Saint Gallen (St. Gallen, German: Sankt Gallen) is the main city of eastern Switzerland. For travellers, its main draw is the centuries old Abbey of Saint Gall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a world famous historic library. It’s a place packed with listed heritage buildings and well-maintained museums. And if you are tired of all the urban highlights, Saint Gallen also serves as a gateway to the Appenzell Alps.
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.
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.
- Zurich International Airport ( is the closest international airport to St. Gallen. Direct trains between St. Gallen and the airport run twice an hour with a travel time of exactly one hour, see SBB
- Bodensee-Airport Friedrichshafen (). would be an alternative airport.
- St. Gallen-Altenrhein Airport (19 km (12 mi) north east of Saint Gallen). with connections to Vienna and seasonal to Mediterranean destinations.
St. Gallen is the major hub for northeastern Switzerland. Trains between St. Gallen and Zurich depart several times per hour with a travel time of at least 1hr 2min. The St. Gallen train station is 500 m from the old town and is surrounded my numerous hotels, restaurants, and shops. If you want to get quickly to Munich, 3 times a day the Eurocity from Zurich stops at Saint Gallen. The main train station also acts as terminus for a number of local train lines running to Appenzell and Trogen.