Possibly the highest city in Switzerland, St. Gallen is a north eastern destination located in the dip of the valley above Lake Constance and peering up at the resplendent snow-capped peaks of the Appenzell Alps. Its breathtaking location brings an abundance of snow during the winter time and offers some excellent outdoor and recreational activities in picturesque surroundings. St. Gallen is a popular tourist destination and is a small mountain city that has plenty to offer. Small by many European standards, the resident population is stands at about 160,000 people at last count.
Free of traffic and full of charisma and nostalgia, St. Gallen’s panorama looks like it has come straight from the pages of a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale book. Founded by an Irish Monk who settled here as a missionary in 612, the small city quickly flourished under Benedictine rule. The regime required the study of literature and contemplative studies, and it also insisted on a library for these purposes. As the community and the city grew in leaps and bounds, St. Gallen was internationally known as a prosperous city during the Middle Ages.
These days, St. Gallen is known as a university city, seeped in history and famous for its love of cultural activities and events. The city provides the perfect stop off for visitors wishing to base themselves for travels to the Appenzell Alps, Lake Constance and the Santis.
Table of Contents
The Best Time to Go
St. Gallen is one of those magical places that is great to visit all year round, although depending on what you are coming for of course, the weather is much better between the months of April and October, during summer. Expect the summer daytime temperatures to hit a maximum of 22°C (72°F) during July and the winter daytime temperature to drop to a chilly – 5°C (23°F) in December and January.
There is a lot going on during the summer time, lots of festivals, events and exhibitions, so this tends to be peak season for visitors coming into the city. However, snow sports enthusiasts come from all over the country to enjoy skiing, snowboarding and other winter activities so don’t expect it to be a sleepy town any time really. Being so close to Zurich, being just an hour away on the train, people tend to combine St. Gallen as part of their Swiss tour making their way from the big city of Zurich through to the countryside of Lake Constance and surrounds.
Because of its popularity during every season, if you are not a fan of lots of people, you may wish to visit outside of school holiday periods and come to the city in between peak seasons. April and May are lovely, the weather is getting warmer and it is just before the summer season brings loads of people out of the woodwork. September and October are the same, the weather is still nice, although getting cooler and it is sort of an in between time for the city, but great to visit with all the fall festivals, and it won’t be unpleasantly cold just yet.
Getting Around in St. Gallen
There is nothing quite like the picturesque beauty of Switzerland and there are many ways to explore the towns, cities and surrounding nature areas. If you are visiting St. Gallen and really want to get out there and explore the mountains, beautiful Swiss scenery and zip along through the winding mountain roads, then hiring a car will be the best bet. There’s nothing like a leisurely drive in a little sports car, top down, wind through your hair as you whizz through the stunning Swiss passes before heading off to a quaint country restaurant for lunch.
But if you are pressed for time and really want to see a bit of everything, there is going to be very little point in meandering around and trying to navigate the city and surrounds on your own. Many visitors do like to book a tour through the city, a bus tour or a private car with a driver and a personal tour guide. This way you are able to experience a lot in a short amount of time and don’t have to worry about picking up and dropping off a car or spending valuable time figuring out where to go.
But if you are going to be in the city for a few days and would like to just hang out and experience life as a local, you are in luck. The city is very easy to navigate on foot and for the most part of Old Town, there is virtually no traffic at all, and if the weather is nice, this is a great way to explore. There is a great public transport system consisting of trains and busses, which all run on perfect Swiss time. Both the trains and the buses have connections that run to the outskirts of the city every day and are always perfectly on time.
If you are in old town, you can pick up one of the many taxis along the Marktplatz, but if you are going hiking in Trogen or Speicher, then you will need to jump on a connection at the Trogenerbahn. The train station has plenty of bike rentals, but it may be advisable to check up on times ahead, just in case.
Major Attractions and Sights
The Abbey of St. Gallen built in 719 is the city’s most famous iconic tourist attraction. This Baroque Cathedral is home to the richest library in the world, home to some 140 000 documents, some of which are hand written and are thousands of years old.
The Lokremise St. Gallen is a unique cultural centre that is home to a theatre, arts centre, dance area as well as a restaurant with an exciting line up right throughout the year.
Schützengarten is the oldest independent brewery in Switzerland. Here you can do beer tastings and take a tour of the historic setting. They have a huge selection of beers and cool drinks in the beer garden.
Peter and Paul Wildlife Park is a great way to see a lot of incredible animals like red deer, marmots, wild boars, lynxes, ibexs and chamois in their natural habitat.
The Art Museum has an abundance of stunning art works from the 19th and 20th Century from all over the world and Eastern Switzerland, from as far back as the Middle Ages.
The Museum of Textiles may sound a bit odd but it’s a fascinating exhibition of some 30 000 items like handmade lace, vintage fabrics and historical costumes and all kinds of textile art found in Egyptian grave sites. The library has an astounding collection of eastern Swiss textile media.
The Oriel Windows of St. Gallen can be found right throughout the city. Ornately cobbled windows that pop out of buildings are a real attraction all on their own, as each one tells a different, unique story.
Shopping in St. Gallen
Switzerland has a well-earned reputation for being expensive in everything from the food, the accommodation and most certainly the shopping, but visitors will be pleased to know that there are a number of delightful hidden treasures to be found here, especially if you are shopping the in Old Town region, near to the Abbey, at the flea markets there. Be charmed by lots of vintage treasures and glorious finds and good deals on anything from antiques to clothing. Look out for the distinctive tents.
There are lots of nice shops in the main shopping area in the Marktplatz in between Old Town and the Bahnhof. Find lots of sidewalk cafes, cobbled walkways with shops, coffee shops, chocolatiers, big name brand stores, high end boutiques, quaint little tea shops and perfumeries. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon meandering around, popping into the stores, having a quick coffee with the paper or feasting on a delightful pastry after a few hours of heavy shopping.
Eating Out in St. Gallen
The Swiss are famous for their love of food, but there is so much more than just fondue and delicious chocolates. And no matter where in the country you go to, you will find excellent cuisine in every restaurant and side walk café. The Swiss are big coffee drinkers and their food is mouth-watering comfort food like you have never experienced before. It’s best you leave your diets at home here, or just make sure you walk everywhere while visiting the city.
But a food item that is unique to the city is the Olma bratwurst and they are best eaten straight from the street vendor, hot and piping in a crispy roll. You can find these street-side stands all over St. Gallen especially in the Martkplatz. And do take care to remember, when planning your day and looking for places to eat, everything in Switzerland closes down on a Sunday.
If you are after traditional Swiss cuisine then look no further than the Restaurant and Bistro Neubad. Unfortunately it is closed on weekends but when open there’s good service, friendly ambience and an excellent menu. Some of the yummiest pastries can be found at Café Colony in Nuegasse, right along the sidewalk with some of the best cakes and sugary treats.
But if you have come all the way to St. Gallen to enjoy some of the tastiest Mexican food, then you are in luck. The US-MEX at Marktplatz is a great place to munch Mexican snacks and festive margaritas.
Nightlife in St. Gallen
Despite being a small city, there is quite a lot going on all throughout the year so whether you are here for a sun downer, a couple of beers or looking for cultural entertainment you are in luck. If you want to party like a local, then you should head to the main hotel in town, the Einstein – there are the best cocktails you will find in the city. There is a great bar and the atmosphere is lively and friendly. Later on a live piano band comes on to tickle the ivories while you start off a good night of revelry.
If you are really looking for a good boogie then head down to the Old Town, to the Wienstube zum Baumli in Schmiedgasse. The food is excellent and easy on your pocket and you can also busy some good blotting paper grub here like a crispy roll and Bratwurst. If you are into wine then you won’t be disappointed, this is the place to be. They have the best wine collection in the whole city. But it is closed on Sundays and Mondays.
If you are into live music, then go to Trischili in Bruhlgasse where they regularly showcase some of the best local bands. There is a cover charge on the weekends, but it is worth it and a lot of fun especially if you arrive on a themed night or karaoke is going on. In the summer, the party carries on until the wee hours so this is the place to go if you really want to party all night. Just check on opening and closing hours as they vary according to the season.
The state theatre showcases some 200 different performances during its busy annual season that runs from September right through to June of the following year. Check out what is on online before you go.
The Open Air Festival
Having been going strong since the 1970s, the Open Air St. Gallen Festival is one of the oldest running festivals in all of Switzerland. It is held in the German area of the country and is the second largest festival in the region.
It is a music festival that has a line-up that never sleeps. It is located at a camping site, so part of its charm is that concert goers can watch their favourite band perform from the comfort of their very own tent. It is a beautiful tree lined setting in the valley of the River Sitter. Just try and stay awake and you will be able to see all the bands that play right through the festival held from the end of June to the start of July.