The Rhine Falls in Switzerland is the largest waterfall in Europe even if it doesn’t look like it at first sight. I never understood the hype about the falls until I stood in its spray and experienced its sheer power in person. Pictures simply don’t do it justice. Here’s how to experience it up close and personal, whether you’re visiting the Rhine Falls from Zurich or anywhere else in Europe.
The Rhine Falls isn’t only the largest waterfall in Europe, but also the most powerful (read here for some more wiki facts). They span an incredible 150 m across the Rhine River near Schaffhausen in Switzerland. It’s no wonder the Rhine Falls is regarded as an essential part of the Grand Tour of Switzerland. Over one million people visit each year, thereby contributing greatly to the local economy.
It’s hard to capture the sheer size of the Rhine Falls in a photograph. Hopefully, this blog post will convince you it’s worth visiting the falls, especially since it’s so easy to reach from Zurich. Better still, visit the nearby Stein am Rhein, one of Switerzland’s most beautiful small towns, on the same trip.
Rhine Falls Fast Facts
|Basin depth||13 m|
|Age||14,000 – 17,000 years|
|Average summer flow||600m³ per sec|
|Average winter flow||250m³per sec|
|Entrance fee southern bank||CHF 5|
|Boat ride price||From CHF 3 to CHF 20|
Where Is The Rhine Falls
The Rhine Falls is located on the High Rhine around 47 km north of Zurich between the villages of Neuhausen am Rheinfall and Laufen-Uhwiesen/Dachsen. A more well-known and bigger town in the area is Schaffhausen, which is 3,7 km away.
If you follow the Rhine about 20 km upstream from the falls, you’ll reach Lake Constance. The mighty river interrupts its journey for a while to flow through the lake. It’s also along this piece of river, close to Lake Constance, where you’ll find Stein am Rhein, possibly the best-preserved medieval town in Switzerland.
Tip: Visiting both the Rhine Falls and Stein am Rhine in one day is quite possible. To save time and transport hassles, it’s worth considering an organised tour from Zurich which stops at both.
How To Get To Rhine Falls
A well-oiled Swiss road and rail network makes it easy to get to Rhine Falls from all directions, including Germany and Austria. We visited by car from our camping site near the Bodensee (Lake Constance) just across the border in Germany. However, I quite envied those travelling by train because of the dramatic arrival over the train bridge which crosses the Rhine just metres from the falls.
Tip: Fancy first seeing the Rhine Falls from your train window? Then the stop you’re looking for is Schloss Laufen am Rheinfall.
Zurich To Rhine Falls By Car
Road Distance From Zurich To Rhine Falls
Depending on which roads you take, the distance from Zurich To Rhine Falls is between 43 km and 47 km. There are three possible routes, all taking under an hour to reach the falls. Just remember you need a Swiss Vignette (toll sticker) to travel on the motorways.
Of course, it’s possible to stay on country roads and pass through every Swiss village on the way, but this can be very time consuming if you’re visiting the Rhine Falls on a day trip from Zurich.
Here are directions for the three fastest routes.
Northern Bank address to type into your navigation system: Rheinfallquai 32, 8212 Neuhausen am Rheinfall.
Southern Bank address to type into your navigation system: Areal Schloss Laufen, 8447 Dachsen.
Zurich To Rhine Falls By Train
If you’re not joining a Rhine Falls tour from Zurich, the train is the easiest way to get there on a day trip. Most trains take just under or just over an hour, depending on which Rhine Falls train station you choose to get off at. There are no less than three possibilities.
I already mentioned if I had to choose a Rhine Falls train station, it would probably be the one at Schloss Laufen. It’s the perfect start and end to the short circular Rhine Falls hiking trail. If you’d rather start your Rhine Falls tour on the Neuhausen side, then that’s where to get off. Or you could make Schaffhausen your base and take the bus from there to the falls.
Zurich To Schloss Laufen am Rheinfall Train
There are several trains from Zurich to Schloss Laufen am Rheinfall, direct or with one stop in between, every day. The journey is never longer than an hour.
For example, if you take the S12 from Zurich Hauptbahnhof in the direction of Schaffhausen at 09:16, you’ll get off at Schloss Laufen at 10:06. The RE that leaves Zurich at 09:06 will get you there even quicker by 09:50, even with one change to the S12 when you get to Schaffhausen.
Zurich To Neuhausen Rheinfall Train
This Rhine Falls train station opened in 2015 especially to drop tourists close to the falls on the Neuhausen side. From the platform, there are bridges and lifts to take you to the river bank.
A good direct connection from Zurich Hauptbahnhof to Neuhausen Rheinfall is the S9 that leaves Zurich at 09:07 and arrives at the falls exactly an hour later.
Zurich To Schaffhausen Train
This connection makes sense if you want to combine a tour of the Rhine Falls with a visit to the town of Schaffhausen. Together with Stein am Rhein, Schaffhausen is one of the best-preserved medieval villages in Switzerland. It’s bigger than Stein am Rhein but nevertheless quaint with its winding cobbled lanes, ornate oriels and surprisingly many fountains.
There are several direct connections between Zurich and Schaffhausen every hour, some taking only 36 minutes.
You can cover the small distance between Schaffhausen and the Rhine Falls by bus or take the Rhyfall Express, a little tourist “train” that travels between the two. The public bus is easy to find as it departs from the train station.
Zurich To Rhine Falls By Bus
Honestly, if you want to take public transportation to the Rhine Falls, the trains are simply the best. However, a coach tour from either the Zurich Airport or the city centre is available for those who like to join a group and learn some interesting facts about the falls and the landmarks on the way.
The coach tour takes about 3,5 hours and costs about €50 per person for the round trip. It gives you enough time to take a boat trip (for your own pocket) after arriving at the falls, but not for a longer hike. On the way, you’ll also pass the Marthalen farming village and the 16th-century Munot Fortress.
Rhine Falls Tours From Zurich
Many Rhine Falls tours from Zurich include a visit to the picture-perfect Stein am Rhein. The most popular tour is an afternoon tour that stops at Schloss Laufen and includes the entry fee to access the castle, panoramic glass lift, and viewing platforms. From there, you’ll continue to Stein am Rhein where a guided walk is included in the tour price which starts at €62.
If it’s only Zurich and the Rhine Falls you’re interested in, there’s also this full-day best of Zurich and Rhine Falls tour.
Best Way To Experience The Falls
The visitors’ area around the falls is divided into two distinct parts – the northern bank and the southern bank. When planning your trip, the first choice to make is which side to arrive on. There is the southern river bank (Schloss Laufen) and the northern river bank (Schlössli Wörth. Both have something going for them, but the first prize is to experience the falls from both sides.
I’m sure you’ve seen imposing pictures of a castle towering over the Rhine Falls. This is Schloss Laufen or Laufen Castle, and it’s on the southern bank of the falls.
If you start your Rhine Falls visit on this side parking is free, but you pay an entrance fee to Laufen Castle and the viewing platforms below it. Tickets are affordable at CHF5 and include entry to the Historama (museum), panoramic glass lift, and Belvedere trail with viewing platforms.
Schloss Laufen Basic Information
Kids 6-15: CHF 3
08:00 – 19:00 (June, July, August)
09:00 – 18:00 (April, May, Sept, Oct)
09:00 – 17:00 (Feb, March, Nov)
10:00 – 16:00 (Dec, Jan)
Yes, including self-service
Note: Even though the ticket office close, the viewing platforms are accessible 24 hours per day.
There are three viewing platforms between Schloss Laufen and the Rhine Falls. They are called Belvedere, Känzeli and Fischnetz. Only the Belvedere can be reached without having to climb steps (and is therefore accessible with wheelchairs and strollers). Getting to and from the Belvedere platform via the glass lift is quite a thrilling experience.
Tip: Walk down and take the lift up (that’s if you’re not going to hike the circular route and come back over the train bridge).
We took the stairs to all three viewing platforms. The cascading water comes incredibly close to the viewing platforms depending on the time of year and rate of flow. We could literally touch the water while standing on the Fischnetz platform, while I wondered what kept the Känzeli platform from being washed away. Scary, but exhilarating! And expect to be covered in spray!
The three viewing platforms below Schloss Laufen also provide some of the best views of the Rheinfallfelsen, the large central rock formation which is a notable feature of the Rhine Falls. This is the closest you’re going to get to it if you’re not going to take a boat ride.
From a Schloss to a Schlössli (little castle), the Northern Bank of the Rhine Falls basin is dominated by Schlössli Wörth. From here you have a direct view of the falls in the distance. This is also where the main boat station is behind the little castle.
No entrance fee is charged to access the Northern Bank of the Rhine Falls. It’s freely accessible 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. However, if you arrive by car, a parking fee of CHF 5 is charged for the first hour and CHF 2 for every hour after that.
The visitors’ area on the northern bank is big and flat, lined with food stalls, shops, and restaurants. There is also a big picnic area and children’s playground.
Rhine Falls Boat Ride
If watching the Rhine Falls from the river banks isn’t good enough for you, you can choose from 4 different boat rides for a more exhilarating experience. We took the short 15-minute roundtrip that gets as close as possible to the falls and didn’t regret it. The Rhine Falls boat rides are colour coded to make your choice easier.
|Yellow Rock Tour||Stops at the Rheinfallfelsen where you can get off and climb to the top of the rock.||CHF 20|
|Red Ferry to Laufen Castle||Fast way to cross the river if you want to see the falls from both sides.||CHF 3 (One Way) CHF 5 (Return)|
|Blue 15-Minute Round-Trip||Short boat ride in the Rhine Falls basin, getting close to the spray.||CHF 7|
|Pink 30-Minute Audio tour||Longer boat ride in the basin and a few hundred metres downstream, listening to interesting facts.||CHF 11|
All tours depart from and end at Schlössli Wörth, except for the ferry crossing which runs between Schlössli Wörth and Laufen Castle.
Rhine Falls Boat Ride Dates & Times
You can enjoy a Rhine Falls boat ride from April to October. The opening times are as follow:
April and October – 11:00 – 17:00
May and September – 10:00 – 18:00
June, July, and August – 09:30 – 18:30
If you want to take a Rhine Falls Boat Ride, don’t wait long before buying your tickets. On a busy day, you may have to wait an hour or two until there are seats available. My suggestion is to buy your tickets first and plan all other activities (eating and hiking) around the scheduled time or your boat trip. The ticket office is near the bridge that crosses the river to Schlössli Wörth.
Hiking Around The Rhine Falls
We experienced the Rhine Falls from all sides and in all its facets by doing the short circular hike around the basin. It’s about 3,4 km long and won’t take longer than an hour and 15 minutes to hike if you don’t stop to do other things along the way (like we did).
We started at Laufen Castle, bought the ticket to go the viewing platforms, and walked down to the Belvedere Platform. But instead of going back up to Laufen Castle, we continued along the trail next to the river. There are yellow hiking signs to show you the way.
It’s a pretty trail among the trees and with views of the boats in the river basin. After a while, you’ll get to a pedestrian bridge to cross to get to the other side of the river where you’ll turn right towards the falls. Continue until you get to Schlössli Wörth and do whatever you want to do on the Northern Bank.
The trail continues until you climb some stairs next to the falls before turning right towards the train bridge which incorporates a pedestrian path. Once you’re on the other side, you’re back at Laufen Castle where you started.
Warning: Pictures of the Rhine Falls don’t do it justice. I think it’s because it’s not a high waterfall. It makes it difficult to capture the scope of it in a photograph. Once you’re standing in its spray, the sheer size and beauty will certainly blow your mind. It did mine. During our visit, the water came crashing down at a speed of 605 cubic m per second, which is slightly more than the summer average.
Best Time To Visit Rhine Falls
To experience the largest waterfall in Europe in all its might, the spring and summer months are best when the rate of flow is at its highest. However, there is also something special about visiting in winter when you may have a snow-white backdrop.
The rate of flow is generally highest in May and June. This is a really good time to visit because it’s also before the school holidays when the tourist numbers increase. We visited on a gloriously sunny day at the end of May. The viewing platforms did have lots of visitors on them, but we could easily move between the platforms.
Can You Visit The Falls In Winter?
Sure, you may not be able to take a Rhine Falls boat ride, but both the northern and southern bank visitor areas are open year-round.
Attractions At And Near The Falls
The charming little castle on the Northern Bank of the Rhine Falls is now home to a panorama restaurant. It served as a customs house for many centuries, while at the same time offering a bed to tired travellers.
Tip: If your budget doesn’t allow for dining in Schlössli Wörth, try the Inseli Bistro between the castle and the boat docking stations. It’s got a nice view of the waterfall from the terrace on the side.
Perched high above the Rhine Falls, Laufen Castle has witnessed many political and societal upheavals since it was first mentioned in 858. Back then the largest waterfall in Europe was called the “grosses Lauffen”, and that’s where the castle got its name.
The shared history of Laufen Castle and Rhine Falls can be explored in the Historama. Entry to this castle exhibition is included in the Rhine Falls ticket to the viewing platforms on the southern bank.
Combining a visit to the Rhine Falls with a tour of one of Switzerland’s best-preserved medieval towns is a good idea. Schaffhausen is a stone’s throw from the falls. Some of the highlights to see in the town are the 16th-century Munot Fortress, the High Gothic St Johann Church, or Allerheiligen Abbey (Kloster). The latter is home to a Romanesque cathedral as well as a museum about the history of Schaffhausen.
Stein am Rhein
Stein am Rhein is similar to Schaffhausen, but even better preserved and in a stunning setting where the Rhine flows out of Lake Constance. The quaint town with its amazingly beautiful town hall square (Rathausplatz) is small enough to discover on foot in an hour or two.
Where To Stay At Rhine Falls
For the budget-conscious – These guest rooms in Neuhausen am Rheinfall are getting very good reviews. Most rooms come with a shared bathroom, but it doesn’t seem to bother people who’ve stayed there before. If you want to base yourself in Schaffhausen, you can also try the Schaffhausen Youth Hostel.
Good middle-class hotel – Hotel2B in a historic building in the centre of Schaffhausen is a short walk from the train station. The rooms are all decorated in different styles, while the hotel restaurant serves Mexican and American food.
General Tips For Your Visit
- Although the Rhine Falls are in Switzerland, you can pay in Euro everywhere.
- Bring a light raincoat if you don’t want to get wet when visiting while the falls are flowing strongly.
- Comfortable, non-slip shoes are essential.
- Food and drinks aren’t cheap (Swiss prices!), so bring some snacks and water along if you don’t want to feel ripped off. You can even bring meat and have a barbeque in the picnic area on the Northern Bank (there’s a spot with a grill and a fire pit especially for this purpose).
- If you’re staying in the area, return to the falls after sunset to see how they are illuminated in different colours. This happens every night except during full moon and the night thereafter.
Having fun in Austria and neighbouring countries, and then writing about it, is hard work . That’s why some links in this article are affiliate links. I may earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you, if you use any of them to make a purchase for your upcoming trip. It’s totally cool if you don’t use them. I love to help anyway . But if you do, we’ll probably blow it on another family excursion. Which really isn’t such a bad thing, because it will only result in another blog post for you to read.
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