It isn’t often that you find a Swiss city that encompasses all areas of Swiss life; however, St. Gallen may be the answer that you are searching for. Not only does it offer a wide variety of historical attractions, it is also offers beauty beyond anything found in many European cities. It is well worth the associated travel time and can supply you with your fix of everything that Switzerland offers.
This is largely due to its gorgeous old town, which includes delicately painted oriel windows and variety of historical timber houses. This side of Switzerland is otherwise unseen and largely forgotten by thousands of tourists every year who prefer seeing the ‘big ticket items’ such as Lauterbrunnen, the Matterhorn and the southern Alps. If you want an authentic Swiss experience, a visit to St. Gallen is perfect.
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History and Culture
St. Gallen’s history extends all the way back to around 612 AD, when the Irish missionary monk Gallus founded a hermitage where the city now stands. The town is named after Gallus, who lived until the ripe age of 95. Gallus’ influence explains why the area is so saturated in history; it primarily followed Benedictine Rule, which required the presence of an opulent library (discussed below).
Throughout the Middle Ages, St. Gallen became a hub for culture, the arts and education and this in turn brought prosperity to the city. Surviving raids and attacks by various groups, as well as multiple fires, the famed Abbey grew and underwent radical changes throughout the centuries, especially in the 15th century. St. Gallen would go on to become famous throughout Europe for its textiles industry, which continues to fascinate today.
Since then, St. Gallen has grown in both size and population. Similarly, the University of St. Gallen has become internationally renowned for its teaching and extensive history. The city has also become extremely diverse and attractive culturally. The Theatre St. Gallen is always being used and there are several museums scattered throughout the town. This culture is heavily reflected in the city’s buildings, which offer tourists hundreds of sightseeing opportunities.
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The view of St Gallen from above
Things To Do In St. Gallen
The city of St. Gallen offers tourists an enormous number of things to do. Not only are there attractions in numbers, but also in variety. St. Gallen’s extensive history creates a plethora of activities within the city. Everywhere you turn there are pieces of the historical puzzle that forms St. Gallen.
Abbey of St. Gallen
The prime example of this is the Abbey of St. Gallen, which was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1983. The Cathedral offers one of the most important baroque monuments in Switzerland, with stunning paintings and ornaments overhead. Similarly, the Abbey Library of Saint Gall can provide you with a look into the oldest library collection in Switzerland. It holds 2,100 manuscripts dating back to the 8th through 15th centuries. Entry to the library is cheap and you even get to wear a pair of library booties! In all seriousness, the Library and Abbey are absolutely breathtaking.
The city also has many museums on offer, which all give you an outstanding insight into its extensive history. The development and fame of its textile industry can be studied in the Textile Museum. Similarly, the Beer Bottle Museum in the Schützengarten brewery (the oldest in Switzerland) provides an invaluable look into the history of the city’s major producer of premium beers. For those interested in the arts, there are both the Art Museum and the St. Gallen Art Gallery on offer.
St. Gallen is also famous for its architecture, which won it the prestigious Wakka Prize in 1992 for the city’s effort to create a unified structure and appearance in current and future construction. There are twenty-eight sites in St. Gallen that are listed as Swiss heritage sites of national significance, and all of them are available to the public. The city is also famous for its oriel windows, which were beautifully hand-crafted prior to the 21st century. The Drei Weieren (Three Ponds) form a water park which is beautiful in both summer and winter; it is a favourite spot for the youth of St. Gallen to hang out or go for a swim.
Strolling through the Old Town on a wintery evening admiring the architecture
The OpenAir Festival, which was founded in 1977, is an annual music festival held near the city. More than 110,000 people enjoy the event and it has attracted stars such as Kings of Leon, Macklemore, Alt-J and Lorde. The event is normally held in glorious summer weather, although it can sometimes be rainy (although this is arguably just as fun).
Sports fans can also enjoy the football club ‘FC St. Gallen’, which plays in the Swiss Super League. Their home stadium is the AFG Arena or kybunpark. The team is the oldest in continental Europe, founded in 1879.
The winter months
In the winter months you can look forward to St. Gallen transforming into a winter wonderland. With a huge Christmas tree outside the Abbey, gorgeous decorations lining the picturesque streets, and a quaint Christmas market, you will definitely be feeling festive.
Where To Stay
Depending on your budget, there are a number of different accommodation options in St. Gallen (although they don’t come at the cheapest price).
The cheapest option is naturally to stay in a youth hostel. The only option within the city is the Youthhostel St. Gallen, although this is closed in winter. It will cost you under 100 francs for a double room. Generally, Swiss hostels are well-kept and friendly.
If you are looking for something a little more luxurious, the Hotel am Spisertor and the Hotel Vadian are on offer. However, these quality hotels can cost up to 300 francs for a double room. If you are not worried about cash at all and want flawless accommodation, the Oberwaid Hotel St Gallen is an option. It captivates with its spectacular design and surroundings, as well as indoor spas and pools.
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Getting to St. Gallen
Getting to St. Gallen is very easy, although it can take a while (depending on where you are coming from). If you are coming from internationally, it is best to fly into Zurich airport.
Perhaps the easiest way is by train. Most major Swiss train routes flow through St. Gallen. For example, it is only an hour away from Zurich’s main station. This train also passes through Zurich Airport. However, this option is costly. A one-way ticket from Zurich can cost well over 100 Swiss francs. It is thus advised that you instead buy a Swiss tourist railways pass, which will give you unlimited travel throughout all of Switzerland. This ticket will also cover travel within the city’s limits. More information is available at sbb.ch/en/home.
Another train, The Voralpen Express, runs from Lucerne to St. Gallen and offers spectacular views. Additionally, international trains depart from St. Gallen which can take you to locations such as Munich or even Kiel in northern Germany (with stops along the way).
There are also a number of buses which arrive in and depart from St. Gallen. Regionally, these include the ‘post buses’ which can take you all around the district surrounding the city. Internationally, there are several bus companies which offer destinations as far as Bucharest and Sofia! Such bus services can deliver you to places like Munich for as cheap as 10 euros and the best one I found was flixbus.com. Driving to St. Gallen is also uncomplicated, if you have hired a car.
Getting around St. Gallen
As usual, the transport options within St. Gallen reflect the overall Swiss system; they are extremely effective, fast and punctual.
Buses are the primary means of transport within the city and surrounding areas. These buses run on a ticket system, although the Swiss travel pass will suffice. Tickets can be purchased at either the train station or on the bus itself. They depart very regularly from the Bahnhof in the city centre. Furthermore, ‘post buses’ can take you to the surrounding regions. Free WIFI is included on many of these routes.
Trams also run in and around St. Gallen, although they are less convenient than taking the bus. A common route runs from the city to the town of Appenzell. Again, tickets can be bought from train stations (otherwise the Swiss pass operates as normal).
Walking is often the simplest option; no transport at all runs in the oldtown, where cobble streets will greet you. This part of town is best enjoyed on foot. Taxis are also readily accessible at the main train station.
Day Trips From St. Gallen
St. Gallen is just one of the hundreds of beautiful locations in eastern Switzerland, and provides the perfect place to base yourself for any adventures. The Appenzellerland and neighbouring countries all give an insight into European life in all its glory.
The Appenzellerland is generally an excellent introduction to the area surrounding St. Gallen. Towns such as Appenzell itself are full of history and gorgeous buildings dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries. Accessing these villages is easy with a travel pass; both a tram and busses frequently operate, departing from the city. The Säntis is also well worth your time. Towering over the Appenzellerland at 2,501 meters, it is the highest mountain in the Alpstein area. It is accessible via tramway (departing from Schwägalp). The Berggasthaus Äscher-Wildkirchli is a stunning hotel located in Appenzell Innerrhoden. Enjoy a traditional meal of rösti or fondue as you take in the absolutely breathtaking view. Eating at the hotel makes you appreciate how small we really are.
A daytrip to the Seealpsee is also worth your time. I have personally visited the lake in both summer and winter; in summer, you can enjoy the warmth of Europe and in winter, snow-capped mountains provide a stunning backdrop to the scene. There are a few hotels located at the lake where you can enjoy a meal, a cool drink in summer or a hot chocolate in winter.
READ MORE: Seealpsee: The Perfect Hike For Any Season
Glarus and Klontal
The canton of Glarus is also easily accessible. Glarus itself is a village nestled between dozens of mountains. The Klöntalersee is another beautiful lake, situated not far from the town (accessible via ‘post bus’). If you are keen to experience one of the oldest forms of direct democracy in the world, attend the Landsgemeinde in April-May. In this traditional exercise, voters choose the fate of various issues as members of the local parliament propose legislation. The first officially documented Landsgemeinde took place in 1294. This also occurs at the same time in Appenzell, where men must take their historical sword to the event.
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Other Epic Day Trips
If you are keen to wander further, the Bodensee area is full of more adventure. On the Swiss side of the lake there are many attractive towns, with promenades throughout. In summer, it is possible to go for a swim, whilst winter brings Christmas markets and healthy servings of Glühwein (not for the faint-hearted). If you decide to take a ferry or train over the border, the towns of Konstanz (Germany) and Bregenz (Austria) are also stunning and regularly attract thousands of Swiss tourists due to their low prices. Travelling to the Vorarlberg region of Austria can also provide you with your fix of skiing; towns such as Schruns are a perfect gateway for this.
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