Switzerland: 12 exciting things to do in and around St. Gallen

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St. Gallen is my most recent Swiss discovery. An often overlooked city in the alpine country’s northeastern corner – full of charm and experiences in and around its historic heart. Just take a look at my 12 recommendations…

Wander the old town with its oriels

Like many Swiss cities St. Gallen has an old and irresistible core, that just begs you to get lost in its atmospheric and cobbled streets. An embrodery of tempting cafés, bars and restaurants spread out among colourful and neatly kept facades – many of them featuring beautifully decorated oriels hanging above steet level. There are 111 in total, and they’re said to have been a symbol of wealth for the residents in the buildings, who often had their oriels decorated with things they had seen on exotic journeys.

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Go oriel-hunting in the old town of St. Gallen

Admire the massive abbey

St. Gallen’s abbey stands like a giant among the old town houses and is one of the most impressive of its kind, that I have had the pleasure of visiting in Europe. Iconic for its two towering spires, but even more for its endless details inside, with mint green stucco and colourful frescos. Please sit down for a few minutes to take it all in. The abbey is the heart of the St. Gallen’s UNESCO-listed area.

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Be sure to enter the massive abbey in St. Gallen. It’s stunning!

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Explore the fairytale-like library

Visiting the cathedral is free (although donations are appreciated), but you’d have to pay a fee to enter the abbey’s library Stiftsbibliothek, which is on of the oldest in Europe. Not everyone can sign up for a library card here, because many books are handwritten and hundreds of them more than 1000 years old! But more than the actual books, the enterior itself is jaw-droppingly beautiful – and could be a movie set for Harry Potter.

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Don’t miss out on this. (c)2010 kurzschuss photography gmbh. Damian Imhof

Enjoy a bite of Swiss chocolate

There should be no trip to Switzerland without chocolate and when you’re done exploring the cathedral and the library, simply head across the square and take a seat inside Kölbener for a taste of the sweet life in St. Gallen. Here you can even enjoy every bite with a view to the magnificent abbey.

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Coffee, chocolate and abbey-views go well together

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Discover the city’s textile history

St. Gallen is widely famous for its connection to the fashion-world and its industrial history of high quality fabrics and embroderies. A connection that has been there since the 15th century and still lives on today, although in a smaller scale than in the golden days of the 18th century. To learn more about this interesting story, go visit the Textile Museum which is found near the old town.

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Learn about the city’s connection to fabrics and embrodery. Photo: textilmuseum.ch

Hang out in an outdoor “City Lounge”

Near the doorstep of the Textile Museum you’ll come across a red material covering the streets (and other objects.. including a car) of a whole neighbourhood. It’s the city’s outdoor lounge that urges citizens and visitors to use the urban space. A great photo opportunity too.

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This urban neighbourhood is covered in red

SEE ALSO: Top 4 panorama trains in Switzerland: The Glacier Express

“Fly” to the mountain top of Säntis

For a sense of the true alpine Switzerland head to the top of Säntis by cablecar – a half daytrip from St. Gallen by trains and a bus. It’s a great experience to “fly” up through the clouds and step into the snow around the restaurant-complex on top. And why not dig into a big portion of Alpine-pasta and enjoy the heavenly views, while washing it down with a Säntis beer. On clear days it should be possible to spot 6 countries from the top: Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Italy, France and of course Switzerland

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Conquer the top of Säntis in these smooth-travelling cable cars

Take a stroll along Bodensee

Unlike nearby Zürich or Luzern St. Gallen doesn’t have a major lake at its doorstep, but you don’t have to go far to reach the wonderful Bodensee (aka Lake Constance), which borders both Germany and Austria too. Just jump on the local train to b, where you can take a stroll along the lakeside promenade and visit cultural venues like Würth House or the Museum im Kornhaus.

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The scenic lake-promenade in Rorschach near St. Gallen 

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Go on a “skyline walk” at Drei Weiern

To really take in the view of St. Gallen, take the local Mühleggbahn to the suburb of St. Georgen where a short walk will lead you along the path near the three artificial bathing lakes Drei Weiern – and with stunning views over the city, which seems to be hidden in the valley.

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“Drei Weiern” in the neighbourhood of St. Georgen. Photo: St.gallen-bodensee.ch

Dine in an old train depot

In walking distance from the city center you will find a culinary and cultural hotspot in a nicely transformed train depot. Lokremise is a combined theatre, cinema, art exhibition and restaurant – with funky interior design and customized sofas sliding in the old train tracks. I can personally recommend restaurant LOKAL, and If the weather is good you can enjoy a drink on the terrace outside.

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A look inside restaurant LOKAL in Lokremise. Photo: myswitzerland.com 

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Treat yourself with pretzels, beer and bratwursts

St. Gallen isn’t found in the German part of Switzerland for nothing. Located just 230 kilometers from Münich in South Germany, this Swiss corner shares the love for many things with its neighbours to the north. Not at least when it comes to juicy bratwursts (sausages), which can be ordered at many take-aways in St. Gallen – or brought home for the delicatessen shop. At the atmospheric National – zum Goldenen Leuen, I tried an excellent salty pretzel with meat and curry sauce, and also the restaurants own beer which I can highly recommend.

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A filled pretzel with curry sauce at restaurant National – Zum Goldenen Leuen

Have a taste of Swiss wine

If you’re a wine-enthusiast you shouldn’t miss out on trying some Swiss wine, which isn’t exported much due to low quantities – but that’s just another reason to pop the cork while you’re visiting the country. You’ll find several wine speciality shops in St. Gallen itself, like Weinsten Vinothek near the old town, but if you want a prober Swiss wine experience then take the train to Heerbrugg and head to Weingut Schmidheiny to shop some drops. Cheers!

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Local swiss wine lined up at the bar of Weingut Schmidheiny not far from St. Gallen

TO GET THERE: St. Gallen is just an hours train ride from the airport in Zürich

FIND MORE inspiration and information on St. Gallen at www.st.gallen-bodensee.ch

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By Brian Schæfer Dreyer