Whether you start longing for a cooler place as the temperatures rise or are looking for an interesting alternative to your sofa in an autumn storm: A trip into the underworld is just perfect for any number of weather conditions. A rich mining history has left North Rhine-Westphalia spoilt for choice where caves, tunnels, and mining galleries are concerned. Naturally formed caves underground, some with quite fascinating interiors, are supplemented by visitor mines that offer an exciting glimpse at the work and lives of miners from past generations.
Narrow passages and cool temperatures
There are dozens of caves in NRW to begin with, some of which are proper tourist magnets. One of them is the Attahöhle cave in Attendorn, part of the largest interconnected cave system in Germany. Without a doubt, it is one of the most beautiful dripstone caves the country has to offer. The Dechenhöhle cave in Iserlohn, also in the Sauerland region, houses Germany’s largest cave museum. Individual tours take families and their children on a treasure hunt in the Wolfschlucht or let them host their own private lantern parade through the cave during Advent. The adjacent Balverhöhle cave in Balve is deemed Europe’s largest cultural cave, putting on concerts and other cultural events such as children’s theatre performances in an impressive atmosphere on a regular basis.
Adventurous visitors have come to the right place at the Kluterthöhle cave in Ennepetal, where cave tours take them through some unlit passages so narrow that they must crawl on their bellies. More comfortable tours are possible as well, with themed ones through well-lit parts of the cave with its wealth of rare European fossils, as well as one of the best-preserved (fossilised) coral reefs. This has brought it the accolade of a National Natural Monument.
All of these caves share a temperature permanently below 12 °C, allowing visitors to take a soothing break from summer heat and frosty winter temperatures alike. On the other hand, it is a good idea to wear long trousers and bring a warm sweater or coat along no matter the weather outside.
On shift with helmet and headlamp
A family trip to the former ore or silver, slate, or coal mining sites in the country are a guarantee for some extraordinary experiences. At the Kleinebremen visitor mine in Porta Westfalica in the Teutoburg Forest, for example, guests can ride a historical railcar from 1937, while Sprockhövel lets visitors explore the Stock and Scherenberg Erbstollen, the oldest coal seam of the Ruhr mining industry still preserved in its original condition at an age of about three centuries. Guided tours offer an authentic idea of the work underground back in the day. Helmets, headlamps, and gloves are non-optional, and rubber boots are essential for such an adventure, too. The equipment can be rented on site, however. A visit to this mine can be combined with other themed activities on request, including a mining hike above ground or a trial shift where visitors can try their hand at mining, too.
Art, casemates, and chandelier
The underground world of NRW has exciting places to offer beyond its dripstone caves, healing tunnels, mines, and bunkers as well. All of these are perfect for an excursion on a hot summer day. The Wülfrath time tunnel in neanderland, for example, gives visitors the opportunity of experiencing 400 million years of the earth’s history with all senses. Walking through the tunnel, exhibition guests will meet dinosaurs, encounter the first humans, and learn many facts about climate or the continental drift in an entertaining manner. As a pleasant side effect on hot days, the tunnel, part of a disused limestone quarry, always stays cool.
Bielefeld has a path into the underworld as well. Specifically, it can be found in Bielefeld’s landmark, the Sparrenburg. Soldiers used to live in the casemates with their dark dungeons and narrow light shafts in the Middle Ages. This impressive 300-metre underground passage system is open to guided tours today.