Switzerland is a land rich in stunning places and beautiful cities. Sarnen in one of those quiet and serene, yet welcoming and fresh locations for tourists, abundant in various activities. The German-speaking Sarnen with a population of just over 10,000 is the capital of Obwalden Canton in the heart of central Switzerland, at the efflux of the Sarner River from the northern end of Lake Sarnen, 20 kilometers southwest of Lucerne. The city is not big, but very beautiful with lovely houses and ancient churches, scattered on the sloping hill, gracefully descending into the waters of a scenic deeply blue lake, sharing the name with the settlement that is surrounded by majestic mountains and traditionally luxurious Swiss nature.
Let’s see what we can learn about yet another picturesque corner of Central Switzerland that is surrounded by mountain chains and a protected bog and is considered a cross-country skiing Eldorado and a perfect holiday destination!
Interesting facts about Sarnen
Originally, the canton of Obwalden was part of the canton of Unterwalden
Unterwalden is made up of two valleys, one of which is Obwalden. The other valley is Nidwalden. It is known that there was never a single unified jurisdiction on Unterwalden. In fact, the political situation has always changed throughout history. Originally, it was comprised of such distinct communities as Obwalden, Nidwalden and the Abbey of Engelberg. Nonetheless, in 1291 the Federal Charter required representatives from the three communities to come together, which resulted in the unification of the tree “areas”. After Unterwalden joined the newly-formed Swiss Confederation, in the period between 1291 and 1309, Obwalden had a name of Unterwalden ob dem Kernwald and Nidwalden was known as Unterwalden nit dem Kernwald. The votes of Unterwalden in the Tagsatzung were divided between the two other valleys. Thus, it disintegrated into Obwalden and Nidwalden. From 1798 to 1803 Obwalden was made the District of Sarnen. Later until 1999, it had a status of a half-canton of Obwalden. After a 1999’s Federal Constitution the half-canton classification was taken out. This automatically made Obwalden a full canton. However, representation continued to be shared in the Council of States and they were entitled to only fifty percent of the vote.
Today Sarnen is on the way to becoming a massive tourist attraction
Although the town of Sarnen is overshadowed by Lucerne, over the past few years there has been steady growth. Though at first, it has become more attractive due to its proximity to Lucerne, more and more tourists discover the natural wonders and historic sites that Sarnen possesses. The infrastructure keeps getting better and those who have been in Lucerne and other major regional cities many times set out to discover something new and fresh. Besides, the small capital grows economically too. New companies and enterprises appear, giving new jobs and moving the city towards prosperity, though many commuters still work in Lucerne and use the motorway or railway service to get to work. Still, Sarnen is becoming an important industrial center of the region. SIKA AG (Specialty Chemicals), Nahrin AG (healthy nutrition) along with Leister Technologies (heated-air tools) are among other active companies in Sarnen.
How to get to Sarnen?
Among the three major airports in Switzerland, the closest airports to Sarnen are Zurich, being 90 km away, and Basel, 125 km from the town. Geneva airport stands a bit further, at 260 km. The road from Zurich or Basel airports takes on average 1 hour and 10 minuted drive.
What is really comfortable is that Geneva and Zurich airports have built-in railway stations, so you can hop on the necessary train without leaving the building of the airport and not having any delays. Depending on the train connection, the time from Zurich to Sarnen varies from 1 h 30 min and 1 h 55.
The most often chosen way of traveling in Switzerland is via railway. There is an InterRegio train between Lucerne and Interlaken that stops at Giswil, which is served by Sarnen station. The train runs every hour. Also, there is a Lucerne S-Bahn S5 running every thirty minutes between Giswil and Lucerne.
Go on your own or rent one in one of the many rental offices (be sure to have your passport and driving license). The highwayA8 will take you to Sarnen.
How to get around?
The town is the capital and a regional center, but it’s not big, though rather scattered, and thus can be easily covered on foot.
Public transport is available as well and the infrastructure is very well-developed. You may buy a special pass that will provide free ride by local trains and buses. Besides, you can rent a car or a bike, which is not only cheaper, but also more convenient. Taxis are available too but are rather pricy.
All main sights within the town can be covered in less than a day. There is a boat dock on Lake Sarnen. Boats are a wonderful way to see the town and get from one bank of Lake Sarnen to the other. So, you may rent a boat too and enjoy all the perks of sailing and getting to know the neighborhood at your own pace. Or you can go on one of the many guided boat trips and excursions.
Where to stay and grab a bite?
No problem with that at all. Sarnen offers a wide range of accommodation to suit any taste and pocket starting from simple inns to comfortable hotels, with a stunning view of the lake and mountains, which will tempt you to have a longer stay. Sarnen has a great infrastructure as well as supporting program for group outings, seminars or school field trips. The best thing is that despite amazing beauty of the city and its fame as a resort and a gateway to Mounts Titlis, Pilatus, and Stanserhorn, it’s not overly crowded and in general is a lovely quiet place with a considerable number of nice places to stay without previous booking.
For example, take a look at the hotel Krone Sarnen. It takes only 15 minutes’ drive from Lucerne to get to the hotel and just a 2-minute walk from the train station. The hotel offers modern wellness facilities with free parking and a large terrace. All rooms have wooden floors and high-quality furnishings and a flat-screen TV.
The Krone Sarnen wellness center offers such facilities as a sauna, a Caldarium, and a steam bath. From the relaxation area, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the Landen Mountain. This hotel is especially liked by couples who seek a beautiful location for a romantic trip or a honeymoon.
The Krone Sarnen’s restaurant serves modern cuisine prepared with fresh products from the market, as well as selected Swiss wines. In the stylish lounge bar, you can order an aperitif, digestive or aromatic coffee.
As to the other spots to wine and dine, everyone will be able to find something to his or her liking. Central Switzerland is very rich in culinary in traditions, so restaurants and cafes with the traditional Swiss cuisine prevail, but you can find a few spots with Asian and European cuisine too.
Besides the just mentioned options, a campsite is a really wonderful way of living in Sarnen during your stay. This campsite is located on the shores of Lake Sarnen, with panoramic views of imposing Alpine peaks and their gentle foothills. The campsite offers a panorama swimming pool, adventure swimming pool, free wireless internet, and barbeque facilities. Moreover, there are 137 pitches and each pitch has its own power and water supply. You can find regional specialties in the campsite shop. It’s only 100 meters walk to Lake Sarnen and takes up 2.6 ha. It’s friendly to children as there are children’s sanitary facilities, playground, and swimming pool. Being located just 17 km to a ski area, you can easily get to the Ski Campsite.
Shopping in Sarnen
The primary industries in Sarnen are rubber products manufacture, woodworking, electrical engineering, food, and beverage. The usual pack of Swiss traditional staff as knives, watches, chocolate, and cheese can be bought here as probably anywhere in Switzerland. There is a nice souvenir shop and several ones offering hiking and sporting gear. Working hours are strictly regulated and rarely go past 6 pm. But you can stock up at the Sarner Wochenmarkt, the weekly market is organized by the Sarner Märtlyt, which takes place from May to October, every Saturday, from 8 am to 12 noon on the village square in Sarnen.
What is the weather like in Sarnen?
Sometimes weather, especially in mountainous regions, can spoil the trip, so it’s better to be prepared. The average number of rainy days in Sarnen is 139.3 days a year with August as the wettest month. In August the precipitation reaches up to 13.6 days. Meanwhile, June has the most days of rain, about 14.6. The driest month of the year is January, which makes it perfect for wandering the town, various markets and fairs, the neighborhood and some light winter hiking in the surrounding mountains and valleys.
Very useful tips to keep in mind, when heading to Sarnen
In Sarnen the weather tends to be rather rainy a lot of time, and especially in summer, where nature is at its most striking and many tourists prefer to pick summer for their vacation. Often rains are accompanied by thunderstorms, which are commonly pretty severe, and harsh winds. So, make sure to check the weather forecast before going to Sarnen. The weather is an unpredictable thing, of course, and it may change, but not that drastically. And be sure to take a lot of warm clothes, socks, spare waterproof boots, and a nice raincoat. Chances are you won’t need them, but there’s a very good probability that you’ll be jumping with joy having a simple thing like a warm and dry pair of socks, while all cold and wet.
Traveling with kids or having bad health, be stocked up on medicine in case of the situation, when the bad weather catches you in the mountains or even in the town all of a sudden. Strong winds and a downpour will spoil any vacation with unpleasant “surprises” like leaving you drenched to the bone and frozen as hell, or coming down with a fever or catching a cold. Agree that a running nose and a sore throat are bad companions on a hike or while a nice meal in a local restaurant.
Beware or flash floods and mountain streams that rise at an extremely fast rate, during rains or a short, but heavy downpour. Do not camp out on the banks of such streams or in various pitches and lowlands, without triple-checking the forecast. You can be easily washed away and severely injured by rockslides and moving debris coming down the mountains along with the water. And do NOT use mobile phones, if there’s lightning. A logical thing, known to everybody, but why then there are so many people stricken by lightning in this region? And water and trees conduct electricity, so be extra sure to remember in time of rush and disoriented by ear-splitting thunder echoes that hiding under the tree during a storm in Sarnen while on a hike is a BAD idea.
What to see and do in Sarnen?
Let’s get through all the best things to do that await you in Sarnen!
Wander around Sarnen!
There are a number of Swiss heritage sites of national significance in Sarnen. The Ossuary of St. Michael, the Church of St. Martin, and the parish church of St. Peter and Paul are among the most important religious buildings in town. The list also includes the double house am Grund and Grundacher, and a stone tower the Hexenturm. Sarnen is also proud of having such heritage as the Landenberg armory, the Cantonal Rathaus, the State Archives of Obwalden, and the musical collection of the Frauenkloster.
In fact, Sarnen along with the Kirchhofen area and the territory of a small village of Ramersberg are included in the Inventory of Swiss Heritage Sites.
Admire the Alps from above!
You can do that at the airfield, which is on the outskirts of Sarnen in the direction of Lucerne. On the site or by phone you can book a flight on a 3-seater motor plane. Needless to say that the experience is fantastic, but not suitable for those, who are afraid of heights.
See the miraculous figure of the Jesus child at the Benedictine monastery of St. Andrew!
The Benedictine monastery of St. Andrew has its origins in the foundation of the double monastery Engelberg in 1120. The double monastery took a rapid upswing, but hard misfortunes also brought it into deep despair. In 1615, the small women’s convent was moved from Engelberg to Sarnen. Here the monastic life grew, and the community grew. In the 19th century, the Abbey participated in the church’s missionary work and founded the St. Gertrud Monastery in Cottonwood in the USA in 1906. Since 1938 sisters have been active in Cameroon, where they founded the monastery of St. Benoît in Mbouda-Babété.
When they moved from Engelberg to Sarnen, the sisters also took the miraculous figure of the Jesus child, which was created in the middle of the 14th century and whose worship began soon afterward.
Admire the beautiful Dorfkapelle Maria Lauretana!
It was built in 1556 by order of the distinguished landlord Niklaus Imfeld (died 1556) and having sustained major earthquake damages in 1601, it was rebuilt in 1658 – 1662 with reuse of the old tower of 1556 (solemn consecration on 18.09.1662). In 1865/66 it had the beautiful neo-Renaissance façade renovated and reconstructed by architect and painter Joseph Ettlin. Actually, it was restored multiple times, the last such renovation was in 1955/59 (Bundesschutz) and a comprehensive exterior renovation according to the guidelines of the Obwald monument preservation in 1990.
The central part of the sacred structure is the entrance facade with vestibule (Schaufront), which is oriented towards the village square, is joined by the two-axis longhouse or the long, narrow, three-sided choir. There’s also a beautiful incorporated tower on the western choir flank (eyelashes, pilasters, round-arched windows, pointed helmet), sacristy as a counterpart on the eastern choir flank.
The inside décor features a simple vaulted room with furnishing predominantly in the 18th century. In the high altar of 1767, there’s a statue of Maria Lauretana as well as a gabled painting signed by the Augsburg late Renaissance painter Mathias Kager, side altars from 1742, a beautiful Renaissance cancel from the construction period. Above the portal, there’s a relief from the old chapel of 1556. It is the representation of all the country’s coat of arms (20th century). All in all, the church is well worth a visit.
Learn about history and legends at Rathaus (the Town Hall)!
This is a very recognizable building and one of the town’s landmarks. The Town Hall is very richly decorated and has the traditional cubic shape. The town hall houses a book of the oldest history of Swiss liberation from c. 1470, the Weisses Buch (“White Book”). The book became the basis for a famous legend about William Tell, the Swiss patriot who had to shoot an apple from his son’s head with a crossbow as a sentence.
Take a look at the ancient Hexenturm!
This archaeological site of Sarnen is one of the few surviving castle towers from the time of the formation of the Swiss Confederation. It was built shortly before 1291 and came into the possession of the modern canton of Obwalden around 1308 after the non-violent occupation. After that, it served among others as a prison, interrogation chamber, a treasure house, an archive, and a museum. During the restoration of 1985/86, the changes made over the course of the centuries were reversed, except for the construction of the 18th century, which is left behind and shown as the aftermath. The installation of a light, self-supporting steel skeleton construction has allowed the new use as an archive tower without burdening the original building structure.
Ascend the Landenberg and discover its attractions!
The castle Landenberg, located above the village of Sarnen, is the landmark and the actual historical center of the canton of Obwalden. The Schützenhaus and the former Zeughaus are suitable for cultural events, exhibitions, family celebrations, birthdays or wedding aperitifs.
On the prominent hill, there’s one of the largest burial plains of the Innschweiz, which was no longer inhabited at the end of the 13th century, rose in the 11th to the beginning of the 13th century. From the original Burganlage Landenberg there are only remains of the enclosing wall. From 1646 to 1998, the annual town council met on the Landenberg. Since the 18th century, the Schützenhaus and Zeughaus are located on the Landenberg.
Go to the Schützenhaus!
The Schützenhaus was built in 1752. Its characteristic silhouette, with the elegant, laterally curved gables, has become the true symbol of Sarnen and lies westward above the village. By the end of the 19th century, the building had been used as a shooting house, with the side wings still open at the time as a shooting range. The shooting room, decorated with paintings on the upper floor, was already a place of social and festive occasions. The Schützenhaus can accommodate max. 60 people.
Learn about the rich history of the canton at Historisches Museum Obwalden!
This is not just a museum of Obwald history, but also art, handicraft, folklore, and customs. It contains finds from a Roman settlement at Alpnach, state insignia, and coins, alpine hut, costumes and furniture, church pictures and statues, testimonies of popular piety, special exhibitions. Set aside some ample time to dig around in all of the exhibits, as they are really very interesting and unique. That’s a special and loved place in Sarnen and you will never be disappointed by visiting it because rarely a museum can be so much fun even for those, who aren’t into the thing.
Get off at the Seefeld Park Sarnen!
The paradise on earth is located in the heart of Central Switzerland: directly on the Sarnersee, with a breathtaking panorama view of the imposing ranges massif of the Alps and lovely Voralpen hills.
It was already mentioned in the accommodation section, but it’s much more than that. Whether you are a camping enthusiast, a party of celebrities, bathers or leisure sports enthusiasts, the Seefeldpark Sarnen offers something special for everyone.
Admire the most dominating landmark of Sarnen – the Parrish Church of St. Peter and Paul!
Mother Church of Obwalden is a richly decorated baroque hall church with landscape dominating double tower facade.
The first reference to this building dates back to 1036. New building using Roman components were added in 1739 – 1742 by Franz Singer (1701 – 1757). In 1784 Baroqueization of the Roman tower went up to the 5th floor, in 1881 the northern tower faced the analogous expansion and in 1883 there was a massive interior renovation and a careful overall restoration under the direction of architect Joseph Wey (Bundesschutz) in 1966 – 1970.
On the outside, a wide freestanding staircase leads up to the three-armed church front, flanked by two unique towers with domes. It features a three-armed longhouse with two round arches and a window of the thermal springs, a polygonal choir (on both sides of the choir, the sacristies are arranged with galleries), a ship and choir under common saddleback.
The interior is rich as well: a large three-aisled hall, the front of the three long-house yokes being extended in a transverse direction; a vault with arched arches and side stitches and excellent equipment (Régencestuck, ceiling pictures, altars, pulpit, organs, choir, and council chairs, etc.)
See Pfarrkirche Schwendi – the beloved wedding location in Sarnen!
The foundation stone of today’s ancient chapel, as it was called, took place on the 8th of May 1702. A significant change in the church came the year 1866 when the structure was extended by a third. In 1912, the church was renovated, and at that time it was said to be renewed. During the reconstruction and new construction in the years 1975 and 1976, the architect Paul Dillier, architect of Sarner, succeeded again and again in admiring works. The parish church in Stalden is probably the best proof of a good harmony of the old and new architecture. This church is very popular for wedding celebrations.
Two other chapels, Wolfengel and Mattacher invite you to linger. In addition, the Schwendi Parish also serves two more chapels – Schwendi Kaltbad and Seewenalp.
Do some Christmas shopping at the Sarnen’s Christmas Market!
The Sarner Christmas Market takes place every year on Wednesday before the first Advent. Numerous stands with many handicraft products and food stalls on the village square make the Christmas market in the traffic-free village center of Sarnen an experience of a special kind. Drink hot mulled wine, listen to carols, buy sweets and various souvenirs and presents, or simply wander around, soaking in the pre-Christmas atmosphere.
Have some fun in winter!
Many people flock to Sarnen each year to spend their vacations in a magical wonderland the town turns into during the winter season. Cross-country skiers and hikers choose to visit the Langis, which a perfect sunny area located above Sarnen. Whether you go skiing along the well-groomed 40-kilometer trail or take a leisurely walk through the snowy forests of pine trees, you will have an unforgettable experience of the natural beauty of this little corner in Switzerland.
Sarnen is an ideal starting point to explore all the winter sports area. Some of those include the Panoramawelt Lungern, Melchsee-Frutt, Engelberg, and Mörlialp, which are located within an hour’s distance from Sarnen by car. And there’s a lot to explore, see and experience. Children will enjoy themselves at various winter playgrounds with lots of games and fun activities. However, parents, going at it along with their kids, are a common sight.
Partake in summer activities!
There is a great abundance of them, that’s for sure! You can take a laid-back cruise and enjoy the fantastic scenery or go hiking through the fascinating landscape. Those who prefer a more active pastime, are welcome to go on a bike trip. Because Sarnen is conveniently located, all the Central Switzerland attractions can be easily reached in little time. Moreover, practically all kinds of sports can be practiced in Sarnen or nearby.
Enjoy sailing on Lake Sarnen!
Sailing on Lake Sarnen is particularly popular, as it is not only very calming amid such beautiful and serene setting, but is also a wonderful sightseeing excursion, seeing as the town is built on the hill and is visible in perfect clarity from the water. As an alternative, you can go on boat trips or guided excursions.
Visit Lucerne, Zug and other surrounding villages and towns!
Of course, visiting nearby lying Lucerne – the city that has become a tourist mecca – is always on the TO DO list of all the visitors of Sarnen. Thankfully it’s just 15 minutes away from Sarnen, which allows you to get here and there at any time and without any troubles and tiring journeys. Rich in attractions and events of different kinds, Lucerne, known as the city of festivals, can offer multiple ways to have a wonderful time suited for anyone’s fancy. It is also abundant in different interesting spots, galleries, geological parks, and museums, including a very famous Transport Museum, which is the biggest in the world.
Don’t forget about serene and tranquil Zug with tasty chocolates, cakes, drinks and the most beautiful sunsets in Switzerland. Actually, all the little villages and town you’re going come across are worth of your attention.
Many have unique museums. For example, Altdorf, the town closely associated with Swiss folk hero William Tell, then Attinghausen just opposite it, where you can see the ruins of the castle of one of the founders of the Swiss Confederation, where now there is a cantonal museum of antiquities.
And there are a great many other small villages that will give you an insight at the traditional way of dwelling in Central Switzerland.
Ascend Mount Pilatus, or Titlis, or Stanserhorn and even a few more!
A truly unforgettable experience! You may do that on foot or by one of the cable cars, or by the steepest cogwheel railroad in the world, with the help of which you can get to the summit of Mount Pilatus (2,128 m (6,982 ft) in less than 2 hours, all the while enjoying spectacular views. On the top of the mountain, a breathtaking vista opens up before you. Many people consider this ride the most unforgettable experience in their life.
The train climbs the mountain at angles reaching up to 48˚. Alternative means are a cable car or tracking to the top on foot.
Aside from Pilatus, the most famous mountain in the region, there are plenty of others to step a foot on.
The next unbelievable one is Mount Titlis.
Have a lot of fun at Mount Titlis and the resort area of Engelberg
The resort area of Engelberg is located in Central Switzerland on the Swiss Plateau.
There are lots of easy skiing routes, that’s why it is very popular amongst families with little children or those who only learn how to ski and some really steep slopes, popular with experienced skiers.
Besides, it is a major tourist attraction all year round thanks to the Titlis.
The height of 3,238 m makes it the highest mountain of the range located between the Bernese Oberland and Central Switzerland. It is also famous for the first ever rotating cable car in the world. The main access to the summit is via the cable car system which links Engelberg to the peak of Klein Titlis. The line goes through 3 stages of Gerschnialp, Trübsee, and Stand. Actually, the last part of the cable care line extends even above the glacier.
Don’t skip an illuminated glacier cave!
Take a walk in a beautifully illuminated glacier cave at Klein Titlis. The entrance to the glacier is within the cable-car station. It includes a few shops and restaurants as well.
The Titlis Cliff Walk!
It is a suspension bridge that opened in December 2012. Being the highest suspension bridge in Europe, it gives a spectacular view of the Alps.
A magnificent view and a sea of impressions. A very unusual sight, the climb takes place first by train, and then on the platform itself to the top of the mountain from where the unforgettable view opens.
Those, who travel a lot in Switzerland and saw many places say that aside from their favorite Pilatus, Stanserhorn definitely comes a very close second. It’s not as well-known as Pilatus and Titlis, but it has an incredibly beautiful view of the mountains, lakes, there is the possibility of walking and seeing the panorama from different directions! There is also a self-service restaurant where everything is more than affordable, but the choice of dishes is very small and not the most exquisite, seeing as it is a self-service restaurant and not that frequented.
But the most important thing that sets aside from others is the only cabrio cable car cabin in the world. Come visit and you will understand why so many people say it’s not just great, it’s SUPER! The main thing is to go there in good weather for reasons already explained.
Stand in the very center of Switzerland!
The Canton of Obwalden contains the geographical center of Switzerland. In 1988, the spot was determined as the center of mass by Swisstopo. The place can be found Älggi-Alp in Sachseln.
A special stone was placed about 500 meters further south-east on Älggi Alp because the point was hard to access. This symbolizes the center of Switzerland and is located at 46°47′54″N 8°13′55″E (Swiss Grid: 660557/183338). The winner of the award “Swiss of the Year” can be seen on the plaque on the stone.