A short train ride from Zürich is Schaffhausen, a town that is often overlooked by tourists. It’s worth the trip as the old buildings, with their historic brown roofs, will take you back to the Middle Ages. Standing atop the central Munot Fortress, it’s easy to imagine merchants bringing their wares to market in boats on the Rhine or by oxcart on the cobblestone streets. Nearby is the scenic Rheinfall and just upriver is the medieval town of Stein am Rhein. Add in the charming Altstadt and a paleolithic-era rock shelter and you’ve got plenty of activities to fill two days in Schaffhausen.
It also has the dubious distinction of being the only place in Switzerland that was bombed during World War II. On April 1, 1944, American bombers strayed into Swiss territory due to a navigation error and inadvertently dropped their payloads on Schaffhausen. Forty civilians were killed. The unfortunate mishap occurred partially because Schaffhausen sits in a small area of Switzerland that is surrounded on three sides by Germany. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt apologized personally and the U.S. paid the town 4 million dollars in restitution.
We visited in the summer while shooting Real Rail Adventures: Swiss Grand Tour, where we rode the famous Grand Train Tour of Switzerland route. If you’ve purchased a Swiss Travel Pass (STP), it will come in handy getting to and around Schaffhausen, as all of the trains, buses, and boats you’ll need, as well as museums in the area, are covered with the pass.
Every place I go, I like to orient myself with long, rambling walks. Here, the charming old town is not to be missed. Explore the grounds of Allerheiligen (All Saints Monastery and Cloisters), which includes the largest Romanesque sacred building in Switzerland as well as beautiful gardens.
This is the most powerful waterfall in Europe and is an obstacle to boat travel on the Rhine River that originally led to the establishment of the town of Schaffhausen. Upon encountering the falls, merchants would have to unload their boats, transfer the cargo past the falls, and reload them on boats to continue the journey. Now, the Rheinfall brings tourists from all over the world to snap photos and gape in awe at the torrent of water crashing over the rocks. If you’re game, you can take a boat tour to get up close to the falls and even climb the rock in the middle of the falls.
As if the Rheinfall weren’t enough, you can extend the thrills by spending a half day on the ropes course, zip lines, and swings of this outdoor park. I have to admit, when the producer told me that we’d be shooting this, I was skeptical. I’m the kind of traveler that passes up waterparks and other man-made attractions to spend time on more authentic experiences. However, this park is strung along the canopy of a forest and, while man-made, feels more like an exciting climbing trip. If you can’t tell from my “swing scene” in Real Rail Adventures: Swiss Grand Tour, my knees were shaking a bit before I jumped off of the high platform. It’s a blast!
You literally cannot miss the imposing Munot Fortress when you visit Schaffhausen. It sits atop a high hill in the center of the town with 360-degree views. Built over 400 years ago, it’s now the best place to get a bird’s-eye view of the town and its surroundings. Every evening at 9:00 pm, a watchman rings a bell for five minutes by hand, which used to be the signal that the town gates were closing for the night. Climb through the fortress to experience the dramatic interior lighting (a small travel tripod for your phone/camera will help get good low-light pictures here) before emerging on top for those stunning views. A ten-minute walk down the hill and across the Rhine will bring you to Munotblick Restaurant (“Munot view”), where you can dine on gourmet offerings under the Munot’s watchful gaze. En guete!
Half of the fun of visiting Stein am Rhein is to take the boat on the Rhine River. While there are official paid cruises that will take you from Schaffhausen to Stein am Rhein, your STP covers the two-hour trip (you can search for boat timetables on the SBB app or website). Once there, explore the old town with its colorfully-painted facades and timbered houses, and pay a visit to the Monastery of St. Georgen. If you’ve got the time, make the 25-minute climb to the majestic Hoehenklingen Castle, where, like so many places you’ll hike to in Switzerland, sports a fine restaurant where you can reward yourself for making the trip.
This important Palaeolithic rock shelter is easy to reach by bus with your STP, as it’s just a quarter-mile walk from the bus stop at Dachsenbüel. Be aware that, while interesting, there is no museum or interpretive sign here. The original finds indicating this place’s importance, including a plate with an engraving of two horses and Neolithic burial items, are exhibited in the Schaffhausen Museum zu Allerheiligen (free with your STP).
While more of a commitment than two days may allow, this unique experience can help you slow down and savor the Swiss countryside. The route passes through several small villages and the offer includes a cargo e-bike with an expandable tent, a second e-bike for your companion, two nights of camping with breakfast, and other necessary camping gear. Highlights of the 40-mile route include the Hüttwilersee, a lake where you can stop for a swim and a meal, and the castle in Herdern. You’ll also pass through Stein am Rhein along the way.
If you’re in Zurich and can’t spare two days for Schaffhausen, try this half-day tour of the Rheinfall and Stein am Rhein, complete with transportation and a guide.
Have you ever been to Schaffhausen? What were your favorite experiences? Let us know in the comments and subscribe so you don’t miss a thing!