What To Do in Solothurn | Sights, History & The Number 11
The city of Solothurn sits in close proximity to the beautiful Weissenstein Jura Mountains, near the capital city of Bern. This pretty town combines French, Swiss, and Italian architecture, which makes it a remarkable visual experience for visitors and a hidden gem among Switzerland’s many treasures. And if you want to find out about the best things to do in Solothurn, this post is for you.
The city’s old town, as it stands today, originates from around 1530. It was the seat of the French ambassador to Switzerland for many years during its existence. For such a relatively obscure city in terms of widespread recognition, it is pretty remarkable to note that more than 18 buildings are cultural heritage sites.
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Switzerland hails Solothurn as the best example of a city with Baroque and Renaissance architecture. The town also contains notable historic walls and fortifications, which are the subject of fascination for many travelers. This is Solothurn, itself one of the best places to visit in Switzerland, along with a note on the number 11.
TRAVEL TIPS FOR SOLOTHURN
Here are some quick tips for your (day) trip to Solothurn.
WHERE TO STAY IN SOLOTHURN
- You can acquire a perfectly luxurious suite at the Boutique Hotel La Couronne, also in the city center – actually, it is just next to the beautiful cathedral (Solothurn´s main sight).
- If you’re looking to stay in the mountains for a few days, consider the reasonably-priced Hotel Weissenstein, an absolutely gorgeous hotel in Oberdorf. In the winter, the hotel offers access to the ski slopes as well. However, it is about 9km from Solothurn.
- For a budget option, the Hotel Roter Ochsen is a quaint and cozy 400-year-old house in the old town. It is within a stone’s throw from the railway station, so easy to access. Best of all, you’re close to the river!
TOP THINGS TO DO IN SOLOTHURN
Solothurn’s main charms lie in its impressive buildings and architectural structures. They form an integral part of the city’s history and remain some of the most beautiful landmarks in the region, if not the country. But as one of the best towns to visit in Switzerland, you should know there’s more than history here.
ST. URSUS CATHEDRAL
The city’s most significant Roman Catholic Cathedral is the St. Ursus Cathedral (also called the Cathedral of St. Ursus or Solothurn Cathedral). It is also one of the most important buildings representing the neoclassical era of the city. The current version of the cathedral dates between 1762 and 1773.
Visitors ask why the numeral 11 seems to pop up around the cathedral so much. Well, eleven is a particularly special number in Solothurn (see below). The cathedral represents this in many novel ways. For example, the tower has three sets of 11 steps, 11 altars, and 11 bells.
- Free entry
The top of the cathedral tower also offers a wonderful view of the surrounding city. All you have to do is climb 249 steps—totally worth it with views of Solothurn and the across the country.
- There is a small entrance fee for the tower (3 CHF). It is open from April to the end of October, from around 9:30 – 11:45 am and then from 1:30 – 5:30 pm. On Sundays, it is only open from 1 – 5:30 pm. In the winter months, access is only for bigger groups on requests.
THE CATHEDRAL TREASURY
The cathedral has an interesting treasury you should see. Here, you can see late medieval gothic and baroque items like chalices and other gold and silver objects on display here. Of the most important things are arca with head relics of Ursus and Victor as its focal points. Some of the items here are also still in use during the most special services in the cathedral.
A particular room contains five centuries’ worth of garments and vestments. They also include various documents written throughout the period. Visiting the Treasury is a real treat for visitors interested in cultural and religious history.
This impressive clock tower is, in fact, a large astronomical clock. It displays the day, month, year, and dates of the year. Look to the East from this location, and you’ll see a fabulous view of the Jesuit church and the St. Ursus Cathedral.
The clock tower is most likely the oldest building in the city. After all, it’s been here since the early 13th century. The clock also has a display featuring a knight, a king, and a skeleton just below the canopy. The display becomes animated every hour on the hour as the large hammer strikes the bell.
As mentioned, you can see the Jesuit church if you look east from the Clock Tower. This temple is a beautiful example of an original baroque building—possibly one of the most notable in the country and Europe.
The Jesuit church features an altar made of marble wood representing the Assumption of Mary. It has its origins between 1680 and 1690, boasting an incredible Italian-style stucco. The church’s main facade contains a Mary statue made entirely of limestone. During Christmas time, you’ll find a nativity scene depicting Jesus’ birth.
Side fact: Limestone features strongly in the architecture of the city. The stone emanates mainly from the surrounding mountains and region.
While it looks quite simple from the outside, it really is worth it to have a quick look because it is stunning from the inside.
The city’s historic standing meant that it contains many historical fortifications. Only three gates remain of those fortifications, of which the Basel Gate served mainly as the Eastern entry point to the town.
City forebears built this gate in 1504, mostly of Jura limestone, likely from the mountains in the surrounding area. Before the construction of the stone gate, the Eastern Gate to Solothurn was entirely constructed from oak. The gate had been famous as an effective defense structure against enemies, particularly during a famous conflict in 1382. The story goes that historical figure Hans Roth helped prevent a city massacre at the hands of Count Rudolf II of Neu-Kyburg. Then, the Basel gate played a significant role in the counteraction.
The ‘Gurzellontor’ or Biel Gate is slightly older than the Basel Gate. It dates to around the 13th century but has seen lots of refurbishment and upgrades throughout the years. There is a notable representation of the Patron Saint Ursus outside the gate.
The surface of the gate is quite interesting as it contains several reliefs and exciting decorations. Visitors can view various coats of arms and historical depictions adorning the entrance and its walls. When the city was the seat of the French ambassador, the city people would welcome dignitaries at this gate with cannon fire and other such fanfare.
Like most such fortifications, the gate has a tower attached. Aside from serving as a watchtower for approaching parties, the tower was sometimes used as a prison.
Alongside the Biel Gate is the Burris tower. In recent times the building has acquired a significant cultural history. It is often the center of many artistic and cultural events in the city. It has even served as a theater space where performers would seek to launch their careers and productions.
The original tower dates back to the mid-1500s. Boasting four floors, you can visit the different floors to find artists and performers of various mediums. You can’t come to the city without at least considering attending a performance here. Outside, you can admire the Burris tower’s archaic stone design.
As with all medieval and ancient towns, the Märetplatz (marketplace) was a very important part of life. During the Middle Ages, it was a place for people to purchase food and get the latest news.
Today, you’ll find a place where the old meets the new—although the atmosphere hasn’t changed a bit. Situated in the old town, the marketplace is now a gathering place and tourist center. Here you can buy some food, visit the stores and stalls for trinkets on Saturdays, and generally find a place to take a break on your walks around the town. It is also a reasonably central place to see the various key sites, most of which feature on this list.
AARE RIVER JOURNEY
If you do nothing else in Solothurn, consider a river trip on the Aare from Solothurn to Biel. This is a 3-hour boat trip that you can take between May and October. It takes you past some of the fantastic sites that attract visitor interest along the shores of this Rhine tributary.
Among the many fascinating and exciting things to see along this section of the river are the stork nests at Altreu. There is also a magnificent view of the town hall’s gothic windows, the municipal church, and Büren an der Aare River. While you take in place-after-place, the crew serves you with regional specialties.
What could be so special about a clock? Well, the solar turn clock happens to tell ‘Solothurn time.’ That means that it has an unusual 11-hour face and plays a particular tune known as the Solothurn song. It is also a beautiful piece of sculpture, with a harlequin doing the honors on the hour.
The clock sits on the west wall of the UBS building on Amthausplatz 1. It is, reportedly, not the only watch face in Solothurn with only 11 numbers. But that just seems to be a Solothurn thing. It’s unclear whether the people of Solothurn would prefer there to be only 11 hours in a cycle, but it works in this city.
The mountains of Switzerland do really feel like the top of Europe. You can hardly visit the town of Solothurn without noting the majestic Weissenstein Mountain. The mountain sits north of Solothurn and is a mountain of the Jura. It is well known for its hiking trails and is a popular point of interest for all nature-loving visitors, especially in the summer. You can also opt for a scenic 10-minute cable car ride with scenic views of the Alps and three lakes.
Other activities include mountain biking and picnicking in the designated areas, which also provide barbeque facilities. Keep an eye out for wild boars, which roam the meadows.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON BEST SOLOTHURN ACTIVITIES
Solothurn is indeed a unique Swiss city with its baroque architecture. Its compact size allows you to see the main sights within one day – and it also allows you to take a rest at the Aare River or chill on an Aare River cruise. Given its proximity to Bern or even Zurich, it is a great place to visit as a day trip.
Hopefully, these tips have helped you find out about the best things to do in Solothurn in 1 day or so.