Rhine Falls & Schaffhausen’s Old Town

posted on | updated on | by Zuri Girl

Despite the way the name of the city sounds, Schaffhausen does not mean “sheep houses” and is anything but a place for livestock. Although founded in the 1045, one of Switzerland’s most northern cities offers modern elegance with historical charm. It’s home to Europe’s biggest waterfall, The Rhine Falls, and was once the center of trade. Known for its fish, wine and water activities, Schaffhausen makes for a wonderful day trip any time of the year.

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Rhine Falls and promenade
Getting to Schaffhausen by train is an easy and comfortable, 40-minute direct ride from Zurich main train station to Schaffhausen’s main train station. Open farmland and industry don’t offer much of a view on the ride up, but when you arrive in Schaffhausen you are greeted by an incredible view of the Rhine Falls. For a personal view of the falls, take Bus line 1 just outside the train station, direction Neuhausen am Rheinfall and get out at Zentrum. While looking at the Migros, turn left and follow the signs for the 10-minute walk down to the viewing promenade. Half of the falls are in canton Zurich with the other half in canton Schaffhausen. While the falls act as a natural border today, the river bed has rerouted itself three times over the estimated 15,000 years it has existed. The product of glacial movement and melting, the river’s bed flowed through a large deposit of limestone. As the stone wore away, the more dense rock left behind formed the falls and the “island” we now see. When the water is really flowing, standing on this island means getting soaking wet! Not a bad idea in the Swiss summer heat.

Both cantons manage the area around the falls and the shops, restaurants and activities to do there. Some are open year-round, but the majority are open during high season, June-September. Schlössli Wörth, a fantastic restaurant with an impressive view of the falls and rainbow-colored playroom for the kids, was once the toll house during the heyday of Schaffhausen trade. The changes to trading that came with the Industrial Revolution paved the way for tourism and for the falls to become what they are today.

Boat tours with four different routes all starting near Schlössli Wörth offer the full experience of the falls or even a short trip down the river to Rheinau. Cruise around the falls’ basin or visit the central rock island and be prepared to get more than a little wet. These tours typically take place April-October with additional options in peak summer months. Overlooking the falls on the canton Zurich side is Schloss Laufen. This newly refurbished castle and history museum was once an oil painting school. You can still find plenty of artwork from the students of this school depicting their view of the falls. Nowadays Schloss Laufen has hiking trails, a panoramic elevator to the river and back to the hilltop, holds concerts, parties and a medieval market throughout the year. The easiest way to get to Schloss Laufen is to take a the five-minute train ride with the S33 over the Rhine River right before the falls start and get out at Schloss Laufen am Rheinfall.

In the surrounding recreation area there is fishing (obtain a license first), Adventure Park Rheinfall and rope course for all experience-levels, a playground, and hiking and cycling paths. A park and monument to Europe’s first industrial aluminium production plant lies north of the falls with a sculpture designed by Ernesto Hebeisen. Just after the park is a mill driven by the flow of the Rhine River that dates to 1052. A modern subterranean hydroelectric power plant next to the Rhine Falls produces some 40 million kWh of electrical energy per year. Some of this electricity goes to power the lights shining on the falls at night, creating an illuminated view of the rushing water. A special fireworks show is held over the falls on July 31 and is free to attend.

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Along the river
The part of the river that runs alongside the old town has walking paths, the Rhybadi for swimming in the river and access to several boat tours from Schaffhausen to Lake Constance or Stein am Rhein. The boat ride can take up to two hours when traveling against the current (1:10 with the current), but the good news you can always take the train one way and the boat the other. Just where the boats dock is the Gueterhof Restaurant. Considered “the in restaurant”, the Gueterhof is in an old warehouse where all the goods from arriving boats were stored during trade. They offer traditional foods and wines of the region alongside sushi. Try the Schaffhauser Rieslingsuppe mit Trauben (Riesling wine soup Schaffhausen style with grapes). The Kammgarn is a cultural center for music and modern art with a full program of events. IWC has their main office along the walk with a museum of their watches. On the hilltop you can spot the Munot Fortress. A watchkeeper still lives in the tower and rings the bell by hand at 9pm – curfew in former years and a reminder of former times today. The Children’s Festival and folk dancing take place on the battlements every summer.

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Walking through the old town
From the boat landing and Gueterhof, begin your walk through the traffic-free Old Town along the street Unterstadt. Our insider tip is that El Bertin Glace is the place to get a cold summer treat. Along the main streets of the old town you can count 171 bay windows. Known as the “medieval Television”, women used to sit and watch the activities on the streets below and all the exotic imports being moved through the streets. Just off the main streets is Mosergarten and public space where many open air events and markets take place. Fronwagplatz, where goods were once weighed and checked for value, is another cultural center of the Old Town. The astronomic clock in this plaza is from the 16th century and can tell you the moon position, sunrise and set, the current zodiac sign and of course the time. While strolling among the shops, tearooms, noblemen’s houses, guild halls, and restaurants, try to spot buildings with the inscription “Bombardiert am 1. April 1944”. These buildings were bombed during World War II as allies misidentified Schaffhausen as their target. An official tour of the Old Town will give you additional insights to life in this medieval city.

Like most historical towns in Europe, there is no shortage of religious buildings in the Old Town. The All Saints Abbey with cloister, founded in 1048, is the most original example of a Romanesque church in Switzerland. The monks that once lived here grew herbs in this wonderfully peaceful courtyard to make homeopathic medicines for the poor. Although in the middle of the Old Town, the serenity of the abbey is extremely soothing. Other buildings on the site house a history museum of Schaffhausen from the beginning until today and government offices. Art exhibitions are typical for the summer months and attract international guests. The nearby St. Johann church has just as much historical heritage and is now a concret church with a huge organ and numbered seating for guests. The Bach Festival held every three years is one of Schaffhausen’s most anticipated events.

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Expat life in Schaffhausen
Living as an expat in Schaffhausen is considered by many to be a very rewarding experience. Apartments are easy to find and are within close distance to the city and international schools. Schaffhausen is very family-minded and offers several sports clubs and meets-ups for the expat community. Their business center is ideal for meetings of 30-40 attendees and the area offers beautiful sights and tours for out-of-town guests.

We hope that you will visit Schaffhausen soon and discover all that the town has to offer. Tell us what you find by leaving a comment below. Zuri Girl loves a hot tip!

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Experience supported by Switzerland Tourism.

The site www.MySwitzerland.com provides excellent resources and holiday inspirations.

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Ashley_Set SailsWritten by Zuri Girl Ashley Ringger. Ashley regularly contributes fun and insightful articles about life in Switzerland. She might even know more about the country than her Swiss husband! Ashley splits her working life between an international school and Set Sails Media. In her spare time this California native likes to stay active by going to the gym, sewing, traveling, and cooking with/for friends. She also can’t say no to a good book.