Northern Switzerland stretches along the River Rhine from Lake Constance to Basel and consists the Greater Basel, the Greater Zürich, and four cantons: Schaffhausen, Thurgau, St. Gall and Appenzell. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lover of art or a nature fanatic, the region always has something to offer.
From Zürich, we decided to explore this part of the country, starting with Basel, then Lucerne (actually, Lucerne belongs to Central Switzerland, but due to the close distance to Zürich, we counted them as Northern Switzerland), and finally St. Gallen. In this journey, we were unable to see all the treasures of Northern Switzerland (still missing Rheinfall in Schaffhausen and the Appenzell region), but we hope we could include them in the updated version of this post in the future.
Nestling in the heart of Europe in a very distinguished location – between the Swiss Jura, Germany’s Black Forest and Alsace of France – Basel is undoubtedly a cultural gem. The city is regarded as Switzerland’s capital of art because in Basel art can be encountered at every turn, whether strolling through the old town or visiting one of its forty museums.
It is almost incredible how much art you can enjoy in Basel. From the richly decorated red sandstone City Hall at the large market square, the curious fountain crafted by the famous Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely to the 12th-century Romanesque-Gothic cathedral, each landmark has its own individual charm and well worth exploring.
If these architectural gems are not enough to meet your desire, the highly diverse museums hopefully can do. In fact, no other city in Switzerland invests in art and culture as much as in Basel. The city has the highest density of museum, varying from the world’s oldest public art collection in the Kunstmuseum Basel, to the Swiss Architecture Museum, or to the internationally renowned Fondation Beyeler.
Furthermore, if you stay in a hotel in Basel city you will get a free ticket for public transport during your stay (which I found great and relatively convenient); just need to ask the hotel receptionist.
Lucerne is the destination for most tourists, and I think they have a reason to do so. This town in central Switzerland is filled with houses in sugar candy colour, a cobalt blue lake, sunny plazas, as well as a glamorous promenade. On a sunny day, Lucerne looks even more stunning as the sunshine glitters on the water and the mountains appear on the horizon. The 14th-century Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge) – Lucerne’s landmark, spanning the Reuss River and the Old Town – was our first destination. By crossing this creaky bridge, we were able to catch a glimpse of Swiss history as the triangular roof panels showing important events in the past and mythology.
For a panorama view over Lucerne’s rooftops, we climbed up the towers of Museggmauer – the iconic city wall featuring nine towers. On the last tower, we met Maya and Fabrizio, two nice Züricher who were doing a day trip to Lucerne as ourselves, and we decided to explore the old town together. It was great to know them because through them we were able to learn more about this beautiful country and its people: real and personal experience. We said goodbye to our new friends after our visit to Hofkirche and the Lion Monument was our next destination.
In 1820, the sculptor Lukas Ahorn carved this touching monument of a dying lion into the rock to pay tribute to Swiss soldiers who died defending King Louis XVI during the French Revolution. Helvetorium Fidei ac Virtuti – “To the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss”.
Master wish that we could spend more time in Lucerne. He would love to explore Lake Lucerne and the surrounding area a bit more. But our schedule was rather tight, and St. Gallen was our next destination.
3. Saint Gall
In contrast to Lucerne, Saint Gall might not be on a bucket list of many tourists when they come to Switzerland. At the first glance, the town looks less appealing than other Swiss towns, without any beautiful lakes or snow-capped mountains as background. But if you take time and have a closer look into the Saint Gall Abbey with its unmistakable twin towers, you can find a gem of northern Switzerland – the mystical Stiftsbibliothek of Saint Gall (Abbey Library of Saint Gall).
The Abbey Library of Saint Gall dated back to the 18th century and was built in Late Baroque style. Its impressive, ornately decorated hall is considered to be the finest and one of the most perfectly structured library buildings in the world. The library possesses a formidable collection of literature and manuscripts, some even date from before the year 1000. Here, you can find the history of law and medicine written in the Old High German language, biblical studies, as well as book illuminations by Irish and Saint Gall monks. Photo making is, however, prohibited in order to preserve the Baroque Hall.
Before returning to Zürich, we passed by the old town and had a lovely coffee break at Trüffelschnüffler – an arty cafe-cum-craft-shop. Look at the cake, do you recognize something? Yes, it has my initial.