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Home Page > Travelogues > Switzerland > Rheinfall (and Schloss Laufen)


The Rhine Falls -- Largest Falls in Europe


Occasionally on my travels I passed by some incredible landmark along the way that I decide I must go to.  One of those was near the northern Swiss border town of Schaffhausen -- it was a huge waterfall in the middle of the Rhine river that was in clear view from the Swiss trains.  After going by it about three times over a couple years, I decided to make it a destination.  I would discover that the Rhein Falls were even more awesome up close and personal.

The title says it all, the Rheinfall was the largest waterfall in Europe in terms of volume of water passed.  At only 23 meters, it was not all that tall, but with the full weight of the Rhine running over it, it looked spectacular.  And like Niagara Falls, a whole town (Neuhausen am Rheinfall) was built around the cottage tourist industry that the Rheinfall attracted. 

I reached the Rhine Falls on foot from downtown Schaffhausen -- about three kilometers away.  Unlike much of the Rhine through Germany that was wide and rock-free, this portion of the river was narrow and populated by heavy boulders.  There would not be any barges traveling this part of the river!

Soon enough I saw the Falls' two major landmarks and tourist attractions.  The first was the boulders perched in the middle of the falls, which can be seen in the center of the second photograph.  It was those boulders that fascinated me when I first saw the falls from the train.  I didn't realize it, but those boulders were about thirty meters tall and sat right on the very edge of the falls themselves.  I remembered seeing people up on top of them, but those there was a land bridge... nope, the only way I could get there was by boat!  (The boat was visible at far left of the second photograph.)

Of course, I took the boat ride.  There was a small cottage called the Schössl Wörth beyond the bottom of the falls that housed a restaurant, various souvenir stands, and the Rheinfalls' wharf.  For 6.50 CHF, I rode the boat to the bottom of the boulder, where there's a landing safely protected from the on-rushing water.  I then climbed the precarious ladder to the top, with about forty other people.  The ladder was very steep, and the top of the boulder could only handle about six people at once, so I spent quite a chunk of time stuck in the middle waiting for the people above me to move.  Getting down was cautious going as well! 

But oh, what a beautiful view from the top!  I took about fifteen shots from there, mostly of the white water racing past and splashing among all the crevices in the rocks.  I was high enough that neither I nor my camera took a terrible splashing, but in the warm afternoon sun, the cool mist felt really soothing.  I would have enjoyed it even more if there weren't thirty-nine other people jockeying for position up on that tiny rock! 

The second major landmark was the Schloss Laufen, perched on the high cliffs directly above the falls.  The third photograph shows a great shot of the Schloss as it faces over the sharp bend in the Rhein after the falls.  The Schloss may have once been a true palace, but now it serves as the Rheinfalls' primary tourist haven.  The Schloss hosts a restaurant, a massive souvenir stand, a garden, and a gateway to several observation decks that wind their way down to the falls.  The second photograph showed one of the higher observation decks, while the first showed the lowest.  In fact, that one was so low and so near the falls that the water rushed directly under the floor, and the water seemed to be rushing right at me!  It was absolutely gorgeous.  Access down to the observation decks only cost 1 Swiss franc, or 75 Euro cent, definitely worth it.

The Schloss Laufen was also the main transportation hub for the falls.  It had a separate landing area for the same ferry boats that went to the base of the boulder.  It also had its own regional train station that ran from the Schaffhausen main station.  The train entered from a railroad bridge just up river, barely off the left edge of the third photo.  Behind the Schloss was a massive parking lot for cars and busses, much more accessible than the ones around the outer edge of the valley.

The Schloss was impressive in its own right, very decorative with the new flowers of the spring, as evidenced in the fourth photo.  A small farming village lay nearby with a beautiful white Protestant church with bright red steeple and several residences, all seemingly oblivious to the surroundings.  The fields were far and wide, as if to defy expansion of the tourist traps.  Given the large number of visitors the Rhine Falls gets each year, certainly the opportunity to expand was there.  But I had a great appreciation for the desire to keep the area as natural as possible.  Of course, it wasn't entirely natural.  For example, the center boulders have been propped up with a new concrete foundation, obviously needed for safety reasons.

I spent a good three hours at the site, hitting every observation deck I could find, inside and outside the bend in the river.  The ones inside the bend were better for an up close and personal view of the water rushing by.  The ones outside were more picturesque as I was able to frame pictures of the falls and the Schloss together.  There were also plenty of moonscape views, like the fifth photo where the water cascaded over large patches of bare rock as it tumbled toward the Falls.  I was simply a lovely trip.

If you are on the German-Swiss border, such as near Lake Constance, Schaffhausen and the Rhine Falls are definitely worth checking out.

Trip Taken 19 April 2003 -- Last Updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2003 Tom Galvin


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