Most visitors to Switzerland have not heard of St Gallen, or pay it little attention (yes, Zurich & Geneva are bigger). Hopefully this post will fix that!
In the year 612, an Irish missionary monk named Gallus founded a hermitage where the town of St. Gallen now sits. Throughout history, the town has developed into different places of significance. In 747, the St. Gallen monastery was under Benedictine Rule. In the Middle Ages, the town was an important hub for culture and education in Europe. In later years, St. Gallen’s art, particularly its embroideries, gained the town brought international recognition and allowed the town to prosper.
Now, St. Gallen is regarded as a university town that focuses on economic sciences. Culture and performance art thrives in this town as well. Located between Lake Constance and Appenzellerland enjoys the company of the three close neighours: Germany, Austria, and Liechtenstein. Visitors can enjoy many trails, hikes, and easy excursions across national borders.
St. Gallen may be small, but this compact metropolis offers an extraordinary experience with culture, arts, history, and nature.
The Abbey Cathedral of St. Gallen earned its UNESCO listing in 1983 owing to its role in religious history. Its story began in the 8th century during the Carolingian period. In the past, the entire complex of the Abbey was considered either a separate principality or a city-state home to 70,000 people. The main draw, however, is the Abbey’s mindblowing Baroque-style architecture and ornate interiors. The frescoed ceiling, intricate sculptures, the turquoise color scheme sets it apart from many grand cathedrals in the world.
Earning its own listing in the UNESCO World Heritage List is the Abbey Library of St. Gall. In the year 937, the library was consumed by fire but subsequently survived. In this historic structure are some of Switzerland’s oldest manuscripts and literature dating back to the 8th century. Many f these manuscripts are considered highly valuable, including one about the Rule of St. Benedict that shaped the lives of medieval monks. Adding to its historical significance is the equally magnificent Rococo style architecture.
In the bowels of this library is the Lapidarium that exhibits medieval stonework when the abbey was excavated in the 1960s. The Lapidarium houses a forgotten collection of Carolingian art in the form of carved capitals and imposts that would have been above them. There is also a model of the library as it looked like in the 9th century. It also tells of the history of the monastery including the abbey’s patron, St. Gallus.
St. Gallen’s car-free Old Town is beautiful any way you look. It’s a great way to spend the day outdoors without straining yourself too much. Medieval architecture has been preserved and dominates the streets. There are many cafes and pubs along the way as well for you to just sit and enjoy the atmosphere. There are many points of interest in the Old Town, but the details are what make this area uniquely interesting. The oriel windows that decorate the houses are perfectly preserved and named separately. During Christmas, streets are lined with festively decorated Christmas stalls and 700 stars shine along the streets. While a stroll around the Old Town is amazing on its own, it’s good to have a guide or go on group tours for you to discover the many stories born here.
The Textile Museum in St. Gallen is more than a collection of art – it’s a symbol of the town’s rise to prosperity. It houses exhibits of historical embroideries and lace side by side with contemporary textile art. The collection of around 30,000 items include fabrics from Egyptian grave sites, handmade lace from European centers of excellence, ethnographic textiles, costumes, textile art, and historical embroideries since the 14th century. The museum is renowned worldwide and documents the impressive development of the St. Gallen embroidery industry.
The Peter and Paul Wildlife Park welcomes visitors of all ages to view Alpine wildlife for free. The park is found on the northern hills in the outskirts of the city with views of Lake Constance. Animals roam free around beautiful hiking paths. The park is meant to be educational, so you will find lots of details and information about the animals and their behavior. Around the park, you’ll be able to spot many species including the ibex, chamois, lynx, wildcat, deer and wild boar.
The Kunstmuseum St. Gallen has a massive collection of historical masterpieces from the Middle Ages to the 20th Century. The exhibits rotate regularly as they don’t have enough space to display everything all at the same time. Every visit to the museum is always fresh. You’ll see exhibits from Rennaissance masters like Albrecht Durer and Rembrandt, as well as works from 19th and 20th Century artists like Ferdinand Hodler, Paul Klee, and Max Liebermann. There are also galleries dedicated to world-renowned masters like Monet, Sisley, and Delacroix. The museum is located in a beautiful park and is also a great place for a quiet afternoon stroll. Admission ranges from CHF 6-12, but free admission is granted to certain groups such as those under sixteen accompanied by an adult and members of public schools.
Right beside the Kunstmuseum is Lokremise St. Gallen. This multidisciplinary cultural center has a theatre, dance area, cinema, and restaurant in one artful injunction. You can get a combined ticket for Kunstmuseum and Lokremise and complete your experience of art that St. Gallen offers. There are different shows you can catch every day. The building used to be a locomotive ring depot between 1903-1911. It was restored in 2009, keeping the original structure intact. Now, it’s an excellent piece of history in its industrial architecture and structure enlivened by contemporary culture.
Naturmuseum St. Gallen is the town’s Natural History Museum. It was first opened in 1846 but was transferred to a more modern location in 2016. Now, the Naturmuseum is a great destination for families with various exhibits of taxidermy and skeleton collections. There are several highlights in the museum, including a Nile crocodile captured in 1623, a relief map of the St. Gallen and Appenzell cantons, and the life and achievements of international conservationist Emil Bachler.
It’s no secret that Switzerland is known for some of the world’s best chocolates. In St. Gallen, their pride and joy in the chocolate arena is Maestrani. Located in Flawil, 20 minutes outside of St. Gallen, the Chocolarium puts many chocolate factories to shame. The production of chocolate from raw material to packaging is fascinating to watch. Adding to that experience, the entire interiors of the factory are whimsical and sometimes crazy. It’s not exactly Willy Wonka come-to-life, but this tour is fun for kids and adults. The tours last for an hour with ticket prices ranging from CHF 8-17. You can sample the many products you’ll see during the tour, and even be able to make your own bar of chocolate.
For a relaxing day in the middle of the city, take to one of the sun lounges at Stadtlounge. It’s located in the commercial district of Bleicheli where fabrics used to be left out in the sun to bleach. This was the heart of St. Gallen’s textile manufacturing, so surrounding stores also display a wide array of textile products. Stadtlounge was created in 2000 as an art installation. Now, it’s one of the town’s favorite hangouts, popular among university students. The ground is covered with small red rubber balls that give the look of lounging on a carpet. At night, the orbs around the square are illuminated giving a different look and feel to Stadtlounge.
The peaceful St. Gallen Botanical Garden is located close to the Naturmuseum. It houses over 8,000 plants from all over the world and all methodically labeled. In the garden are two greenhouses that simulate different climate zones for different plants. The greenhouses are filled with orchids, palm trees, and cacti. There are also several ponds filled with water lilies outdoor that bloom beautifully in the summer.
Schützengarten was established in 1779 making it the oldest beer brewery in Switzerland. It currently stands on Sankt Jakob-Strasse and blends very well in Old Town. The brewery remains largely independent and is very popular across Eastern Switzerland. Schützengarten has won several brands for its brews, including many beer varieties from IPA to wheat beers. The brewery holts daily tours around its facility conducted in German. There’s also a museum that exhibits over 3,000 bottles from 140 different Swiss breweries.
At the heart of St. Gallen city is a great place to have fun under the sun. Drei Weieren is a popular spot for locals and tourists who wish to swim in cool waters during the summer. Meaning “Three Ponds” in German, Drei Weieren was built in the 17th century for practical needs of the monastery and as bathhouses. The best time to visit Drei Weieren is obviously in the summer where it becomes a great place for quality time with friends and family. While you’re splashing around the ponds, you can also bask in great views of the city and learn more about the interesting origins of the ponds. In the winter, the ponds freeze over and become a fantastic place for ice skating.
The Walter Zoo is Switzerland’s largest privately run zoo. It currently houses 500 animals and 100 different species, but the star of the show is the chimpanzee enclosure. The habitat houses a colony of 17 chimpanzees. Another popular attraction is the Serengeti enclosure that features lions. Walter Zoo is internationally certified and manages several breeding programs in partnership with other zoos. Within the zoo are many playgrounds for children to exhaust their energy. The petting zoo also allows kids and kids-at-heart to interact with adorable animals as well as enjoy pony and camel rides.
A mere 15 minutes outside of the city of St. Gallen is Säntispark. Once here, visitors enjoy every sport imaginable, from badminton to mini-golf, squash, tennis, bowling and swimming. The leisure park is easily accessible via public bus and is open all year round. There are many ways to keep kids and adults busy, including water slides and warm pools even in the winter. There’s also a wellness area for spa treatments and massages as well a gym for those who want to work out.
For those wanting to be more adventurous, the continue on a hike to the top of Säntis mountain. At 2,502 meters, the peak of the mountain reward hikers with gorgeous views of Switzerland’s picturesque natural landscape.
The Säntis is a local landmark at St. Gallen that has always been a favorite destination for locals and tourists alike. In 1935, the Säntis cableway from Schwägalp was opened in 1935, and this ride alone is already worth the experience. The cable ride ends at a viewing platform where visitors can identify the surrounding peaks. This is also the site of a weather station, which was put up in 1882. From the platform, mountaineers can take the Lisegrat. This route is secured by steel cables and leads to the Rotstein pass. Another path leads to the Schäfler mountain restaurant and continues to the Ebenalp or to the Tierwis mountain restaurant.
The St. Laurenzen Kirche is a beautiful church featuring neo-Gothic architecture. It was built in the 15th century and underwent reconstruction in the 19th century. The interiors of the church are worth a visit, but the tours of the tower make the experience a bit more memorable. Tours are held every 10am and 3pm where a guide speaks about the history of the church. The tour ends at the top of the tower where visitors can enjoy a complete view of the Old Town, the Abbey Precinct, and the whole of St. Gallen. On clear days, you can even see the borders of the canton in the distance.
As with any place in Switzerland, cheese plays an important role in Swiss cuisine. St. Gallen is no different, and the city has its own place for delicious Swiss cheese. The Appenzeller show-dairy is a bus ride away from St. Gallen towards Stein. Cheese makers use traditional customs paired with innovative technology that results in amazing cheese and cheese specialties. A trip to the show-dairy is a sensorial experience for cheese lovers made more special by the beautiful landscapes of Appenzellerland. In the show-dairy, visitors can make their own mixture of herbs and try to guess the closely-guarded recipe of Appenzeller cheese. Visitors can pay a visit to the impressive cheese cellar and look into cheese vats as the show-dairy creates their product.
There are many excursions to take from St. Gallen, but simply enjoying the city is a worthwhile experience. Drop by the tourist office and take your pick from the many walking and hiking trails that won’t even require you to go out of city limits. The tourist office also conducts different public and travel tours in different languages. Public walking tours are held every Saturday during the off-season (except December), while daily tours are done in July and August. There are also several themed tours available, or self-directed tours with a pocket PC and a 90-minute audio-visual city tour.
The canton of St. Gallen boasts of an impressive backdrop of Alpine mountains and wonderful views of Lake Constance. Lake Constance is where the Obersee, Untersee, and Seerhein gather at the northern foot of the Alps. It’s bordered by Switzerland, Austria, and Germany and arguably one of the most impressive bodies of water in Europe. The lake is 24 kilometers away from St. Gallen and makes for a great day trip or cycling circuit for those who want to be one with nature. There are many tours that leave from St. Gallen, but you can simply ride a bus or a train to Rorschach and make your way to to the lake.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!