Often dubbed as one of Switzerland’s most beautiful towns, Stein am Rhein is a visitor’s delight. Perched on the shores where the River Rhine meets Lake Constance, Stein am Rhein is oozing with picturesque charm. Just a smidge under 2.5 square miles (6 square kilometers), its distinct old world atmosphere has been perfectly preserved.
Located just about 35 miles (56 kilometers) from Zurich not far from the German Austrian border, Stein am Rhein is easily reached by train or car as a day trip or a weekend city break.
Experience Stein Am Rhein’s rich history
The history of this cozy waterfront town dates back to the 11th century when it started as a small fishing village. Eventually though, Stein am Rhein gained notoriety when Emperor Henry II strategically relocated Saint George’s Abbey due to its close proximity to the river. In almost no time at all, Stein am Rhein began to flourish. The monks of Saint George’s had huge entrepreneurial liberties including their own minting rights which helped transform the tiny fishing village into a bustling trade center.
The abbey seen today was rebuilt into a gothic style a few hundred years later in the 15th century. A few hundred years after that, it was bombed during the second World War, though it remained largely undamaged.
Stroll its charming old town
Half-timbered houses and medieval heritage buildings surrounded by quirky boutiques and quaint cafes, all perched along the River Rhein make it easy to see why it’s often voted as one of the best preserved places in the country.
One of Stein am’s best features is its ornate rathausplatz (town square) marked by its elaborate, flowery facade that frames the square. Centuries old hand painted frescoes splashed across jewel-toned and pastel 16th century homes make just a walk around the square feel like a fairytale.
Grandiose public fountains with intricate carvings and ornate sculptures that discharge pure drinking water add to the beauty of the whole setting. With multiple buildings designated as Swiss heritage sites of national significance, it is little wonder that the old town of Stein am Rhein received the very first Wakker Prize. The latter is awarded by the Swiss Heritage Society to a municipality of the country for its efforts in preserving historical buildings and architecture.
Benedectine history and renaissance art abounds at Saint George’s Abbey
Saint George’s Abbey with its intricate wooden carvings, hand painted frescoes, and serene cloister, make it worth an afternoon spent exploring. Stroll through the ornate festsaal (banquet hall) and you’ll see why Saint George’s isn’t just a pretty face, it’s also one of the best preserved monasteries in the country, and home to some of the finest examples of renaissance art in the northern alps. Afterward pay a visit to the preserved homes of the abbots and the still-in-tact 12th century church. Outside you’ll find romantic footpaths that lead through the still flourishing garden producing medicinal flowers and herbs all year round.
If after exploring the halls and holy areas of Saint George you’re still craving history, head to the Lindwurm Museum. Functioning as a retelling of how the town’s most respected families lived, Lindwurm is the best way to get an idea of what it was like to call Stein am Rhein home in its medieval heyday.
If you have time you could also take a peek into the 12th century village church or Stadtkirche as it is locally called or even walk across the Rhine Bridge that was originally built in stone in the mid 13th century. With the mighty Rhine flowing below, it is a great idea for some Instagram worthy pictures.
Experience pristine natural beauty at Rhine Falls
Europe’s largest, most powerful waterfall can be found near Stein am Rhein. Just 30 minutes by car, Rhine Falls straddles the Schaffhausen and Zürich cantons and is surrounded by impossibly jagged rocks and even a hilltop castle with more than 1,000 years of history. To really grasp the power of the falls and breathtaking scenery, the area is best explored by boat. Hop on a cruise for the afternoon and finish your excursion with dinner at the ever elegant Laufen Castle overlooking the falls.
Shop and eat
When in Stein am Rhein, you can shop for antiques, handicrafts, traditional Swiss artifacts and Knick knacks of various kinds. Zuckerbackerei Ermatinger’s Cafe Spath located in the town center offers a beautiful view of the frescoes and the fountains and you can enjoy some lovely coffee, cakes and pastries whilst here. If you want to savour a well cooked cordon bleu head over to restaurant Gutenberg. Most places also serve native specialities like raclette and fondue along with the finest wines of the region.
And if you are looking to stay one night in this beautiful town, Hotel Adler situated right on the Rathausplatz is a good bet.