By Emma Marshall and Nick Warburton
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Most visitors on a short break to Zurich will find that there is more than enough to keep them amused in Switzerland’s largest city. See for example my other recent posts on spa visit and a trip to the world’s oldest vegetarian restaurant).
However, if like us, you visit regularly, and fancy seeing what the surrounding area has to offer, one of the places definitely worth a day trip from Zurich is Rapperswil.
Where is Rapperswil?
Rapperswil is a medium-sized town of around 30,000 inhabitants. It is located on a promontory on the north side of the Zurichsee (the large lake that Zurich sits on). Historic Rapperswil is situated at the opposite end of the lake from Zurich.
Famous locally for its rose gardens – this historical gem is promoted as the “City of Roses” – Rapperswil is ideal for a short excursion from Switzerland’s financial hub.
Part of the municipality of Rapperswil-Jona in the canton of St Gallen, the town is a mere 40-minute train ride from Zurich’s central train station.
What to do in Rapperswil on a day trip from Zurich
Despite only being small, you’ll find that there is more than enough to do in Rapperswil on a day trip from Zurich. Read on for our top suggestions.
Rapperswil’s historic centre
Although the modern part of Rapperswil has little to interest visitors, the historic centre (Lindenhof) is charming, with its smattering of cafés, restaurants and cultural landmarks.
Better still, it can be explored easily on foot in very little time. Whether you arrive by train or via ferry, the old town’s car-free zone is only a few minutes’ walk away from both the station and marina. (See below for information on how to get to Rapperswil).
The town’s tourist office is located here at Fischmarktplatz 1. This is at the start of the promenade lining the marina at the train station end. It is probably the best place to start.
Walking up from the Fischmarktplatz, you’ll find the old town square (Hauptplatz). This is lined with a few cafes and restaurants, with small narrow streets veering off of it.
Rapperwil’s rathaus (town hall) is also here. This is an attractive building that is now a restaurant.
We didn’t go in, but I really wish we had. The photos on TripAdvisor of the inside of the building look great with its stained glass windows looking out onto the square.
There are also a few of the other cultural and historical attractions in this area. These include Breny house and Breny tower (both are remains of the town walls) and the Stadtmuseum Rapperswill-Jona, an art and history museum.
On a day trip from Zurich, it’s impossible to miss the town’s most prominent landmark, Schloss Rapperswil. This is a huge gothic castle built in the 13th century, and which straddles Lindenhof hill.
The medieval fortification’s three towers loom over the old town. They provide a spectacular backdrop as you wander the narrow streets and gaze up from the waterfront or Hauptplatz.
You can get to the castle from Hauptplatz. Alternatively, you could go directly from the train station or ferry port, after making your way along the quayside.
If you take the latter route, keep an eye out for the giant metal shoe on the street that children like to clamber inside for photos. Unfortunately there were always too many children playing in this for us to take a picture, but you really can’t miss it.
Then turn right at Endiwngerplatz. On the corner, you can’t miss another landmark, Unties Curtihaus. This is a beautifully decorated building dating from the 1890s.
From here, it’s then just a few minutes’ walk to the castle. Go past the music school to the town’s Capuchin monastery and you’ll reach the foot of Lindenhof hill and gateway to the castle.
The castle’s grounds are open to the public and are fabulous for exploring. They include The Polish museum, which was closed when we visited and is currently facing eviction by the Swiss authorities. We read that there are plans to turn the part of the castle housing the museum into a restaurant.
You can also wander around the area and climb the steps to the ramparts. Here you are met with incredible views over the lake.
You can see the surrounding snow-capped Glarus Alps to the southwest and the scattering of picturesque towns and villages straddling both sides of the lake.
The rose gardens
The Lindenhof’s popular rose gardens are located in the Schlossberg (the southern edge of the castle grounds).
The area has several walled gardens, housing some 16,000 roses. This includes one located in the monastery and the “Schanz”, a special garden that houses particularly fragrant roses for the blind.
These border what we read is the oldest vineyard on the lake. It is here where Blauburgunder grapes are grown to produce the local Pinot Noir.
When we visited, there was nothing to indicate how spectacular the gardens are when all the roses burst into bloom. But the gardens are apparently dazzling once the roses have flowered.
Apparently, May to October is the best time to visit to soak in the vibrant colours and smell the flowers’ delicate perfume.
The Stadtmuseum Rapperswi-Jona
As well as the castle and the rose gardens, there are other sites worth checking out as you stroll around this delightful town.
These include the Stadtmuseum Rapperswill-Jona. This museum displays local history and art, including historical finds from prehistoric times and Roman treasures.
The Heilig Husli chapel
As we only wanted to visit Rapperswil for a few hours (and it was winter and quite cold!), we didn’t manage to fit in one of the town’s most famous attractions – the Heilig Husli chapel.
Located on a historical wooden bridge that links Rapperswil with the village of Hurden on the south side of the Seedamm, the building dates from the mid-1500s. It couldn’t be accessed by the public until the pedestrian bridge was rebuilt in the early 2000s.
During the warmer months, visitors can walk to the chapel, which is situated on an island along the bridge which runs next to the Seedamm.
Rapperswil also has a small waterfront and marina that you can wander along. This is not far from the train station.
There are a few cafes and restaurants on the promenade here, with outdoor seating for the summer months. Here you can look out onto the lake, or alternatively hop onto one of the boats moored here for a trip.
There are also some lovely old buildings to take a look at as you wander down the promenade. This includes a striking hotel at the end of one of the streets and the aforementioned 19th century Unteres Curtihaus here. Both are buildings you’ll definitely want to get pictures of.
The Knies Kinderzoo
If you are visiting with children, there is also the Knies Kinderzoo, near to the railway station.
Opened in 1962, the children’s zoo is only open for part of the year. However, when it is open, its attractions include a horse-drawn railcar, camel and elephant rides and a sea lion show.
The RappiTrail app
You will find that it won’t take you very long to wander around Rapperswil’s historic area and waterfront paths.
However, if you’d prefer to take a more structured route, there is the option of downloading the RappiTrail app on your smartphone.
The app guides the user to various points of interest in the town and provides further information through images, short texts and audio narratives.
Visitors can also answer quiz questions through the app and complete tasks. The website notes that the Rapperswil Tourist Office offers a small prize to those visitors who achieve the minimum points required.
Rapperswil’s annual blues and jazz festival
The charm of Rapperwswil is not the only reason to visit it. For its relatively small size, you might be surprised to learn that it also hosts on an annual blues and jazz festival in June.
Held over two days, Swiss artists as well as internationally renowned musicians, perform on three stages directly by the lake. For more information, click here.
How to get to Rapperswil on a day trip from Zurich
If you do fancy doing this day trip from Zurich, the Swiss S-Bahn trains run frequently from Zurich. At Zurich central train station, you can catch either the S5 or S7, which leave from platforms 23/24.
You will find the platforms by going downstairs to the shopping centre and then take the escalators down one more level.
If you can, opt for the s7 train which takes a more scenic lakeshore train journey. Here you skim fairly close to the water for long stretches of the trip.
Sit on the right-hand side for the best views. You won’t be disappointed.
Click here for information on Swiss trains that run to Rapperswil.
At certain times of the year, you can also catch a ferry for your day trip from Zurich. These go from Bürkliplatz on Zurich’s waterfront for a two-hour lake cruise.
Note the service only operates from April to October, with a reduced service in April, May and October. You can find out more information from the official website.
Rapperswil is also a good day from Zurich from other destinations.
The town sits at the northern side of the Seedamm, a causeway and bridge running along the lake’s narrowest point. The Seedamm is used by the S5 and S40 rail lines and the Voralpen-Express, which runs services between St Gallen and Lucerne.
More ideas for short trips
If you’re in Zurich and want to consider other things to do, a browse through some of the organised tours available would be useful.
I have also written about a wonderful afternoon in a top Zurich spa, as well as my visit to the world’s oldest vegetarian restaurant.
If you enjoy trips to Switzerland, you might also find other posts I have written of use. These include my trip on the scenic Bernina Express panoramic train, and why I think Switzerland is a perfect travel on a time budget destination.
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Jointly produced by Emma Marshall and Nick Warburton