Top 11 Things To Do in Solothurn
Solothurn – The City of The Number 11
The city of Solothurn (also known as Soleure in French) is located just an hour an half from Zurich and it is not only very beautiful but it also has so much to see and do. The city has an impressive cathedral as well as many original buildings and as it is so compact it is very easy to explore on foot. With its pretty shops and boutiques, stylish cafés, and excellent restaurants it’s a great place to visit for all the family.
In 2020 (and throughout 2021) Solothurn is celebrating its 2000th anniversary with a whole schedule of fun activities planed to celebrate this milestone. It’s the perfect time to visit the town which is so appealing it is also known as the “Jewel on The Aare”.
The Swiss City of the Number 11
Solothurn is often described as the “most beautiful Baroque city in the whole of Switzerland” and it is the Swiss city most associated with the Number 11. It was the 11th Canton to join the Swiss Confederation, there are 11 fountains, 11 churches and even a clock with just 11 hands!
Even the cathedral has three flights of 11 steps leading up to its main door, eleven altars and eleven bells in its belfry. There is even a local beer brewed in Solothurn called Öufi –Bier or “Eleven” Beer and there is a boat called the Öufi-Boat.
Solothurn The Ambassador’s Town
The city has had strong links to France and was the seat of the French Ambassador to Switzerland in the 16th to 18th centuries. The old centre is often referred to as the ‘Ambassadors’ Town’ and there are plenty of examples all around of its grand historic past.
Home To Second Oldest Hotel in Switzerland
Many famous people have visited the city and stayed at Switzerland ‘s second oldest hotel La Couronne. They include Casanova and Napoleon, Baron von Rothschild, Jane Fonda and Sophia Loren. Cassanova stayed in the corner bedroom, which is now Suite number 206, which was directly across from his love interest who lived in the building opposite.
Napoleon stayed in the hotel along with a number of his officers. However, despite the hotel going to considerable expense to prepare the hotel in the weeks leading up to his visit, at the last minute he left early and refused to pay his bill. The original bill is now framed and hangs on the wall in the hotel’s reception. The hotel is a great place to stay, and located as it is, right in front of the market place and St Ursus’s Cathedral, it is the perfect place for lunch, dinner or just for a drink.
Here is Our List of 11 Top Things to do in the City:
St. Ursus Cathedral
The magnificent St Ursus Cathedral which was built between 1762 and 1773 is really worth a visit. It is a very grand and impressive Catholic church set in the heart of the town and it dominates the skyline for miles. Inside with its high ceilings and white marble, it is very cool, airy and light. It is adorned with lots of opulent engravings and gold decorations which were funded by the money Solothurn raised from its mercenaries. Designed by Ascona-born architect, Gaetano Matteo Pisoni, it was built to impress and to advertise the significance of the city.
If you’re feeling energetic, a walk up the 249 steps to the top of the Ursus tower will be rewarded by a stunning view that stretches as far as the eye can see. The tower also has a belfry with 11 bells, and it just happens to be “6 x 11” metres tall. The tower was closed at the time we visited, however, we have previously been and really enjoyed the stunning views.
The Clock Tower and Astronomical Clock
The Astronomical Clock is housed in Solothurn’s oldest building which dates back to the 12th Century.
The clock tower was constructed in 1467 and the astronomical clock was added in 1545. The astronomical clock was created by Lorenz Liechti and Joachim Habrecht and is decorated with a group of figures: a Knight, a King (of fools) and the Grim Reaper.
The Astronomical Clock indicates the day, the month and the season and the different phases of the moon. It is certainly very impressive and is located at Hauptgasse 46, just off the main square.
The Kunstmuseum – Art Museum
Solothurn’s Kunsthaus, or Art Museum is a beautiful old building on the outskirts of the city. It boasts some very valuable work including pieces by Klimt, Hans Holbein the Younger, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse and Ferdinand Hodler.
In fact it houses one of the most significant art collections in Switzerland and its paintings range from the late Middle Ages right though to the present day.
This painting at the Kunstmuseum is “Notre Dame” by Henri Matisse
The museum is free to visit. Afterwards why not enjoy a drink in the little café with outdoor seating in front of wide open parkland.
Having a background in IT and Telecoms in the past, I both found the ENTER museum, absolutely fascinating. The entrance to the ENTER Museum is located close to Solothurn railway station and our guide was Professor Bruce Nikkel who was both very informative and entertaining. We saw everything from ancient telephone sets and the first mobile phones from very elaborate TV sets from the 1950s and 60s along with radios of all descriptions, juke boxes and computers from big main frames to some of the first Apples.
In fact it has one of the most comprehensive collections of Apple machines in the world, from the very first Apple to Apple devices from the present day. It was so interesting I could have spent all day there!
In 2023 the Museum will have even more on display when it moves to a new purpose built building. Most of the exhibits are donations and if you have even the slightest geeky side, a visit to this museum will be most rewarding. I will definitely be back to see it again once it opens in the new location, where it will have even more exhibits on display. The museum is located at Zuchwilerstrasse 33. Find out more about ENTER Museum here.
The very impressive Baseltor is located on the outer peripherary of the city’s walls and was built after the war with the Swabians as a replacement for the previous gate.
Just outside it is a small bronze replica of the city which is worth a look and a very special water fountain which was created out of a single slab of Solothurn stone.
Saturday Market (or Märet) in Solothurn
Solothurn’s market attracts speciality vendors from all around the region with fresh flowers, regional vegetables and other agricultural produce. Usually it all takes place in Hauptgasse and Gurzelngasse, in the middle of the old town, but when we visited it was taking place close to the Baseltor.
The Jesuit Church
Solothurn’s Jesuit Church was built between 1680 and 1689 and is a prime example of a wonderfully baroque building. Inside the picture of the Assumption by Franz Carl Studer takes pride of place along with the high altar with dates back to 1704. There is plenty of extravagant stucco work in a very Italian style as well as an enchanting statue of the Virgin Mary made out of Solothurn limestone. The church is renowned as one of the most beautiful baroque buildings in Switzerland and as well as booking a tour of the church, they often hold recitals which are open to the public. Please visit the website here.
The Zeughaus – Arsenal
There is a very impressive Old Arsenal Museum to be see which is right in centre of Solothurn, just a stone’s throw from the Cathedral.
Built between 1609 and 1614 it houses an enormous collection of weapons, guns, canons and suits of armour. This seven storey building is full of amazing artefacts and at Christmas it is one of the most impressive Christmas sights, with all the windows are lit up like an Advent Calendar.
Waldegg Castle – Schloss Waldegg
A short 10 minute drive away in Feldegg is the stunning baroque Waldegg Castle and gardens.
It looks a little like a French chateau transposed into Switzerland and it is beautifully designed.
Inside there are some very impressive 18th and 19th century interiors with paintings relating to the Family Besenval, whose Summer residence it was. It is a Swiss heritage site of national significance and definitely worth a visit. You can also book a guided tour of the house and gardens. For more information visit the website here.
The Schloss Blumenstein Historical Museum
Whilst visiting Schloss Waldegg why not combine a trip to Schloss Blumenstein Museum too?
This beautiful house is also a Swiss heritage site of national significance and 1952 it became the Historical Museum of Solothurn. Again its a very impressive building with lots of historical importance and it regularly holds different exhibitions. Entrance is free. It is located at Blumensteinweg 12, 4500 Solothurn and you can visit the website here.
Boat Cruise on River Aare
Sadly we didn’t have time to take a boat trip along the Aare from Solothurn to Biel – but this is something I really want to do on my next visit. The journey is said to be very impressive as there is plenty to see en route as you go past a stork colony in Altreu, many pretty little riverside villages and the historic town of Büren an der Aare. You can find out more here.
Verenaschlucht – The Verena Gorge
You can either walk from Solothurn to the Verena Gorge, or do as we did and drive to the car park just next to the Restaurant Einsiedelei in Rüttenen.
From the restaurant, there are signposts for various “Wanderwege” or walking routes and you can go for a beautiful walk along the river. It is very green and peaceful and very relaxing although it is best to visit during the week as it can get busy at the weekends. If you have time, you can do a circular walk, but we just walked past the little chapel and along for half an hour or so before heading back along the same route. There are stations of the cross along the way and it is a popular place for people to go and enjoy a “Meditation Walk”. If you’re lucky you might event see the hermit who lives there.
High above Solothurn at 1,284 metres above sea level is the Weissenstein mountain. You can see it from all angles in the city, but if you wish to cycle or hike there you can get breathtaking views of the Swiss Plateau and the Alps. Alternatively you can take a 10 minute ride on the gondola.
Wander Through The Cobbled Streets
Solothurn lends itself to wandering round and simply exploring the streets: Everywhere you go there is somthing to admire, from beautiful fountains, to half timbered house with little turrets. The beautiful historic centre is a joy to wander round as there is something to see at almost every turn. It also has a great number of cultural attractions.
A Stroll Along the Banks of the Aare
Running through the middle of the city is the River Aare and the river banks are lined with restaurants and bars on both sides.
Enjoy a coffee, a drink or an ice cream in one of the many cafes and restaurants along the banks of the Aare.
Guided City tours
There are also a number of different city tours you can take (11 in total) and they are a great way of getting to know Solothurn. Many tours take place in English – just make sure to book your slot in advance. We went on one which highlights everything associated with the 2000 year anniversary and it was extremely interesting. There are plenty of stories and anecdotes about the colourful history and beautiful landmarks.
Restaurants – Where To Eat
Le Restaurant at La Couronne
On the first night we had dinner at the wonderful” Le Restaurant” at the Hotel La Couronne at Hauptgasse 64 where we were staying. The restaurant has 13 Gault Millau points and is very stylish, and the food was beautifully served and tasted amazing. Everything from the starter to the dessert was delicious and the sommelier matched all the wines to our food. It was a wonderful evening.
On the second night we dined under the trees and parasols in the beautiful gardens of the Cantinetta Bindella Restaurant at Ritterquai 3. We had a delightful dinner with starters of Veal Tonnata and Italian hams, followed by a beautifully cooked sea bream and giant prawns and Steak Rossini. Our waiter chose wines by the glass to match our food and it was a very relaxing and enjoyable dinner.
There are plenty of relaxed restaurants with outside terraces and and pavement dining to choose from for lunch. On the first day we stopped at the pleasant restaurant “EGGE 14” at Friedhofplatz 14. Egge is the Swiss German word for “Ecke” as the restaurant is located at the corner of the street. We shared a Roman pizza ( it’s very similar to a large garlic bread) and had a delicious salad and “cordon bleu” whilst sitting outside under parasols on one of the small squares just off the main drag.
Die Grüne Fee Absinthe Bar
Fancy a “digestif” after lunch or diner? How about a trip to the Die Grüne Fee Absinthe Bar and Bistro in Kronengase 11, just past the cathedral?
Founded by Roger Liggenstorfer, everything in this cute little bar revolves around the drink Absinthe. The knowledgeable staff can regale you will all sorts of tales about the history of the drink whilst you try a shot or two. It’s a very friendly establishment and a really fun place to visit. Find out all about it here.
Hotels – Where to Stay
Hotel La Couronne
As mentioned earlier this historic hotel is the second oldest in Switzerland and is a member of Swiss Historic Hotels. It is a real gem and extremely stylish, from the “crown” decorating the front of the hotel to the decor in each of the bedrooms.
You can find out more about the Hotel La Couronne here.
Hotel H4 is a modern hotel popular with business people and tourists and is located on the other side of the River Aare opposite the Cathedral.
The rooms are very light, bright and you get great views over the river. For an absolutely stunning view go up to the 7th floor to visit the fitness room or better still book a treatment at the Spa. The Spa offers a full menu of treatments as well a number of “bath treatments”. You can read more about Hotel H4 here.
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Solothurn and there was simply so much to see and do in this wonderful little city. If you’re looking for somewhere really interesting to visit, then Solothurn is a true gem – find out more by visiting the Solothurn Tourism Office here.
Due to possible Covid restrictions, please always check the location websites before setting off.
This information was accurate at time of writing but things can change at short notice.
Please be sure to confirm details before planning your trip.
For information about things to do see our Home Page or for regular updates subscribe to the blog.
Articles Which May Be Of Interest