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St. Gallen is a Swiss city south of Germany’s famous and beautiful Lake Constance. Some of you may already be familiar with St. Gallen (after all, there’s a university presence too), but others might have never heard of this city in the eastern corners of Switzerland. And this is understandable.
Whenever Switzerland comes to mind, most travelers think of the glorious Alps, wealthy Zurich shopping streets, and the shores of Lake Geneva.
St. Gallen usually is not the first place that springs to your mind.
However, I wanted to explore off the beaten path on my trip to Switzerland. Sure, the “main” attractions appealed to me, but I wanted to go even deeper.
I didn’t know how crowded August would be. Not to mention, I always value having my own space every-so often away from the biggest tourist attractions.
But the “tourist spots” are the “tourist spots” for a reason. By going off the beaten path, sometimes travelers run the very real risk of feeling disappointed or underwhelmed.
Which leads to the question —
Is St. Gallen Worth Visiting?
Like I said, Switzerland is well-known for it’s epic mountains and majestic aqua lakes. You want to spend as much time as you can exploring the outdoors in this country, regardless of the time of year.
St. Gallen was a strategic stop on my own travels.
Personally, I wanted to spend my first jetlagged day in a smaller city than Zurich. Additionally, because visiting Appenzell was a priority for me, I decided to go to St. Gallen first due to the easy public transportation connections to the region.
So, to be honest, I didn’t know much at all about this city close to the German border.
Up until my departure day, I found myself asking, “Is St. Gallen worth visiting?”
Well. I have good news for you.
I absolutely loved St. Gallen! Seriously, I was surprised at how cool and safe St. Gallen was, and I found myself wishing that I spent an extra day in the area!
I’m very excited to promote St. Gallen to you, and I hope you’ll consider staying here on your next trip to Switzerland.
My Experience in St. Gallen Switzerland
I was exhausted when I initially arrived in St. Gallen with all my luggage weighing down my jet-lagged limbs.
And, of course, I had a turbulent flight over the north Atlantic so my nerves were completely shot, haha.
However, St. Gallen instantly felt welcoming and magical, even in the drizzly August weather.
I had no set plans, and St. Gallen was the perfect place to wander. On my first day, I saw a gorgeous UNESCO Library and hiked above the Old Town to see Lake Constance from afar.
I also ate a lot of great bratwurst. My stomach was certainly happy.
Ultimately, St. Gallen is a wonderful city to just be without the stress of rushing around and checking famous sites off a list. You don’t need to keep to a schedule here, which was one of the things I loved most about it.
Travel Tips for St. Gallen Switzerland
Are you ready to go to St. Gallen? Yay!
Let’s talk about all the practicalities for your trip to St. Gallen and then we’ll branch into all the amazing reasons why it’s worth staying in St. Gallen for a night or (even better) two.
How to Get Around
Switzerland is one of the easiest countries to navigate in Europe. Seriously, I have so much envy for their public transportation system.
St. Gallen is very well-connected to other nearby cities and towns. Despite being busy, St. Gallen train station has an impressive and elegant exterior with plenty of shopping options that makes the space feel accessible to new international travelers. Even anxious travelers will find this train station a breeze.
I personally recommend purchasing the Swiss Travel Pass which will allow unlimited access to all SBB trains and St. Gallen’s public buses, as well as a discount on mountain experiences in nearby Appenzell.
As a side note, if you’re arriving from Zurich Airport (like I did), the airport station has plenty of direct trains that head right to St. Gallen. The train ride is very easy even if you’re exhausted after an international flight.
What to Pack for St. Gallen
Don’t forget to bring these packing essentials on your trip to St. Gallen!
And remember, although you’re staying in a small city, St. Gallen has a ton of nearby hiking opportunities that you don’t want to miss. The nature looks like an idyllic storybook wonderland in this part of Switzerland.
St. Gallen Packing Essentials
- Comfortable Hiking Boots: If you want to explore nearby Lake Constance or Appenzell, then you should pack a good pair of hiking boots to keep your feet happy and safe.
- German Phrasebook: In St. Gallen, German is widely spoken, although most people speak English too. It’s a smart idea to learn a few German phrases before visiting St. Gallen.
- Lonely Planet Switzerland Guidebook: Lonely Planet makes my favorite guidebooks. Nothing quite replaces a guidebook for me. I highly recommend bringing your own Switzerland guidebook to make the most out of your stay in this magical country.
- Travel Insurance: Switzerland is a safe country, but travel insurance is still necessary. I always use World Nomads on my international trips, and haven’t had an issue yet!
- Travel Umbrella: Even in summer, Switzerland gets a fair amount of rain. I mean, it makes sense with all those gorgeous green mountain pastures, right? Bring a packable umbrella to keep yourself dry.
- Waterproof Day Pack: On your city walks and country hikes, have a cozy and waterproof day pack to keep your belongings close and safe!
Where to Stay in St. Gallen
St. Gallen has plenty of accommodation available to travelers. Keep in mind that Switzerland is, uh, rather expensive compared to its neighbors, so I included hotels for a variety of budgets.
- Einstein St. Gallen: If you want to splurge, check out Einstein St. Gallen located close to the old town. This hotel is home to a beautiful bar, a Michelin restaurant, and a spa pool. I personally loved my stay here! See prices on TripAdvisor.com or Booking.com.
- Hotel Vadian Garni: This reasonably priced 2 star hotel is located right next to the Abbey. The hotel itself dates back to 1904. See prices on TripAdvisor.com or Booking.com.
- Hotel Walhalla: If you want to stay close to the train station, then Hotel Walhalla is the perfect choice for you. Plenty of comforts and plenty of convenience. See prices on TripAdvisor.com or Booking.com.
5 Reasons Why St. Gallen is Worth Visiting
Time to answer the big question: Is St. Gallen Worth Visiting?
Since I don’t have time to write a novel to fully answer this loaded question (short answer: ummm, yes), I’m going to tell you all about the top five reasons St. Gallen absolutely deserves a spot in your Swiss itinerary.
Home to a UNESCO Library
If you’re like me, then you want to see UNESCO World Heritage Sites on your travels. Well, guess what? St. Gallen is home to the Abbey of Saint Gall.
The Abbey itself is iconic to St. Gallen and has dominated the Old Town for 1200 years.
However, you must go and see the Abbey Library of Saint Gallen, particularly if you’re fond of old manuscripts.
Some of these early prints go back to the 8th century. These books are legitimate wonders, and transported me back to a time when books weren’t easily bought and sold in shops. Each letter is painstakingly painted on the old pages. Incredible.
As a side note, you can’t take pictures in the library or even bring a purse into the library. I’m dead serious. I got scolded for having a camera around my neck, haha.
My advice is to go to the lockers ahead of time and dump everything on your person, so you’re not shuffling back and forth multiple times (like yours truly).
Last but not least, if you have the Swiss Travel Pass, your entry to the Library is completely covered in the cost. Woohoo!
Compact and Beautiful Old Town
Ugh, where to even begin about St. Gallen’s Old Town. I am absolutely obsessed with St. Gallen’s Old Town.
The landmark of the Old Town – St. Gallen Abbey District – will take your breath away with its intricate and ornate Baroque architecture. And, unlike other imposing European cathedrals, you won’t have to deal with busy tourist groups and instead enjoy a quiet moment in the pews.
Furthermore, the Old Town is very compact and easy to explore on foot. You won’t get lost or confused in twisty alleyways, unlike some Old Towns in Europe.
And do you want to hear the best part about St. Gallen’s Old Town? It’s not just in name only. This place is old old. Like, super old.
As a city, St. Gallen dates all the way back to 612. Incredible, huh?
My favorite time to explore St. Gallen’s Old Town is at night. Sure, the shops are closed for the evening, but illuminated buildings are magical in the dark and transport you back in time to the Middle Ages.
City Hikes with Lake Constance Views
Want to get out of the city center but don’t want to hop on a train just yet? No problem.
St. Gallen has some simple nearby hikes that allow you to look over not just the city itself, but also the sweeping and gorgeous Lake Constance, which is in nearby Germany.
You can take a walk up or take the historical funicular to the nearby suburb of St. Georgen.
At this higher elevation, you will see lakes and swimming pools, as well as plenty of locals enjoying the weather and views.
Furthermore, the hike isn’t very challenging. I mean, if I could do this walk after an overnight international flight, I’m sure you’ll be okay too! But if you’re super tired, the funicular makes seeing these beautiful views of St. Gallen and beyond into Germany accessible for everyone!
Fewer Tourists Than Other Swiss Cities
As you know, I’m not the biggest fan of large tour groups and hordes, especially in more popular destinations in Europe. St. Gallen is off the beaten path enough to avoid the most annoying of tourist crowds.
During my time in St. Gallen, I truly felt like I was part of the community. For instance, I was able to sit and talk with bartenders and wait staff, and go to restaurants where the other patrons only spoke German.
St. Gallen felt “lived in” rather than a city that predominantly caters to tourists. I liked joining locals on their morning commutes, and people watching at coffee shops.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not blasting Switzerland’s more touristy corners, such as Lucerne and Zurich, but St. Gallen was a lovely breath of fresh air and the perfect place to begin my adventures around the country.
If you’re looking to see “authentic” Switzerland, then a trip to St. Gallen should be in the cards for you too!
Easy Base for Travel to Appenzell
Last but not least, St. Gallen is worth visiting, because the city is the perfect base for exploring nearby Appenzell.
Oh my goodness, I loved Appenzell. Unfortunately, I couldn’t change my itinerary enough to actually stay in the region, but I was able to use St. Gallen as a springboard to dive deeper into this traditional part of Switzerland.
Ultimately, my recommendation is that you stay in St. Gallen at least two nights so you can visit the scenic and bucolic region of Appenzell.
From St. Gallen, it only takes about 40 minutes on the train to arrive at the town of Appenzell. You can shop and see museums in the town, and then take the smaller regional train to some of Appenzell’s most famous peaks, including the beautiful Ebenalp.
So. So. Worth. It.
I hope you plan on visiting St. Gallen soon! What are the reasons that you want to visit St. Gallen? Switzerland? Feel free to share your thoughts!