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).

Despite the fact that German is the official language of Glarus, the residents mainly speak the local Alemannic Swiss German dialect.

Initially Glarus was named Clarona

Glarus was 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”. However, the earliest reference to the name Glarus was in German was in 1178.

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. If considered necessary, a popular vote can be demanded by the citizens to amend or veto the laws or constitution of the canton. All cantons, as on the federal level, assure certain forms of direct democracy. In the past, the prevalent form of voting throughout Switzerland was the Landsgemeinde or “cantonal assembly”, which is an open public voting system based on the rule of the majority. This is known as one of the oldest manifestations of direct democracy. 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 the rest of the cantons, a secret ballot is practiced as one of the ways to ensure democratic rights.

On a certain day, an assembly of eligible citizens of the canton takes place in the open air in order to make decisions about certain matters. Decisions are made based on the number of those who raise their hands in favor of the motion. Earlier in history, the only proof that men had to show in order to be eligible for voting was their Swiss military sidearm, which was a bayonet. The weapon was a testimonial to them being free men with the right to bear arms and to vote.

Today, every year the first Sunday in May is the day when citizens meet on the Zaunplatz in Glarus to determine the future of the canton.

New Glarus was founded in America by Swiss emigrants

In the mid 19th century, the canton of Glarus suffered from a deep poverty due to the scarcity of food after several unfortunate years of failed crops. High unemployment was a reason for many residents to emigrate to the United States of America. The Glarus Emigration Society, established in 1844, assisted those who wished to purchase land in the New World offering them loans. Many of the resulting emigrants went to the state of Wisconsin, where they founded the town of New Glarus.

In 1845, two men – Nicolas Duerst and Fridolin Streiff – were chosen to sail to the New World in search of land to establish a settlement. They were allocated $2600 to purchase land and commence building cabins for the settlers to arrive the coming spring.

In July the same year, 1,280 acres of land was purchased for $1.25 per acre. The land, which would later become the Village of New Glarus, had been initially inhabited by Native Americans for a long time. The basin with fertile soil was surrounded by hills and thick forests. Some would later say that the place was not the best property available, but the hilly landscape very much reminded them of their motherland.

It has been over 160 years since New Glarus was founded. Nevertheless, the village has managed to save much of the old Swiss traditions and heritage. The streets are lined with traditional Swiss-style chalets adorned with flower boxes of red geraniums. And at many businesses and homes, Swiss flags flutter alongside American flags. In the downtown, one can find Old World meat markets, restaurants serving Swiss cuisine, a Swiss bakery, as well as Swiss folk art and museums. The citizens of New Glarus have maintained many Swiss traditions such as yodeling, the card game Jass, and flag tossing. Nowadays, New Glarus is the most famous Swiss settlement in the Nothern 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. Over a night, two-thirds of the town was engulfed by the fire and reduced to ashes. The estimated loss of the calamity was over half a million dollars. In the morning, after a terrifying night, over 2000 people found themselves homeless.

Thanks to the help from the residents of New Glarus the town was rebuilt

A decision was made to aid the fellow countrymen after the residents of New Glarus hear of the catastrophe. They collected money, which was a considerably larger sum than that they received as a loan sixteen years earlier, and dispatched it to help rebuild the town. After the tragic events, Glarus was rebuilt in accordance with the construction plans by Johann Caspar Wolff and Bernhard Simon.

Actually, this is not the only occasion, when the New World settlers came to rescue. Two decades after the fire, another town in the canton of Glarus -Elm – suffered from catastrophic loss. It was buried under a landslide resulting in 115 casualties. This time, once again, the residents of New Glarus sent $20,000 back to their native country to cover the loss.

The Pontifical Swiss Guard has its recruitment center in Glarus

The Pontifical Swiss Guard is the smallest army in the world with only up to 125 soldiers. It is maintained by the Holy See and has the main responsibility of protecting the safety of the Pope and the Apostolic Palace.

The Swiss Guard was founded by Pope Julius II in 1506 which makes it one of the oldest standing military units. 

Today, the Swiss Guard is managed by a private agency. The basic requirements to be admitted to the army are quite unequivocal. The males must be Swiss citizens, younger than 30, and have completed the training with the Swiss Armed Forces with good merits. The uniform of the guards has a distinct  Renaissance appearance of blue, orange, yellow, and red. In the modern days, the guards serve as private bodyguards 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 situated on the line connecting the Ziegelbrücke to Linthal . The Zürich S-Bahn service S25 serves the trains running between Zürich and Linthal, and the St. Gallen S-Bahn service S6 maintains the line connecting Rapperswil to Schwanden. Both services provide trains once every hour. That makes two trains per hour running from Ziegelbrücke to Schwanden. Two other stations – Ennenda and Netstal – are also 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?

Due to the size of the town, it can be easily explored 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 has an exceptionally great location with a view of the lake and a large outside terrace where guests may enjoy a meal of a superb quality or sip at freshly-ground coffee. Of course, there is also a restaurant on the hotel site. Hotel Rhodannenberg AG offers pet-friendly accommodation, so you don’t have to worry and take your little friend with you. The hotel provides a free shuttle. Also, there is a car park with ample parking space just behind the hotel. 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. In July, which is the rainiest month, there is on average 198 mm (7.8 in) of precipitation. Throughout this month up to 15 days are rainy. August, however, is also quite wet. 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.

Things to do and see 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.

With the help of information platforms in Elm and Glarus, you will receive first-hand knowledge of geological heritage of the region. All the information is explained in a simple fashion engaging the visitors into the discovery of Geological phenomena. Group tours for school pupils and adults are conducted by specially-trained Geology guides. This exhibition is a real discovery for just about anyone: one interested in nature and geology, or simply a curious person.

Take a Geological City Walk in the town of Glarus!

Explore the dinosaur fossils from the prehistoric times in the town hall fountain, marvel at the stone slabs filled with oysters near 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.

Marvel at the grandeur 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 m above sea level. The other main summits are the Bächistock (2,914 m, followed by the Vrenelisgärtli (“Verena’s Little Garden” at 2,904 m) and the Ruchen (2,901 m). 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 m 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 a popular place for water sports and fishing during the summer time and in winter it is great for skating. Hikers and anglers often choose to visit this destination, too. Created by a rockslide in the prehistoric era, the Klöntal lake serves as an energy reservoir. An embankment, formed after the power plant was built, now allows the lake to be used as a water storage for the production of consumption energy. The construction of the Beznau hydroelectric power plant and the power plant on the Löntsch started Axpo. The first Swiss power plant association was established with these two power plants way back in the early 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. There are several famous resorts in the Glarus skiing region and a short drive from Zürich. Those include  Kerenzerberger-Mullern/Fronalp, Elm, and Braunwald. So, if you are in Zurich, don’t pass up the chance to drop by for a couple of days. In comparison with other popular resorts, what is especially delightful is that owing to the well-developed infrastructure, no one has to wait in long lines. 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!

Glarus is the right place for those who enjoy spending their time actively outdoors. It is a particularly suitable place for different activities in the open air during the summer. There is plenty on offer: riding a mountain bike, climb mountains, fly with the glider or go hiking on many of the trails available. To cut a long story short, you’ll always be able to find something to your liking: be it sports or measured leisure activities. Even if the weather doesn’t allow for any outdoor activities, there are many other places to visit, for example, museums and factories.

Wander around the Old Town!

It is very beautiful, with many original houses and buildings, dominated by the 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 the past few years, an exhibition of contemporary art has brought a great reputation to the Glarus Kunsthaus.  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 while taking a hike along Glarus Industrial Trail!

Not only canton Glarus is bestowed with magnificent nature, but it also has a long history of being an important industrial area. Glarus Industrial Trail, which is a 50-km trail in the valleys of Linth and Sernf, spans nearly 50 fascinating sights. The trail goes past much revered old factories and villas of their owners. You can also see power plants, canals, and contemporary factories. Hikers can learn the general information about the sights from the information panels located along the trail. The Glarus Industrial Trail is well marked and runs along the main road.

Go on various Glarus cheese tours!

The access to the factory which produces cheese following a 550-year tradition is now open to visitors to explore the world’s only factory where Schabziger is created. What makes the visit to the workshop of the company GESKA Inc. so interesting is the uniqueness of the authentically spicy Schabziger. The production of Switzerland’s earliest trademarked product commenced some 550 years ago, in 1463. It is due to Zigermannli, street vendors who sold the cheese from their back baskets, that the cheese became well-known across Switzerland and outside the country. If you have a chance, pay a visit to the cheese production facility to learn more about it.

Go hiking up the Schabziger Mountain Trail!

Anybody, starting from a mountain hiker to a nature lover, will enjoy the walk on the Schabziger Mountain Trail, which offers not only magnificent mountain views but also an informative discourse and culinary delights. Whole families can enjoy the adventure and pamper all senses. Enjoy the mountain breeze and picturesque scenery all around you. On the way, you will encounter ten information stops where you will discover the history of Schabziger cheese production, its marketing, and overall alpine economy of Glarus. You will come across the showcase cheese dairy, where you can take a short break and choose some freshly-farmed products to take with you. Later you can take a rest in one of the restaurants, for example, Fronalpstock, where you may grab a bite after your walk and observe the entire Glarus region from the top. Don’t miss this unforgettable experience!