Have you heard of Solothurn?
Don't worry. I hadn't either before I came here for a job interview with my current boss back in 2013. I mean, I’d obviously heard of Solothurn, being Swiss and all. I just didn’t have a clue where it was.
A lot has changed since then and over the past couple of years living and working here, I've not only fallen in love with this charming city but also found some interesting things to do.
Before I move back home to eastern Switzerland in the near future, I'd like to share some of my favourite spots of Solothurn with you.
1. Follow the number 11
Solothurn is all about the number 11.
For starters, you'll find 11 historical fountains scattered throughout the old town. There’s a total of 11 museums, 11 churches/chapels, this crazy clock that counts only 11 instead of 12 hours and a local beer called öufi. Which, who'd have thought, is how they say eleven in the local dialect.
But it doesn't stop there.
St. Ursus Cathedral, the city's landmark, is where it gets even more interesting. The designer of this masterpiece was so fascinated by the number 11 that he built the whole construction around it.
The bell tower measures 6 times 11 metres and comes with 11 bells. There are 11 altars inside the cathedral, which can all be seen from the 11th black stone. The kneelers are arranged in rows of 11 and the staircase outside the cathedral counts three times 11 steps.
I'm going to let you guess how many years it took them to build the cathedral…
2. Enjoy the view from St. Ursus Cathedral
Speaking of the cathedral, the views from the top of its tower are fantastic. On a clear day, you can see the Bernese Alps in the south, including the famous mountain-trio Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.
To the north you can admire the Jura mountains with Weissenstein, Solothurn's backyard mountain. Not that it classifies as a mountain in my eyes, but that’s a story for another day. This has been an ongoing debate between me and my local friends since the day I moved here…
I guess you’ll have to form your own opinion here 🙂
In addition to these alpine views, you have the River Aare and the entire old town at your feet. I always find it fascinating to check out those rooftop terraces and watch the city from a bird's-eye view.
The tower is open from April through October. Once you’ve climbed the 249 steps, you can buy your ticket (3 CHF) from the friendly person awaiting you at the top.
Oh, and in case you’re a little disappointed that you can’t divide 249 by eleven, you’re not the only one.
3. Go on a pilgrimage to Verenaschlucht
Whenever I feel like going for a walk and don't know where else to go, I head to the hermitage at the end of Verenaschlucht.
This little hermitage has been around for almost a thousand years and is a highly popular destination for locals as well as visitors. It's the perfect place if you'd like to you forget the world around you for a little while.
The path to the hermitage follows the idyllic Verena Creek. Hence the name Verena Gorge (gorge=Schlucht). Go check it out and snap some mystical photos.
4. Go for a hike in the Jura mountains
As you arrive in Solothurn, you'll notice the Jura rising right behind the city. Switzerland and France share this mountain range that pretty much covers the whole north-western part of Switzerland.
Its highest point, the Crêt de la Neige, sits in France at 1.720 metres (5.643 feet) above sea level. The highest point in the Swiss Jura lies at 1.679 metres (5.508 feet) above sea level.
Compared to the rest of the Alps, the Jura is a lot lower and therefore more accessible than those crazy peaks you often see on postcards.
If you have time, I highly recommend spending at least half a day exploring one of the many hiking trails in the Jura. Here are three trips that are doable within half a day starting in Solothurn:
The easiest way to reach Weissenstein, the city's backyard mountain, is by cable car. The ride from the station in Oberdorf to the top takes 10 minutes. From the summit station, there's a ton of trails leading in all four cardinal directions.
Balmberg to Weissenstein
One of my favourite hikes is the one from Balmberg to Weissenstein. Catch Postauto No. 12 in Solothurn, head to Balmberg and follow the trail to Weissenstein.
This walk takes roughly an hour. From Weissenstein, you can either hike back down to Oberdorf or catch the cable car.
Gänsbrunnen to Weissenstein
To walk across the first chain of the Jura, catch the train from Solothurn to Gänsbrunnen. You'll pass through a tunnel before coming out on the other side in Gänsbrunnen.
From there, you've got several trails leading up to Weissenstein and other destinations in the Jura.
5. Enjoy the River Aare
Like I mentioned in this post about St. Gallen, pretty much every Swiss city is built next to water.
Solothurn is no exception.
The River Aare has its origin near Interlaken at the impressive Aare Gorge. From there, it makes its way through Lake Brienz to Interlaken, continues its journey to Thun and Bern, takes a loop through Lake Biel before it finally arrives in Solothurn.
It doesn't stop here but I won't bore you any further with the wanderings of the Aare at this point. 🙂
Especially during the warm summer months, the Aare attracts people for all kinds of activities. Here's a couple of things you can do in, by or on the river in and around Solothurn.
Enjoy the Riviera of Solothurn
This promenade next to the Aare is very popular for its bars, cafés, restaurants and ice cream places.
It's by far the most lively part of the city on any warm day - or night - of the year. Especially the Aaremüürli, the stone wall accompanying the river, is packed with people sipping a drink or having some ice cream.
Go for a swim
The Aare is a great place to go for a swim and you can get in pretty much anywhere you like. As long as you can climb down and are positive you'll make it back up again, you're good to go.
There's also a public bath about five minutes upstream from the old town. It comes with two swimming pools, access to the river, a restaurant, a diving tower, a slide, a beach volleyball field, showers and lockers. Everything you need for a relaxing afternoon in the sun.
Admission is 6 CHF.
Float down the river
If you fancy a floating adventure, buy an air mattress or a tube at Jumbo warehouse, walk upstream, hop into the river and enjoy the ride.
It's a very popular pastime in summer and you definitely won't be the only one doing so.
Catch a ship
Another fantastic way to experience the Aare is on board the ship that commutes between Solothurn and Biel.
Completing the whole ride takes 2.45 hours, but you can get off along the way and catch the train or bus back if that's too much for you. I usually hop off in Altreu, spend some time in Switzerland's largest stork station, walk to the train station in Selzach and head back to Solothurn by train.
Ships run three times daily from May to September. In October, before closing for winter, they reduce their schedule to two daily services.
Rent a bike
6. Visit Switzerland's largest stork station in Altreu
You're probably wondering what that stork station I just mentioned was all about, right?
In 1950, when storks in Switzerland were all but extinct, Max Bloesch started his reintroduction project to save our storks. He worked on bringing them back to Switzerland and after a few ups and downs, his endeavours eventually paid off.
His legacy still lives on, and today, around 40 breeding pairs can be seen soaring through the air, strutting across the fields in search of a crunchy frog and clattering on the rooftops in Altreu.
Before you visit the station, there are two things you might want to keep in mind, though:
- Storks are migrating birds, which means they head to the sunny south during winter. They don't always leave and return at the same time but allegedly, stork-winter starts in August and ends in April. But even outside this period, you might find a stork or two staying here during winter because the journey has become too tiring for them.
- Look up! Storks are very clean animals and avoid making their nest dirty by doing their business outside. And if this means pooping onto a bunch of wet leaves and spraying everyone with their excrement in the process, so be it.
7. Take a trip to Burgäschisee
This little lake in the village of Aeschi is a real gem. Whether you're after an idyllic walk around the lake, some relaxing hours by its shores or even a quick swim, Burgäschisee never disappoints.
To get there, catch bus No. 5 or 7 to Aeschi. From there, either walk 20 minutes or wait for bus
No. 16 to take you to Burgäschi.
8. Enjoy the culinary side of Solothurn
Food-wise, Solothurn has a lot more to offer than you'd expect from such a small city. It never ceases to strike me how many restaurants there are and how many people eat out every single day.
The following list is by no means conclusive but it sums up some of my favourites...
8.1 Baked goods, pastry and ice cream
For a slice of Solothurner Torte, an iconic cake consisting of hazelnut meringue, a light biscuit and a creamy filling, I always head to Suteria. Other bakeries sell it as well but the one at Suteria is my favourite.
This café / restaurant / pastry shop serves delicious lunch menus and has its main focus on typical Swiss sweet delicacies. Plus my flatmate works there as a pastry chef, so I can't help but love this place.
Everyone in Solothurn has their bakery. And Studer is mine. If you like olive bread, there's no better place to buy it than at Studer.
This bakery is a heaven-sent for woodstove lovers. 90% of their baked goods are made in their woodstove, which really makes a difference in taste.
This is hands down the best ice cream place in town. If you're in Solothurn between March and October, please don't leave without exploring their impressive ice cream selection.
If you're looking for affordable Thai food, Kaiser is your best bet. Their delicious menu choices never disappoint.
As soon as you enter, the friendly ladies behind the buffet greet you with a smile and ask you the following questions: Eat in or take out? Big or small? Rice or noodles? Spring roll yes or no?
Followed by their daily selection of sauces with meat, fish, veggies or whatever else they decided to whip up for the day. Sadly, they're only open during lunchtime.
There are several Kebab places throughout the city. I don't have a favourite here. Just wander through the old town and follow your instincts. You can't go wrong...
Whenever I feel like Thai food and Kaiser is closed, I head to Thai Sunshine. This restaurant is very popular and making a reservation might be a good idea. Especially in the evening.
This strange-looking word stands for potato house in the Solothurn dialect. While their menu features potatoes in all shapes and consistencies, their speciality is Rösti, one of our Swiss national dishes.
This Italian restaurant in the centre of the old town has a charming patio and makes excellent pizza. They also have a diverse and, for Swiss standards, reasonably priced lunch menu.
Personally, I've never been to Baseltor. But my colleagues and my flatmates won't shut up about how great it is. It's a bit pricier than other restaurants but their lunch deals seem pretty neat.
Run by the retail chain Manor, this restaurant offers an extensive buffet with something for every taste and budget. Tap water is for free, which unfortunately isn't standard in Switzerland. The restaurant is a little hidden on the top floor of Manor Solothurn, right past the video games.
8.4 Bars and cafés
Situated right by the river, Solheure is one of the most popular places to hang out all year round. People love sitting on the Aaremüürli and having a drink or some pub food in a beautiful setting.
Barock is another cozy bar / café I love going to. They have a great selection of coffee, tea, drinks, desserts and snacks.
This open-air bar by the Aare is only open from April through October. If you fancy a drink or snack underneath the trees with a great view of the old town, this is the place.
This list doesn't cover all the restaurants, bars and bakeries in Solothurn but it sums up some great and popular ones. There are plenty more places in the city and you probably won't go thirsty or hungry for long while you're here.
9. Visit a museum
If you've read my post about St. Gallen, you know I'm not crazy about museums. Unless they're the only warm and dry place within a radius of at least 10 kilometres. Nevertheless, I know not everyone's like me and since Solothurn has quite a few museums, I'd like to introduce you to a couple of them.
The Naturmuseum in the old town of Solothurn mainly focuses on the native fauna and displays mammals, birds, insects, amphibians and reptiles. They present a new special exhibition every six months and admission is free.
The Enter museum is the only one in Switzerland that centers around computers, calculators, radios, television and other electronic devices. And rather than displaying your latest Samsung Galaxy Note or iMac, they show an impressive collection of devices that your grandparents (or parents) grew up with. Admission is 18 CHF.
Another free museum is the art museum just north of the old town. It owns one of the biggest and most valuable Swiss art collections and their focus lies on Swiss art of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Internationally renowned artists also have a place at the Solothurner Kunstmuseum.
Extra Ball (Flippermuseum and Tapas Bar)
Even though it's only open every second Thursday of the month after 7 pm, the Flippermuseum and Tapas Bar Solothurn deserves to be mentioned here. They have an impressive collection of pinball machines for you to play with and it's free to enter.
While you let out your inner child on one of the machines, you can order some delicious tapas and a couple of drinks. For a general impression of the Flippermuseum, head to their website (German only).
Historical Museum Blumenstein
The Historical Museum Blumenstein is located in a beautiful old building roughly 15 minutes (by foot) from the old town. It collects objects that are relevant to the local history. Admission is free.
If you like dinosaurs, don't leave without paying the Sauriermuseum in Bellach a visit. It's not a huge museum and it started out as a hobby first.
Today, it's a very popular destination for families and other dinosaur lovers. This museum is maintained by volunteers and open on Wednesdays and Sundays. Admission is 7 CHF. To get there, catch bus No. 2 in Solothurn and get off in Bellach, Tell.
10. Hit the market
Every Wednesday and Saturday morning, the city is taken over by the farmers' market. You'll find tons of local delicacies like cheese, meat, honey, eggs, bread, milk, jam, fruit, vegetables and flowers, as well as produce from other countries like Italian meat and cheese, figs, dates, olives and much more.
The market on Saturday is a lot bigger and more frequented than the one on Wednesday, but both are worth checking out.
The monthly market takes place every second Monday of the month. It lasts all day and you can find anything apart from food.
There's a great variety of stalls selling clothes, shoes, soaps, home-made goods, toys, dishes, jewellery and a lot more. If you're looking for a gift, you're likely to find something here.
The Solothurner Chästag is a must for cheese lovers. Apart from traditional parades and presentations, there are tons of stalls selling cheese from all over the country.
Of course, you can taste every cheese and if you aren't careful, you might not even have enough room left for the iconic Käseschnitte (slice of bread with melted cheese on top) by the end of your shopping spree.
Toward the end of the year, Solothurn hosts a variety of different markets, starting with the Christmas market at the Capuchin monastery in November.
After that, in the first week of December, St. Nicholas market takes place on two days at Friedhofplatz in the old town before the big Christmas market transforms the city into a haven for gift-shoppers.
11. Join one of the many parties and festivals
In terms of events, there's quite a lot going on in Solothurn. Here's a list of the main events, parties and festivals happening throughout the year. (Check the city's event calendar for the exact dates.)
Every year in January, Solothurn turns into one big cinema. The so-called movie days are a substantial event for the Swiss movie scene and over the course of a whole week, places all over Solothurn show a selection of Swiss movies, documentaries and short films.
Unless you speak German or French, there's no real point in joining the movie-mania, though.
Yes, there's this thing called beer days. I don't think this event needs much explanation. Except that it lasts for three days in April. Cheers.
Once a year, Solothurn turns into a haven for bike lovers. On a weekend in May, the area just outside Baseltor bursts with people and bike vendors.
If you like to check out the latest bikes and gear, try out different vehicles, watch the legendary old-town-race or take photos of bike-pros doing their stunts, don't miss this event.
What the Filmtage are for the movie scene, the literature days are for Swiss literature. I won't go into detail here because it's a German, French and Italian event. But if you speak one of those three languages and are interested in joining this three-day event, head to this site.
This two-day party goes down on a weekend in June. There are food stalls, bars and stages everywhere across the old town and it's good fun to join this annual madness.
I have to admit, I'm not a huge fan of this time of the year. I never understood the concept of carnival but in Solothurn, they're big on it.
During a whole week in February or March, the city is taken over by beer and confetti. People dress up, drink (a lot), party all over the place and enjoy the Guggemusig bands (brass and percussion carnival band).
Streetfood festivals have been popping up all over Switzerland in the last couple of years. And Solothurn is no exception.
If you're after Japanese Okonomiyaki, Tibetian Momos or Argentinian Empanadas, come to Solothurn end of August and join the feast.
Short for Herbstmesse Solothurn, HESO is a trade fair that lasts 10 days in September. You find everything here.
Massage chairs, barbeque equipment, beds, insurance companies, sports gear, food, drinks, whirlpools and much more. Of course, the fun and party aspect also plays an important role in this event. And you don't have to pay admission for anything. Unless you want to ride the carousel, of course.
Like pretty much every city in the world, Solothurn also throws an Oktoberfest party. It takes place over the course of two weekends in October.
Leave the beaten path
Solothurn is a great destination for people looking to leave the beaten tourist trail for a while and discover a small, interesting and charming Swiss city in a beautiful setting.
You can easily spend two to three days exploring Solothurn and its surroundings. And if you happen to get bored, it's a great place to go on daytrips to places Bern, Neuchâtel, the Kambly factory in Trubschachen or the beautiful little town of Morat.
Have fun in the city of 11.
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