Schaffhausen may not be top of mind when thinking about places to visit on a trip to Switzerland, but it absolutely should be.
This small historic town in northern Switzerland has plenty of charm and a surprising amount of attractions. With Renaissance period architecture, a lovely riverside location, close proximity to Switzerland’s largest waterfall, and opportunities for outdoor activities, Schaffhausen was a wonderful introduction to what I could expect on my FIRST TRIP TO SWITZERLAND.
What to See and Do in Schaffhausen
Schaffhausen is small and doesn’t take long to explore, so even if you only have one day in Schaffhausen, there’s still time to do a side trip out of the city.
Here’s what I managed to see and do during my visit to Schaffhausen!
Wander Through Schaffhausen’s Medieval Old Town
Schaffhausen has a wonderful car-free Old Town that’s full of interesting details from fountain statues, intricately painted facades, decorated bay windows, and stone clock towers.
I couldn’t help but be charmed by the architecture in Schaffhausen, since it’s so different from what I’m used to seeing in Canada. Designed as a show of wealth, the buildings in the Old Town are adorned with oriel windows (there are 171 of them), decorative window trim, and richly painted facades.
The most visually stunning building in Schaffhausen’s Old Town is Haus zum Ritter (House of the Knight). The exterior features one of the most important Renaissance frescoes north of the Alps, a mural glorifying civil virtues. The original frescoes were removed in 1935 for preservation in the All Saints Museum, so the façade you see today is a recreation.
Another highlight of the Old Town is Fronwagplatz, a central square and popular meeting place for the locals. Sidewalk cafes and shops frame the square, but what I liked best was the historical statues that stand prominently over the public fountains. Like everywhere in Switzerland, it’s safe to drink the water from the city fountains.
Enjoy the Views from Munot Fortress
As a symbol of the city, the Munot is a must-see when in Schaffhausen. This 16th century round fortress is built on a hill overlooking the Old Town and is the best vantage point for admiring the city and surrounding landscape.
The Munot is surrounded by a small vineyard and a moat, which instead of being filled with water, is now home to a family of fallow deer. Interestingly, the stag of the group is always named after the city’s current mayor. What an unusual honour!
There’s not much on display inside the fortress, but once you walk up the curved ramp to the top, you’ll be rewarded with a sweeping view of the Rhine River and Schaffhausen’s Old Town. I loved the view so much that I climbed to the top of the fortress three times during my trip to Schaffhausen!
Stop and Smell the Roses at Munot Rose Garden
Across from the Munot is a small rose garden where you can continue to enjoy views of Schaffhausen while savouring the fragrant, sweet smell of flowers.
There are approximately 170 species of roses surrounded by hedges and trees, making the garden a peaceful place to sit and rest before continuing my self-guided tour of Schaffhausen.
Walk and Dine Along the River
After visiting the Munot, I headed down to the Rhine to take a short walk along the waterfront.
This was my favourite place to photograph the Munot because I could see how the vineyard nicely contrasted with the imposing stone fortress looming over the town houses. I kept thinking it was a scene fit for a postcard!
Later that night I came back to the riverside to have dinner at Güterhof, a restored warehouse that’s now home to a restaurant, café, cocktail bar and lounge. Dining beside the Rhine, under the stars, was the perfect end to my day in Schaffhausen.
Visit the Abbey of Allerheiligen (All Saints Abbey)
This former Benedictine monastery is now a centre of history, art, and culture in Schaffhausen. The complex has a few different sites of interest, including the Allerheiligen Museum, a Romanesque church, herb garden, nobleman’s cemetery, and Switzerland’s largest cloister open to the public.
I passed on visiting the museum, but did enjoy strolling down the cloister and seeing the Schiller Bell (Schillerglocke). The bell was cast in 1486, weighs an impressive 4.5 tons, and was used in Allerheiligen cathedral until 1895.
Admire the Rhine Falls
Having explored Schaffhausen’s small Old Town, I decided to catch a train to the nearby Rhine Falls.
At 150 metres wide and 23 metres tall, the Rhine Falls are the largest waterfall in Europe. In the summer, about 600,000 litres of water per second splash down to the Rheinfall basin, creating a light mist in the air.
Admittedly, when I first saw the falls I was a shocked that this was the largest waterfall in Europe because I’ve definitely seen bigger in Canada (it’s no Niagara Falls). Even though the Rhine Falls lacked that “wow” factor, it still was a scenic place to go for a walk.
From the train station on the southern riverbank, I walked down a treed path to the water and got my first glimpse of the Rhine Falls. The vantage point was just okay, but had I wanted to pay, I could have accessed a viewing platform that was right beside the falls.
Next, I went up to Schloss Laufen, the cliff-top castle that overlooks the Rhine Falls. From there I walked across the bridge to the northern riverbank where there were much better views of the waterfall. I especially liked seeing how the water flowed past a large rock in the middle of the falls. If you want, you can even take a boat trip to this rock island and experience the falls from the viewing platform at the top.
I continued walking all the way to Schlössli Wörth, a small castle where the Rhine Falls boat cruises leave from, before backtracking to the train station on the northern riverbank and returning to Schaffhausen.
Cycle to Stein am Rhein
If you have two days in Schaffhausen, I recommend renting a bike and cycling to Stein am Rhein, one of Switzerland’s best preserved medieval towns.
The ride is easy and well marked (Rhein Route 2), travelling 17 km on mostly flat trails and roads, a portion of which is actually in Germany. The route roughly follows along the Rhine River and passes by some small towns, fields, vineyards, and forest.
My favourite place along the cycle route from Schaffhausen to Stein am Rhein was Diessenhofen, a cute town on the other side of the river. From the bike path I got a nice view of the town’s church, some timber framed buildings, and a wooden covered bridge.
Once at Stein am Rhein, I took a walk around the medieval Old Town and admired the half-timbered houses and their elaborately painted facades.
Rathausplatz, the bustling town square, has some of the most beautiful buildings, but there were other interesting constructions scattered throughout the town, including the restored town gates. It was fun to simply wander the cobblestone streets and see what I could find!
After lunch you can ride back to Schaffhausen or return by boat, enjoying a relaxing cruise on the Rhine.
Final Thoughts About My Trip to Schaffhausen
I quickly fell in love with Schaffahusen and remember thinking from the top of the Munot that if the rest of Switzerland was anything like this, I knew I was going to have a great trip.
There are many reasons why Schaffhausen stood out so much during my TWO WEEKS IN SWITZERLAND, apart from its obvious beauty. I enjoyed the architecture and easy access to cycling paths, the river, and Rhine Falls, but most of all I liked the atmosphere of the town and how happy I felt while I was there.
Tips for Visiting Schaffhausen
Getting There: Schaffhausen is a 50-60 minute train ride from Zurich’s airport.
Rhine Falls: The Rhine Falls is a 10 minute train ride from Schaffhausen. There are two stations you can choose to arrive at/leave from- Schloss Laufen am Rheinfall or Neuhausen Rheinfall. I recommend arriving at Schloss Laufen, walking across the river and down to the bottom of the falls, then leaving from Neuhausen Rheinfall.
- Services and activities at the Rhine Falls include a visitor centre, history exhibit, restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops, boat cruises, viewing decks, walking trail, and an adventure park with rope courses.
- It’s free to visit the falls, but you do have to pay to access the viewing platforms on the southern bank near Schloss Laufen (includes admission to the Historama exhibit). Boat cruises and the adventure park also cost extra.
- Here are some tours to the Rhine Falls leaving from Zurich: RHINE FALLS COACH TOUR FROM ZURICH, FROM ZURICH- STEIN AM RHEIN AND RHINE FALLS
Cycling from Schaffhausen to Stein am Rhein: The bike ride to Stein am Rhein took me about 1 hour 15 minutes (one way). The path starts on the riverfront between the bridge and Güterhof. From here the ride is 17 kms. Follow the signs for Rhein Route 2.
Boat Cruises from Schaffhausen to Stein am Rhein: If you prefer to take a boat rather than cycle, there are cruises that do the round trip from Schaffhausen to Stein am Rhein (and beyond to Lake Constance). If you only want to cycle one way, you can bring your bike onboard the boat for a fee.
- Boat cruises are included in the SWISS TRAVEL PASS. Here is a trusted, leading retailer where you can BUY A SWISS TRAVEL PASS.
Information was correct at the time of publishing, but can change without notice.