Schaffhausen is a city in north-eastern Switzerland on the river Rhine, next to the German border. Its prime tourist attraction are the Rhine Falls, Europe’s largest waterfalls.
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.
Schaffhausen is a city-canton which entered the Swiss Confederation in 1501. It is Switzerland’s northernmost canton and is mostly agricultural land.
In 1944 Schaffhausen was bombed by the United States Air Force, killing 40 people — it was later determined that the daylight raid was an accident, due to a navigational error.
The current population of Schaffhausen the city is 35,413, and of the eponymous canton where it is located 77,955.
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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.
Schaffhausen is well connected transport-wise; being 30 minutes from Zurich by car, the German autobahn network is 10 minutes away, and Stuttgart is just 90 minutes away.
From Zurich Hbf an hourly S-Bahn suburban train, line S16, runs towards Thayngen, stopping at Winterthur among others and taking 57 minutes to Schaffhausen. A single ticket costs Fr. 9.30; however, if you have an all-zone Zürich day/monthly/annual pass, this is reduced to Fr. 3.60. Special conditions apply for visitors to the Rheinfall, see below
From Zurich: Take the A4/E41 direction north. It will lead you right into the city. Note that you need a vignette for all Swiss motorways.
You can get around by local bus, however in the old city only by foot. Buses depart every 20 minutes, in busy times every 10 minutes. For Fr. 5 you can get a “Tageskarte” which allows you to use all buses for a whole 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.