Salzburg’s Salt Mines – A Day Trip Worth Taking
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There are three salt mines scattered around Salzburg, Hallein, Hallstatt, and Berchtesgaden, that you might want to visit. All three salt mines offer the same experience. What’s that experience?
When it’s time to delve deep into the mine, you’ll be provided with traditional miners’ clothes before you ride the mine train – just like a real miner! You’ll not only learn about the underground world of salt mining, but you’ll also have a blast. In the mines, you visit the underground lake and slide down the mines’ iconic slides.
But which salt mine is right for you if they all offer a similar experience?
As a local of Salzburg, I have had the pleasure of visiting the salt mines in our region countless times throughout my life. From my childhood adventures at the mine in Hallein to my recent visits as a tour guide and with Couchsurfers and friends, I have come to know and love each of these unique and fascinating attractions.
I have an idea of the benefits and drawbacks of each of the Salzburg salt mines. In this article, I will share my insights with you, so you can decide which Salzburg salt mine is the best fit for your trip.
Why is there even Salt in the Austrian Alps?
A long, long time ago, when the Earth was still new, it cooled down, and salty oceans were formed. As the water evaporated, layers of sediment were left behind on the bottom of the sea. Salt crystals formed and sank to the bottom. After all the oceans dried up, the layers were covered by dirt and clay. Then, about 100 million years ago, the land moved, and the Alps were created. The salt and rock layers mixed and pushed against each other to make the mountains we see today. Actually, the mountains are still moving, and this process is still happening. It’s just very slow. Isn’t it fascinating?
The History of Salt Mining: How was Salt mined in the Past?
Around 4,000 BC, people made a discovery. They found out that salt could keep meat fresh. They used salt from hot water that came from the ground. They poured the salty water over hot rocks, leaving the white mineral behind. As the climate got worse, salt became more critical for preserving meat. They started digging for salt in the ground, which was also the start of salt mining near Salzburg. But techniques evolved.
Later, people began to make holes in the salt rocks and fill them with water. They took the salty water, so-called “sole”, out of the mines and boiled it in big pans above ground. They heated the water until all that was left was solid salt.
Hallein Salt Mine: Sweet Childhood Memories
First up, let’s talk about the mine in Hallein. This was the mine I visited most frequently as a child because I grew up in Hallein. The Hallein salt mine, of course, holds a special place in my heart. On a tour of the mine, you’ll learn all about the tools and techniques used by the miners throughout the centuries and also about the history of Salzburg. In addition, there is a replica of a Celtic village in front of the salt mine. You can also descend to Hallein to learn even more at the Celtic Museum and take a short stroll through Hallein.
A Brief History of the Hallein Salt Mine
Hallein historically was the actual salt mine of the archbishops of Salzburg and is, therefore, also known as the Salzburg salt mine. The other two salt mines we talk about were the salt mines of the Bavarians and the Habsburg empire, and Salzburg was not a part of either.
The Celts first mined salt in Salzburg 2600 years ago, but production stopped with the arrival of the Romans around 15BC. It wasn’t until the 12th century that the archbishops of Salzburg brought salt production back to life and re-discovered it as a source of wealth. Archbishop Wolf-Dietrich, who lived between 1559 and 1617, used the revenues from the salt trade to build impressive Baroque buildings in Salzburg. These buildings are still admired by people from around the world today.
Fun fact: When you are in the Hallein salt mine, you cross the border back into Germany for a brief period.
Why you would want to visit the Hallein Salt Mine
If you have an entire day to spare and want the most authentic experience, I recommend the Hallein salt mine. Besides offering the most authentic experience of the three salt mines, Hallein is one of the least touristy towns around Salzburg and well worth a short stroll on the way to the mine. During my childhood, the Hallein salt mine was mainly a popular weekend activity for local families, including mine. Times have changed, but Hallein still is the least touristy of the three Salzburg Salt Mines.
What is the best way to get to the Hallein Salt Mine?
That’s the downside of the Hallein salt mine. Despite being the nearest salt mine to Salzburg, the Hallein salt mine is not the easiest to reach by public transportation. If you’re driving, you’re in luck, but if you’re taking public transportation, take bus 170 or the S3 train to Hallein, where you can catch bus 41 to Bad Dürrnberg. Hallein’s salt mine lies on the side of the mountain in a village called Dürrnberg, not in the town itself. Just before the village of Dürrnberg, you get off at the Bad Dürrnberg Salzbergwerk stop.
INSIDER TIP: If you have an entire day to spend and the weather is nice, walk down to Hallein after visiting the salt mine. It’s an easy hike since it’s all downhill. Read this article to find out why Hallein might be worth visiting, even if I consider it the most depressing town around Salzburg.
Berchtesgaden Salt Mine: Adventures across the Border
The Berchtesgaden salt mine is the most convenient to get to. The town of Berchtesgaden lies in Germany, across the border in Bavaria. It’s almost the same distance from Salzburg as Hallein. Salzburg is incredibly close to the German border.
The Historical Significance of the Berchtesgaden Salt Mine
The history of salt mining in Berchtesgaden dates back to the 12th century. However, only by 1517 was the salt mine we visit today, the Petersberg-Stollen dug and the salt mine founded. Until 1803, Berchtesgaden was its own independent principality. In 1810 it became part of Bavaria, and in 1816 the mine began offering tours to select guests before, in 1880, it opened to the general public. In terms of history, the Berchtesgaden salt mine is the least impressive of the three, but it was the world’s first show salt mine.
When would I recommend the salt mine in Berchtesgaden?
If you have limited time or want to see other attractions in Berchtesgaden, too. There is a direct bus from Salzburg, which drops you at the entrance to the mine after a 50-minute ride. Suppose you don’t have a car and want to see many of Berchtesgaden’s attractions on the same day, such as Eagles Nest and Königssee. In that case, you can book a tour like Panoramas Super Saver if you want to see the salt mines in half a day.
But that’s also the crux: all the half-day salt mine tours from Salzburg also go there. That’s why it’s more of a mass-processing mine than the other two. I have only sometimes found their staff to be friendly and respectful, and the overall vibe is more touristy than in Hallein, but if you have limited time or wish to visit several of the attractions in Berchtesgaden, the pros outweigh the cons.
How to get to the Berchtesgaden Salt Mine from Salzburg?
The Berchtesgaden salt mine is directly accessible from Salzburg. The most convenient way to get there is by taking bus 840 from Salzburg train station or Mirabell square. The stop is called “Berchtesgaden Salzbergwerk,” and the ride takes approximately 50 minutes.
If you travel by car, you can visit the salt mine and another nearby attraction, such as the Eagles Nest or Königssee. If you are short on time and only want to visit the salt mine, taking the bus 840 and spending half a day at the mine is recommended and works well.
However, if you have more time and want to experience the full range of Berchtesgaden’s attractions, combining the salt mine visit with a trip to the Eagles Nest or Königssee might be a good idea. If that’s your plan, you can look into a super saver tour from Panorama tours which will help you make the best use of your time in Berchtesgaden.
Hallstatt Salt Mine: The Most Touristy of the Three
The Hallstatt Salt Mine is the most touristy of the three Salzburg salt mines, not because the mine is special but because Hallstatt is. Hallstatt is the most overcrowded, touristy town in all of Austria. I recommend the Hallstatt Salt Mine if Hallstatt is on your bucket list anyway.
The History of the Salt Mine in Hallstatt
Hallstatt is a small town with a big history. Until the end of the 19th century, Hallstatt could only be accessed by boat, but it has been inhabited for at least 7000 years. How is that even possible? There was a reason for it: salt. This precious mineral has been powering economies forever. The Hallstatt Salt Mine is considered the most ancient salt mine still in operation. Hallstatt is also one of the earliest archaeological sites of human civilization. It has been honored and recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Fun fact: Remember that salt was extracted by heating salt water? Due to the geography of Hallstatt, they didn’t have enough trees to burn and heat the brine. To transport the precious brine 400 years ago, the locals built a pipeline from 13,000 hollowed-out trees, which was still in use not so long ago!
Why you would want to visit the Hallstatt Salt Mine
Despite being overtouristed, Hallstatt is beautiful and unique. I would not have recommended the Hallstatt Salt Mine in the past because they charged almost twice as much as the other two. Nowadays, they adjusted the prices and are now nearly the same price. So why would I not recommend visiting the Hallstatt salt mine if you are not planning to visit Hallstatt anyway? For two reasons.
One is that Hallstatt is the most difficult and expensive to get to. Public transport takes almost three hours to get from Salzburg to Hallstatt. Read this article for details on how to go to Hallstatt!
The other is that Hallstatt is the most touristy place in Austria, and so is the salt mine experience. To illustrate my point. I grew up in Hallein and Salzburg and lived there most of my life, but I have been to Hallstatt for the first time at the age of 29 because a friend from South Korea visited me.
How to Reach the Salt Mine in Hallstatt from Salzburg
For a detailed explanation, read the article on how to go to Hallstatt, but in short, you take bus 150 from the train station in Salzburg or Mirabell square, take the bus to Bad Ischl, then take two more buses or a train to Hallstatt station from where you need to take a boat across the lake. While the journey is long, it is also very picturesque, crossing the Salzkammergut lake district.