Do you also have an old soul like me? If you do, I bet nothing excites you more than strolling in a mountain town like Sion in Switzerland. It is one of my ultimate destinations on earth. I promise myself that Sion now is a place I will visit before I die.
The mountains at sight, the castles, the centuries-old buildings, and the ruins in Sion are just the realization of my fantasies. Visiting Sion is like coming inside a medieval movie that we’ve watched many times on our TV.
In this blog post, I share my plan of exploring Sion and making one of my dreams come to life! I’ve made my research from the reviews and photographed landmarks in Google Maps. I hope this helps you or at least gives you an idea of which places to visit in Sion.
Where is Sion in Switzerland?
Sion is in southwestern Switzerland, a town in the valley of Rhone. It is a town between the mountains of Haut de Cry and Grand Chavalard, known for its two hilltop fortifications.
The town of Sion is the capital of Canton of Valais. That’s why we can find an airbase here. It is used for military and civilian operations such as air rescue missions.
Rhone river divides Sion into two, with the northern portion of the town being more populated than the other.
By the way, Sion is one of the big towns/cities near the Swiss Alps’ best destinations. If you want to know the other 4, check out my article Cities in Switzerland near the Swiss Alps Best Destinations.
What is the Best Time To Visit Sion?
Generally, it is ideal visiting Switzerland during the shoulder seasons when the weather is fantastic, and Switzerland is no longer packed with tourists. Those are between April and June and September until October.
But if you want to have the highest probability of getting the best weather (that’s sunny and dry), then visit Sion from late May to early September.
If you are like me, who will be coming from the other side of the world (I’m from Asia), I choose to visit Sion between May and September. You know, I just want to be sure that I get the best of Sion. Sunny and warm, please! Besides, who wants to take a photo with clouds everywhere? No one! 😀
The best time to visit Sion is also the best time to see the towns in the Swiss countryside. Check out these photos in the previous link to make you inspired to visit those beautiful places. Then here is the article about Towns in the Swiss Alps to learn more about them.
How To Visit Sion?
We can access Sion from other major cities in Switzerland, Geneva from East and Zurich or Bern from the west. Here are the train types that we will be using in coming to Sion:
- IR – It means InterRegio. These are the trains within Switzerland that connect cities and mid-size towns only.
- R – It means Regio. They are trains that run on relatively shorter routes and stop on all the stations it passes by.
- IC – It means InterCity. These trains connect the major cities in Switzerland only.
We can go straight to Sion from Geneva by hopping on an IR90 train. The trip could last for 2 hours based on Google Maps. That two hours could probably feel like just a moment because of the endless beautiful sceneries we can see in the Swiss’ countryside.
From Zurich (Passing Bern)
If we are coming from Zurich or Bern, we can take the IC8 trains going to Visp. The train ride lasts for 2 hours if we start from Zurich and half of that if we start from Bern.
In Visp, we can choose between IR90 or R trains going to Sion. They have prices that have relatively the value, but you can buy a second class ticket for R trains that costs almost half of the price of the regular IR / first-class R train ticket. IR90 will bring you to Sion, 10 minutes faster than R trains.
Best Things to Do in Sion
I just want to share how funny I discovered Sion. I just opened Google Maps and zoomed into Switzerland. Sion was the first town I saw.
Here are the places and attractions that I found in Sion that I think we must visit, especially if you also like going back into the past and relive history:
Going to Sion Cathedral is the first best thing to do in Sion (1st of the 5 places).
Of all the places indicated in this blog, Sion Cathedral will be the first place I will visit once I arrive at Sion. I would like to thank God first. For all the blessings and safe travels.
A brief history of Sion Cathedral
Sion Cathedral, also known as the Our Lady of the Glarier (Notre-Dame du Glarier), is a 15th-century roman catholic church structure that lies in the heart of the town of Sion. It was the second time it was rebuilt after the destruction of the previous cathedrals on the same site.
How to go to Sion Cathedral From Sion Terminal?
It is only a 15-minute walk from Sion Train Station. From the station, walk northwards on Avenue de la Gare. After passing Parc de la Planta and before reaching Tribunal Cantonal Building, we turn right to Rue Mathieu Schiner street. We will eventually arrive at Sion Cathedral in few steps.
Here’s an alternative route. Click to see the path or shortcut to go to Sion Cathedral From Sion Train Station. Be sure to install Google Maps on your phone!
What to expect in visiting Sion Cathedral?
- The church has a Romanesque bell tower whose sides and back have beautiful clocks in gold, black and red colors
- Sion cathedral was designed and constructed with Byzantine architecture, with stained glass mosaic behind the main altar.
- There are 15 altars in the cathedral containing several Roman inscriptions.
Visiting Sion Cathedral could only last for a few minutes unless you want to check every detail of the cathedral.
If you want to see churches with jaw-dropping architecture, visit Lucerne. Well, it is not only the churches in Lucerne that are fantastic. You can check out the rest from my article 15 Reasons Why You Should Visit Lucerne.
Seeing the Sorcerer’s Tower is the next best thing to do in Sion (2nd of the 5 places)
The Arthurian Legend is one of my travel inspirations why I want to visit Europe. It is also where I learned that there was a purge of the witches that happened centuries ago.
Actually, it is one of the works of literature we study in high school. If you can’t remember it exactly, I suggest that you watch Merlin, a 2008 TV series that gives a context of what happened hundreds of years ago.
When I learned that there’s an actual place (Sorcerer’s Tower) in Sion where the purge of witches literally happened, I did not hesitate to include it on this list.
History of the Sorcerer’s Tower
In contrast to its name, the Sorcerer’s Tower was not a home of a witch or a sorcerer. It was built to fortify the defenses of Sion in the 14th century instead. The construction of the Sorcerer’s Tower added another angle to the walls of the town.
Later, it was converted into a prison and a place where witches stood in trials. The trails of the sorcerers, which happened during the 15th to 18th century, echoed in history, conferring the site a name, Sorcerer’s Tower.
Today, it serves as the principal remaining vestige of the walls, which surrounded the old town of Sion. It is also a landmark that tourists come to observe in Sion.
Where is Sorcerer’s Tower?
Sorcerer’s tower is located a kilometer away north of Sion train station. It is a 15-minute walk from the station, and it can already be seen at the end of the Avenue De La Gare.
If you are already in Sion Cathedral, you only have to walk 3 minutes northwest to arrive in the Sorcerer’s Tower. You may check this Google Maps link to see the route instantly.
What to expect in visiting Sorcerer’s Tower?
According to the landmark description: “Inside the Tower, in the hall of justice, the visitor can still see traces of the instruments of strappado torture used to question the convicts.” It is also a place to see some medieval architecture and learn some history about the City of Sion.
Chapelle de Tous-les-Saints
Dropping by Chapelle de Tous-les-Saints is the next best thing to do in Sion (3rd of the 5 places)https://7fdf92f9a00709fc63d3fd3022fd718c.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
The hills just beside the town center are where we can find the most exciting attractions in Sion. These attractions are structures that are very reminiscent of the past.
One of these structures is the small chapel called “All The Saints.” This small but charming chapel is perhaps one of the most photographed locations in Sion.
This chapel was constructed in 1325 in the direction of Canon Blandrate. And if we are to calculate, it’s about 700 years old by now!
Where is Chapelle de Tous-Les-Saints (Chapel of All the Saints)?
Chapelle de Tous-Les-Saints is located along the path to Valere Basilica, which is situated at one of the hilltops of Valere hill. It is just an 8 to 10-minute walk from the Sion Cathedral to the east.
Here is the Google Maps Link to show you the path to Chapelle de Tous-Les-Saints straight from the Sion Terminal – in case you want to skip Sion Cathedral or Sorcerer’s Tower.
What to expect in Visiting Chapelle de Tous-Les-Saints?
- Going to the chapel follows an inclined route, but it isn’t hard to hike. The change in elevation from the town center to Chapelle de Tous-Les-Saints is approximately 70 meters.
- Coming to Chapelle de Tous-Les-Saints, we will not only see a gothic-style chapel made from bricks. At this point, we can already have an overlooking scenic view of Sion.
- Though Chapelle de Tous-Les-Saints was built in 1325, the chapel that we can see now is only a restored version of the original. The restoration was made last 1964.https://7fdf92f9a00709fc63d3fd3022fd718c.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Chapelle de Tous-Les-Saints might be a small building, but I think we can create a lot of epic photos from it! Just look at the mountains around Sion. This chapel could be a source of dozens of beautiful pictures!
Exploring the Valere Basilica is the next best thing to do in Sion (4th of the 5 places)
By the time we arrive in Chapelle de Tous-Les-Saints, we are almost already in Valere Basilica. Some also call this Valere Castle. It is one of the Swiss heritage sites of national significance – a reason why we must visit this.
It is also here, in Valere Basilica, we can find the oldest playable organ in the world! For me, it is so meaningful to see. I wonder how it survived centuries, over wars and natural calamities.
By the way, you must also see the castle that has a tower in a lake! It is called Oberhofen Castle, and you can visit it from Thun. You may learn more about this fairytale castle from my article about the Breathtaking Places in Thun.
In nearby city, Brig, there is another castle or palace that you must see. It has three towers which were named after the three wise kings of the bible. Check it out here in my list of things to do in Brig.
Lastly, you must see Montreux. Included to 10 reasons why you must visit Montreux is Chillon Castle. It is a castle similar to Oberhofen Castle, which is also beside a lake. It is the most visited castle in Switzerland.
History of Valere Basilica
The first building blocks of Valere Basilica stood in the hills of Sion in the 1100s. The improvements continuously happened for centuries after its first phase was completed.
Initially, the Valere Basilica was built with Romanesque-inspired architecture. Throughout the years of its development, its design was changed into Gothic style as it expanded.
The improvement of the Valere Basilica continued until the mid-1700s. The paintings, murals, statues were added together with the famous organ.
And in October 1987, Pope John Paul II visited Valere Basilica. It was only the time this church gained its title as a minor basilica.
Where is Valere Basilica?
Valere Basilica is located on the hilltop of Valere hill, just east of the town center of Sion, with the Sion cathedral as the reference. Coming straight to Valere Basilica from Sion train station takes about 20 to 25 minutes of walking. Check out this Google Maps Route to instantly see where you will go.
What to expect in Visiting Valere Basilica?
- Standing on a hilltop with Valere Basilica, we will see a scenic view of the town of Sion, together with the mountains in the backdrop.
- We can also see Tourbillion Castle from Valere Basilica. For me, this is the perfect spot to capture Tourbillion Castle. There are no obstructions, and it just gives a whole new perspective apart from photographing Tourbillion Castle from the lower ground. I can imagine how it looks, and it really excites me!
- There are also gothic marble statues here in Valere Basilica, which was added to the church somewhere in the 1400s.
- The church also has murals that are now already 600 years old!
- Of course, here we can find the famous and oldest playable organ in the whole world. Similar to the murals, the organ was added to Valere Basilica around 1430.
I’m curious about the organ. Good thing that someone provided a 360-view of the basilica’s interior. Check it out here:
As a Catholic and someone from Asia, seeing such artifacts, murals, and old statues gives me goosebumps! Never in my life, I’ve seen artifacts about our religion that are over 500 years old! Really!
If I’m having goosebumps right now here while I explore the church from a screen, what more if I see them in person? Ah! I just don’t know.
Going to the ruins of Tourbillon Castle is the last and ultimate best thing to do in Sion.
If Valere Basilica is the best spot in the city to photograph Tourbillon Castle… Then Tourbillon Castle is the best place to capture in a photo the Valere Basilica. Located above 182 meters higher than the town center, anyone who will visit Tourbillion Castle will have a Bird’s-eye view of the whole town.
Similar to Valere Basilica, Tourbillon Castle is also a Swiss heritage site of national significance. However, most parts of the castle were destroyed already, unlike the basilica that stands solidly until today.
History about Tourbillon Castle
The story of Tourbillon Castle started in the 13th century when Bishop Boniface de Challant, a native of Savoy, ordered to construct his new residence on the hill near Sion. From then, it became the residence of all the bishops assigned in Sion.
Fast forward to the year 1417, the people and the bishop of Sion had “grave” conflicts. This conflict between the two sides was so severe that the people resulted burning the Tourbillon Castle.
Though the Tourbillon Castle did not remain in rubbles three decades after that incident, another fire incident during 1788 happened again.
That fire event completely destroyed the castle. Since then, it has stayed in ruins. It was only in the 19th century when reinforcements came to the Tourbillon Castle to make it a historical monument.
Where is Tourbillon Castle?
Tourbillon Castle is located on Tourbillon Hill, just beside Valere Hill and Valere Basilica. It is elevated 182 meters (597 feet) higher than the town center, making it visible to most parts of Sion.
This castle is approximately 30 minutes away from Sion Train Station. Check this Google Maps Route to Tourbillon Castle to instantly see the avenues and pathways you need to pass if you’re coming straight from the station.
Check out other places in Switzerland with such awesome views like this! You can see it from my article The Heaven on Earth: 15 Villages and Towns in the Swiss Alps
What to expect in Visiting Tourbillon Castle?
- Tourbillon Castle has different parts. When you arrive at the entrance, the first things that we will see are the two towers guarding the entrance.
- If we move east immediately after entering the castle, we will arrive at the castle’s chapel. It is connected to the sacristy, the place where the articles of worship are stored.
- Inside the chapel, we can find faded murals that narrate the story of Jesus and other Christian beliefs.
- After exploring the chapel and sacristy, we can move northwards to see what’s inside the main palace, cistern, and keep.
- While exploring the castle, we can directly spot Valere Basilica. The windows facing south frame the view of the basilica – don’t forget to capture!
- Outside, to the east, we come to the castle’s courtyard – the perfect spot to view the plains and fields of Sion.
These five places do really give a throwback to the past. From the ruins to the masonry structures to the murals, Sion just casts an unexplainable charm irresistible to see in person.
In my imagination, the old structures and the mountain from afar… They will make you feel that you’re in a world where many kings and queens still exist.
For someone like me who has only seen jungles, beaches, small mountains, and modern cities in their entire life, Sion is really a place to be. It is a place to get a new perspective, learn history and reflect on life.
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