On the Trail of

William Tell  


Our family visited the town of Altdorf, Switzerland to

explore the folklore of William Tell.

Read along to find out what sites we visited

and what book inspired us.

Last May we spent an unforgettable week in Switzerland. I’ve already shared about the time we were in Grindelwald, soaking up the alpine activities and outdoor wonderland. I’ve also shared a post on how to hike Aecher with kids, and also our epic experience of building our own Swiss Army Knives in Brunnen. When I think back to that week’s adventures, I’m pretty sure there are at least another dozen posts to be written, but the one that keeps making its way into my head is the time we spent in search of William Tell.

Ok, let me back up a bit. You might be wondering who is this William Tell and why did we care? It all started a few years back when we read a book we fell in love with titled, The Apple and the Arrow by Conrad Buff. The boys and I first read this book together when they were 8 and 10. It's a captivating story about a great bowsmen, bravery, standing up for what's right and a father's love for his son. Chances are you've heard the story of a father shooting an apple from his son's head with an arrow, but maybe you didn't know that the story originates from Switzerland and tells the story of the country's independence of 1291.

William Tell is a Swiss folk hero whose story dates back to the 13th century. As the legend goes, long ago the people of Switzerland were not free like they are today. A tyrant by the name of Gessler made their lives miserable. One day he put up a pole in the center of town with his own cap at the top and demanded that every person who walked past it should stop and bow down to it. Well, you can guess what happened next. There was one man who would not obey, and his name was William Tell. He was a strong mountain man that was well-known throughout the region for his keen archery.  Without giving away more of the story, suffice to say, this legend (or true story as some say) captured the imagination of our boys.

So when we were planning our vacation to Switzerland, we knew we had to pull this book off the shelf and pour over it again in anticipation of our trip.  We made careful notes of locations mentioned in the book as we read through it. Then we pulled up a Google map to better understand where this story supposedly took place.  The town of Altdorf is where William Tell shot the apple from his son’s head. It was right in the village square, and we learned that Altdorf is still a town today and is located in the Canton of Uri. Today there are 26 Cantons of Switzerland that make up the States of the Swiss Confederation.

A stop in Altdorf was a must! We noticed that it is conveniently located between the Interlaken area and Brunnen. Perfect! We decided it would be a stop on our way between these two locations.

Here are the four stops we made in the Altdorf area to follow along in the footsteps of William Tell.

1. William Tell Museum (nearby Burglen)
The William Tell Museum was our first stop, and I recommend doing the same. To get to the small town of Burglen, you'll drive right through the town of Altdorf and even directly by the William Tell monument. Check online and call ahead to make sure they will be open when you plan to visit. We barely made it before they closed.  The museum is small but worth a visit. Inside the museum, you'll find an opportunity to shoot an apple with a bow and arrow and lots of paintings of William Tell, his son, and Gessler. They have several old books retelling the story and an exciting projection presentation in the upper room. The cost to visit the museum is CHF 8.00 for adults, CHF 6.00 for students and CHF 2.50 for children. We spent an hour here, and that was plenty of time to see all the exhibits.

2. Pfarrkirche St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church (in nearby Burglen)
Located right behind the museum (you don't need to move your car) you'll find the Pfarrkirche St. Peter and Paul Church. This spot is worth a quick visit because there is a small chapel behind the church that has a mural dedicated to Tell. If you're hungry, stop in at Tell Burglen, right next door for something tasty. In fact, keep your eyes open as you drive through Burglen and Altdorf as you will find hints of Tell on the street names, hotels, restaurants, and shops.

3. Altdorf Town Square & William Tell Monument
For the third stop on our trek, we made our way back to the Altdorf Town Square to see the William Tell Monument up close. We loved the old photo from 1895 of this same town square that was on display at the museum, showing a dedication ceremony. According to legend, this is the very square where Gessler had hung his cap from a pole and where Tell refused to bow down to it.

4. William Tell Chapel (Tellskapelle)
Our 4th and final stop on our Tell trek was about 15 minutes up the road to a beautiful spot along Lake Lucerne. Thankful for GPS and Google Maps to guide us, we found a small parking lot near a restaurant where we could leave our car and walk down to the lakeside. We found the tiny chapel with frescoes retelling heroic scenes from the life of William Tell. The boys even did some fishing here.
One of the things our family has enjoyed in traveling has been seeing some of the places up close we've read about in books. Literature has a unique way of bringing travel alive. The anticipation of being in Altdorf and walking where William Tell walked is a fun memory from our time in Switzerland. In all we spent about 3 hours visiting these locations one day as we made our way from the Interlaken area to Brunnen. Switzerland is such a small country with very efficient roadways, so if you're interested in visiting these spots, you can make it work from just about any location in Switzerland.

William Tell Overture - And don't miss the opportunity to listen to the famous classical piece written by Gioacchino Rossini and inspired by the William Tell story.


If you're looking for more books for kids for your trip to Switzerland, check out our recommended list here.














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Kate says... (Reply)
"I've always wanted to go to Switzerland, and this sounds like an amazing stop. I know the general story of William Tell but the book you mentioned sounds like a great way to learn more - my oldest son is only 5 so perhaps a bit young right now, but he'll love it when he's older. " (5/14/18)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"Our boys loved the story and it has beautiful illustrations too." (5/15/18)
umiko says... (Reply)
"I've read a book about William Tell when I was in Elementary. Honestly, I don't remember if it's from England, Scotland, or other country in Europe but not Switzerland. Thankfully I came across your post, so I save me some humiliation. Haha... " (5/14/18)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"Ha ha! Honestly, I'm not sure I realized it originated in Switzerland either. You're not alone!" (5/15/18)
Dawn says... (Reply)
"I wasn't familiar with this story or William Tell, but I absolutely love how you integrated it into your travels. This is exactly why we travel with our kids and it is great when you find something that they are really interested in and passionate about and can dig deeper into. " (5/14/18)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"I totally agree. When they get excited about seeing a place we've read about, it makes the travel so much more exciting for everyone." (5/15/18)
Lillie says... (Reply)
"How did I miss that the William Tell story is from Switzerland? Very cool!" (5/14/18)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"I don't think I realized it either, until we read the book! :-)" (5/15/18)
Robin says... (Reply)
"We would definitely go here just so that I could sing that Squeeze song all day to my husband. Very interesting history of someone I assumed was English!" (5/19/18)