Schaffhausen, a city-canton around 50km north of Zurich in Switzerland, owes its existence to its favorable position on the banks of the Rhine River. All goods shipped on the river from Lake Constance in the direction of Basle and back had to be unloaded and transported overland to by-pass the Rhine Falls.
A market grew near the wharf and a settlement developed at the confluence where the trade routes from Klettgau and Hegau converged on the road to the landing place below the waterfall. Trade and commerce were the foundations of the growing town. It is Switzerland’s most northerly canton, and is mostly agricultural and forested.
The Benedictine monastery of All Saints became the center of the town. In July 1045 King Heinrich III bestowed upon Count Eberhard von Nellenburg the right to mint and issue coins in ‘villa Scafhusun’. In 1415 the town was granted imperial status, and the imperial deed is the most precious document in the town’s archives. In 1501 it entered the Swiss Confederation.
Post-WWII saw an increase in both population and the economy. Due to careful preservation of the historic buildings and monuments, the visitor gets a sense of the mediaeval Schaffhausen. This town on the Upper Rhine, lying between the Black Forest and Lake Constance, is a popular destination for holiday makers and tourists.
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Best time to go
For a summer visit, July is the best month, as you will see the Rhine Falls at their best, as a result of the melting snow.
Getting Around in Schaffhausen
Old Town is a pedestrian-only zone, so this area can only be explored on foot. Other than that, buses run in all directions every 20 minutes, and at peak times every 10 minutes. There’s a day card for the buses for a low fee, which enables you to ride any buses for that entire day.
Major Attractions and Sights
Munot Fortress – The most famous attraction of Schaffhausen stands guard over the town, looming above it. It was built between 1564 and 1589 by the locals who were conscripted under forced labor, and designed by Albrecht Dürer, considered one of the great figures of the Northern Renaissance. From the battlements you have a fabulous view of the town and the Rhine River below. Every night at 9pm the bell keeper who lives in the tower rings the Munot bell, which used to signal that the inns should shut for the night, and the town gates be closed. It’s been done since 1589, and the tradition continues still. Admission to the fortress is free. Walking into it is an experience, as its stone walls are barely lit, and only slivers of daylight filter through the slits.
Around the base of the fortress is a deer sanctuary, where you can watch the deer grazing. The children will take delight in watching them.
The Old Town – For pedestrians only, it’s considered one of the prettiest in Switzerland, and it’s a lovely stroll. The old guild houses have picturesque bay windows with flamboyantly painted facades, and they date from Gothic and Baroque times. Besides the bay windows, the other notable features are the doorways. Many of the doorways of the town houses have beautifully carved portals. They are highly ornate and some are painted and gilded. As most of the old houses have been converted into small businesses, you can go in and have a look around, and do some shopping too.
Popping in at the Tourist Office there first will provide you with a map of all the attractions. There’s a vibrant café culture here, and you can plop yourself down, order a coffee, and people-watch.
All Saints Cathedral – The church tower is said to be the most beautiful in Switzerland. The cathedral was built around 1100, and has simple clean lines, which are echoed in the interior too. Next to the cathedral is the Cloister; it was the largest cloister in Switzerland until it was closed in 1524. The archways of the cloister enclose the Cloister Garden, and the cemetery, where prominent authorities were buried from 1582 until 1874. These are very serene areas to spend time in, and admission to both the cathedral and the cloister is free.
Next to the cloister is the All Saints Herb Garden; a reproduction of a mediaeval herb garden that used to be tended by monks who lived at the cloister. Both medicinal herbs and seasoning herbs are grown here.
Fountains – Like most Swiss towns and cities, Schaffhausen has a collection of beautifully constructed fountains. Schaffhausen’s fountains are especially charming with their flowing water and flower beds. The best fountains in Schaffhausen are in the town’s central square, Fronwagplatz. There are two impressive examples in the square itself called Metzgerbrunnen and the Mohrenbrunnen fountains. The Metzgerbrunnen fountain stands at the southern end of the square in front of Herrenstube and was erected in 1524. Atop it is a statue of a Swiss mercenary soldier. The Mohrenbrunnen fountain is further to the north and was erected in 1535; and has the figure of a Moorish King on top of it.
The Modern Art Gallery – Housed in a former textile factory, the museum exhibits large –scale installations by internationally-renowned artists.
River Rhine – The riverside of the Rhine River is a magnificent experience; where you can walk, cycle or go boating or canoeing. The best is to take a boat trip on the Rhine. The Untersee boat trip, which goes from Schaffhausen to Kreuzlingen, is almost 50km long; and billed as the finest river trip in Europe. The passing views you experience include a particularly picturesque stretch between Schaffhausen and the little mediaeval hamlet of Stein am Rhein, featuring painted houses and frescoes. There is a monastery museum inside the Benedictine Monastery of St Georgen, while the Hohenklingen Castle tops the hillside.
Klettgau – On the slopes of the Klettgau you can go for walks, and have a great cycle, and stop for a glass of Pinot Noir. They offer a one hour walking trip along the Trasadingen Wine Trail, where they tell you how wine is made, and you can also visit the Museum of Viticulture in nearby Hallau. Schaffhausen Blauburgunderland is the kingdom of the Point Noir grape, queen of all the red wines. The wine producers have named the region Schaffhausen Blauburgunderland after this grape. The Wine Museum shows visitors how the monks spread the art of winemaking, explain how barrels were made and which tools were used, and you can see how the young wine is stored and tended in its barrels. There are 14 wine farms in the region, spread over 480 hectares of vineyards.
The Rheinfalls, or Rhine Falls – Europe’s largest and most powerful waterfall. It is at Neuhausen, which is just south of Schaffhausen. Although the falls are not very high, at most 21 metres, with a width spanning 150 metres, they provide quite a show in July when the water levels are high, and when the snow melts. An average of 700,000 liters of water crashes over the falls every second.
In antiquity the castle above the falls was home to the barons of Laufen; today it serves as a hotel, hostel, restaurant, and gift shop. The best view of the falls is from here. However, the castle itself is worth going through, especially its gate, and its inner courtyard gardens.
Cycling – For the serious cyclists, the Rhine Route is 420km long, beginning at Andermatt, through Schaffhausen, to Basle along many surfaces and trails. The Klettgau Route is flat, running along the Rhine valley, past vineyards and fields.
If you’re an enthusiastic hiker, you can climb the Jungfrau and view Schaffhausen from a 40 meter tall tower atop it, which represents the highest point in Schaffhausen.
Shopping in Schaffhausen
Chatzezüngli – kitten tongues – are a Schaffhausen speciality. You can buy a box of this chocolate either at in the Vordergasse, or at their shop inside the train station.
The Farmer’s Market is in the centre of Old Town near St John’s Church. It’s open on Tuesdays and Saturdays between 7.30 and 11.30am and offers bread, cheeses, fish, fresh flowers and vegetables among other produce.
It would be remiss of you not to go shopping for a watch or a clock while in Switzerland, so you can sport the genuine article. The IWC (International Watch Company) offers handmade pieces with precision mechanisms and Swiss quality.
Surprisingly, the place to go shopping for local wines is the Tourist Office. Inside is the Vinorama, which contains wines from all over the region. They offer information about the Blauburgunderland wine-growing region and the finest local wines.
In the Old Town, you’ll find many small shops in the alleys. Look out for exclusive lingerie, jewelry, books, and much more.
The large chain stores stock whatever you may want or need.
Eating Out in Schaffhausen
Doner (kebab) stands are spread all over the town for a taste of an adopted specialty.
The restaurant Mamma Rosa offers outstanding pizza at good prices in a family atmosphere.
For a treat, try the Fischerzunft restaurant, which is famous all over Switzerland for its fine cuisine, but be prepared to pay accordingly.
The Fassbeiz is a pub that offers fresh, healthy regional food and runs according to organic principles.
The Kulturklub Haberhaus and Haberhaus BeizBar are situated in the former mediaeval granary, and offer a cultural experience as well as very good food.
The Güterhof is on the Rhine, and you have a great view of the river and the valley while you enjoy your meal.
If you’re at the Rhine Falls, there’s a cafe and restaurant at the Schlossli Worth with a terrace that offers a good view of the falls. It also has large glass windows from which to view the falls. It’s expensive, but worth the experience. They also offer a boat trip to the rock in the middle of the waterfall for a brunch with a difference.
Nightlife in Schaffhausen
The Casino Schaffhausen is a fun place to spend an evening. You can enjoy the view of the gamblers as they play on the slot machines and the gaming tables from the bar as you sip a glass of champagne, or you can partake, and try your luck!
The Cuba Club is trendy, and is also in Old Town. It’s in a prime location, and there’s always something going on. They have great DJs, and offer a broad spectrum of music.
The Chaeller Bar is a venue located in an old basement vault, and it’s a place where you can enjoy alternative music.
The Kronenhof Bar offers a wide range of cocktails, and freshly tapped beer, with a nice atmosphere.
The Oberhof Restaurant/Bar offers dishes for all palates, from hamburgers to vegetarian meals to original creations, you can get anything here. On the weekends, local DJs do their thing here from 10.30pm.
Of Local Interest
One event is celebrated only once every three years, and that is the International Bach Festival, where the music of J.S. Bach is played by master musicians throughout Schaffhausen. The next scheduled Bach Festival is May 2015.
Also in May, but annually, is the Schaffhausen Jazz Festival. Held in the Kammgarn Cultural Centre, it’s the most important showcase for Swiss jazz; and features both contemporary jazz, and improvised jazz.
June sees the Grape Blossom Festival celebrated in all of the 20 wine-growing districts of the region, and featuring wine tasting and cellar tours.
In September there’s the Trottenfeste: festivals in the Pinot Noir growing areas around Schaffhausen. September also sees Museum Nights – many museums stay open till late in the evenings.
The Christmas craft market, Chlaus- und Kunsthandwerkermarkt, is held in the ancient Lower Town. It’s decorated for the festivities, and offers lots of goodies to buy. You’ll be able to see the procession of cow bells there too.
What makes for a memorable experience is that some of the bed and breakfasts are more than 600 years old.