In a country awash with outstanding natural beauty, St. Gallen combines a tantalising mix of history and culture.
Situated to the south of Lake Constance in northeastern Switzerland, St. Gallen remains some way off the country’s well-trodden tourist trail, attracting only a trickle of visitors every year. But therein lies much of the city’s appeal. Offering all of the aesthetic character and charm that Switzerland is known for, it also retains a pleasing calmness that makes it a delight to wander around. We’ve picked out 10 of the most unique things to see and do in St. Gallen.
Marvel at an 8th-century abbey
The story of St Gallen’s UNESCO-listed abbey dates back to the Carolingian period in the 8th century. Among the buildings that make up the abbey is St Gallen Cathedral, which was built in the 18th century in the Baroque style. While it is somewhat understated on the façade, the cathedral is almost overwhelming for its splendour inside. There’s ornate stuccowork everywhere you peer, with ceilings covered in frescoes, and sculptures on almost every surface. Meanwhile, the cathedral’s distinctive colour scheme of turquoise and beige is unlike any other you’ll see in a church perhaps anywhere in the world.
Constructed around the same time as the cathedral, the Library of St Gall houses the oldest literature collection in Switzerland, and one of the oldest and richest in the world. It all dates from the 8th-century monastery and includes thousands of manuscripts, incunables and early prints. There are 160,000 volumes in all, many of great significance. Among the many highlights are a version of the Rule of St Benedict, which set out the rules for medieval monks. In addition to all of this historical weight, the library building itself is simply magnificent, and considered one of the high points of the Rococo style in Switzerland.
Abbey of Saint Gall, Klosterhof, 9000 Street / Mon-Sun 7am-6pm
Visit a top-class museum
An internationally acclaimed arts institution, St. Gallen Museum of Art houses an abundant collection of paintings and sculptures from the Late Middle Ages through to the present day. Spread across both temporary and permanent exhibitions, the works on display focuses on Dutch, German and French art, including important prints by Dürer, Rembrandt and Callo, as well as French paintings from the 19th century represented with masterpieces from Romanticism to Impressionism. Designed by architect Johann Christoph Kunkler, the building itself is also an eye-catching landmark.
Museumstrasse 32 / 10am-5pm Tues-Thurs & Sun Weds 10am-8pm Closed Mon
For a more unusual museum experience, the Museum of Emptiness certainly fits the bill. Opened in 2016 by the renowned artist Gilgi Guggenheim, the single-room museum serves as a walk-in architectural sculpture, inviting visitors to escape from the worldly temptations of abundance, and instead embrace both physical and mental notions of emptiness. The museum also offers a work and inspiration room for private hire and workshop leaders.
Haldenstrasse 5 / Irregular opening hours
Attend a fun-packed festival
Taking place in the inner courtyard of the St.Gallen Historical and Ethnological Museum, the annual Kulturfestival is one of the most eagerly awaited events on the city’s cultural and entertainment calendar. Music lovers flock here to watch a wide assortment of concerts and live stage performances featuring notable bands and solo acts hailing from Switzerland and beyond. As well as the diverse music, there’s also delectable food and drink, including freshly tapped beer from Switzerland’s oldest brewery.
Innenhof Historisches und Völkerkundemuseum, Museumsstrasse 50 / June-July each year
Join a private architectural walking tour
St Gallen’s rich architectural heritage can be discovered by joining an educational walking tour. Accompanied by an expert guide, you’ll explore the city’s most significant buildings while learning about the local culture. During the 1.5-hour tour, you’ll become acquainted with the local architecture and learn how it has changed over the years while still retaining its unique character. Highlights include the city’s iconic 15th-century houses and secret underground tunnels located beneath the streets of the Old Town.
Nestled in the city’s commercial district of Bleicheli, where a lot of St Gallen’s historic textile manufacturing once took place, Stadtlounge was originally an art installation but has now become a popular – and highly distinctive – hang-out spot. Featuring flooring laid with tiny red rubber granules that create the appearance of a carpet, the eye-catching chill- out space is dotted with sun loungers, tables and chairs, lending it a buzzing, sociable atmosphere.
Bleichi Business District
Explore a beautiful botanic garden
Providing an ideal antidote to the hustle and bustle of the city centre, St Gallen’s Botanical Garden is a haven of tranquillity that draws nature lovers and plant aficionados from far and wide. Free to enter, the garden is home to a remarkable collection of over 8,000 indoor and outdoor plants from across the globe. Be sure to check out the oldest plant here, a Chilean myrtle (Myrtus Iuma) that was gifted to the garden all the way back in 1880. There’s also a pond with distinctive circular floating leaves and a pool brimming with goldfish.
Stephanshornstrasse 4 / Mon-Sun 8am-5pm
Discover an artistic goldmine
It’s often bemoaned by St Gallen’s art enthusiasts that thousands of students walk by them everyday unaware of the masterpieces that are displayed within the city’s prestigious university. Hosted by one of the seat of learning’s very own students, this small-group university arts tour invites you to walk through every one of its buildings while hearing about its long and illustrious history, and that of the many art pieces that are housed within its corridors and walls. Tour groups are limited to 8 people.
Bathe in a public pond
Translating as “Three Ponds”, Drei Weieren is an oasis of peace in the middle of the city and serves as a busy public recreation area. Hardy types have been swimming in the ponds since the 1700s, and today are available for bathing throughout the summer months one with free access and another that charges for admission. The area also offers great city views and, weather-permitting, you can also go ice-skating on the Buebenweiher pond in winter.
Bitzistrasse 65 / Open 24/7