Polish UNESCO: Wieliczka

The area around Kraków abounds with top-class tourist sights, as many as three of them inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List. These are the old salt mine in Wieliczka, the Marian sanctuary in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska and the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp museum.

Wieliczka Salt Mine

One of the biggest magnets for foreign visitors to Poland, the salt mine in Wieliczka dates back to the 13th century and is the world's only mine operating uninterruptedly since the Middle Ages. Every year it attracts some 800,000 tourists.

Today's mine is a subterranean labirynth of tunnels and chambers totaling some 300 km of which only 3.5 km are open to the public. The route runs through 20 fairytale chambers on three levels between 64 and 135 m underground and takes about 3 hours. Regardless of the season, the air in the mine is always crisp and the temperature is about 14°C. As the air in the mine has healing properties, there is also a sanatorium for people suffering from allergies and asthma on the fifth level (211 m).

The biggest highlight is the Chapel of St. Kinga at 101 m below ground level, with fabulous salt sculptures and chandeliers. There is the Salt Minig Museum on the third level. To complete the tour, you can have a rest in a complex of underground chambers (125 m below ground level) occupied by souvenir shops, a post office and a restaurant.

Info: Wieliczka is 10 km from Cracow, www.kopalnia.pl, turystyka@kopalnia.pl. Tickets are bought on the ground; visiting only in guided groups of about 35 people. In summer they set off every few minutes, but in low season you may have to wait up to 1 hour; price is PLN40 or PLN25 concessions.

Source: Poland - an ilustrated guidebook. For more information look at Pascal

See other places worth seeing in Cracow area: Kalwaria Zebrzydowska and Auschwitz-Birkenau

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