Visiting Stein am Rhein in Switzerland is a little bit like exploring the known unknown. You know it’s going to be pretty. But it still takes you by complete surprise. It IS pretty, yes. It’s also one of the best-preserved medieval old towns in Switzerland – famed for its timber architecture and magnificent paintings on the façades of the old buildings. Then there’s the mighty Rhine River flowing past for some added magic. This post is all about what you can expect to see and do on a day trip to Stein am Rhein.
Our Stein am Rhein day trip happened on a perfect summer’s Sunday in June. With an 11-year old and a young Dachshund in our party, we set off without a plan. It turns out we didn’t need one anyway. The town is small enough to explore in a few hours. It’s a 3-hour drive from our home near Innsbruck, but we visited on our way back from a camping trip on the Bodensee. Stein am Rhein reminds me a lot of Kufstein or even Hall in Tirol on the banks of the Inn River in Austria.
Where Is Stein am Rhein?
Stein am Rhein is in the Swiss canton of Schaffhausen, about 60 km from Zurich. It’s here where Lake Constance, one of many beautiful lakes in Switzerland, spills into the Rhine on its way to the North Sea. The Rhine Falls, Europe’s biggest waterfall, is in the same canton less than 30 km downstream from Stein am Rhein.
Other well-known destinations which are close to Stein am Rhein include Konstanz (28 km away in Germany) and St Gallen (66 km). The small principality of Liechtenstein (120 km) and the Austrian city Bregenz (88 km) are a bit further away but still within easy reach. Alternatively, you could visit the beautiful Appenzell district, which is a scenic 75 km drive away.
Interesting Facts About Stein am Rhein
- Stein am Rhein means Stone on the Rhine. Your guess is as good as mine as to what stone the name refers to. I did many searches (also in German) but couldn’t find an explanation.
- The town’s medieval centre, with its picture-perfect cobbled lanes, has exactly the same layout as a hundred years ago.
- Stein am Rhein almost remained undamaged during WWII. That’s until the United States Air Force bombed it on 22 February 1945.
- In 1972, Stein am Rhein received the first Wakker Price from the Association for the Protection of Swiss Heritage. It noted that:
“Probably nowhere else in Switzerland and only in very few places in Europe can you find so many outstanding individual buildings in such a small space.”
- Six buildings in the historic old town, including the beautiful Town Hall (Rathaus), are still listed as Swiss heritage sites of national significance.
- With a current population of around 3,000 people, Stein am Rhein is only twice the size it was in the 1800s.
- Owners of the frescoed buildings in Stein am Rhein must agree to maintain the paintings in the same condition as the originals. This maintenance is entirely for their own account.
What To See And Do in Stein am Rhein, Switzerland
Come with me on a tour through Stein am Rhein as we approached it from the car park opposite the Untertor (lower town gate). It’s the logical starting point for most people arriving by car, bus or boat.
This town gate was first mentioned in 1367. Unfortunately, this is not the version you see today. The original gate (with outer bailey trapdoors added in 1520) was destroyed in the bombing of 1945. However, it was rebuilt true to the original.
Going straight after walking through the Untertor, you’ll enter the Unterstadt (lower city) street of Stein am Rhein. Here you’ll find the Lindwurm Museum where you can experience exactly how a middle-class family lived in the mid-19th century.
The Unterstadt continues straight into the Rathausplatz (Town Hall Square), the crown jewel of Stein am Rhein. Here, you’ll find the town’s most beautiful buildings, including the Rathaus or Town Hall.
The Rathaus was first erected between 1539 and 1542 as a multi-purpose building for local merchants and the town council. Today, it only serves as headquarters of the town council. The paintings on the Rathaus by Carl von Häberlin (1900) depicts the history of Stein am Rhein.
Other buildings to look out for on the Rathausplatz are the Schwarzes Horn (Black Horn), Sonne (Sun), Steinerner Trauben (Stone Grapes), Rother Ochsen (Red Oxen), and Vordere Krone (Front Crown). They are all in the same row on your right as you approach the Rathaus.
On the left of the Rathausplatz (facing the Town Hall), you can see the oldest preserved Renaissance mural in Switzerland. It graces the façade of the Weisser Adler (today a shop and deli selling fresh produce from the region).
The Weisser Adler was first mentioned in 1418, but the paintings by Thomas Schmid were only done around 1520. They depict medieval motives such as scenes from Boccaccios Decamarone, and Bocca della Veritá (proof of fidelity, power, and unity).
Oberstadt (Upper Town)
When standing in front of the Rathausplatz, you can either go left or right. I suggest going left in the Oberstadt lane. Soon after passing the Weisser Adler, you can view visit Switzerland’s only nativity museum, called KrippenWelt, in a townhouse dating to 1302.
The KrippenWelt is home to more than 500 nativity scenes from 100 different countries. Nativity scenes (depicting the birth of Jesus) is a renowned art form in many European countries.
Village Church (Stadtkirche)
The tower of the Stadtkirche is visible from almost anywhere in Stein am Rhein, Switzerland. After going past the KrippenWelt, you can either continue to the end of Oberstadt and walk around to the other side, or take the passageway between the buildings on your right. Both will bring you to the area in front of the church.
The Stadtkirche dates from the 12th century and the interior is very simple (it was converted into a Protestant church in the 16th century). Entry is free, so it’s totally worth taking a peek inside.
Watch out for cars (after getting used to the pedestrian area) when passing the church. This is where cars exit or leave the town before or after driving over the Rhine Bridge.
St George’s Abbey Museum
In the area in front of the village church, there’s an information sign for St George’s Abbey Museum. You can’t miss the stairs leading to the museum behind the sign.
The first version of the Benedectine abbey dates to the 11th century. If you have time for the abbey tour, you’ll see elaborately decorated abbots’ parlours, and a celebration hall with Grisaille fresco paintings by Thomas Schmid (from the Weisser Adler) and Hans Holbein.
Even if you don’t go inside the abbey museum, there’s a peaceful little courtyard at the entrance worth seeing. (Insider secret: The courtyard has a door that opens right onto the Rhine, from where you have beautiful views over the water and the opposite side of the village.)
A room off the courtyard housing the monks’ ancient wine press and enormous wine barrels is also free to enter.
Opening Hours: April to October from 10:00 to 17:00 (Closed on Mondays)
Admission Fee: CHF 5 / Euro 4 (Under 16s Free)
You can buy a combi ticket for St George’s Abbey and the Lindwurm Museum. The cost is CHF 7 per adult or CHF 14 for families, and it’s valid for two consecutive days.
St George’s Abbey is close to the Rhine Bridge which connects the two parts of Stein am Rhein, Switzerland. In Roman times, there was a stone bridge which was replaced by a wooden bridge around 1250. The current bridge was built between 1971 and 1974.
You can walk across the bridge or just to the middle to take pictures up and down the river. We spent quite some time on it watching some youngsters who looked like they were going to jump off the bridge into the river. To M’s disappointment, they never did.
Hunger and thirst led us from the Rhine Bridge around the Rheinfels Hotel to the riverfront near the boat docking station. It’s a nice little walk next to the water, with benches to sit on and take in the river scenery.
Witches’ Tower (Hexenturm)
Also known as the thieves’ tower, this was the local jail until around 1800. One of the entrances is a full 5 m from the ground.
From the Witches’ Tower, we walked up Choligass back to the Untertor to end our circular tour of Stein am Rhein, Switzerland.
The Hohenklingen Castle is perched on a hill overlooking Stein am Rhein. You can walk or drive there for beautiful views over the town and surrounding countryside. The medieval fortress is privately owned but the Genuss Pur Restaurant is open to the public.
Getting to Stein am Rhein
The Stein am Rhein train station is on the opposite side of the Rhine River from the historic old town. Even so, it’s a short 500 m walk over the bridge to the centre.
Getting to Stein am Rhein from other parts of Switzerland and even Germany and Austria is easy. You can check connections and prices here. Because many people make the day trip to Stein am Rhein from Zurich, I’ll give more details about this journey.
Train From Zurich To Stein am Rhein
The train from Zurich to Stein am Rhein takes just over an hour, with one change at either Winterthur or Schaffhausen. Tickets cost from as little as €23.
You can rent a bike at the train station to explore Stein am Rhein and the surrounding countryside on two wheels. There are well-marked cycle paths along both shores of the river.
There is ample parking opportunity around the historic centre of Stein am Rhein, making it easy to travel here by car. If you’re coming from Zurich, it will take you just over an hour to drive the 56 km. Click here for directions.
Stein am Rhein Day Tours
There are two options for day tours to Stein am Rhein from Zurich. Both include a visit to the Rhine Falls. This one is an afternoon tour that takes about 5 hours. It includes your entry fees at the Rhine Falls, as well as a guided walk through Stein am Rhein.
Then there’s this full day tour of Zurich, the Rhine Falls and Stein am Rhein. It includes your Rhine Falls tickets, guided walk through Stein am Rhein, the audio guide for the Zurich tour, and a ticket for the Dolder cogwheel train to Zürichberg.
Where To Stay In Stein Am Rhein
If you want to spend more time in this corner of Switzerland, Stein am Rhein is a great base from where to explore. The Rheinfels Hotel right on the river’s edge in the historic centre is a good choice. Alternatively, if you’re travelling on a budget, the Stein am Rhein Youth Hostel may be what you’re looking for.
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