There is something about waterfalls. They are naturally beautiful and their thundering roar and rainbow-causing mist means we simply can’t ignore them. Visit a natural waterfall and it’s easy to appreciate nature and feel a desire to protect it for future generations.
The Rhine Falls in Switzerland is claimed to be Europe’s largest waterfall, however, it’s definitely miniscule compared to Niagara or Victoria Falls. The falls is an impressive 150 m wide but only fall about 23 m. Because we had seen some photographs, my wife and I were not expecting anything great but we were wowed by the power and majesty of the rushing water and were amazed at how close we could get to the flow.
Rhine Falls offers the full range of facilities expected by visitors. Various restaurants and souvenir shops with endless trinkets are available on either side of the river. The railway bridge which crosses the river just upstream of the falls has pedestrian access so it is possible to make a roundtrip by using a boat, the bridge, and the connecting paths that link the two.
For most of the year the falls is illuminated after dusk and visiting then has an extra dimension. It is surprisingly different to the day experience.
We chose to approach from the south side and after parking we paid the fee to enter the grounds of Schloss Laufen which towers on a rocky spur high above the falls. We, like most visitors, strolled through the inner courtyard of the castle then descended on a paved path to the “Känzeli”, a viewing platform directly over the thundering water.
From here, and from the glass panoramic elevator, you get great views of this imposing natural spectacle. In summer, the best views of all are probably from daredevil boats which scurry about in the spray immediately below the falls. Several boat trips are available. You can simply cross the Rhine River to the other side, cruise on the river close to the waterfalls, or most spectacularly land on a small rocky outcrop right in the middle of the falls.
We walked down to river level in pouring rain but this didn’t lessen the thrill of being so close to the thundering water. The rain was joined by dense spray as we visited several viewing points before we decided we were wet enough.
After using the elevator to return to the top of the cliff we took a look around the castle and found out more about its 1000-year-old history at the “Historama” exhibition. This is included in the entrance fee. The castle was first mentioned in the year 858, so the ancient walls have seen much history.
For a completely different experience I suggest you then visit Stein am Rhein, a very picturesque town about 20km away to the east. This is an historic place with a well-preserved medieval centre situated in beautiful countryside along the lower end of Lake Constance, where the lake becomes the Rhine River again.
Stein am Rhein was just a small fishing village until 1007, when St. George’s Abbey was moved here. Now the town has a population of a little over 3000, and is a popular tourist destination.
It is a lively and very charming small town. Among the sights are the Monastery of St. Georgen a well-preserved Medieval monastery complex, the Lindwurm Museum depicting 19th century bourgeois and agricultural life, and the Hohenklingen Castle on a hill partially covered with vineyards, which was built high above the town in 1225.
It is here that we found the oldest church in the Canton. Burg Church dedicated to St. John the Baptist is surrounded by wall remnants of a Roman fortress which was built in the 3rd century.
Our favourite place though, is the Rathausplatz – the square of the City Hall – which is lined by old houses with magnificent painted façades. We stood and stared for ages as we took the vista in. It was one of the best urban scenes we had seen in Switzerland.
Then we explored the meandering alleys where there is prettiness everywhere. There are facades with delightful timber decoration, inviting al fresco cafés and restaurants, and unexpected scenes of everyday life. Finally we reached the river where there are many restaurants and cafés with outdoor seating and a lovely view.
In summer, passenger boats link Stein am Rhein with Schaffhausen near the Rhine Falls. This is a lovely relaxing trip with great views of life along the river.
IF YOU GO
The nearest major airport to the Rhine Falls is Zurich. From there, take a train to either the station called ‘Neuhausen Rheinfall’ or ‘Schloss Laufen am Rheinfall’ on the other side of the river. Both stations are located right next to the falls. It takes 45-60 minutes from Zurich.
Alternatively, rent a car and drive there. The roads are good and traffic away from peak periods is relatively light. Images: Phensri Rutledge