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ST. GALLEN | St. Gallen is a town in the canton of the same name in the north east of Switzerland. It evolved from the 7th century hermitage of Irish monk St Gall, or Gallus, and offers much to those who visit. Located only an hour by train from Zurich, St. Gallen is passed by many on the way to the Appenzellerland, but this gem is well worth spending some time in.
When I visited, I was struck by the beauty of St. Gallen’s traffic-free old town, and delighted by sweet and savoury treats that are specific to this region. It’s a university town, and walking around you can tell that the city’s rich history hasn’t stopped its open minded youth from expanding their horizons. A night time jazz and street food festival that was on when I visited, for example, showcased cuisines from across the world.
If you want to make the most out of your trip to St. Gallen, and only have a few days, here’s a few of my suggestions of things to do.
Admire The Abbey Cathedral of Saint Gall
The UNESCO World Heritage Listed Abbey of Saint Gall is one of St. Gallen’s main attractions. The Carolingian-era monastery has existed since 719, and the current late Baroque style cathedral dates back to 1768. It was, from the 8th century to its secularisation in 1805, one of the most important in Europe. It is, quite simply, a stunning structure to admire. Inside, dark and elaborate paintings of religious scenes contrast with a relatively light colour scheme.
In the basement, or Lapidarium, you can see architectural details and other remnants of the Carolingian and Gothic churches the preceded the current Baroque structure.
Be Wowed By The Abbey Library of St Gall
Inside The Abbey of Saint Gall is one of the most important medieval libraries in the world. The beautiful interior is finished in the Rococo style and houses over 160,000 books. About 2,000 of these are handwritten, and almost half of those are from the Middle Ages. Some are over 1,000 years old.
As well as the books, the library is where you can see the Plan of St. Gall, the only surviving major architectural drawing from the ~700 years between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the 13th century.
Explore The Old Town
St. Gallen’s traffic-free means that the best way to explore the old town is by foot. Take a walk through cobblestone streets, admiring the numerous Medieval buildings, and ornate former merchants’ houses dating from the 15th to the 18th century. On several of the old houses you’ll notice ornate oriel windows. That is, a set of windows, arranged together in a bay, that protrude from the face of a building on an upper floor, braced underneath by a bracket or corbel. There are 111 oriel windows in St. Gallen, many which tell stories about things like local legends and mythical figures, historic events, and travels.
The old town and immediate surrounds is also where you’ll find some of St. Gallen’s best food, drink, and shopping.
Visit A Museum
A city with as rich a history as St. Gallen has a lot to tell, and in St. Gallen’s several museums you can find out all sorts of things. The Historisches und Völkerkundemuseum (History and Ethnology Museum) has one of the most important collections of cultural history in northeastern Switzerland. The collection is split into displays relating to archaeology, ethnology, and city and cantonal history. Those with an interest in textiles should visit the Textilmuseum (Textile Museum). The collection contains pieces from the early days of textiles in Ancient Egypt, through to local pieces from when St. Gallen was a textile powerhouse, through to the modern era.
Art lovers will appreciate The Kunstmuseum (Art Museum) St.Gallen. It’s home to a vast collection of paintings and sculptures from the late Middle Ages to the present. The collection features extensive contemporary and modern art from Eastern Switzerland, as well as several international pieces. For those particularly interested in contemporary art, the Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen displays the work of artists which the museum considers relevant to current discourse. Young artists, whose work deals with socially and politically relevant themes, are a big part of the collection. Museum im Lagerhaus, meanwhile, focuses on increasing awareness and understanding of the different aspects of Outsider Art.
Tour Switzerland’s Oldest Brewery
Switzerland’s oldest brewery, Brauerei Schützengarten, have been brewing beer in St. Gallen since 1779. Their traditional German-style beers can be found all over town, but the best place to drink them is at a tour of the brewery. While at the brewery you can also visit the Beer Bottle Museum. It features over 3,000 beer bottles from 260 different Swiss breweries dating back to 140 years ago until today. There’s also a retail store on-site where you can purchase the full range of Schützengarten beers.
Relax At Drei Weieren
Drei Weieren are three man-made ponds that were built between the 17th and 20th centuries by monks to supply water to the St. Gallen. Today, their popular with locals looking to have a swim, or just relax in a peaceful environment. The ponds are located in a park on the southern slope of St. Gallen and offer beautiful views of the city below. During the summer you can go for a swim, or enjoy a picnic by the water while in winter, people come here for ice-skating.
Eat The Famed Olma Bratwurst
This unique white sausage was invented in the early 1400s, and was patented as the Olma sausage in 1838. To be an Olma sausage, the sausage must be produced in St. Gallen, or a few other limited areas where it was historically produced. The sausage is made using veal, pork, fresh milk, skim milk powder, and a mixture of spices. It’s then boiled and able to be eaten cold or grilled.
One of the best places to try Olma sausages is Metzgerei Schmid, a butcher that’s been around for over 100 years and is well known for their delicious sausages. You can buy the sausages to take home, or get them grilled on site. Try one simply grilled inside a traditional bürli roll. The milk sugars caramelise when grilled which gives the sausage a wonderfully flavoured crust. And please, don’t ask for mustard.
Indulge Your Sweet Tooth
Lovers of cakes, pastries, and chocolate have no shortage of choice when it comes to quality options in St. Gallen. There are loads of places selling all kinds of treats, but there are a few specific items and places that you do need to try.
Pietro Cappelli is a bakery and cake shop that’s been operating since 1983. They’re known for their high quality baked goods, and two things in particular – gipfeli and panettone. There’s around 14 different varieties of panettone on offer at any given time, with a flavour and texture that puts it up there as one of the best you’ll ever try. Their gipfeli, a sort of croissant x pretzel hybrid, is also fantastic – many consider it to be the best in town. Anther great place for gipfeli, along with other pastries, is Genussbäckerei Lichtensteiger.
For something truly unique to St. Gallen, head to Praliné Scherrer for their Biber. Biber is a gingerbread-like brown honey cake filled with an almond paste, that’s a speciality of this region. You can find it all over town, but the version at Praliné Scherrer is one of the best. They also make fantastic chocolates and pralines.
Get Your Caffeine Fix
Switzerland isn’t known for having a big third wave coffee scene, but if you’re looking for some quality coffee to enjoy with your sweets you’ve purchased above, there are two places that make coffee that’s head and shoulders above the rest. Barista is inspired by the coffee scene in Melbourne, Australia. Owner Emil Underberg lived and studied in Melbourne, so he knows what he’s talking about. The coffee that he and his team make is as good as it gets.
The other great coffee spot is Kaffeehaus. Owner Gallus Hufenus learned about coffee while working and living as a writer in Buenos Aires, and at his cafe, which is housed inside a beautifully converted former police station inside an 1898 post office, you can enjoy some of the best coffee in town.
Have Dinner In A Castle
Housed inside a castle that dates back to 1585, Gaststuben Zum Schlossli is a restaurant that’s dedicated to serving traditional Swiss food, with a revival of long forgotten ingredients and recipes. Only seasonal produce is used, and it’s all sourced from local, independent producers. It’s one of the only places in the world where you can eat blue St. Gallen potato, which is used here in a variety of dishes. Try the purple soup made using blue potatoes and blue potato schnapps, served with potato cakes and crispy smoked bacon.
After dinner, take a short stroll to the fantastic Süd Bar for a drink.
Become Familiar With Swiss Wine
Located an hour by train or 25 minutes by car from the centre of St. Gallen is Haus Des Weins (House of Wines). Switzerland has a small wine industry, and most of its wine remains in the domestic market. At Haus Des Weins, visitors have the opportunity to try wines from 19 of the canton of St. Gallen’s winemakers. Haus Des Weins also has a take away license, which means that if you find any wines that you really enjoy, you can purchase some bottles to take home.
Go To The Top Of A Mountain
A 40 minute drive south of St. Gallen will get you to Säntis, the highest mountain in the Alpstein massif of northeastern Switzerland. It’s surrounded by beautiful natural scenery and, on a clear day, you can see across to Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, France, and Italy from the mountain’s peak. And if you’re not up for hiking to the peak don’t worry – there’s a cable care that will get you there in a jiffy.
During summer, popular activities include hiking, cycling, and simply relaxing and taking in the views. In winter, Säntis is about walks, snowshoe treks, and fondue and raclette by the fireplace. If you’re hungry, check out Restaurant Säntisgipfel, which offers an assortment of regional delicacies like alpine cheese and dried meat boards, and schlorzifladen, a creamy pear flan, and Älplermagronen (think Swiss macaroni and cheese).
Go To The Market
Wochenmarkt, which literally translates as “Weekly Market”, is a small market held at St. Gallen’s Marktplatz every Wednesday and Saturday morning. It’s a great place to visit if you want to stock up on quality fruit and vegetables, both local and from further afar, as well as things like regional cheeses, fresh baked pastries and bread, and more.
There’s another market in the same location on Friday mornings, St. Galler Bauernmarkt which places the focus squarely on regional producers.