Schaffhausen is a charming destination in north-eastern Switzerland. The medieval Swiss town (with the same name as its canton) is rich in architectural and decorative detail, as well as history and culture.
Those who wander around this attractive town will be delighted by the painted frescoes and original oriel windows, proudly displayed for all to see.
The stately Munot castle overlooks the town, and is notable for its unusual circular shape as well as the hill it stands on, which is planted with grapevines.
Schaffhausen is located on the banks of the mighty Rhine, and the entire canton is a popular holiday and day trip destination.
In Schaffhausen, things to do include discovering Munot fortress or the All Saints Monastery, exploring the Old Town, cruising the river, seeing the spectacular Rhine Falls area or taking a trip to Stein am Rhein.
If you’re tempted to add the Schaffhausen area to your Swiss itinerary, then this guide should help you plan your trip.
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Where is Schaffhausen?
The canton of Schaffhausen is the most northerly canton of Switzerland and is situated along the German border. It forms part of the Upper Rhine region, and the principal town bears the same name as the canton. This guide covers both the town and the attractions of the canton.
Positioned between Lake Constance and the Black Forest, both canton and town have much to offer visitors.
From the picturesque Old Town and imposing Munot castle to the winemaking regions, the area was first settled due to the fact that the Rhine Falls could not be navigated by boat. This first caused merchants to unload and store their items in this part of northernmost Switzerland.
Schaffhausen is characterised by the waters of the River Rhine and Falls and the hilly, fertile landscapes that create the perfect conditions for winemaking. It’s a great place for those who love to sail, sample wine, walk, discover history or cycle.
Top things to do in Schaffhausen
If you’re wondering what to do in Schaffhausen, this list of the top 10 things to do in Schaffhausen, Switzerland should provide you with a little inspiration.
Medieval Old Town
When planning your list of what to see in Schaffhausen, the Old Town (Altstadt Schaffhausen) should be top of your list. It is one of the best places to visit in Schaffhausen thanks to its twisting network of winding alleys and beautiful buildings with extravagantly decorated facades and frescoes.
It’s here that you will also see Schaffhausen’s 171 original oriel windows – the most in any town in Switzerland – so don’t forget to look up when you’re wandering along the car-free lanes.
The windows were once a status symbol as they added additional living space to a house but at great expense.
The Old Town is rich in Gothic and Baroque architecture and as well as the oriel windows, other highlights include intricate merchant’s homes, lavish guild houses, pastel painted buildings, numerous fountains and St. Johann church, which dates back to around the year 1000 AD.
Also worth a visit is the Fronwag Tower (Fronwagturm) which features an astronomical clock with ten different functions. It can be found in Fronwagplatz, a traffic-free square in the heart of the Old Town where locals meet to shop and socialise at one of the many cafes and restaurants.
Guided tours of the Old Town are available during the summer, including evening tours with a night watchman. Check at the Tourist Office for details.
Visitors cannot possibly miss Munot castle – not least because of its dominant position atop a hill that looms over the skyline. The fortress can be seen from many miles away, and also offers sweeping views over the surrounding landscape.
The climb up to the fortress – via the steps that pass the vineyards on the hill – is also a memorable experience. Upon reaching the top you are rewarded with incredible views of the city and the Rhine.
The Schaffhausen castle, which is circular in shape, was built during the 16th century, and at 9pm each evening the bell still tolls over the town. Rung by the resident Munot guard, the bell is rung for five minutes and was originally used to alert local innkeepers to shut up shop for the day.
All Saints’ Monastery
Locally known as the Kloster Allerheiligen, All Saints’ Monastery has Benedictine origins and includes Switzerland’s largest cloister – partly Romanesque and partly Gothic in style – plus a grandiose minster and a fragrant herb garden.
The Minster Church dates back to 1090 when the first foundations were laid. After being consecrated in 1106, the cathedral tower was added around 1150. The Cathedral is the most original Romanesque church in Switzerland.
The monastery is also home to All Saints’ Museum which houses a range of permanent and temporary exhibitions.
As Europe’s biggest waterfall, Rhine Falls are a pretty impressive sight. To visit the falls is not just to witness the spectacle of the waters tumbling down, but also to feel the vibrations of this force of nature and hear the crashing yet soothing sound.
There are several ways to experience the Rhine Falls in Schaffhausen canton. A boat trip is a must for many visitors as it provides the opportunity to cruise the famous river while seeing, hearing and feeling the falls in action.
Popular boat trips at the Rhine Falls include:
The panoramic Belvedere Trail is also popular with those who wish to walk to the falls, and this can be accessed via the Schloss Laufen visitor complex.
You can read our detailed guide to visiting the Rhine Falls > here.
Laufen Castle at Rhine Falls
Laufen Castle – or Schloss Laufen – occupies a lofty position above the thundering Rhine Falls. With several great halls and a ballroom, it is in regular use as a wedding and special events venue.
The castle is a Swiss site of national significance and now serves as a ticket office and gift shop for the Rhine Falls. It is also home to a restaurant which offers refined culinary experiences.
Smilestones Miniature World
Close to Rhine Falls and Laufen Castle is Smilestones, an indoor miniature model containing some of Switzerland’s most iconic sights. The creation features 550 buildings, the Matterhorn, 23,000 tiny people, Rhine Falls and well over a kilometre of railway line.
Smilestones is Switzerland’s largest indoor model world, and the attention to detail seen in the recreation of landscapes, nature and street scenes is incredible.
This is one of the finest family attractions in the canton of Schaffhausen. > Click here to check prices and buy your tickets.
Boat trip from Schaffhausen to Stein am Rhein
Taking a river trip between Stein am Rhein and Schaffhausen can be one of the highlights of a holiday in Switzerland.
This scenic journey by water takes visitors through the picturesque Upper Rhine region, and allows each to experience local culture, flora, fauna and food.
Travelling from Stein am Rhein to Schaffhausen – or vice versa – involves passing over the bridge in Diessenhofen, passing pretty villages and the countryside on the banks of the river.
Boat trippers can also enjoy cruising lower Lake Constance.
Visit Stein am Rhein
The beautiful town of Stein am Rhein sits close to where the Rhine and Lake Constance meet. It has an ancient fortress – Hohenklingen Castle – dating from the early 13th century, and a medieval monastery, as well as an incredibly picturesque town centre.
Entry to the town centre is via one of the two medieval town gates which still stand. Known as Obertor and Untertor, they once formed part of the town walls and are richly decorated.
With even more magnificently decorated buildings than Schaffhausen, strolling down Stein am Rhein’s car-free main street really is likely stepping into a fairytale. The village centre is lined with fresco-bedecked and half-timbered houses that just beg to be photographed.
Keeping a watchful eye over the town since 1200 is Hohenklingen Castle. Once used to protect the town and the monastery, today the castle is open for events and functions. Visitors can also enjoy a meal in the restaurant.
Perched on the bank of the Rhine, St. Georgen Monastery, a former Benedictine abbey, is one of the best preserved monastery complexes in Switzerland. Numerous rooms can be visited including the so-called ballroom which features wall frescoes dating back to the early 1500s.
At the interesting Lindwurm Museum visitors can see how a Swiss middle class family lived in the mid-19th century. The museum is housed in an elegant building and each room provides an insight into daily life in 1850. There are also activities for children to enjoy in the special playroom.
Schaffhausen canton’s oldest church is also located in Stein am Rhein, in the form of St. John the Baptist that was constructed in the third century.
Stein am Rhein also has a tree-lined riverside promenade and a miniature steam train, and is well-known for its Christmas Market.
Museum of watchmaker IWC Schaffhausen
No country is more famous for timepieces than Switzerland, making a visit to the IWC headquarters a fascinating prospect.
This notable building right by the Rhine in Schaffhausen now houses a museum, where guests can delve into 150 years of watchmaking history.
Display cabinets with built-in lighting showcase a range of exhibits. You can also witness a multimedia presentation and check out the family trees of some of the world’s most renowned horologists here.
Adventure Park Rheinfall
To experience an adrenaline rush while admiring the scenic Swiss landscape, Adventure Park Rheinfall is a must. With breathtaking views over the Rhine Falls, this rope park has over 150 obstacles to overcome.
The kids’ area is suitable for children aged from four to seven. There are 14 obstacle courses in all, as well as a 13 metre free fall, a giant pendulum, a 460 metre cable car ride known as the ‘Panorama Express’ and various jumps.
As safety harnesses and carabiners are in use, this is a stress-free way to enjoy a thrilling ride over some beautiful sights.
Must try in Schaffhausen
Don’t leave Schaffhausen without trying the local Schaffhauserzungen. Literally translated as Schaffhauser tongues, this culinary delight should please any sweet-toothed travellers. The treat comprises an oval almond and hazelnut biscuit containing a buttercream filling.
First created in 1886, the original Schaffhauser zungen is made only by Schaffhauser Confiserie Reber, a protected Swiss brand.
The origins of the name are uncertain – it could be down to the oval, slightly tongue-like shape or the fact that the treat simply ‘melts on the tongue’.
If you prefer savoury over sweet, be sure to try Bölletünne, an onion tart that is a specialty of the region. This quiche-like dish can be found on most local menus.
Visitors to Schaffhausen should also sample the local wines. The area is well known for its quality wine production and whilst there are both red and white grape varieties grown, pinot noir is the dominant variety.
Around 28 hectares of vines are grown around Schaffhausen and nearby Reiat, continuing a local tradition that stretches back to the Middle Ages.
There are numerous wine experiences that can be enjoyed in the region and the local wines can be savoured at the many local restaurants.
How to get to Schaffhausen
Schaffhausen is easy to reach from various Swiss destinations, either by rail or by road. From Zurich, it takes around 40 minutes by car, or about 50 minutes by train, to reach the town.
It’s also simple to get to Schaffhausen from Bern, and the journey by train takes around 2 hours or 1 hour 45 minutes by car. From Basel the trip will take about an hour by rail or an hour and 20 minutes by road.
You can also take an organised day trip to Schaffhausen canton from Zurich. Typically such trips will focus on key sights such as Rhine Falls and Stein am Rhein as well as the town of Schaffhausen.
Travel times between Schaffhausen and Zurich, Bern or Basel
- Zurich to Schaffhausen – Travel time by car 0:40h / Travel time by train 0:50h
- Basel to Schaffhausen – Travel time by car 1:00h / Travel time by train 1:20h
- Bern to Schaffhausen – Travel time by car 1:45h / Travel time by train 2:00h
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Where to stay in Schaffhausen
This Schaffhausen hotel is in an incredibly convenient location for those travelling through Switzerland by rail, as it’s right opposite the train station – or Bahnhof Schaffhausen. The Old Town and river are around 200 metres away.
There is free WiFi throughout and the single, twin, triple and family rooms have flatscreen TVs and air-conditioning. At the property there is also a lounge, gym and cycle storage facilities.
Sorell Hotel Ruden – 3*
The hotel Rüden in Schaffhausen is a three star property. Of all hotels in Schaffhausen, this is one of the most historic, as the elegant building dates back to the 1500s and 1600s. A range of en-suite rooms can accommodate up to four guests, and feature WiFi, hairdryers, TV and radio.
This is a very clean Sorell Schaffhausen property offering a delicious buffet breakfast, located just five minutes’ walk from the train station and within the Old Town area.
Weather in Schaffhausen
What about the weather? Schaffhausen has a typical European climate, with summer highs of up to 25°C and winter lows of -2°C. The coldest months are December, January and February, while June, July and August are generally the warmest.
Rainfall levels do not vary much throughout the year, with the average rainy days per month ranging between six and eleven days. July and August tend to be slightly wetter than the other months, when around eleven days of rain can be expected.
If you’ve been considering what to do in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, we hope this guide has helped to answer your questions. Both the town and the canton have plenty to offer, including a mild climate and fine wines as well as history, culture and the mighty falls and river of the Rhine region.
In Schaffhausen you can explore the Old Town, ancient castles and a Benedictine monastery. You can also sample the sweet delight of Schaffhauser zungen, a local delicacy, see sprawling vineyards parade across the hilly landscape or simply spend some quality time in Stein am Rhein.
Whether you delve deeper into horological history, marvel at a miniature village, cruise the river or take a thrilling ride over the Rhine Falls, there is lots to discover in this most northerly part of Switzerland.
Enjoy your visit. 😃
To read our full guide to Eastern Switzerland Region, > click here.