Stein am Rhein is a stunning small town that – in the words of a traveling friend – really must be seen to be believed! Straddling the Rhein River in Switzerland, this Altstadt is a gem. With countless intricately frescoed and half-timbered houses, you won’t want to miss it! At the end of July, we dipped in to Switzerland after a morning at the impressive Hohentwiel ruins. Stein am Rhein is so small, you won’t need more than half day to explore it, but you’ll want to stay longer to soak in as much charm as possible.
Other than the intricate frescoes, the water is the main draw. Visitors can take a river cruise, but we observed a more DIY way to experience the Rhein.
Scores of college students could be seen along the banks inflating large dinghies. The first raft ready was placed in the river and filled with two or three inches of water. Cans and bottles of beer were submerged in the cool water. Apparently, they were chilling their beverages while the rest of the party pumped up their rafts. Nice idea, eh?And speaking of ideas, I couldn’t come up with very many when it came to figuring out how in the world these rafts could be any match for the Rhein’s current. None of the rafts had motors, and many did not even have oars. Given the busy boat traffic on the water, I don’t think I’d want to be stuck in the middle of a rushing river with no way to navigate. Perhaps these young ‘uns know something I don’t…?
For adrenaline junkies in Stein am Rhein, the thing to do is jump off the bridge into the cold river below. We saw a handful of people partaking in this risky activity, and even a boy about 12 years old. Apparently diving from the bridge is so popular, that the town has erected a sign warning of potential danger. Anyhow, we explored the north shore first. The famous Rathausplatz (town hall square) and the most beautiful frescoes can be found here, as well as some very expensive restaurants. One of the nicest surprises in Stein am Rhein was the lack of obnoxious tourist traps. The town didn’t have a kitschy feel or oppressive crowds.
After strolling the picturesque side streets, we headed toward the river bridge. On our way there, we impulsively ducked in to a small courtyard. Here we happened upon the first of two delightful discoveries.
A convent museum (St. Georgen Klostermuseum) sits in a charming courtyard just off the main traffic street. Shortly before we reached the museum entrance, we found a gigantic wine press and several large barrels. Doc Sci went all nerdy on me, explaining the physics of the press to the boys. Bored, I left to soak in the atmosphere of the quiet hof. The smell of lavender in bloom, the breeze from the river, the warm rays of sunshine… absolutely lovely.
On the south side of the Rhein, we climbed some steps up to a quaint little church (St. Johann Kirche). Opposite the onion dome, we feasted on a fantastic view of the town and surrounding hills.
From here, we could see Hohenklingen Castle keeping watch from high above Stein am Rhein. We were burg-ed out that day, but should you have more energy to conquer the climb, visitor information can be found here.
Then, on a whim, I decided to follow a touristy-looking sign to something called Badi Espi. I guessed it might be a museum or at least a photogenic building. Nope – Badi Espi is an area of the Rhein fenced off for swimming!
The boys had left their swimsuits in the car, but that didn’t stop us from stripping off shoes and socks and wading into the river. Cool, refreshing, and clean – we couldn’t believe our good fortune! Even Big Foot dipped his toes. I was relieved to find a decent free bathroom on site, though I bristled at the food stand prices. Five euros for a single hot dog! We didn’t bite.
Back at the parking lot, we noticed two great attractions for children – a large wooden playground and small kiddie train. Want to ride? Find fares and a timetable here.
In regards to parking, the lot adjacent to the old town seemed adequate even for a sunny Saturday. Machines accept credit cards, Swiss francs, and euro coins. I didn’t notice any free parking; every inch of the road leading in to town required motorists to pay up. The quaint Swiss town of Stein am Rhein deserves a spot on every traveler’s Bodensee or northern Switzerland itinerary, especially in summer. Pack Swiss money, passports, and swimsuits, and treat the family to a picture perfect day on the Rhein!