On our journey east through Germany, we realised we were passing VERY close to the Swiss border. And close to the Swiss border is one of the biggest waterfalls in the world- the Rhine Falls (or Rheinfall, as the Swiss call it.) We wanted to visit here last summer but didn't get time, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to detour. (Every good road trip should allow time for an unplanned detour… or three!)
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What is the Rhine Falls?
The Rhine Falls is (are?) a waterfall. A really big waterfall. The biggest in Switzerland in fact. Some say it's the biggest in Europe, but there is a taller one in Norway and a more powerful one in Iceland. Either way, it's a big, powerful and impressive waterfall.
Love waterfalls? Here are 29 of the most beautiful waterfalls in Europe.
Where are the Rhine Falls?
The Rhine Falls is in northern Switzerland, on the High Rhine river. It's about an hour from Zurich by train, or can be reached by car, bike and motorhome pretty easily.
The address is: Rheinfallquai, 8212 Neuhausen am Rheinfall, Switzerland
Some facts about the Rhine Falls
- The Falls are 23m high
- The width is 150m
- The basin is 13m deep
- In summer around 600,000 litres EVERY SECOND go over the falls
- This drops to 250,000 litres in winter. (Seriously- that's still a LOT!)
- They are around 15,000 years old!
How to get to the Rheinfall
First, and most importantly, the Rhine Falls are in SWITZERLAND. Not Germany. There is not necessarily a border crossing. We didn't even need to show our passports, BUT you DO need a vignette in order to travel on the toll roads.
All the motorways and major ‘A' roads in Switzerland are toll roads- and there's very little warning before you find yourself on one. The main motorway which runs from Germany straight into Switzerland automatically becomes a toll road- there's nothing to stop you. There are no toll booths or barriers- just a green sign of a car with a box around it. It is ridiculously easy to find yourself on a road without an appropriate vignette- and then you're in for a fine of around 200 Swiss francs (about 170€ at today's exchange rate).
Some rules/ info about Swiss Vignettes
In 2018, the vignette for any vehicle up to 3.5t cost 35.75€. No matter when you buy it, it expires on the 31st January the next year (if you buy it in December 2020, it will expire in January 2021- so you only get 2 months use out of it.) No, it's not possible to get a shorter term one.
If you are towing a caravan or car, that vehicle needs its own vignette. The vignette MUST be fixed to the left-hand side of the windscreen, even on a RHD car. Make sure you fit it correctly the first time, as it cannot be removed and repositioned. For further details on where to position, this website has a great photo. You can also buy the vignette through them, although I have never used this service. (NOTE- not an affiliate link, just a useful website.)
Motorbike vignettes in Switzerland
Motorbikes also need a vignette, which must be fitted to the bike in a place which is easily accessible but cannot be dismantled or replaced. (Don't ask- I have no idea how to do that!)
Vignettes for vehicles over 3.5t
IF YOUR VEHICLE IS OVER 3.5t, like ours, you need to pay 3.25 CHF/ day (minimum payment 25cHF) (visit this website here) and visit a manned border crossing in order to fill out the official paperwork. Yes, this includes motorhomes and people towing trailers or vehicles which together puts the total weight over 3.5t. You need to do this even if you are only travelling on back roads, so make sure you enter via a manned border crossing to avoid confusion or mistakes if you are over 3.5t.
You do NOT need a vignette to travel on small roads if under 3.5t – but of course smaller roads take longer and require a little more planning to avoid low bridges, narrow streets etc.
The Rhine Falls- parking and access for motorhomes
As with most places we've visited so far in mainland Europe, motorhomes are well catered for. Signs are easily followed and the road, although steep, was easy to access, even pulling a trailer like we were. There are several parking areas and we were directed to park in the one right at the top (P4), which is about a 5-minute walk down to the Falls. It's doable with a pushchair or a wheelchair, but anyone with limited mobility might find it a tough walk back up. There is disabled and bus parking at the bottom, so you might be able to park/ drop off there if you ask.
Rhine Falls- entrance fees
There is no entrance fee to enter the area and you can take some great photos without going on a boat at all. It is also possible to rent canoes in the summer and there is also an adventure rope park, which looks like fun- so there's plenty to do for a day or two if you have time.
The Rhine Falls Boat rides
When you arrive, there are several boat rides you can take, as well as a walk. The boats are colour co-ordinated so you can easily find the right one. By the ticket desk is a map so you can choose where you want to go. Your choices are to the middle viewing platform, to the other side with the castle or both. We opted to take the yellow boat trip out into the middle so we could climb the viewing platform and look down into the falls. (8 CHF each)
Times for boat rides at the Rhine Falls
You are allocated a specific time for your trip when you buy a ticket. We didn't actually realise this, so we were queuing patiently for the boat to return ( it runs every 15-20 minutes or so). When we handed over our tickets, the guy pointed out that it was the wrong slot but he had space so he let us come along early. Frustratingly, we were on a boat with a Chinese tour… if we'd waited for the next boat there were only 6 other people and I think we'd have had a better experience! Live and learn!
Boat ride at the Rhine Falls!
Pulling closer to all that power is magical. I love waterfalls, (like this one you can walk behind!) and you can feel the spray hit you even from quite far away. Make sure your camera/ phone is waterproof as it WILL get sprayed. From the boat you can see across the river to the castle on the other side. It's possible to get a boat across to this castle and explore it, but we were only stopping for a short time so decided not to do that. Apparently, it's a really pretty view though.
Viewing Platform in the middle of the Rhine Falls
We were dropped off at the viewing platform which is right in the middle of the falls. It was spectacular! The only problem with so many people is there isn't much room, especially when you're surrounded by people who don't know how to queue/ wait! Poor Jade was trampled as they pushed past her to race ahead. In total there were about 50 of us on the viewing platform area at once… and my goodness did it feel crowded. One good thing about being so tall is I could see but Jade felt very claustrophobic.
Climbing the Viewing platform in the middle of Rheinfall
The next 4/5 minutes consisted entirely of steps. Lots and lots of STEEP steps. I don't think you're allowed to take pushchairs even onto the boat and I'm afraid it's totally unsuitable for anyone with limited mobility- even we found it hard going! But my goodness the view was worth it. You could feel the deep thud of the water as it crashed over the rocks into the river below. It was pretty awesome.
How long to spend at the Rhine Falls
In total, we were on the viewing platform for about 20 minutes. We could (and possibly should) have stayed there and waited for the next boat back (you can stay on the platform as long as you like- no one checks your ticket back.)
See the power of the Rhine Falls in April- including the boat ride into the spray!
Click below to see the boat ride out to the Rhine Falls viewing platform, watch us climb the STEEP steps and avoid being trampled and see the boat head really close and into the spray of the falls on the return journey.
The Rhine Falls in April- the verdict
When we returned, the only way out was through the tourist shops, where Jade promptly fell in love with a million things and we performed a dance we like to call the parent shuffle – she picks something up, exclaims over it, passes it to us, we put it back. She's normally pretty good, and only spends her pocket money on things she REALLY likes, but it does take hours to get out of a shop. I can't really complain though- I used to be exactly the same (sorry Mum and Dad!) I still love browsing when it comes to books or trinkets- even if I rarely buy anything.
So, would we recommend the Rhine Falls? Oh heck yes. It's magical, magnificent and totally worth your time. For us, it's one of the best places to visit in Switzerland. I defy anyone to go there and not be impressed. It definitely helped that it was warm and sunny, but I believe the falls are open all year round, so you could go see it in the snow! I bet the Rhine Falls in winter are magical.
Afterwards, we considered a trip to Zurich, a city I've always wanted to visit, or Stein am Rhein, a beautiful historic village close by, but instead, we wound our way out of Switzerland and back into Germany heading East. We stopped by a gorgeous lake called Lake Constance for the night.
TOTAL COST TODAY
24CHF Rhine Falls boat tour
14CHF gifts in shop
64€ Lidl once back in Germany
How about you, have you visited the Rhine Falls? Did you enjoy it? Let me know in the comments below
And if you know anyone who is visiting the area and might want to know more about this experience, feel free to share this post with them.