What Do You See in a Salt Mine?

You may not think of a salt mine as an exciting place to visit, but I’ll swear otherwise. Here’ ‘s a roundup of four salt mines I feel are worth your time and way more than a grain of that mineral.

Wieliczka Salt Mine, Poland

The Wieliczka Salt Mine near Krakow, Poland, earned one of the 12 prestigious spots on the very first UNESCO World Heritage list. Its operations date back to the 13th century, making it one of the most historic and famous salt mines in the world. Operations continued until 2007, more than 750 years. During World War II, the Germans used the mine as an underground facility for war-related manufacturing. Today, it’s primarily a tourist attraction.


The mine reaches a depth of 1070 feet, so deep the Eiffel Tower could easily fit. The complex sprawls over nine levels, but tourists only descend as far as the third level of the mine.

Tours begin with a walk down 380 stairs to the first level, about 210 feet underground. You cover nearly two miles on winding passageways and descend 440 feet below street level. The entire route contains 800 stairs, but don’t worry; an elevator lifts you back to the surface. 

Everything, including the tunnel walls, floors, sculptures, and crystal decorations is salt, except for the wooden supports. During the 15th century, so much wood was needed that the forest near Wieliczka were stripped bare.

You enter dull grey chambers where salt sculptures tell stories. Some are historical, some religious, and others fun, like dwarfs and gnomes. One chamber contains figures depicting the legend of St. Kinga. A miner hands a block of salt to Queen Kinga, containing her engagement ring.

Centuries ago, the conditions underground were rather unsafe, so the miners created four chapels for prayer. The stunning Chapel of St. Kinga remains the most impressive part of the salt mine, including its chandeliers and altars. The chandeliers look like glass but are giant salt crystals from rock salt that have been dissolved and reconstructed. Three men worked over thirty years to create this immense sanctuary,  removing approximately 20,000 tons of salt. The church measures 40 feet high, almost 60 feet wide, and 177 feet long and is often used for weddings and special events.

The tour ends at the Aleksandrowice II Chamber—the newest chapel in the mine. It is devoted to St. John Paul II,  the Polish pope, and native of a town near Kraków.

The mine’s microclimate is known for its health benefits due to the constant temperature and humidity. The air inside the Wieliczka salt mine is free from bacteria, viruses, and pollutants. So today, guests visit for therapeutic purposes at the private spa and wellness facilities. The mine also contains several underground salt lakes, including the Mirror Lake. With their high salinity, these lakes allow guests to float effortlessly on the water, like in the Dead Sea.

Tours cover only one percent of the vast facility, but you see will leave with remarkable memories of an underworld adventure. 

Hallstatt Salt Mine, Austria

Another salt mine I visited many years ago stands near the cliffside village of Hallstatt, Austria, in the heart of the Alps. Visitors ride a funicular up to the Hallstatt Salt Mine entrance perched high on a mountain overlooking the tiny village and Lake Hallstatt. For me, this was a must stop in Austria.  

 Before entering, guests don sturdy denim jumpsuits (provided by the attraction) and sit down to ride the miner’s slide to lower depths. That adventure came as a big surprise but was great fun. 

Salt mining in Hallstatt dates back over 7,000 years, making it one of the oldest salt mining sites in the world. The Celts, who settled in the region around 800 BC, were among the first to extract salt from the mines. 

Salt mining in Hallstatt continued for centuries, contributing to the region’s prosperity. The miners used traditional methods, including hand tools and wooden supports. The salt was a valuable commodity for preserving food and for trade.

The guided tours typically include the underground salt lake, famous for its subterranean boat ride. Visitors can also learn about ancient mining techniques and see the tools and equipment used by miners. Tourists straddle a wooden bench attached to a small train to return to the surface. It pulls everyone up and out. (Unfortunately, I visited Hallstatt when my camera did not take good low-light images, so I have few photos inside the mine.) 

Today, the Hallstatt salt mines are no longer active for commercial salt production but offer visitors a glimpse into the area’s history, natural beauty, and one of the most breathtaking Austrian villages. 

Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá, Columbia

In 2022,  while in Bogota, Columbia, I visited the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá,  one of Colombia’s most famous and unique attractions. Located in the town of Zipaquirá, about 30 miles north of Bogota, this remarkable cathedral is carved within the tunnels of a former salt mine. The mine sits nearly 600 feet underground.

The Salt Cathedral dates back to the early 20th century, making it much newer than Hallstatt or Wieliczka. Miners here also carved a small underground chapel to offer prayers to the Virgin of the Rosary of Guasá, the patron saint of miners, to protect them from toxic gases, explosions, and other accidents. The workers built the first sanctuary in the 1930s.

Over time, the miners rebuilt and expanded the chambers, creating a remarkable place of worship. It’s divided  like a traditional Roman Catholic church with the Stations of the Cross, the Dome, and the Nave.

Visitors gradually descend a dark, downward-sloping walkway into the mine. Near the bottom, the sanctuary opens and reveals the cathedral’s chambers, each offering distinctive artistic interpretations with sculptures and colorful illumination. You’ll see the basilica dome, chandeliers, and an enormous, floor-to-ceiling cross illuminated with purple lights. 

The cathedral, a fusion of art, religion, and geology, serves as a religious site and a tourist attraction. Thousands of pilgrims and visitors come to the cathedral to reflect, pray, and experience the spiritual atmosphere within the salt-carved chambers. Be aware that the attraction gets very crowded during the Holy Week before Easter.

I especially admired the colorful Tree of Life three-dimensional bas relief and the dramatic statue of Archangel Gabriel standing high on a large mound of salt. 

Archangel Gabriel statue in the salt cathedral.

A museum and interpretive Center provide additional information about salt mining in the region, the salt deposits’ geological history, and the site’s cultural significance.

Strataca, Hutchinson, Kansas

The only salt mine in the U.S. open to the public is Strataca, located in Hutchinson, Kansas. The sprawling salt mine and museum rests within one of the world’s largest rock salt deposits. 

A long, 90-second elevator ride transports you down 650 feet to the former work area. Don’t worry about getting claustrophobic; after the elevator ride, the salt mine and museum spread wise open. Other sections of the mine remain in operation but are closed to the public.

Wide open display area in the Strataca Salt mine.
Plenty of space in the Strataca Museum underground.

Numerous self-guided displays and video stations explain the history and mining techniques as they progressed from the 1923 opening. Visitors hop onto two trains to ride through the mine’s older, more confined areas. The driver narrates and helps promote an understanding of the challenges of working underground.

Take an underground train ride.

Strataca maintains a constant temperature of 68 degrees and dry air, resulting in an excellent place for safe underground storage. Although I’d never heard about it, the movie industry sends many films, props, and costumes there for safeguarding. The tour includes some of the Hollywood memorabilia. 

Superman costume in the underworld.
Superman costume worn by Dean Cain.

Plan ahead and save about three hours to tour this surprising attraction; although it doesn’t quite measure up to the more artistic mines, it’s still fascinating. 

Parting Thoughts

The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea.

Isak Dinesen