Located close to Lake Constance in the east of the country, St. Gallen in Switzerland enjoys a picturesque rural setting. Packed full of fascinating places, the are lots of interesting things to do in St. Gallen (known as Sankt Gallen in German).
St. Gallen tourism centres on the historic, cultural and foodie attractions of the area. The Abbey of St. Gall is one of the most famous sights, and is home to the library of St. Gallen as well as the Baroque cathedral.
This library houses a huge range of documents that are over 1,000 years old, and also has one of the most handsome Rococo halls. In fact St. Gallen is named for Gallus, a monk from Ireland who settled here early in the 7th century.
During a stay in St. Gallen, visitors can also learn about the city’s important place in the history of textile production, sample local food and drinks, explore the Old Town (Altstadt St Gallen) or discover the unspoiled Swiss countryside surrounding the city.
Other local attractions include the outdoor lounge at Red Square, a thriving theatre scene and an art nouveau swimming pool that’s popular during the summer months, not least for the stunning views over town it offers.
Things to do in St. Gallen in winter, meanwhile, include the seasonal St. Gallen Christmas market and a beautiful light display.
This guide will share all you need to know when planning your visit. From a St. Gallen walking tour and a visit to the Abbey Library of St. Gall to finding a great St. Gallen hotel and the weather in St. Gallen, read on to discover all this plus the many fantastic things to do in St. Gallen.
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Where is St. Gallen?
St. Gallen is the capital of the Swiss canton of the same name, and is located in eastern Switzerland. Sometimes the city is referred to by the shorter, historic name of St. Gall, or even its German moniker Sankt Gallen.
It’s the biggest city in the east of Switzerland and the eighth largest city in the country.
St. Gallen makes a great base for those who want to explore Appenzellerland or the Lake Constance area. This historic university city is abundant in amenities and attractions, and is set among the idyllic Swiss countryside.
Being only an hour’s drive from Zurich airport, it’s also an easy destination to reach. The city is also convenient for visiting the neighbouring countries of Liechtenstein, Germany and Austria.
Top things to do in St. Gallen
Discover the St. Gall Abbey district
The St. Gall Abbey is home to so much more than just a monastery. Here you’ll also find one of the oldest libraries in Switzerland, a grand Rococo hall and the historic city cathedral. In 1983, the complex became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A highlight of any visit to the complex is the stunning library and vaulted cellar where you can see more than 170,000 documents that are over 1,000 years old.
This library is the third oldest in the world. Some of the books and papers stored at St. Gall library are hand-written, and a magnificent Rococo hall can also be found here.
The Abbey library and vaulted cellar are open daily from 10am to 5pm.
The Roman Catholic Collegiate Church (or Stiftskirche) of St. Gall (or Gallus) and Otmar is a splendid structure that was completed in 1767. As with the abbey, architect Peter Thumb was the man behind its design.
It’s a stunning example of Baroque architecture, with a pale grey facade and artistic decorative flourishes.
You can easily spend a couple of hours wandering the Abbey district and visiting the various buildings.
Entry costs around CHF 18 per adult.
Explore the Old Town of St. Gallen
Another place in St. Gallen where interested visitors can admire the beautiful architecture is the Old Town.
This part of the city (which includes the Abbey district) also demonstrates the wealth that was generated in the region due to its previous position at the heart of the local textile industry.
You can take a guided walking tour or embark on a self-guided walk to explore every hidden corner of the Old Town.
Making your own way is one of the top free things to do in St. Gallen, or book an affordable guided tour to benefit from the insider’s perspective of a local expert. > Click here for prices and details.
Book your guided walking tour by clicking the image below:
See the striking Red Square
It may not be the most famous Red Square in the world, but a visit to the one in St. Gallen is also very worthwhile.
Located in the Bleicheli district, just a few minutes’ walk from the Old Town, it was created to provide locals and visitors with a spacious outdoor lounge area.
It’s a place that really does need to be seen with your own eyes.
The square is incredibly striking, as it’s covered in a carpet of scarlet rubber granulate. St. Gallen’s outdoor lounge is also illuminated at night by means of large, round boulders that seem to float over this part of the city.
All the outdoor seating and tables here are also coated in rubbery red plastic.
Stroll up to the Three Ponds for a swim, sauna or the city’s best views
It takes around half an hour to wander from central St. Gallen to the trio of ponds overlooking the city. En route you’ll witness breathtaking views over Lake Constance, and pass the 17th century Capuchin convent.
If you’re not keen on walking, or don’t have the time, a funicular whisks passengers from the Old Town to the St. Georgen district, from where it’s just a five minute walk to the Three Ponds.
The Mühleggbahn funicular runs continually throughout the day with the journey taking just 90 seconds! Fares cost around CHF 2.40 per adult one way.
The Three Ponds were originally created four centuries ago for water storage, but people have been bathing in the waters since at least the early 1700s. In keeping with the tradition of the time, there were separate pools for men and women.
Local legend has it that the monk Gallus fell among the thorny shrubbery here, and saw this as a message from the Almighty. As a result, he formed the hermitage that was the first step in the city’s development.
Today, the ponds attract locals and visitors who come to swim or relax in the beautiful surroundings which also feature historical Art Nouveau wooden buildings, a reminder of St. Gallen’s important textile past.
Shop at the magical St. Gallen Christmas Market
If you visit between the end of November and early January, you can browse the many wares sold at St. Gallen Christmas Market. It makes a glorious, stress-free setting for a shopping trip, and you can pick up unique items not found anywhere else.
During the festive season you can also admire the illuminations that brighten up the Old Town, turning St. Gallen into the twinkling ‘City of 700 Stars’.
Local specialties to sample in St. Gallen
When it comes to the St. Gallen food and drinks scene, it’s all about the ‘4 B’s’. These are bratwurst, beer, bread and biber.
A fifth ‘B’ also exists in the form of the beizlis dotted around town, which are cosy, first floor restaurants housed in historic Swiss buildings.
One restaurant worth trying is Alpäglöggli, located on Schmiedgasse, which serves local specialties like the tasty Chnöpfli dish pictured below.
Bratwurst is a St. Gallen sausage that’s unusually white in colour. This is down to the milk content. Meat-wise, it’s typically made using pork and at least 50% veal.
The sausage is unsmoked, and once cooked is an appetising shade of golden brown.
Locally, bratwurst is eaten without mustard, as this is thought to impair the flavour. It first appeared during the 15th century and was formerly known as the Olma sausage.
Bratwurst is consumed throughout Switzerland, but is particularly popular in St. Gallen. It’s often eaten with the local bürli bread.
Bürli is a regional bread that’s perennially popular in this part of Switzerland. It’s often served with bratwurst. These sourdough rolls have a crispy crust and a soft, yielding centre.
Recipes vary, but typically contain rye flour as well as wheat flour and sea salt. Caraway, poppy and sesame seeds are sometimes added.
Beer has been brewed in St. Gallen since the start of the 9th century. Today there are several craft breweries in the city which are the perfect place to try local beers.
One example is Brauerei Schützengarten. This dates from 1779 and is thus the oldest Swiss brewery. Its beers have won various awards and it’s one of the most technologically advanced breweries in the country.
It also houses a beer bottle museum where you can see more than 3000 beer bottles from 260 different Swiss breweries.
Schützengarten’s Klosterbraü is one particularly popular beer.
Also known as biberli, these are locally baked gingerbread cookies containing honey and nuts. This St. Gallen speciality also has an almond paste filling, like marzipan.
You can buy these from local bakeries or cafes, or the Christmas market.
How to spend one day in St. Gallen
If you only have one day to spend in the city, use it wisely! This is a suggested one day itinerary for St. Gallen.
Sip a great blend at a local coffee shop
Enjoying a hot beverage in one of the characterful local coffee shops is a must for caffeine fans. You can also find one of the oldest coffee bean roasteries in Switzerland in St. Gallen.
Tour the Abbey District
Allow at least two hours to take in St. Gall Abbey, including the Baroque cathedral and the magnificent library. Don’t miss the ancient handwritten documents and the Rococo hall here.
Savour Olma sausage for lunch
Seek out a low-ceilinged, first floor beizli if you can to sample the local bratwurst. For an authentic experience, hold the mustard and make sure you eat it with a locally baked bürli bread roll.
Wander the Old Town and Red Square, and walk up to 3 Ponds
Simply wandering the streets of St. Gallen is guaranteed to uncover all sorts of hidden treasures.
While you’re there, don’t miss the colourful oriel windows in the traffic-free Old Town – and take a rest break on Red Square, the city’s outdoor lounge.
Complete your day of exploration by heading up to the 3 Ponds via Capuchin convent, the Mühlegg funicular station and Mühlebach gorge.
You can also take in stunning vistas of Lake Constance en route – and a dip in the bathing ponds during summer.
Attend a local beer or wine tasting
While the St. Gallen breweries will appeal most to beer fans, the city is also a great place for wine connoisseurs.
Wines from the vineyards perched above Lake Constance are crafted from over 20 varieties of grape. Each blend reflects the Rhine Valley location in its own unique way.
Day trips from St. Gallen
There are a number of great day trips from St. Gallen you can take – each exploring a different part of this glorious area. Here are some suggestions.
Lake Constance (Bodensee)
The town of Rorschach on the southern shores of Lake Constance takes just 20 minutes by car to reach from St. Gallen – or an even speedier 10 minutes by train.
For exploring on two wheels, the Lake Constance Cycle Path is also popular. Or why not hop aboard a cruise ship for a relaxing cruise to the German port town of Lindau?
The Rhine Valley is world-famous for its wine-making heritage, and you can also explore the areas along the banks of the mighty river.
Activities to enjoy in this area include wine tasting or taking to the walking and cycle paths alongside the Rhine.
If you like, you can even cross the Rhine into Austria or Liechtenstein. When visiting the latter, you can even get a stamp in your passport when passing through Vaduz.
Abundant in fertile rural landscapes dotted with charming Swiss villages, Appenzellerland has an understated beauty and a long tradition of agriculture. Mount Santis is also a big draw in this area.
Taking a hike to the ‘restaurant in the rock’ – aka Mountain Inn Aescher-Wildkirchli– is also a great idea when visiting the region between October and April.
Seeing the traditional wooden Swiss chalet nestled into the rock-face is truly memorable, and the mountain views from within are spectacular.
The Chocolarium at Flawil
The quality of Swiss chocolate is renowned worldwide, and sampling some during a holiday here is a quintessential experience.
At ‘The Chocolate Factory of Happiness’ in Flawil, visitors can learn about, taste and buy chocolate via a cinema, classes, tours, a cafe and a shop.
For kids and grown-ups alike, this is a really hands-on version of a museum in St. Gallen. Find out more about the Chocolarium in this podcast episode.
How to get to St. Gallen
It’s pretty easy to reach St. Gallen from other places in Switzerland, as well as Munich in Germany.
Zurich to St. Gallen
It only takes around an hour to drive from the airport or city of Zurich to St. Gallen. Alternatively, the train or bus trip takes about an hour and 15 minutes.
If there are a few people in your travelling party, a private transfer from Zurich airport to St. Gallen can be a convenient and cost-effective way to travel.
Munich to St. Gallen
From Munich, a road trip to St. Gallen will typically take around two hours and 15 minutes. The train takes slightly longer – about two hours and 40 minutes. A bus journey will take closer to three hours.
Travel times from Lucerne, Bern and Basel to St. Gallen
Lucerne to St. Gallen: Car 1h:30; Train 2h:15; Bus 1h:50
Basel to St. Gallen: Car 1h:45; Train 2h:12; Bus 2h:45
Bern to St. Gallen: Car 2h:05; Train 2h:20; Bus 2h:45
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Where to stay in St. Gallen
Our recommended hotels in St. Gallen comprise three properties. Between them they offer city centre and more rural accommodation, with all the creature comforts you could wish for.
Einstein St. Gallen – 4*
Hotel Einstein in St. Gallen can be found in the city’s beating heart. It’s a four star property with a luxurious finish. On site there is a bar, fine dining restaurant and a more casual bistro.
Other hotel amenities include a gym and spa with a steam bath and indoor pool.
Room types range from comfort and superior doubles to a range of junior suites. There is also a one bedroom apartment. Each is clean, comfortable and spacious, and has complimentary WiFi and a work desk.
Pets are also permitted at this property.
Hotel Santispark – 4*
Santispark St. Gallen is partnered with the Chocolarium in Flawil, and as such the property offers some chocolate-themed accommodation for guests to stay in.
The hotel is close to the city, with views to Mount Santis. Many rooms have balconies.
Santispark has Swiss and Italian restaurants plus a lounge bar. The spacious spa area here is a real plus, with facilities including kids’ adventure play equipment, a hot tub, a wave pool and much more.
Radisson Blu – 4*
The Radisson Blu in St. Gallen is another four star pick located ten minutes’ walk from the train station and Old Town. It’s a sleek, contemporary property with a sauna, a gym, a restaurant and even a casino.
Rooms here accommodate up to five guests in each and some have private balconies or terraces. All rooms are stylish in appearance and come equipped with cable TV, air conditioning, minibar and WiFi access.
Learn more about St. Gallen in our podcast
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Weather in St. Gallen
Compared to other Swiss destinations, St. Gallen has a very mild climate. There are generally no real extremes of temperature. Summers are warm rather than hot, and winters are cold, but the temperature rarely dips below zero degrees celsius (32°F) during the day.
The coldest months in St. Gallen are December, January and February. An average January overnight low would be -3°C (27°F), while the daytime high might reach about 3°C (37°F).
In summer (June, July and August), daytime highs tend to be between 20 and 22°C (68 to 72°F). The average minimum is around 13°C (55°F).
During spring and autumn, the highest temperatures during the day tend to range from around 6°C to 17°C (43 to 63°F). Even in November or March there are rarely overnight sub-zero lows.
Things to do in St. Gallen | Final Thoughts
Whether you’re a committed foodie, a history buff or an outdoor sort, there are plenty of fascinating things to do in the Swiss city of St. Gallen.
From a day trip to see the main sights to a stay of several days or more, there’s always lots of fun to be had.
With a mild climate, great day trips in the local area and good quality accommodation, St. Gallen’s historic, cultural and natural attractions are many.
If you like the sound of a place where you can taste wine, chocolate and local culinary specialities, see stunning architecture and enjoy the natural beauty of the Swiss countryside, why not start planning your trip to St. Gallen today?
SWITZERLAND TRAVEL ESSENTIALS
CAROLYN TO INSERT ST. GALLEN PODCAST EPISODE