Chapel dating from the 17th century. Known for its amazing acoustics, the chapel features bas-relief wall carvings from the New Testament done by miners that display an astonishing amount of depth and realism. After passing a lake that holds more than 300g of salt per litre, and a hall high enough to fly a hot-air balloon in, the first part of the tour ends at the underground restaurant and souvenir stands, at which point you should be instructed on your two options: how to exit (option A) or where and when to join the second part of the tour (option B). If this option B is unmentioned or unclear, inform your guide that you also want to see the Underground Museum and ask them how to do so.
At your leisure you should be able to find your way past the restaurant and restrooms, beyond which you’ll find the queue for the tiny, nerve-wracking, high-speed lift that shoots you back up to the surface (option A), and separate area to the right for those that want to continue on to the Underground Museum (option B, which we heartily recommend). Your original guide should admit you into the museum exhibition which comprises an additional 16 chambers over 1.5kms packed full of artwork, artefacts and mining equipment which your guide will elaborate on. Perhaps the most fascinating and informative part of the Wieliczka experience, the highlights of these beautiful exhibits include two paintings by famous 19th century Polish artist Jan Matejko, and an entire room full of sparkling salt crystals. Upon completion your guide leads you back to the ancient lift which takes you above ground back to where you started.