Nestled along the banks of the Rhine River, Schaffhausen is a charming town in northern Switzerland. It’s only small, but there is a lot to see here – certainly enough to make it worth visiting for a short break or even a day if you’re not far away.
In my opinion, it’s one the best places to visit in this northernmost corner of Switzerland. You can wander around the old town, climb up to the fortress for spectacular views over the town, and take a boat ride.
And at less than 40 km from Zurich and just 4 km from Europe’s largest waterfall, I’d definitely recommend you put it on your Switzerland itinerary.
This post covers the best things to do in Schaffhausen and gives you information to help you plan your visit.
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Where is Schaffhausen?
Schaffhausen sits on the banks of the Rhine River in the northern part of Switzerland. It is less than 40 km from Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city and another wonderful destination.
It is further away from the capital, Bern, but a trip is still possible as the train journey is just over an hour and a half.
Schaffhausen is also close to the Rhine Falls, Europe’s largest waterfall. So much so that a tourist train connects the town to the falls.
For this reason, if you’re travelling on a time budget, you may want to combine a trip to Schaffhausen with a trip out to the falls for a few hours. You definitely won’t be disappointed!
The Rhine flows through Switzerland and Germany so it’s also easy to get to German towns from Schaffhausen. This includes Konstanz, which sits on Lake Constance, one of the largest lakes in Europe.
How to get to Schaffhausen
The best way to get to Schaffhausen is via Zurich, the nearest large Swiss city. By train, it is a journey time of between 40 minutes and an hour from the centre of Zurich. If you are coming from the airport, you can get a direct train that takes around 50 minutes.
It takes a little longer from Bern – a train journey of around an hour and 40 minutes. This includes a change of train in Zurich.
The fastest trains from Basel take around an hour to an hour and a half, depending on which station you depart from.
If you’re spending some time in southern Germany, combining your visit with a trip to Schaffhausen would also be possible. Towns on Lake Constance such as Stein am Rhein, are only around 25 minutes away by train. Freiburg is around 2 hours away by train.
The best things to do in Schaffhausen
Schaffhausen is not very big, so it’s easy to find the old town when you arrive. If you come via the train station, as I did, just cross the main road and walk down a street.
Top tip: I would recommend that the first thing you do is to head to the Town Hall where you’ll find the tourist office. You can pick up some useful information here, including a map with a walking tour of Schaffhausen.
I followed the tourist centre’s recommended walking route. It was an ideal way of ensuring I saw everything and made the most of my time here.
Alternatively, you can see the sights by using this fun self-guided city tour and scavenger hunt app.
Here are the top things to see and do in Schaffhausen.
Explore the old town
Schaffhausen’s old town is beautiful.
Quite small, this historic area comprises cobbled streets, squares, and hidden courtyards. These are lined with medieval half-timbered houses with brightly coloured facades and embellishments.
There are also ornate fountains in various places. Just wandering through the streets is a real treat.
As you walk around, you’ll spot quite a few buildings and houses that you’ll want to stop and look at. You might need to look a little harder to see others on the map, but once you find the one it is highlighting, you’ll see why.
Look out for the following.
Herrenstube and Fronwagturm
Both buildings are just a few steps away from the Visitor’s Centre in the old town, if you take the walking tour set out in the information leaflet.
The outside of the Herrenstube society house is coloured pink and has a baroque façade. It was apparently once a drinking place in the 14th century.
Then, at the end of the street is Fronwagturm. This building is pastel yellow and has an astronomical clock at the top. Fronwagturm apparently used to be where the goods brought into the town along the Rhine were weighed.
Haus zum Steinbeck
The Haus zum Steinbock is on Oberstadt, so you may have passed it on your way down to the old town from the train station.
Unlike some of the other buildings in Schaffhausen, this is a plain white colour. However, the outside is really ornate with swirly rococo embellishments and figurines.
Opposite Frongwagturm is a fountain at the start of Fronwagplatz, the old marketplace in the Middle Ages. This is still where locals meet – it’s a vibrant place that buzzes with life and features many cafes and outdoor terraces.
It was the first place I saw when I arrived in the old town, and I immediately knew I’d like it here.
As you walk through Fronwagplatz, you’ll get to another fountain – Mohrenbrunnen am Fronwagplatz – that dates back to the early 16th century.
After walking through the old marketplace, you’ll come to Vorstadt. There are several buildings of note here.
Firstly, there is Haus zum Goldenen Oschen (House of the Golden Ox). According to the Visitor’s Centre information, this is one of the grandest houses in Schaffhausen.
I personally thought there were grander houses nearby, but there is no doubt it is a striking building. It has a gothic façade and oriel bay windows adorned with golden oxes and Greek symbols.
Nearby is Haus zum Grossen Kafig, also known as House to the Great Cage, so named because the Cage Tower was once located here.
And then, a few steps away from Haus zum Grossen Kafig, there is an actual tower – Schwabentor. This was once part of the city wall.
Haus zum Ritter
If you return to Haus Zum Grossen Kafig and turn off into Webergasse, you can make your way down to Haus zum Ritter (you’ll need to weave your way through a square and a couple of side streets to get there).
Haus zum Ritter is on Voldergasse. You’ll probably know you’ve found this house when you see the number of people outside. When I went, there were several groups of tourists congregating around the building.
Top tip: if you wander back in the early evening, the number of people thins out. You’ll then be able to get a better look at this impressive building.
The information sheet I had said this is one of the most beautiful houses in Schaffhausen. I agree with this.
It has a deep red coloured exterior, with a fresco that is completely filled with painted scenes. This is the work of Schaffhausen’s Tobias Stimmer.
St. Johann’s Church and the Tellenbrunnen
From the Haus zum Ritter, walk further down Vordergasse towards the fortress. You’ll then come to St Johann’s Church.
This elegant white gothic building with a simple clock tower above it was built between the 11th and late 14th century. It has three naves, with an elaborate stuccoed ceiling in the main one and stained-glass windows. Pop inside and take a look.
A short walk from the church is the Tellenbrunnen fountain with a statue of William Tell on the side.
Walk up to Munot Fortress and take in the panoramic views
If you walk to the end of Vordergasse and cross over Bachstrasse, you’ll get to Unterstadt.
At one point on the left, you’ll see an entrance with some steps going up. These will take you up to the Munot Fortress, a circular-shaped battlement that was constructed in the 16th century.
If you can do the climb, it’s worth it (it is a little steep, so you might not want to do this if you have mobility issues). At one point, you walk in between rows of vines where you are afforded some wonderful views over the town.
You can go into the castle and look around (there’s no entrance fee). There’s not a lot to see here – it’s largely empty, with just a few information boards dotted around.
But it’s worth going just for the views alone.
You need to climb up the spiral staircase to the open-air central courtyard and peer over the side between the circular towers. When you do this, you get spectacular views of the town, the River Rhine, and the surrounding landscape.
Spend some time in the riverside area
After visiting Munot castle and looking out over the river, I’d suggest you walk down to the riverfront.
Right on the water is Güterhof. Schaffhausen has a range of local restaurants where you can stop off for a drink or a bite to eat – but if you’re in this area and want to eat in an old historic building overlooking the river, you might be interested in Guterhof. This restaurant is housed in an old 18th century salt warehouse.
Guterhof’s menu has various dishes on it, including specials. You can also just pop in for a drink in the bar or on the outside terrace. In the winter months, there is live music at the weekend.
Schaffhausen is well connected by public transport to other regional destinations if you want to get out of the town to do more sightseeing. But another option is to take a boat trip.
You’ll see some boat docks by the Guterhof. At this spot, you can take a cruise on the High Rhine to Stein am Rhein, a small medieval town near Lake Constance on the German border. These cruises run between April and October.
You can also go to the Rhine Falls and take a shorter boat trip there.
As you walk along the waterfront, you’ll come to the Rhybadi lido (Rhine River Bath). This is a place to relax and cool off if the summer heat is a bit too intense.
You can swim in the river – where you get a view of the fortress – and have lunch in the bistro. There are also springboards here, a sauna, and a solarium.
I didn’t get a chance to try the Rhybadi out, but I popped my head in, and it looked like a great place to spend some time. I hope to be able to go when I next visit.
For obvious reasons, the lido is not open all year and is closed between October and April.
Wander around Allerheiligen monastery complex
Walking away from the river and back towards the town from the Rhybadi, you’ll shortly come to the Allerheiligen, a former Benedictine monastery.
There are several things to see here. There is a 12th century cathedral, said to be the “most original of the Romanic church buildings in Switzerland”. The country’s largest cloister, which looks out onto a small peaceful garden, is also here. There is also a medieval herb garden.
The monastery complex is a really nice place to wander through and stop off at if you want some peace and quiet. If you have more time, you could also go into the Museum Zu Allerheiligen (see below for more information).
Haus Zum Thiergarten and Herrenacker
When you leave the monastery, look across the road to the Haus zum Thiergarten. This really unique building – which is now a restaurant – was built in the first half of the 16th century.
It has massive oriel windows protruding from it with colourful blue stripes on them.
Afterwards, you can wander through Beckenstube and up to Herrenacker, Schaffhausen’s largest square. This is a wide open space framed with colourful houses that used to host Knight’s tournaments.
See Europe’s largest waterfall
At 23 metres high and 150 metres wide, the Rhine Falls is Europe’s biggest waterfall.
It’s estimated that during the summer months, it has a flow of around 600,000 litres of water per second. This reduces to 250,000 litres per second in the winter months.
It’s a stunning attraction that is worth seeing.
And as it’s only 4 km away, combining this with a visit to Schaffhausen is easy.
Things to do at the Rhine Falls
During your time here, you can walk onto viewing platforms to get close to the water, walk along a panoramic trail, and stop off for lunch with the sounds of the crashing water in your ears.
You can also take boat trips. A popular one is the line 1 boat tour.
This gives you the unique experience of climbing a rock in the middle of a waterfall.
The boat journey over to the waterfall only takes five minutes. It then docks, and you get off at the rock.
It’s then a 30 metre climb to the top. From here, you get some amazing and unrivalled views from the top of the rocks – you can see the waterfall from all directions.
I did this tour and thoroughly enjoyed it. Note, however, that the staircase up the rock is quite steep, with over 100 steps. So it’s not suitable for everyone.
Other things to do here include visiting the medieval Laufen Castle on the southern side of the waterfall (this has a visitor’s centre next to it). You can also try out Europe’s largest forest rope course and adventure park, and see some immersive art.
For more information, see my post on my day out to the Rhine Falls.
Take the tourist train to the Rhine Falls
From Schaffhausen, it’s really easy to get to the Rhein Falls by public transportation. You can catch a train to two stations: either Neuhausen Rheinfall or Schloss Laufen am Rheinfall. These take less than 10 minutes.
You can also walk to the Rhine Falls along the river bank, although this will obviously require you to put aside more time as the walk is at least an hour each way.
The Rhyfall Express
But for something more unique, ride out to the falls on the Rhyfall Express. This is a small tourist train that starts by the Guterhof restaurant by the river in Schaffhausen (there are also stops by the Munster and Herrenacker Square).
Its 30-minute journey takes you through small towns, over a bridge, and ends at the final stop by Schlössli Wörth castle. This is where many of the boat trips to the falls leave from, so it’s a convenient way of being dropped off in the right place if this is something you want to do.
The return journey ticket price is a bit more expensive than other options, but it’s a fabulous way to travel. I really enjoyed it and on the warm summer day I went, the open-air carriages were appreciated.
Go to a museum
If you fancy visiting a museum during your visit, there are several to choose from.
The Museum zu Allerheiligen (All Saints Museum)
The Museum zu Allerheiligen “combines archaeology, history, art and nature under one roof”. Its art collection spans the 15th century to the more modern day.
The museum is in the old monastery, so if you’re exploring this anyway, you might want to pop in. It is open every day except Mondays.
The IWC Museum
Switzerland is famous for its watchmaking, so if you want to learn more about this national tradition, head to the IWC (International Watch Company) headquarters. This is located along the river promenade.
Inside the museum you can browse the exhibits (which number over 200) and a range of different types of watches that span the centuries.
The IWC Museum is open Tuesday to Saturday (but with an earlier closing time on Saturdays – 3.30pm).
The Zeughaus Museum (Museum in the Armory)
This museum – which has another branch at the Rhine Falls – focuses on the history of Switzerland and the Swiss army, including displays that are significant to the local region.
It covers developments in artillery and uniforms, as well as the army’s mobilisations. There’s also information on the town at the time of the French Revolution, Napoleon’s reign, and during the bombing in 1944, as well as on more recent events, such as the coronavirus crisis in 2020.
The museum is open every Tuesday between March and November, as well as a selected number of other days throughout the year.
Day trip to other places
As I’ve said previously, Schaffhausen is well located for travelling to other places of interest. You might therefore want to get out of the town to explore destinations nearby if you have enough time.
The Rhine Falls
I’ve already covered the Rhine Falls above. If you only have time for one trip out of town, I’d say it should be this.
Stein am Rhein
Another great place for a day trip is the town of Stein am Rhein, which is less than 20 km away. You can take a cruise here (summer months only) or get the train. This takes less than 25 minutes.
Once there, you can wander around its beautiful medieval town – it’s another place with attractively painted houses and half-timbered buildings. You can also visit Hohenklingen Castle, which sits on a hill overlooking the town and has fabulous views, and St. George’s Abbey.
Zurich is less than 40 km away from Schaffhausen. Its Switzerland’s largest city and definitely worth a day trip if you have time.
In addition to exploring the old town, you can cruise down the river and around the lake, and visit one of the many museums in the city (this includes the Swiss National Museum and the Fifa World Cup Museum).
And chocolate lovers might want to go out to the Lindt Home of Chocolate Museum.
You can also go outdoor swimming or take a dip in a thermal rooftop spa pool. There’s also a lovely park with a small peaceful Chinese garden nestled within it.
You can also do a Rhine Falls tour directly from Zurich.
Winterthur is another great place to visit. It’s just half an hour away on the train. I combined my trip to Schaffhausen with Zurich and Winterthur when I visited last year.
You can read my post about the 20 best things to do in Winterthur here.
Wintherthur has an attractive old town. It’s not quite as striking as Schaffhausen’s old town, but there’s still some things to see here.
This includes Martgasse, the country’s largest pedestrian zone, the Stadtkirche church with its red topped twin towers, and the townhouse. You can also walk up to its pretty rose garden where you get great views over the city.
However, the most striking thing for me when I visited was the sheer amount of museums you can visit. There are 17 in total, which include art museums, a natural history museum and Technorama, a science centre which touts itself as being one of the largest museums of its kind in Europe.
If you do visit to Wintherthur and want to go to some of the museums, head to the information centre and purchase a Winterthur Museum Pass. This gives you unlimited travel on local public transport and free entry to museums.
If you fancy a trip out to another country, you could always go to Konstanz in Germany. This is around an hour away by train with a short change.
Konstanz is on Lake Constance, one of Europe’s largest lakes. It’s therefore no surprise that getting out on the lake is one of the top attractions. You can go island hopping between the three small islands just off the shore and take boat trips around the harbour.
There is also a beautiful old town to explore (you can check out walking tours and other activities here), a cathedral that you can wander around, and thermal baths on the lake with views of the Alps.
The best time to visit Schaffhausen
The best time to visit Schaffhausen largely depends on what you want to see and do.
Visiting during late spring to early autumn is a good time. During this period, the weather is pleasant, and you’ll benefit from the longer daylight hours, particularly in the summer months from June to August.
Visiting during this time also means that if you take a trip out the Rhine Falls, you will see them at their most powerful. This makes it perfect for taking boat trips to witness the majestic falls up close.
However, Schaffhausen is still a great place to visit in the winter. It is likely to be quieter in the old town, with fewer tourists, and you can pop into the cosy cafes to warm up. In December, the town hosts a Christmas market.
You can also go out to the Rhine Falls during this time. Although the waterfall is less powerful, it’s a quieter time to visit, and you can still go onto the viewing platforms to get up close.
There are also winter and Christmas events, and with the shorter days during the winter months, you’re more likely to be able to coincide your visit with the illuminations of the falls which occur every evening after sunset.
Things to do in Schaffhausen: other ideas for short breaks to Switzerland
I hope you enjoy your visit to Schaffhausen.
For more ideas to add to your Swiss itinerary, see my other posts which include:
For other ideas for European short breaks, click here.