Glarus – the Capital of the Canton of Glarus

Being the smallest and one of the most remote capitals, Glarus is uniquely versatile. Little known to foreigners, this is a wonderful place not only to live and work, but also to enjoy all it has to offer. And, without any doubts, Glarus has much to offer starting from spectacular nature, rich in stunning, lush mountainous landscapes adorned with gorgeous lakes, to very original, but homey atmosphere, unique for its long-lasting traditions and customs, and solemnly held-on beliefs.

Urban flair and nature-related recreation possibilities amid the setting that hasn’t changed a bit throughout the centuries, it seems, still retaining a completely unique face even among all the other old cities in Switzerland, it enchants one at first sight and makes one feel as if having returned home from a long journey. This sense of calmness and serenity with the overpowering feeling of unexplainable joy and enthusiasm that envelopes each one, roaming its streets, is what lures people again and again to Glarus, despite it not being on the list of Swiss most well-known and visited cities.

What else is unique to this city? What other bright pages can this capital add to the already astoundingly rich culture and history of Switzerland? What awaits one here? How did Glarus put the beginning to the most “Swiss” hub outside Switzerland and where is it located? If you don’t know the answer to these questions, read and find out!

Interesting things about Glarus

Glarus is the smallest capital in Switzerland

The Canton of Glarus is a canton in east central Switzerland, and the town of Glarus is its capital, the smallest one in the country. Before 2011 the municipality of Glarus had an area of 69.2 km2 (26.7 sq mi), but with the incorporation of the former municipalities of EnnendaNetstal and Riedern in 2011, it now takes up 103.7 km2 (40.04 sq mi).

The official language of Glarus is (the Swiss variety of Standard) German, but the main spoken language is the local Alemannic Swiss German dialect.

Initially Glarus was named Clarona

Glarus is first mentioned in the early 9th century in Latin in a life history of the saints Felix and Regula, but as Clarona.. The name probably goes back to a Latin basic form ad clārōnam meaning “at the bright spot,” in the literary sense “forest illumination”. In 1178 it was first mentioned in German as Glarus.

Glarus is one of two Swiss canton capitals, whose citizens still assemble for the Landsgemeinde

On the political level, Switzerland is first known as a country with the utter rule of direct democracy. Citizens may demand a popular vote to amend the cantonal constitution or laws, or to veto laws or spending bills passed by the parliament. As on the federal level, all cantons provide for some forms of direct democracy. In the past, the Landsgemeinde or “cantonal assembly”, which is a public, non-secret ballot voting system operating by majority rule, which constitutes one of the oldest forms of direct democracy, was fairly wide-spread all over Switzerland. But now this form of voting is limited to only two cantons, where the population still steadfastly holds on to the tradition and it holds the highest political authority: the cantons of Glarus and Appenzell Innerrhoden. In all other cantons democratic rights are exercised by secret ballot.

Eligible citizens of the canton or district meet on a certain day in the open air to decide on specific issues. Voting is accomplished by those in favor of a motion raising their hands. Historically, or in Appenzell until the admission of women, the only proof of citizenship necessary for men to enter the voting area was to show their ceremonial sword or Swiss military sidearm (bayonet); this gave proof that you were a freeman allowed to bear arms and to vote.

Nowadays, every year on the first Sunday in May, citizens gather on the Zaunplatz in Glarus to decide the fate of the canton by show of hands.

Emigrants from Swiss Glarus founded a new one in America

In the early 1840s, after several years of failed crops and as food became scarce, much of the canton found itself deep in poverty. With more workers than available jobs, emigration to the United States of America was seen as a solution. The Glarus Emigration Society was established in 1844, which offered loans to help residents purchase land in the New World. Many of the resulting emigrants went to the state of Wisconsin, where they founded the town of New Glarus.

In 1845 magistrates in Glarus dispatched two men, Nicolas Duerst and Fridolin Streiff, to find a suitable location for a colony in the New World. They were given $2600 and instructions to purchase land, build cabins, and prepare for the settlers to arrive the following spring.

On July 17, 1845 they purchased 1,280 acres (5.2 km2) for $1.25 per acre. The land that would become the Village of New Glarus was untamed wilderness, which had been inhabited by Native Americans for centuries. It was a fertile basin bounded with hills and a large stand of trees nearby. Some said later it wasn’t the best property available, but the valley and hilltops reminded them of their native Switzerland.

More than 160 years after it was founded, New Glarus has maintained much of its Swiss heritage and old world traditions. Swiss-style chalets and flower boxes filled with red geraniums grace the streets of the village and Swiss flags fly next to the American flag at many businesses and homes. Old World meat markets, restaurants, and a Swiss bakery are also found in downtown New Glarus, along with folk art, museums, and Swiss-style shops. Many Swiss customs are still alive in New Glarus, including the card game Jass, yodeling, and flag tossing. Today New Glarus is the best known Swiss settlement in America.

Glarus had once been almost destroyed by a fire

Like some other Swiss cities that had faced such bad fortune due to their characteristic wooden architecture, the capital of Glarus canton was almost obliterated on the 10/11 May 1861, when the town had faced a devastating fire that was further fanned out by a violent Föhn or south wind, a type of dry, warm, down-slope wind that occurs in the lee (downwind side) of a mountain range, rushing down from the high mountains through the natural funnel formed by the Linth valley. The total loss is estimated at about half a million sterling, of which about £100,000 were made up by subscriptions that poured in from every side. The fire destroyed 593 buildings about two-thirds of Glarus while over 3,000 people lost their roofs and everything they owned.

The town was rebuilt thanks to the aid from the residents of New Glarus

Having heard about the fire and subsequent loss, the residents of New Glarus decided to aid their former countrymen back in their native homeland, collecting and dispatching more money than what they received in the form of a loan from Glarus 16 years earlier. After this incident, Glarus was rebuilt in block fashion according to construction plans by Bernhard Simon and Johann Caspar Wolff.

Actually, this is not the only occasion, when the New World settlers came to the rescue. 19 years after that when much of the town of Elm, also in the canton of Glarus, was buried beneath a landslide killing 114 people, the residents of New Glarus rushed to help again; this time sending $20,000 back to the old country.

Glarus is the only recruitment center of the Pontifical Swiss Guard

The Pontifical Swiss Guard (also Papal Swiss Guard, or just Swiss Guard) is small force maintained by the Holy See, it is responsible for the safety of the Pope, including the security of the Apostolic Palace.

The Swiss Guard serves as the de facto military of Vatican City. Established in 1506 under Pope Julius II, the Pontifical Swiss Guard is among the oldest military units in continuous operation.

Nowadays it is operated by a private agency. Recruits to the guards must be unmarried Swiss Catholic males between 19 and 30 years of age who have completed basic training with the Swiss Armed Forces. The dress uniform is of blue, red, orange and yellow with a distinctly Renaissance appearance. The modern guard has the role of bodyguard of the Pope.

How to get to Glarus?

By plane:

The closest international airport is in Zurich 60 km away from Glarus. Continue from Zurich via the railway or by car.

By train:

Glarus railway station is on the Ziegelbrücke to Linthal railway line. It is served by the Zürich S-Bahn service S25 between Zürich and Linthal, and by the St. Gallen S-Bahn service S6 between Rapperswil and Schwanden. Both services operate once per hour, combining to provide two trains per hour between Ziegelbrücke and Schwanden. The stations of Ennenda and Netstal are also in the municipality and served by the same trains.

The town is also directly accessible from Zurich by the Glarnersprinter. Though this train runs irregularly, there is an hourly connection with the express train from Zurich to Ziegelbrücke (continue to Chur), then change to the regional train to Linthtal, often better suited for the journey.

By car or by bus:

 Traveling by car has always been one of the most enjoyable ways to travel, especially in Switzerland, which offers fantastic views at every turn. Glarus is not an exception, so pick a car, if can allow that – the distance is considerable. Go from Zurich, take the A3 motorway to the Niederurnen exit. From the exit, take the main road 17 via Näfels to Glarus.

In the summer it would also be possible to travel via Klausenpass. However, this pass is not recommended for vehicles with trailers. For vehicles up to 2.30 m the maximum weight is18 tons; in general, trailers are prohibited except max 1.90 m wide and max 4.50 m long.

This way of transportation would prove particularly useful, if you plan to get a little bit further inside the canton, since a further connection south than the capital is not available by train. Road 17 however, goes further south in the direction of Altdorf.

By bike:

A surprising way to get here, considering Glarus’s fame as one of the most remote places. But the national Veloroute 4 alpine panorama route runs through the center of Glarus. That’s a very exciting way to travel to Glarus, however, such long bike trips are better made light, without additional luggage and for sightseeing purposes. Be prepared that the route can be quite challenging due to a very diverse terrain it runs through. Nevertheless, going to Glarus by bike for a short stay will be, without a doubt, extremely enjoyable.

How to get around?

The town is easy to explore on foot. There’s, of course, a public transport system, comprising of busses.

Locals often prefer bikes to public transport, though. You can follow their example and rent one in the rental office.

In addition, there are several cable cars to local mountains, if you want to explore the neighborhood as well.

If you’re not sure where to go and how better plan your stay, in the Tourist Info Glarus at Bahnhofstrasse 23, you will not only be advised competently, but a wide assortment of Glarner products and gifts also await you there. In addition, a “Glarner Tee” or simply a coffee can be drunk in a cozy atmosphere while you’re discussing the best options.

Where to stay and grab a bite?

This place is not as frequently visited as some of the other Swiss cities and resorts, so finding a nice spot to stay won’t be a problem, even if your trip to Glarus was spontaneous and not carefully planned. There are 28 variants of accommodation in and on the outskirts of Glarus, if you don’t count various inns and apartments for rent. This is more than enough for a tiny place like this. For example, take a look at Hotel Rhodannenberg AG at Klöntalerstrasse 36. The hotel is in an excellent location overlooking the lake, with big outside terrace with tables for eating/drinking, freshly prepared food of very good quality. There is also a restaurant and a barbecue. Hotel Rhodannenberg AG offers pet-friendly accommodation, so you don’t have to worry and take your little friend with you. There’s a car park just beside the hotel with plenty of space and the place has a free shuttle. What is really convenient is that this hotel has water sports facilities and bike hire and car hire are available. This way you don’t have to look for some elsewhere, which saves time better spent on other activities.

Or you can enjoy a very friendly atmosphere at Hotel Freihof with an on-site bar with darts, karaoke, pinball and good fun with the staff. There is a 24-hour front desk at the property and there is a bike garage that can be used free of charge.

As for the places to wine and dine, the only problem you’ll have is choose out of a great number of great restaurants, cafes, pizzerias and bars. Various cuisines are available from traditional Swiss serving fondue and other specialties to Mediterranean and Asian ones. Take a look at a high-quality and traditional Wirtschaft Sonnegg.

Schutzenhaus is a really nice restaurant too, lovely decorated and delicious food. The service is perfect and the stuff is very friendly. Also you can sit outside in the summertime and enjoy fantastic views.

Shopping in Glarus

Glarus is a market town with different markets that can be found all over the town. The marketers offer a wide range of products; the markets take the mood of the season or the occasion and offer market-oriented attractive shopping and enjoyment experience. It’s definitely worth a visit. Chilbimarkt Glarus, the market at the Glarner Chilbi (Kirchweih)that takes place annually on the Sunday after Maria Himmelfahrt (15 August), when around 60 marketers offer a large assortment (textiles, toys, jewelery, crafts, snack), plus eight to ten showmen (Chilbibahnen) on the fence site combined with the market make this visit an experience, Flohmarkt Glarus, Golden Saturday Glarus, Crossmark Netstal, which takes place annually on the chilling Thursday afternoon after the church festival of the holy Kreuzerhöhung (14 September), when about 5 marketers offer their goods for sale and there’s a children’s carousel, a shooting gallery and a festival run by the non-profit women’s club, Rural community market, Market Hall Glarus, special markets, Cattle market Glarus, Glarus Christmas Market and Weekly Glarus are among many other shops and specialty stores you’ll come across. So, go on a crazy shopping spree, seeing as Glarus has a lot to offer.

Starting from unique carvings, hand-made staff and culinary specialties, the usual pack of Swiss traditional staff as knives, watches, chocolate and cheese obviously can be bought here too.

Be sure to drop by the Confiserie Läderach is famous for pralines, where over 70 different varieties are produced. The confectionery is located just opposite the Town Hall.

What is the weather like in Glarus?

Overall, the weather is quite stable and pleasant in Glarus and traditionally Swiss – with humid warm summers, when it often rains, but rains are short; snowy winters with comfortable temperatures, rarely dropping drastically low; and relatively sunny weather from April till October, when the sky is clear or partially overcast with heavy fluffy clouds, which seem so imposing, if you look at the photos, but usually aren’t the harbingers of storms or bad weather.

The best months to visit Glarus are August, September and October. The wettest month is July during which time Glarus receives an average of 198 mm (7.8 in) of precipitation. During this month there is precipitation for an average of 14.6 days. The months with the most days of precipitation are July and August. The driest month of the year was February with an average of 85 mm (3.3 in) of precipitation over 9.4 days, which in addition to many sunshine hours and pleasantly frosty weather that slightly bites your cheeks and nose is a perfect time for some skiing or other winter activities in Glarus.

What to see and do in Glarus?

Learn how the Alpine mountains and valleys were created at UNESCO Visitor Center!

If you want to take a voyage back in time and see how the unique nature of Switzerland and the Alps were created and how they were developing throughout the history, go to the Glarus Visitor Center of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Tectonic Arena Sardona.

There you can experience Geology first hand with the help of the attractive information platforms in Elm and Glarus that provide exciting knowledge and transport the visitor through amazing physical impressions to World Heritage Site Sardona. Geological phenomena are explained in an easy to understand and interesting fashion. Trained Geology Guides conduct guided tours for groups of school pupils and companies as well. This exhibition is a real discovery for just about anyone: one interested in nature and geology, or simply a curious person.

Go on a Geological City Walk in Glarus!

Discover fossils from the dinosaur age in the town hall fountain, stone slabs filled with oysters by a house facade. You can even feel the tooth of a shark – shark teeth can be counted serenely in a window frame hewn from shell limestone. So, whether you’re into geology or not, go and see sixteen the most geologically significant building stones in Glarus.

Undertake a real challenge of summiting Tödi!

Rising up to 3,614 m, this mountain is known for very steep slopes. Ski-mountaineering options here are one of the most technically difficult lines in the Alps with almost a 10,000-foot descent. This is definitely out of the option for amateurs, but if you are an experienced alpinist with much patience, attention and very good and versatile climbing skills, you may have a go at it.

Admire the beauty of the Glärnisch!

This is a mountain massif of the Schwyz Alps, overlooking the valley of the Linth in Glarus. It consists of several summits of which the highest is 2,915 metres above sea level. The other main summits are the Bächistock (2,914 metres), followed by the Vrenelisgärtli (“Verena’s Little Garden” at 2,904 metres) and the Ruchen (2,901 metres). Until 1995, the highest point of the massif was considered to be the Bächistock, as the current main summit was thought to be lower (2,909 m).

The massif of the Glärnisch consists of two ridges of either side of the glacier named Glärnischfirn, culminating at the Ruchen to the west, rising more than 2,000 metres above the Klöntalersee, and at the Bächistock to the southwest.

The Glärnischfirn (also known as the Glärnischgletscher, the “Glarnisch Glacier”) is about one mile long and about one-half mile wide at between 1.5 and 2.0 miles above sea level. The surrounding peaks are generally accessible to hikers and climbers only by traversing the length of the glacier itself. From the Vrenelisgärtli peak, the Lake Klontal may be seen directly, more than one mile below.

In recent years, the glacier has lost a massive amount of its volume and its tongue has retreated sharply, so don’t waste precious time and see the grandiose beauty of it up-close! Who knows how long will it last?

Visit Klöntalersee – a mountain lake famous for its fantastic reflections!

Klöntalersee is ideal for water sports and fishing in summer; and for skating in winter. It is also a popular destination for hikers and anglers. The Klöntal lake, which is used as an energy reservoir, was created by a prehistoric rockslide. Since the construction of the power plant, an additional embankment allows the Klöntal lake to be used to store water for the production of consumption-adjusted peak-load energy. The power plant on the Löntsch and the Beznau hydroelectric power plant (AG) heralded the beginning of Axpo. It was with these two plants that the first power plant association in Switzerland was realized as far back as the beginning of the 20th century.

Spend an unforgettable weekend at one of the snowiest winter resorts!

Really, thanks to the unique climate and stable weather conditions, snow is synonymous with Glarus, just like Schabziger. Well-known and popular resorts such as Elm, Braunwald and Kerenzerberger-Mullern/Fronalp are in the Glarus skiing region and only an hour from Zürich. So, if you are in Zurich, don’t pass up the chance to drop by for a couple of days. As the infrastructure is well developed and efficient, no one has to wait in long lines, which is particularly pleasing when compared to other more famous resorts. If you want lots and lots of snow, head to Braunwald, a car-free resort a short distance from Glarus that is one of Switzerland’s snowiest winter sports areas.

Enjoy various summer activities!

If visitors want to spend their leisure time being active in the great outdoors, Glarus is exactly right. Especially in summer. Walk along one of the many themed trails, ride mountain bikes, hike or swim, climb or fly with the glider. To cut a long story short, you’ll always be able to find something to your liking: be it sports or measured leisure activities. In the unlikely event that the sun does not shine, there are many interesting museums and factories that can be visited.

Wander around the Old Town!

It is very beautiful, with many original houses and buildings, dominated by town’s secular buildings. The streets are narrow, winding and paved, which adds to the already hovering atmosphere of the old, and the squares are quaint, vast like the Landsgemeindeplatz or small, and always decorated with lots of flowerbeds and hanging pots with flowers. Pay special attention to the Town Hall built in 1865. There’s the relief of Glarus from 1883 that can be seen during the normal opening hours. Then take a look at St. Fridolinskirche built in 1964 and the Glarner Landesbibliothek.

Take a look at the exhibitions at the Kunsthaus Glarus!

Close to the train station in the Volksgarten, you will find the Kunsthaus Glarus is a museum and exhibition center in Glarus, which collection includes paintings and sculptures by Swiss artists of the late 19th and 20th centuries, as well as the collections of Othmar Huber, Gustav Schneeli and Gustav Egger.

Gustav Schneeli (1872-1944), the son of a wealthy Glarner wooden merchant dynasty, art historian, diplomat, genealogist and art painter, wrote to the Glarner Kunstverein, founded in 1870, that he planned to build a museum for his pictures. In this way a common building, a cultural attraction in a small town, was meant to attract like those in large cities.

The Kunstverein was planned for many years and in 1952, eight years after the death of Schneelis, the construction of the architect Hans Leuzinger was opened. A part of the museum was intended for the Schneeli collection; on the lower floor, exhibition rooms were reserved for the Natural History Collection of the Canton of Glarus.

Kunsthaus also possesses the collection of Jenny-Kaspers and the cantonal natural science collection. In recent years the Glarus Kunsthaus has gained a reputation for its exhibitions of contemporary art. Versatile like the capital, this museum always proves to be a hit among the visitors.

Discover the beautiful Stählihaus!

Built in 1728 and now under monument protection, the Stählihaus in Netstal, a municipality of Glarus, is one of the few turn-of-the-century houses that have been designed for the old art of carpentry brought to the Glarnerland from the area of Lake Zurich.

Warm-toned wooden beams are woven into the white wall surfaces, so that many figures are formed, with the exception of the Andreaskreuz. In addition, there are symmetrically inserted window rows, which together with the train stations attached under the windows are summarized by simply jagged frames. The white, arabesque-colored painting of the roofs of the gabled roof is also extraordinary. There’s also the Constantine inscription on the gable.

The builders of the house can be determined with some certainty: Christian Stähli (1685-1747), who built the Stählihaus with the brother Johannes (1698-1765).

Admire the main landmark of Glarus – the Stadtkirche Glarus!

The town church Glarus is the reformed main church of Glarus and simultaneously its main and most recognizable landmark.

It was built in 1863-1866 according to plans of Ferdinand Stadler in the New-Roman style as a substitute for the predecessor church destroyed in the city fire in May 1861 and served as a simultaneous church at the same time both the reformed and the Roman Catholic confession until the Catholics 1964 With the Fridolinskirche in addition to the Burgkapelle got their own city church.

The building was repeatedly reconstructed; however, innovations were organically fit into the existing plan. Nowadays, the town church has five bells. They were poured in 1865/66 by Jakob Keller in Zurich and sounded in the beats g0, h0, d1, g1 and h1.In 2001 the church received the Europa nostra award of the European Union for Cultural Heritage.

Learn about history and economy of Glarus en route Glarus Industrial Trail!

Canton Glarus is not just blessed with natural beauty, but it also has for a very long time been an important industrial location. In the valleys of Linth and Sernf the 50 km long Glarus Industrial Trail leads past about 50 interesting sights. The trail boasts venerable old factories and factory owners’ villas as well as power plants, canals and modern factories. At important points along the way information panels give hikers advice regarding routes and general information. The Glarus Industrial Trail, a biking and hiking trail, for the most part runs beside the main road and is well marked.

Go on various Glarus cheese tours!

The production facility where the cheese with a 550-year tradition is created has opened its doors and invites visitors to view the world’s only factory where Schabziger is made. The authentically spicy Schabziger is unique and that’s exactly what makes a visit to the workshop of the company GESKA Inc. so interesting. The history of Switzerland’s oldest trademarked product began 550 years ago, on April 24, 1463. Zigermannli, the people who sold Schabziger from baskets carried on their backs, helped to make the cheese well known all over Switzerland, if not all over the world. So, don’t waste an opportunity to learn about this and many other things during a tour in Glarus.

Enjoy hiking up the Schabziger Mountain Trail!

The Schabziger Mountain Trail offers hiking enthusiasts, nature lovers and tourists a hike with brilliant discourse and culinary highlights. This is  an adventure for the entire family – and for all the “senses”. With the “Schabzig Höhenweg” a fresh breeze is blowing in the hiking region of Habergschwänd – Mullern – Fronalp. The simple path becomes an exciting theme and adventure trail with opportunities for culinary pleasure. Ten panels inform visitors about the history, production and marketing of Schabziger cheese as well as about the alpine and mountain economy in Glarus.

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