Have you ever been to St Gallen and Appenzell? If you happen to be in East Switzerland, these two places should definitely be in your list!
This weekend itinerary is a great combination allowing you to discover Swiss cultural heritage while embarking on hiking adventures up in the alpine mountain pastures. In this blogpost, I’ve rounded 10 ideas for your trip!
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1. The Abbey and Abbey Cathedral of St Gall
You can’t come to St Gallen and not visit the famed Abbey of Saint Gall! (Abbey: A monastery occupied by monks or nuns). It’s the must see highlight of the city. And even if it’s the one single place you visit, that already makes it well worth the trip!
An outstanding example of a large Carolingian monastery, the Abbey of Saint Gall was formerly one of the most important cultural centres in Europe. Together with the Cathedral and Abbey Library, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982.
When you’re at the abbey, head into the stunningly beautiful cathedral. Its interior exemplifies Baroque decor, characterised by magnificence, grandeur, richness and design in scale. And unlike other cathedrals which are usually dark and sombre inside, I very much preferred its lighter and brighter eau de nil colour scheme.
Take some time to stroll around and admire the sprawling ceiling paintings, the wood carvings on the confessionals and the altar built of signed stones. It takes you back to a time when artisans were artists and nothing was too much trouble when decorating a holy place.
TIP: Hidden down in the south east corner of the abbey is a small courtyard garden with a circular fountain, which I think many people tend to miss out! A quiet area to retreat from the crowds.
2. The Abbey Library of St Gall
Stepping foot into this library is a serious dream come true for a bookworm like me.
With the sound of creaking wooden floors, the musty smell of old books, classic paintings all around and peaceful lighting…the Abbey Library of St Gall brings you back into the time of the 7th century, and gives a possible inkling on how a Hogwarts library would look like in real life!
This beautiful rocco library is one of the oldest in the world, and is a living record of 12 centuries of intellectual endeavour. It also boasts a collection of 170,000 books, including original early medieval manuscripts of more than 1,000 years old!
Other rare and fascinating objects we saw were the the big terrestrial and celestial globe (1571) and the 2,700 year old Egyptian mummy Shepenese.
Things to note:
- Entrance is worth 18CHF for adults (there’s discounts for students, children and big groups of 10 people and above)
- You’re not allowed to bring in a bag, but you can leave it in a locker for free
- Before entering, you have to put on felt slippers on your shoes, to protect the floor and the parquet wood flooring!
- Photography is strictly prohibited (as the old manuscripts and books are sensitive to light). There are staff who supervise and check on un-cooperative people, so it’s probably best not to try your luck!
- Since 1997, the Abbey Library has been electronically recording their books so you can view them online.
3. Textile Museum
Learn more about St Gallen’s rich tapestry of textile history in this musuem. In the past, St Gallen used to be a textile powerhouse, with Eastern Switzerland being one of the world’s largest regions for embroidery. In fact, more than half of the world’s production came from Eastern Switzerland around 1910, and embroidery was the largest export sector of the Swiss economy, even before watches or chocolates!
We saw some beautiful exhibits, from samples of machine-manufactured lace and embroidery to historic clothing worn by royalty, and an outstanding textile library that is on permanent display.
I was most fascinated with this gigantic hand embroidery machine on live demonstration! It’s all thanks to the introduction of machinery like this one contributed to the meteoric rise of the region’s textile industry.
There is also a current temporary exhibition featuring women, power and politics in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of voting rights for women in Switzerland. You can find out more about it here
The drawback was that there were no signs in English, and hence i could not understand most of the information of the exhibits. I think having an audio guide or more translations available would definitely help international visitors!
4. Oriel Windows in St Gallen Old Town
During your stay in Saint Gallen, take a stroll along the cobbled streets of the Old Town and admire the beautiful architecture.
You will notice immediately many burgher houses with colourfully painted oriel windows! These are windows with a story. Back in the hey-days of the textile industry during the 16th-18th century, the rich textile merchants in St Gallen had commissioned for their buildings to be decorated with exotic motifs, as a grand display of their wealth. Think of it as the status symbol of the day!
There are altogether 111 oriel windows in the Old Town, I had fun just wandering around and picking out my favourite ones!
5. Red Square
Here at Switzerland’s first public lounge, you will find a Porsche, huge sofas, and a giant vase…all covered in a bright red carpet of plastic granulate!
It all started with a design competition. With the Raiffeisenbank newly built in the area back then, the city planners were seeking out new ideas to re-create and inject new life into St. Gallen’s solemn financial district.
The idea of a Red Square was conceptualised by multimedia artist Pipilotti Rist together with the architect Carlos Martinez, whohad in mind a creative space for people to mingle, play and relax.
We were there chilling just after lunch, and saw many students and families with young children either hanging out or playing by the water fountains. Welcome to St Gallen’s public living room!
6. Peter and Paul Wildlife Park
Just 5km away by bus from Saint Gallen, this wildlife park spreads on top of the hill in a forest with a beautiful panoramic view of the Constance (Bodensee) lake.
Kids will definitely enjoy this space since there are large enclosures with different alpine inhabitants from deer, boars, marmots ato bush cats, and you can watch them from up close (if they are not sleeping or hiding!)
The alpine region of Appenzell is a great daytrip option when you are in Saint Gallen, asit is just 40 minutes away by train. The region is actually divided into two smaller cantons, as a result of the Swiss Reformation in 1597: One is called the Appenzell Innerrhoden and the other, Appenzell Ausserrhoden.
(For our trip this time, we visited places in the first canton.)
7. Alpine Descent
Known as the Désalpes (in French) or Alpabfahrt (in German), the alpine descent is a much-celebrated event amongst the mountainous regions of Switzerland. After spending a long summer grazing high up in the alpine pastures, the happy Swiss cows finally make their return to the valleys in anticipation of the cold winter months ahead
The cattle adorn floral crowns and the biggest, fanciest bells around their necks. Led by cowherds and children dressed in embroidered traditional jackets and dresses, they come down from the mountains to the village streets and receive a triumphant welcome by the people in the form of a colourful parade!
This is one of the most unique Swiss mountain festivities and it felt so meaningful to witness this colorful living custom in Appenzell! If there’s one Swiss tradition that you have to see at least once in your lifetime, it has to be this!
8. Appenzell Landsgemeindeplatz
When you’re in Appenzell, make sure to come to this historic square. It might like another ordinary carpark, but something extraordinary takes place in this very square every year.
On the last Sunday in April, eligible voters of Appenzell Innerhoden gather here for the tLandsgemeinde (“open-air assembly“), to make decisions on the election of cantonal authorities and parliamentary business. And nope, not by the normal way with secret ballot slips…but by raising your hands (and even swords!)
That’s something I’d never expected from such a tiny alpine canton, where the most direct form of democracy is still being practised to this day! The question I have in my head though…how do they count the votes?
One of the most popular hike options when in Eastern Switzerland: Visiting the famous Aescher guesthouse perched stunningly (or dangerously) next to a cliff!
From Saint Gallen, take a 1 hour train ride to Wasserauen. From there transfer by cablecart o Ebenalp (1644 m), and in about 15 minutes on foot you first cross a charming landscape, then passing two caves to Wildkirchli which clings dramatically to the rocks.
Once you are out of the cave, walk down for a further 5 minutes and you will see the stunning guesthouse nestled magnificent against the cliff face. This is also where I took this stunning Reel!
The Berggahau Aescher is one of the oldest guesthouse in Switzerland. It was featured 7 years ago by Hufftington Post as one of the 5 most interesting restaurants in the world, and later graced the covers of the Natonal Geographic’s “Destination of a Lifetime” special! With so much buzz over this place, no wonder it was hard for us to even find a seat during lunch!
From the guesthouse, you can choose to hike down to Seealpsee lake, which takes about 1.5 hours. The trail down is a bit steep, but manageable. You might want to bring along hiking sticks for support.
Alternatively, you can continue your ascent upwards to the imposing Schäfler ridges.
10. Appenzell Show Dairy
Mention Appenzell, and the first reaction tends to be: “Oh, like where the cheese comes from…?” YES. Appenzeller Cheese is possibly the most well-known product from the two half canton, and very much loved by all the Swiss!
We went to the Appenzell Show Dairy to uncover the craftsmanship behind the Appenzeller cheesemaking.
Once you’ve paid for your tickets, you will receive a small degustation pack of Appenzeller cheese samples shown below to taste along the way.
The tour starts with tan exhibition area depicting the history and culture of cheese making in the Appenzeller region. Head up towards the viewing platform, where you can witness the actual cheese making production in live action through the glass windows. This totally reminds me of my previous cheese-factory visit in Gruyères!
Appenzeller cheese is known for its distinct spicy, tangy taste, which is derived by rubbing in a herbal brine at regular intervals. The composition of the herbal brine remains a trade secret to this day.
There’s also a little corner displaying how the Appenzeller Cheese ads had evolved over the years. The current campaign featuring various Appenzell herdsmen and children with their fingers pressed across their lips mysteriously are my favourite. You’ll find them in train stations, bus stops…they are instantly recognisable all around Switzerland!
The most fun part of the tour was the spice grinding station. Get your hands busy mixing local spices used in making the Appenzeller cheese, fill them in a little sachet and bring them back home! Even if you can’t bring back the secret hebal brine recipe, well at least you get the spices 🙂
And of course you can’t leave a cheese factory without getting some cheese in that belly!
Our picks: Try the special Fondue with secret ingredients (with lots of potatoes and pickles on the side!) the cheese pasta, and finish off with the sweet Berescholorzifladä tart with cream!
Prices: 12 CHF for adults, 7 CHF for children, 11 CHF for seniors and students, 28 CHF for families
Opens daily from 9.00 am – 5.00 pm (except Christmas Day)
Cheesemaking: Daily until 3pm
Where to Eat in St Gallen
Gaststuben zum Schlossli
A former feudal estate of an old St.Gallen family, this restaurant has a deep heritage tied intrinsically with the Saint Gallen’s past.
It’s rare to find a restaurant that pays close attention to regionality and seasonality of ingredients, and this Schlossli did just that. We had a delicious meal comprising local St.Gallen specialities and choice wines specially selected from Eastern Switzerland.
For us, it wasn’t just about the food, but also the beautiful restaurant settings. Pay attention to the magnificent dining rooms, each dating back to 500 years ago! Inside you will find original wall paintings of saints, a mural of Noah’s ark, beautiful chandeliers and candleholders made from original murano glass. The whole experience was akin to dining inside a rich ancient castle.
The staff are also polite, engaging and attentive despite all of the new regulations and mask wearing, I cannot complement the team here highly enough.
Prices are steeper here, but the haut cuisine, the ambiance, the quality…they justify every single penny. This is my top dining recommendation for you when in Saint Gallen.
Bratwurst und Bowls
This casual joint serves up its menu with a local twist: by combining it healthy poké bowls with St Gallen’s bratwurst sausages!
They have a create-your-own poke selection, but you can also choose from its standard choices.I had the uhh-mami bowl, with huge chunks of salmon coated in sweet soy sauce accompanied by fresh avocado, roasted seasame seeds, green onion and coriander.
Hop to the adjoining counter and get your sinful curry wurst!
Relaxing café by day, The Pinch moonlights as a bar and restaurant by night. In a city like St Gallen with such deep cultural heritage, this place is definitely one of the younger, hipster places around.
What really stood out here was their diverse international menu: traversing korean bibimpbap, soupy japanese ramens, to US southern fried chicken!
Where to Stay in St Gallen
Our accommodation for the week-end was at Einstein St Gallen, an elegant four-star business hotel with congress facilities. It is located just a stone’s throw away from the Cathedral and Abbey Library, making it an excellent base location.
We wasted no time in making use of the hotel’s facilities including a beautiful glass-bottom pool for a relaxing swim and some time spent in the indoor spa. If you are looking for a fancy dinner option, check out the Einstein Gourmet, which is another top restaurant in St Gallen worth 2 Michelin stars!
This post is part of my Grand Tour of Switzerland series. If you’d enjoyed this post, check out my other Swiss itineraries!
I also share everything about myself and Swiss travels on Instagram, so be sure to follow along there!
Until next time!