Lake Constance (Bodensee) is the third biggest lake in Central Europe and it is on the path of the Rhine River. The lake shore is shared between the German federal-states Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, the Austrian federal-state Vorarlberg and the Swiss cantons of Thurgau and St. Gallen.
All three nations have developed a specific culture around their part of the shore. There are eleven islands of which Reichenau is the biggest.
German is spoken all the way around the lake. In the Swiss towns, people normally speak the Swiss German dialect but will be able to understand and speak high German. Most people in this area speak some English, especially young people and people working in the tourist industry.
There are trains going around the lake and stopping in most cities of interest. The most important junctions are at Radolfzell, Konstanz, Friedrichshafen, Lindau, Rorschach, Romanshorn and Kreuzlingen. (None of these stations are big; they are simply where various train lines meet.)
Crossing the Bodensee - Driving your car onto a big boat to cross a wide body of water is very civilized excitement. It's a delightful quarter-hour ride with cars, trucks, motorcycles, motorbikes, bicycles, and pedestrians. The upper-deck lounge sells coffee, sandwiches, snacks, and cold drinks. What more could you want? The fare depends on the size of your vehicle. A compact car like a Ford Focus or an Opel Astra costs nine euros, about $11 (in September 2005). Crossings are frequent and you shouldn't have to wait long as there is often a ferry loading when you drive onto the slip. Even at night times, ferries cross the lake hourly. If you travel by foot, be aware that buses might not be available all night, while ferries still are. There are usually taxi cabs waiting around the ferry docks though.
The fastest boat crossings are:
There are also more relaxed crossings between many cities and towns on the lake, giving you more time for a beer, meal, or even a nap out on the sunny top deck. . These boats normally only run from April until October and don't run at night.
A particularly nice time to be out on the lake is on a sunny day when there is a good view of the alps.
All cities and many towns on the Bodensee are serviced by the three national railroads of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The best service (amount of time spent between stops) is by by far better in Germany and Austria than on the Swiss side. Lindau, Friedrichshafen, Konstanz and Bregenz all offer major connections further on into Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
The Bodensee and its shores are very beautiful in a quiet, cultivated way. The views are serene, not spectacular. If you want dramatic scenery, drive a couple of kilometers south into Switzerland or south-west to Upper Bavaria (Allgaeu) and Austria, (Vorarlberg) and visit the Alps. The area sits in a kind of bowl and tends to be very foggy in the winter months. Konstanz, the city on the German side of the German-Swiss border, is a beautiful city, noteworthy for its cathedral and ancient houses and shops. Its vibrant centre (in which live music almost always plays during the day) and harbour, dominated by the statue of Imperia (who holds the Kaiser in one hand and the Pope in the other) make Konstanz a fantastic city to visit. Konstanz has a palpable Mediterranean feel to it.
If you want to spend a pleasant afternoon swimming and sunbathing, however, go to a beach. Buy an ice-cream cone. Watch people change into their bathing suits right out in the open (this is Europe, not New Jersey). Doze on the grass. See how many sailboats you can count in one minute.