Two hours in St Gallen – What to see and do

Two hours in St Gallen - Travel for a Living

Lately I have started travelling more frequently again. Not every week. But maybe once or twice a month. Which is actually quite a nice pace. For some of those travels, it means revisiting known places and catching up with old friends. Although I like revisiting old places, it is the chance of exploring new cities that really rocks my boat. Like during my latest work trip to Switzerland. Along with one night in Zurich (which I’ve visited several times), I’ve also stayed in St Gallen for the very first time. I was looking forward to it and was hoping to get enough time for a proper St Gallen sightseeing tour. I even did my homework beforehand and had it all mapped out. Everything there is to see in St Gallen, along with opening times, cost of tickets, you name it. After all, if two hours in St Gallen is all I have, I’d better make it count. Believe it or not, there is actually quite a bit to see in St Gallen, so it would be a shame to miss it.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that two hours is sufficient time to see all of St Gallen. Far from it. I would have gladly spent more time exploring. But my time was limited, so I was determined to make the most of it. That is the downside of business travels. Yes, you might stay in new and unknown places. But that doesn’t mean you have time to be a tourist and go exploring. More often than not, my sightseeing is limited to the evening, once I’ve finished my work. And whilst this is less of a problem in summer, when it stays light until quite late, now that autumn is fast approaching, it gets dark earlier and earlier. And believe me, sightseeing in the pitch black is possible, but only half the fun. Trust me, I’ve tried. Belgrade was one of those that I’ve really only seen in the dark… but then again, still better than not seeing it at all.

Where is St Gallen?

St Gallen is in the Eastern part of Switzerland, just south of Lake Constance (Bodensee) and close to the German and Austrian border.  The town has around 75.000 inhabitants and the main language is German (as well as a regional Alemannic Swiss German dialect).

The city was gradually built around the Abbey of Saint Gall, which was founded in the 8th century. Be prepared for quite a bit of history when you visit. 

How to get to St Gallen?

St. Gallen does not have an international airport. The nearest one would be Zurich, which is approx. an hour drive. Or you can get a direct train from Zurich Airport to St Gallen main station. The train takes around 45 minutes to 1 hour and tickets start at around 22 CHF (23 EUR). 

Two hours in St Gallen Sightseeing Tour

Enough of the introductions. After all, I’ve promised you a free St Gallen sightseeing tour. Yes, two hours in St Gallenmight not be long, but it gives you just enough time for a brief overview. Feel free to spend longer in some of the places. Believe me, I wish I could have done. And I am kind of hoping to come back one day for a proper visit. As you will see, there are quite a few sights on my list, that I’ve really only seen in passing. Be it because two hours in St Gallen didn’t quite give me enough time to go deeper. Or merely because they were already shut. The curse of sightseeing after work. There will always be places that close early and I need to pick and choose carefully.

For St Gallen, I knew exactly where my priority lay, and I was hoping that I would make it into town well in time before that place closed. Not telling you (yet) which sight I am talking about; you’ll have to read on.

Two hours in St Gallen: The Abbey District       

Let’s dive right into our St Gallen sightseeing tour. Even if you only have two hours in St Gallen, the Abbey District has to be on your list. 

Dating back from the 8th century, the Abbey District has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1983. As an outstanding example of a large Carolingian monastery.

Within the Abbey District, you can visit several St Gallen sights: 

  • The Abbey Cathedral 
  • The Abbey Library
  • The Vaulted Cellar

The Abbey Cathedral

Two hours in St Gallen - Travel for a Living

There have been several churches on this site since the Abbey of St Gall was founded. The current cathedral only dates back to the mid 18th century and is built in a late baroque style. 

The cathedral is open from 7am to 6.30pm (7pm in summer, 8.30pm on a Sunday) and is free to visit. Avoid mass times when you want to walk around and explore the church. 

The Abbey Library of Saint Gall

The Stiftsbibliothek St Gallen is a medieval monastic library, founded in the 8th century. It is the oldest library in Switzerland and one of the oldest monastic libraries in the world. The current library hall was built in the 18th century in Rococo style. It houses 160.000 books and scripts, including the Plan of Saint Gall, the oldest architectural drawing of a monastic compound, dating back to 820-830AD.

The library was the reason I wanted to get to St Gallen as early as possible. Since it closes at 5pm and I was desperate to see it. Unlike the cathedral, entry to the library isn’t free of charge. And you can’t buy a ticket just for the library. Instead, you’ll need to purchase a combined ticket that includes the library, vaulted cellar and exhibition space. Adult tickets cost 18CHF (approx. 19 EUR). 

Lucky for me, I actually made it to St Gallen around 3pm that day, so plenty of time to go and see the library. Before officially starting my two hours in St Gallen sightseeing tour.

Since I arrived before check-in opened at my hotel, I still had all my luggage with me. For security reasons, you cannot take anything into the library. And I mean nothing. Not even a tiny handbag. You are only allowed whatever you carry in your pockets or hands. But there are free lockers available at the ticket office. And fortunately, they were actually large enough to not only hold my laptop and handbag, but also stow my suitcase in. 

To protect the floor of the library, you are also not allowed to enter with street shoes. But no worries, you don’t have to take them off. Instead, you are greeted with an array of large felt slippers as you approach the library entrance.

Two hours in St Gallen - Travel for a Living

Slip them over your street shoes and start shimmying towards the library. I was quite glad that I was wearing trainers, not heels. 

The library is quite something to look at. Floor to ceiling bookshelves all around the perimeter, highly decorated woodwork, a beautiful parquet floor and an intricate stucco and paint ceiling. 

The Vaulted Cellar

Even though this wasn’t necessarily on my list of things to do with my two hours in St Gallen, since I had to by a combined ticket, I also briefly visited the vaulted cellar. In here, you’ll see a collection of old capitals and warrior figures from the Gozbert church (the first Abbey church). You can also see a multimedia show that takes you through the centuries at the Abbey of St Gall. 

Since time was limited, I decided to skip the 3rd part of my ticket and not visit the exhibition space. Obviously, if I had more than two hours to spend in St Gallen, I would have checked it out as well. But with time limited, I decided to continue with my St Gallen sightseeing tour instead. 

Two Hours in St Gallen: St Laurence Church

The Abbey isn’t the only church in St Gallen. Only a few steps away, you’ll see St Laurence Church (St Laurenzen Kirche).

Unfortunately, the church closes at 3pm, so I didn’t get a chance to go inside (and it didn’t reopen until 10am the next morning, so heading there early wasn’t an option either). 

If you visit St Gallen from March to November, you can climb the 186 steps to the top of the church tower for a view of St Gallen from above. Tickets cost 5CHF for adults, no need to prebook. 

The current St Laurence Church dates back to the 15th century but had a major renovation back in the 19th century, hence the Neo Gothic appearance. However, this is actually the fifth church on this site since the very first one in the 13th century.

St Gallen Sightseeing Tour: Old town and Oriels 

As you are leaving the Abbey District, the old town of St Gallen is right in front of you. Narrow cobbled streets and old timber framed houses. If you look up the old colourful houses, you can’t fail to notice the oriels (bay windows). A staggering 111 oriels adorn the houses in the old town of St Gallen. Each of them unique with intricate wood carvings and hand painted detailing, some of them several floors high. They date back to the 16th and 17th century. 

Two hours in St Gallen - Travel for a Living

For the best oriel windows, check out Marktgasse, Schmiedgasse, Spisergasse and Kugelgasse during your St Gallen sightseeing tour.

Two hours in St Gallen: the Fountains

But St Gallen does not only have plenty of oriels, but there are also over 100 fountains spread all over town. 

As you explore St Gallen, you will come past quite a few of them. So keep an eye out and see how many you can find.

Some of the more notable fountains in St Gallen are:

  • Gallusbrünneli: Located in Wassergasse, it is not only one of the smallest fountains in St Gallen, but also the oldest. The wall fountain is adorned with a mosaic depicting Gallus and a tamed bear.
  • Gauklerbrunnen, located outside the Kunstmusuem
  • Globusbrunnen (also known as Lastenträgerinnen)
  • Broderbrunnen: built in 1896, it is the largest fountain in St Gallen. Built to commemorate the first mains water line in St Gallen, providing water from the Bodensee (Lake Constance) for the very first time on 1st May 1895.
  • Gallusbrunnen: built in 1936 to replace an older derelict fountain, located on Gallus Square

St Gallen Sightseeing Tour: Ride the Mühleggbahn

I’m a sucker for funiculars. If I discover one, I have to ride it. And St Gallen was no exception. Even though I only had two hours in St Gallen and time was limited, I decided to give the Mühleggbahn a go.

The 323m long funicular heads from its lower station behind the Abbey District up to Mühlegg. A ride in the fully automated, inclined elevator takes approx. 90 seconds and almost all of it is in a tunnel. So, the view definitely doesn’t compare to the ones you’ll get riding the funicular in Lisbon, Zurich or Budapest. A single trip costs 2.40CHF for adults, 2.20CHF for kids and dogs and bikes. 

Throughout its history, the Mühleggbahn has been refurbished and changed several times. Originally it opened as a water counterbalancing funicular with two cars. In 1950 it was then replaced with a rack railway, which then was changed to a funicular in 1975. The last refurbishment was in 2018, when the car and the tracks were completely replaced. I’ll be very honest with you, in hindsight I probably wouldn’t go there again. Thanks to the various refurbishments, you don’t really get any old details of the original funicular anymore. Nor do you get a view as you go up. Or as you arrive up the hill. At least not, if you only stay at the station, as I did. Two hours in St Gallen doesn’t really give you that much time. 

If you can spare a little time, head to the Drei Weieren (three ponds) State Park. You will get a beautiful view across St Gallen from there. And you can also go for a swim in the ponds (weather and itinerary permitting obviously). 

Things to see in St Gallen: Roter Platz / Stadtlounge

Did you know that St Gallen has its very own red square. Not quite as steeped in history as the one in Moscow, the red square in St Gallen is a newer addition to the town. Created as a multimedia art installation a couple of years ago, this square is quite literally red. Red resin covers everything. Not just the floor, but also all furniture, a fountain, even a car. The city lounge was created for people to sit down and enjoy their surroundings. With no further meaning other than just having a bit of fun.

As my time was limited, I didn’t really spend much time there. Instead, I walked across it, as I continued my two hours in St Gallen sightseeing tour towards the main train station.

Two hours in St Gallen: Tell the time on the Binary Clock 

As you approach the main train station, look out for the large binary clock. Don’t mistake it for a giant tic tac toe though. It definitely isn’t easy to tell the time by just quickly glancing at the binary clock in passing. Chances are, by the time you’ve worked out the time, your train has left. So don’t get distracted if you are late for your train. But if you have time, do give it a try.

So how does the binary clock work? The three lines indicate the hours, minutes and seconds:

The top row (O) are the hours: 16, 8, 4, 2, 1 

The second row (X) are the minutes: 32, 16, 8, 4, 2, 1

The third row (squares) are the seconds: 32, 16, 8, 4, 2, 1

Add up all illuminated icons per row to work out the current time on this picture (I’ll give the answer at the end of the post, see if you were right):

Two hours in St Gallen - Travel for a Living

This pretty much concludes what I managed to see in two hours in St Gallen. There is more, but I had to be efficient with my time. Plus, some things are too far out for a quick visit or close too early.

Next time I come to St Gallen, I might probably include a few of these on my sightseeing tour:

Textilmuseum (textile museum)

Located in the 19th century Palazzo Rosso (red palace), the textile museum is open from 10am to 5pm and the entrance fee is 12CHF for adults. I would have been interested in seeing this but didn’t manage to get there on time. As I mentioned earlier, if you only have two hours in St Gallen, you will have to be efficient with your time. And visiting the library was my priority, therefore I skipped the museum. 

The textile museum houses a collection of historic needle work and embroidery (something St Gallen is famous for), textiles from all over the world, historic costumes, fashion photos and drawings. They hold around 2 to 3 themed exhibitions every year to complement the main collection.

In addition, the textile library holds hundreds of sample books, fashion sketches and photographs. Generally, the textile library is included in the museum ticket. But only a selection of sample books is on display, showcasing the variety of Swiss embroidery are laid out for viewing.

The Botanical Garden

Something to do for free in St Gallen is a visit to the Botanical Garden. It is open all year round from 8am to 5pm and it houses a selection of around 8000 plants. Including an alpine garden and a green house. The Botanical Garden first opened in 1878 and occupies around 6000sqm. It is a located a little outside the city centre, approx. 2 miles (3 kilometres) from the Abbey District. So definitely not something to add to a two hour in St Gallen sightseeing tour. But perfect, should you spend more time in and around St Gallen.

Schützengarten Brewery

If you like beer (which I don’t), you might also want to check out the local brewery. Located on St Jakob Strasse, the Schützengarten Brewery has been brewing beer since 1779, making it the oldest brewery in Switzerland.

They offer daily guided tours of the brewery (unfortunately only in German). You can also visit the beer bottle museum, which exhibits thousands of bottles of different Swiss-made beers.

OK, there you have it. My two hours in St Gallen sightseeing tour. I hope you found it helpful. I am sure there is plenty more to see and as I said, I’d happily come back and explore some more one day. But as a first taster of St Gallen, this should give you a good overview. Have you been to St Gallen? Did I miss something that definitely should go on the list of must see places in St Gallen? 

Oh and to reveal the mystery of the binary clock. The time in the picture is 18.24 and 18 seconds. Did you get it right?

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