One of the great things about spending a whole year traveling throughout Europe is that it gives you an opportunity to see so many different things, and I have to say that when we set off on our European trip back in September of last year, I never expected to be spending some time in Poland. As we were researching new places off the beaten path to visit, we came across some information on Poland that was really intriguing. More specifically we were drawn to the beautiful city of Krakow and the historical sights which are in close proximity.
After booking our tickets to the Eastern European city, the first thing I started to do was plan some sightseeing to make sure that we could make the most out of our nearly two weeks that we’d be staying there. At the top of my list of things to see in Krakow were the Wieliczka Salt Mine and also Schindler’s Factory which was memorialized in the 1993 film Schindler’s List. Since I had never been to Poland previously and wasn’t sure how difficult it would be to arrange my own transportation to these sights, I thought that taking guided tours of them would be a great way to make sure that my visits were hassle-free. After a simple internet search, I came across a tour company called Isango which operates guided tours in Krakow, with one of the key features being that they provide all of the transportation to and from the sights. After reading other travelers reviews about the tours provided through isango!, I booked a combination tour which included a tour of the Wieliczka Salt Mine and also Schindler’s Factory tour.
On the morning of the tour we were picked up at our hotel in a very nice van, which was new and really clean. Our driver introduced himself to us and explained the agenda for the day. After picking up a few more fellow tourists, we’d make the 30-minute drive to the salt mines which are just outside of Krakow. Along the way the driver answered questions and talked about some history of the mines and also provided information about Krakow in general.
After the short trip out of town we arrived at the salt mine and our driver walked with our group to make sure that we were getting in line to enter the salt mine with the proper group that we would tour the mine with. Since it was raining on the day that we went, the driver even provided umbrellas so that we wouldn’t get wet while making the short walk to the mine shaft from the parking lot. One of the benefits of going with this tour group is that we were able to skip the line, so after our group was assembled, and our headsets and receivers were handed out, we entered into the mine shaft where we were able to begin our tour. Before entering the mine, our driver made sure to point out where he would be waiting for us when our tour was complete.
Our guide for the salt mine tour (different than our driver) explained over the headset that our group, which was about 30 people, would begin by walking down 350 stairs to get to the starting point in the mine which was 135 meters underground. 350 stairs sounded like a lot (and it is), however I found that the descent went quickly and what you see when you get into the mine is well worth the trip!
Over the course of the next 2.5 hours we walked through many different sections of the salt mine, along the whole route having the history explained and stopping in many different areas to see the different chambers along the way. The mine is so much bigger than you can even imagine, and the most amazing thing is that everything you see is all carved out of salt. One of the chambers that I found to be almost unbelievable was one where an entire cathedral had been carved out of salt, even the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling are made from salt crystals!
There were other areas that had lakes in them, and one of the chambers with a lake in it had a light show that was set to the music of Chopin. The sights along the way were memorable, but learning the history really made me appreciate the hard work that had gone on for centuries in this mine. During the tour we stopped at an area where they have mining equipment set up that a couple of volunteers from the group were able to use to simulate how large salt blocks were lifted to the surface from inside of the mine.
I can’t say enough about the mine itself, I had high hopes after reading the reviews about it, but I can truly say that my highest expectations were exceeded and I’m so happy that I was able to experience touring the salt mine. Adding to the experience was the convenience of having a guide explaining what we were seeing and answering questions. They even offer two bathroom stops along the 2.5-hour tour which was unexpected.
When the tour of the mine was complete, our group lined up to take a lift to the surface, which means that we didn’t need to climb back up the 350 steps that we walked down to begin the tour. When we got to the surface, we walked to meet our driver in the location that he had pointed out prior to going into the mine.
The drive back into Krakow gave us enough time to eat the lunch that we had packed with us before arriving at Schindler’s Factory. When we arrived at the factory, our driver again made sure that we were in the right place and with the right group that we would go through the Schindler’s Factory tour with.
While very interesting, it should be noted that this is really more of a Krakow history museum tour than it is a tour of Schindler’s factory and only a very small portion of the tour discusses anything with Schindler. I came there hoping to see the things that I had remembered from the movie, but really the only part about Schindler is when you see his office. The rest of the tour is informative, and to have a guide made it more interactive than it would have been otherwise.
The factory tour was about an hour in length and was focused on the history of Krakow and the things that were taking place there during WWII. Learning the information from this tour helped me better understand the layout of Krakow and have a greater appreciation for the difficult times that the people of Krakow had suffered through.
After our factory tour was complete, our driver met us right in front of the museum and took us back to our hotel. It was a full day of sightseeing. I can’t imagine having to plan all of the things that we saw, and especially the transportation on my own. Taking the guided tours through Isango was really a great decision, and one that I recommend if you are in Krakow and looking to visit some of the popular sights in the area. The experience was top notch and really allowed me to enjoy the tours we were on rather than having to spend my time focusing on the details of how to get from place to place.
I definitely suggest setting up a tour like this for yourself if you are ever in Krakow. I would recommend packing a lunch and snacks as there is limited time to purchase a lunch during the tour. I felt comfortable leaving my backpack and lunch in the van during our time in the salt mine and had plenty of time between the two locations to enjoy my lunch!
Special thanks to insango! for providing the tour! As always, all opinions expressed are my own.