Is Stein am Rhein The Prettiest Town In Switzerland?

Here's How To See It In A Day

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.

Beautiful street in Stein am Rhine, Switzerland.
Street scene in Stein am Rhein, Switzerland.

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 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.

“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.”

Beautifully painted houses in Stein am Rhein.
One can only marvel at how well the houses in Stein am Rhein have been preserved.
  • 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.

Untertor

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.

Untertor Stein am Rhein
The Untertor as seen from the parking area. It’s also known as the Zeitturm (time tower). Can you guess why 😊?

Unterstadt

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. 

Unterstadt Stein am Rhein
When in the Unterstadt, don’t forget to turn around to take a picture of the Untertor from the other side.

Rathausplatz

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.

Rathausplatz, Stein am Rhein.
Tourists enjoying drinks on the Rathausplatz.

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).

Stein am Rhein medieval murals.
This picture shows the detail of the medieval murals by Thomas Schmid to the right of the middle line. Left is another, equally impressive, Stein am Rhein façade.

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.

Church and Abbey in Stein am Rhein, Switzerland.
The tower of the Stadtkirche sticking out from behind St George’s Abbey.

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.

Safety Tip
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.

St George's Abbey on the Rhine River in Switzerland.
River facade of St George’s Abbey.

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.)

View from St George's Abbey over the Rhine.
Do you spot the secret door?

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)

Tip
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.

Rhine Bridge

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.

Rhine Bridge.
A view of Stein am Rhein as seen from the Rhine Bridge.

Riverfront

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.

Riverfront area in Stein am Rhein.
Riverfront area next to the boat docking station with restaurants at the back.

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.

Choligass next to the Witches' Tower, Stein am Rhein.
Ice-cream before we head up Choligass to end a memorable (but hot) tour of Stein am Rhein.

Hohenklingen Castle

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.

Hohenklingen Castle from the Rhine Bridge.
You can see Hohenklingen Castle from the Rhine Bridge.

Getting to Stein am Rhein

By Train

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.

Book your train ticket to Stein am Rhein now

Tip
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.

By Car

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.

The Rheingerbe Hotel is near the restaurants and boat docking station on the river’s edge in Stein am Rhein.

*Disclosure*

Dear Reader,

Having fun in Austria 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 in Austria. 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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Linda de Beer
About Linda de Beer 77 Articles
Name: Linda de Beer Profession: Travel blogger and freelance writer
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sherianne

WOW! I have visited a few places in Switzerland and the country never disappoints. The facades in Stein am Rhein are incredible. I love how everything is built right on the water and the castle overlooks the city. This was a great stop.

Shruti Prabhu

The murals are breathtaking! Cant believe I had never heard of Stein am Rhein! How has it not grown past 3000 people. It is so gorgeous. Definitely adding this to my bucket list. Would those youngsters be fined for jumping off the bridge or is that allowed?

Renata
Renata

Although I’m European and therefore not so easily overwhelmed by these Medieval towns, Stein am Rhein actually blows me away. It looks incredibly beautiful – like from an old fairy tale.

Chris Bloomfield

I have always wanted to visit Switzerland and this town just jumped to the top of my bucket list! I love that the businesses have to upkeep the murals and frescoes. It’s pretty amazing that the town has stayed so small for all these years.

Jim

All the houses and murals that have been preserved until modern days are just astonishing. I would definitely check out the abbey museum with its secret door, it looks so mysterious.

Debra Schroeder

Looks like a nice day trip from Zurich, adding this to our list as we’re visiting Switzerland next year. The houses are so cute and Disneyesque.

Tami Wilcox

I love that the old medieval part of town is basically unchanged. It must feel like walking back in time to visit. I would so love to see the Nativity museum, as I collect nativities — so fascinating!