Top 10 underground sites
Going underground around the world
The largest known ice cave in the world can be found high in the Austrian Alps. A labyrinth of over 40kms, it was first discovered in 1879 but was largely forgotten until Alexander von Mörk continued the research in 1913; by 1924 the whole of the cave system could be explored on foot.
One of nature’s great wonders, with stunning ice sculptures, the cave is only accessible during the summer months.
For more information, visit click here.
Hallein Salt Mines
For the last 450 years, visitors have visited Hallein to explore the ancient salt mines.
Salt was known as “white gold” and has been mined for thousands of years at Hallein, deep in the Dürrnberg. Salt was such an important commodity that it lent its name to Salzburg and created vast wealth for the city’s archbishops.
At Hallein Salt Mines you can walk through the tunnels, glide across a salt lake and ride the miners’ slides. Above ground, why not visit the home of the original miners at the Celtic village of Salina.
Costa del Sol
Nerja Caves (Cuevas de Nerja)
The caves at Nerja stretch for almost 5kms and are home to the world’s largest natural column.
In 1959, five local boys removed some stalactites from the entrance to a pothole and discovered skeletons next to some ceramic pottery.
Roll on nearly 60 years and the caves, a series of huge caverns, are a popular tourist spot. There are three Galleries – Show, Upper and New – within which are several Halls. The Upper and New galleries contain many of the prehistoric cave paintings.
Concerts are regularly held within the caves during the summer months.
Dolmen of Antequera
Declared a World Heritage Site in 2016, the dolmen at Antequera are a fantastic example of megalithic architecture.
Unusually for the time, these were positioned to face natural landmarks rather than the sun. The dolmen sit just outside the interesting town of Antequera and in the spectacular landscape of El Torcal.
If you’re a fan of Stonehenge, these are not to be missed.
Poldark Tin Mine
Used as a location in the popular TV series, you can explore different levels of the mine accompanied by experienced and entertaining Cornishmen. (Caveat: we can’t promise they’ll look like Poldark, but you never know!) The pre-Roman origins of the mine are inaccessible but the tour encompasses the 18th century workings.
The fogou – derived from the Cornish word for cave, ogo – is a series of underground passages built of drystone walling with massive cap stones sometime during the 5th or 4th centuries BCE.
The 30-metre passage is open to the public from May to September and entry is free. Dogs are welcome, but torches are recommended.
For directions and more information, visit the English Heritage website.
Cueva del Viento
The fifth largest lava tube in the world, Cueva del Viento (Cave of the Wind) is named after the powerful draughts that flow through it.
It is a huge labyrinth of underground passages that was known to the locals of Tenerife (Gaunches) more than 2,000 years ago, but the first written record of it is in 1776. Found in the district of Icod de los Vinos, the cave has no artificial lighting, so helmets fitted with headlamps are worn on the guided tour.
A fab opportunity to see the effect of lava after the danger has passed.
Mary Kings Close, Edinburgh
Under Edinburgh’s Royal Mile is a network of alleyways and abandoned houses, Mary Kings Close, that were inhabited as late as 1902.
During the 17th century, the Old Town planned a new Royal Exchange and the top floors of buildings – some of which were as high as 8 storeys – were removed whilst the lower floors were used as foundations for the Exchange.
During the plague, the residents of the Close were quarantined there and it was eventually abandoned in 1645, for around 40 years. People carried on living and running their businesses in this strange subterranean world until the last residents left in 1902, when the Exchange was extended and the last access to the Close was closed.
Along with the Edinburgh Vaults, this is one of Scotland’s most interesting underground sites.
Basilica Cisterns, Istanbul
If you remember the James Bond film From Russia with Love, you’ll recognise the Basilica Cisterns in Istanbul.
Initially designed to service the Great Palace, it was closed when the Byzantine emperors relocated and subsequently forgotten until 1545 when a scholar found it. The cisterns were still not treated with any great respect and it was not until 1985 that they were cleaned and renovated.
The vaulted ceilings, Roman columns and Medusa heads create a mysterious atmosphere while ghostly carp slip by in the water.
Derinkuyu underground city
If you’re making your way across this wonderful country, you could do worse than stop off at Derinkuyu, an ancient multi-level underground city.
The city, in Cappadocia, could accommodate as many as 20,000 people, their livestock and stores and had all the usual amenities you’d expect from a large habitation: chapels, wine and oil presses, stables and more.
Open to the public since 1969, half of Derinkuyu is accessible to visitors and is an incredible example of how ancient civilisations went underground either to avoid persecution or hide from invading forces.