Travel and Tourist Information
ABOVE: Stiftsbibliothek at the former St Gallen Abbey.
Sankt Gallen is the most important city of Eastern Switzerland, with a trading area that extends from Lake Constance (Bodensee) on the north to the Säntis Alps region. The city was founded in 612 A.D., when the Irish monk Gallus and a companion built a hut (reportedly with the help of a bear) in the forests of the Steinbach Valley. The hut evolved into a Benedictine monastery that became one of the great intellectual centers of Europe during the 8th and 9th Centuries. A town was founded around the abbey, and eventually the town--named St. Gallen, after the abbey's founding monk--grew into a major producer of linen and embroidered cotton fabric. The city remains Switzerland's textile center, and you can shop for quality embroidered goods at a handful of Broderie shops: most notably Saphir and Sturzenegger, both of which are retail outlets of local factories.
The abbey was secularized in 1805, nearly 300 years after the Reformation drove the Catholic Church from this part of Switzerland. The old monastery buildings now serve various civic functions, but the most important of them--the Stiftsbibliothek, or Abbey Library--continues to attract scholars with its 100,000 volumes and nearly 2,000 illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages. The library is also St. Gallen's premiere tourist attraction, and every year thousands of visitors don felt slippers and shuffle around the 18th Century library with its inlaid flooring, Rococo decorations, and display cases filled with ancient books.
St. Gallen's other major tourist draws are the Cathedral (next door to the abbey) and the adjacent Old Town, where many of the well-preserved buildings feature the city's distinctive carved oriel windows. It also has museums, concert halls, a university, and a surprising range of other cultural attractions for a city of only 70,000 people. Be sure to visit the new Bleicheli "Stadtlounge" just outside the Old Town, where the streets are bright red and overhead lights resemble objects from outer space.
If you're touring Eastern Switzerland, St. Gallen offers easy access to Lake Constance, Appenzell, and Mt. Säntis. And if you're looking for a pleasant way to spend a morning or afternoon, go hiking or biking on the well-marked paved paths just beyond the town's outskirts. The surrounding region is one of Switzerland's prettiest, with its green hills, dairy farms, and traditional villages that can be reached by winding country roads or the cogwheel trains of several local railroad lines.
How to reach St. Gallen
By train, St. Gallen is just over an hour from Zürich Hauptbahnhof or Zürich Airport via Wil and Winterthur. You'll find trains listed on schedule 850 in the Swiss Official Timetable, or you can look up connections with the Swiss Federal Railways' online e-form. By road, the easiest way to reach St. Gallen from Zürich is to head toward Winterthur, then take the E60 east.
If you have time, it can be pleasant to cruise on a lake steamer from Zürich to Rapperswil (a two-hour trip), then ride the train to St.Gallen by way of Uznach, Wattwil, and Herisau. The train journey takes less than an hour and offers a chance to see countryside that isn't on the usual tourist itineraries.
St. Gallen Web links
Photo copyright © St-Gallen Bodensee Tourismus.
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