WHAT TO DO
Zurich is regularly recognized as one of the world's most livable cities. Attractively set at the meeting of the Limmat River and Lake Zurich, it is culturally vibrant, efficiently run and absolutely beautiful. Long known as a hard working financial center, Switzerland's largest metropolis has also emerged as one of central Europe's hippest destinations with an artsy, post industrial edge that is epitomized in its exuberant summer Street Parade. Much of the city's charming Old Town (Altstadt), with its winding lanes and tall church steeples, has been kept lovingly intact. Zurich is a city of fine food, superb chocolate shops, artistic creations, elegant churches and breathtaking scenery. Most places of interest are within walking distance of the extremely clean city center - so head out and enjoy the town's relaxed atmosphere.
There's no better spot to begin your adventure than in and around the Old Town. The Altstadt is home to several of Zurich's most important landmarks and the Fraumunster (Church of Our Lady) is the centerpiece. This 13th century church is renowned for its stunning stained glass windows, designed by the Russian born artist Marc Chagall - who accomplished the series of five windows in the choir stalls in 1970 and the rose window in the southern transept in 1978. Each of the five windows has a dominant color and depicts a Christian story, including Elijah's ascent to heaven and various scenes of Christ's life. Note: the rose window in the northern transept was created by Augusto Giacometti in 1930. Of the church spires that are Zurich's signature, the Fraumunster's is the most delicate - a graceful sweep to a narrow spire. From any position in the city, it is hard to overlook the 13th century tower of the St Peterskirche (Church of St Peter). Its prominent clock face, 30 feet in diameter, is one of the largest in Europe. Inside, the choir stalls date from the 13th century, but the rest of the church is largely an 18th century reconstruction. Just below the building is one of Zurich's most picturesque spots - St Peterhofstatt, a lovely cobbled square surrounding a graceful old linden tree. Note: keep an eye out for free classical concerts or choirs on the square. From there, wander the streets of the Niederdorf on the Limmat River's left bank. The winding cobbled lanes of this area are crammed with restaurants, cafes, galleries and specialty shops. Affectionately dubbed 'Dorfli' or small village by locals, this quarter has a laid back vibe. Be sure to walk up from the river to Lindenhof for postcard views of the Old Town. This relaxed, tree shaded hilltop square has spectacular sights across the Limmat to the magnificent Grossmunster.
Next, cross over the Limmat River on the Rathausbrucke (Town Hall Bridge) to the right bank. You'll pass the Rathaus (Town Hall) which served as the seat of government and administration of the Republic of Zurich until 1798. Just up the street at Spiegelgasse 1 is the eccentric Cabaret Voltaire. The birthplace of the zany Dada art movement, this space has come back to life as a hotbed of contentious art exhibitions and socially critical artistic ferment. Explore the history of Dada downstairs or head for the poster plastered cafe and bar upstairs. Note: art books and Dada related publications are sold in the shop. After a visit to Cabaret Voltaire, make your way to the Grossmunster (Great Church). Founded by Charlemagne in the 9th century, Zurich's twin towered landmark cathedral sits directly across the river from the Fraumunster. The interior of this grand Protestant church showcases stained glass work by Augusto Giacometti, who also worked on the Fraumunster. For commanding views of the city, lake and the Alps in the distance, climb the southern tower - the Karlsturm. Firebrand preacher Huldrych Zwingli began speaking out against the Catholic Church here in the 16th century and thus brought the Reformation to Zurich. Zwingli's house is nearby at Kirchgasse 13, but it is not open to the public. If you are in the mood for some impressive art, head to the Kunsthaus museum at Heimplatz 1. The city's top art museum boasts a rich collection of largely European art. It stretches from the Middle Ages through a mix of Old Masters to Monet and Van Gogh masterpieces, Rodin sculptures and other 19th and 20th century art - including works by Swiss born artist Paul Klee. Note: the museum is open from 10a-6p and is closed on Monday. Also, Swiss Rail and Museum Passes do not provide free admission, but the Zurich Card does - it provides free public transport and museum entrance and can be purchased at the airport train station and tourist office. From the Kunsthaus, head south towards the lake and the largest public square in town - the Sechselautenplatz. Located on the square at Falkenstrasse 1, behind an opulent neoclassical facade is the gorgeous Opernhaus Zurich (Zurich Opera House). It has been the home of the Zurich Opera since 1891 and it's also home to the Zurich Ballet. Beyond the Opera House to the south, along the eastern shore of the Zurichsee (Lake Zurich), is the Zurichhorn. This long and leafy lakeside park is the perfect place to chill and it's close to Seebad Utoquai - the most popular swimming spot on Lake Zurich's eastern shore.
Back on the other side (left bank) of the Limmat River is Paradeplatz. The hub of Bahnhofstrasse and a tram junction, this square is a great place to people watch and satisfy a sweet tooth. Located at Bahnhofstrasse 21 is the very popular Sprungli Cafe. Sit down for cakes, chocolate, ice cream and exquisite coffee drinks at this epicenter of sweet Switzerland, in business since 1836. You can have a light lunch too, but whatever you do, don't fail to check out its heavenly chocolate shop - where you can buy delectable pralines and truffles, plus the house specialty - rainbow bright Luxemburgerli macarons. Note: I will discuss some of my favorite chocolate shops in town later on. After overdoing it at Sprungli, make your way along Bahnhofstrasse towards the Hauptbahnhof (Main Train Station). Of course you could hop on a tram at Paradeplatz and glide down Bahnhofstrasse until you reach the train station, but I highly recommend walking the lovely avenue, making some stops along the way. The Bahnhofstrasse is reputedly "the most expensive street in the world" thanks to all of its extravagantly priced jewelry shops. Zurich's principle boulevard offers luxury shopping, whereas much shifting and hoarding of the world's wealth takes place discreetly within the Swiss banks' walls. If buying super expensive watches isn't your cup of tea, why not visit the Beyer Museum at Bahnhofstrasse 31. Inside the premises of a purveyor of fine timepieces is this small jewel of a museum which chronicles the rise of timekeeping, from striated medieval candles to modern watches. If perhaps you'd like to take in some more art, go to the Migros Museum at Limmatstrasse 270. Housed in a renovated brewery, this well funded contemporary art museum focuses on innovative work from recent decades and includes pieces by Andy Warhol. Upstairs from the Migros Museum is the Kunsthalle Zurich. This art hall features changing exhibitions of contemporary art spread over two floors.
Eventually, you will arrive at the Hauptbahnhof (Zurich HB) main railway station. From the bustling main concourse of this immaculate 19th century edifice you can watch crowds rushing to their famously on time trains. Be sure to look up towards the heavens to see the colorful angel who is said to bring safe journeys to travelers. Beneath the main hall lies a shopping mall, open daily from 8a-8p (an exception to the closed on Sunday rule). If you are not planning to take a train somewhere, you should stop in to the Schweizerisches Landesmuseum (Swiss National Museum). Located next door at Museumstrasse 2 and housed in a gargantuan neo Gothic building dating from 1889, this museum owns an enormous collection of objects dating from the Stone Age to modern times. The permanent collection offers an extensive romp through Swiss history - there are costumes, furniture, early watches and a great deal of military history including thousands of toy soldiers reenacting famous battles. From the museum, make your way up the hill to Ramistrasse 71 and the University of Zurich. Founded in 1833, it is the largest university in Switzerland with over 25000 students. Note: in 1905 Albert Einstein submitted his revolutionary paper “Eine neue Bestimmung der Molekuldimensionen” (A New Determination of Molecular Dimensions) as a dissertation at the University of Zurich. From 1909 to 1911 he was Professor for Theoretical Physics at the university. There is no better way to conclude your tour of Zurich than with a boat cruise on the lake. The Lake Zurich Navigation Company (ZSG) offers numerous tours on Lake Zurich daily in the summer, ranging from 1.5 hours to a 4 hour sunset dinner cruise on the lake. The ticket office is located on the docks at Burkliplatz. Finally, if you happen to be in Zurich on the second Saturday of August - wild times await you. The annual Street Parade is one of the largest techno parties in the world; officially a demonstration for freedom, love and tolerance, it's attended by up to one million people.
WHERE TO EAT
Zurich has a number of great places to eat and drink. From casual cafes and stylish cocktail bars, to charming chocolate shops and traditional restaurant guildhalls - this Swiss city is sure to please. Start your day at the lovely Franzos Cafe, located by the Limmat River at Limmatquai 138. It's the perfect place to enjoy excellent coffee and fluffy croissants on the terrace in the morning - they also have crispy baguettes and indulgent cheeses. Another solid choice is Babu's Bakery and Coffeehouse at Lowenstrasse 1. It is easy to lose track of time at this neighborhood spot, where the luscious assortment of scrumptious cakes, crumbling cookies and flaky pastries are nearly as diverse as the mismatched furniture, hanging plants and worn novels crammed onto the bookshelves. The fantastic cappuccinos are backed up by a wonderful selection of smoothies and fruit juices. When it's time for lunch or maybe an afternoon picnic, Pretot Delikatessen is the perfect supply base. Located at Kuttelgasse 3, this decades old purveyor of fine sausages does ready made sandwiches and the favorite portable food, sausage and burli (a crunchy roll). Stock up on raw materials then head to the lake or up the hill to Lindenhof park for panoramic views. Maybe you'd prefer Bauschanzli, found at Stadthausquai 2. Location is the big draw at this beer garden/cafeteria style eatery built atop 17th century fortifications that jut into the middle of the Limmat River. Watch swans, boats and passersby as you nosh on Wiener schnitzel, bratwurst, fried perch and chips, and sip from cold mugs of beer. Note: from early October to early November, it hosts Zurich's month long version of Oktoberfest.
It's no secret that I enjoy chocolate and Switzerland is home to some of the finest chocolate in the world. There are more than a few chocolate shops in Zurich and I would like to share my top 3. Located at Schlusselgasse 12 in the Altstadt is Max Chocolatier. Of all the city's tempting shops, Max has the edge. This chic Old Town boutique has a fabulous array of beautifully packaged chocolate bars, truffles and pralines made with 100% natural Swiss ingredients. Keep an eye out for seasonal treats such as Alpine hay, elderflower and white peach. Another excellent chocolate confiserie is Teuscher. It is as famous for its extravagantly wrapped packages as for its amazing chocolates. There are a few locations in Zurich including Storchengasse 9 and Bahnhofstrasse 46. The shops blaze with boxes of pralines and the popular champagne truffles - all wrapped up in stunning fabrics, silk roses and troll figurines. The beautiful packaging makes a fine keepsake. Last but certainly not least is Laderach. It also has several stores in town including the main train station, but I would suggest visiting the nearby location at Bahnhofstrasse 106. One of the most prominent chocolate shops in the city, it offers a variety of fine chocolates where you can choose your own from the case or buy a prepackaged selection to take home. The staff is super friendly and offers generous samples as you shop.
When you visit Switzerland you must do fondue and raclette. A quick introduction - fondue is melted cheese served in a communal pot over a portable stove heated with a candle or spirit lamp and eaten by dipping bread into the cheese using long stemmed forks - raclette is a semi hard cow's milk cheese and dish based on heating the cheese and scraping off the melted part. There are 2 places in Zurich for this quintessential Swiss cheese experience. The first is the warm and welcoming Raclette Stube at Zahringerstrasse 16 and the second is Swiss Chuchi, located at Rosengasse 10 in the Altstadt. Whether outside Chuchi on the bustling Niederdorf or inside the quaint Swiss ambience of the restaurant, you can enjoy the Adler Special - cheese and meat fondue. For more traditional Swiss grub, head to Zeughauskeller at Bahnhofstrasse 28. Set in a former arsenal - this atmospheric 15th century beer hall goes to town with a dozen varieties of sausage, along with other Swiss favorites like pork knuckle with sauerkraut. Nearby and notable for its historic interior with wood paneling, marble columns, stained glass and ceiling murals - Restaurant Zum Kropf (located at In Gassen 16) has been a local favorite since 1888 for its hearty Swiss staples and fine beers. With its tall windows, wood paneling and stucco ceiling ornamentation, the Alpenrose exudes cozy Old World charm. Found at Fabrikstrasse 12, its cuisine lives up to the promise - hearty Swiss classics such as herb stuffed trout with homemade Spatzli (egg noodles) and buttered carrots are exquisitely prepared and presented, accompanied by a good wine list and a nice selection of desserts. One of Zurich's top tables is Didi's Frieden, located at Stampfenbachstrasse 32. Its look is understated elegance with wood floors, white tablecloths and wine glass chandeliers. The service is discreet yet attentive while the menu sings of the seasons with dishes like venison ravioli and dark chocolate. Be sure to save room for dessert to see the chef's artistic streak. Note: advanced bookings are recommended and during summer, try to sit out on the ivy covered terrace. Another favored eatery in town is the outstanding Kronenhalle at Ramistrasse 4. The crown hall is a brasserie style establishment with white tablecloths, dark wood and an Old World feel. The service is exceptional - impeccably mannered waiters move discreetly below Picasso, Chagall, Miro and Matisse originals, serving a daily changing menu. The robust cooking is served in hefty portions: chateaubriand in bearnaise sauce, veal steak in morel sauce and duck a l'orange with red cabbage. Note: reservations are essential and be sure to request a table in the main dining room.
One of my favorite restaurants in Zurich is Kaiser's Reblaube, located at Glockengasse 7. Here, you'll get the most out of the Altstadt experience by dining in one of its most beautiful medieval buildings which dates back to 1260. Go with the four course tasting menu which may include green pea soup, duck liver mousse with mushrooms, lamb fillet with lentils and creme brulee. Located on the right bank of the Limmat River at Limmatquai 40 is Zunfthaus zur Zimmerleuten. Dating from 1708 and containing elements that go back 850 years, this was the carpenters' and masons' guild. After a fire destroyed its top two floors in 2007, the building was restored by specialists who uncovered a rare fresco dating back to the 14th century in one of the small dining halls. Its main restaurant is again drawing locals and tourists alike to its beautiful dark wood halls, where the focus is on traditional dishes such as chicken breast with lime risotto and seasonal vegetables. For another authentic Swiss experience, try Veltlinerkeller at Schlusselgasse 8. Located just below St Peterskirche, its carved wood decor borrows from Graubundner Alpine culture. The building, built in 1325 and functioning as a restaurant since 1551 has always stored Italian/Swiss Valtellina wines which were carried over the Alps to Zurich. There is a definite emphasis on the heavy and the meaty - you must try the delightful Zurcher Geschnetzeltes, a Zurich specialty. It is bite size slices of milky veal (and sometimes veal kidneys) sauteed in butter and swimming in a rich brown sauce thick with cream, white wine, shallots and mushrooms. It is typically served with rosti, a kind of hash brown potatoes. For dessert, try one of the refreshing fruit sorbets. One final spot is Rheinfelder Bierhaus de Bluetig Duume, located at Marktgasse 19. Locals know this Niederdorf institution by its nickname "Bloody Thumb" - the venue is nonetheless often packed with happy patrons. It is noted for its steak with herb butter and sausage platters. Note: try to snag one of the few tables lined up outside in warm weather - a steady stream of passersby in this pedestrian zone makes for good entertainment.
Zurich has several cool places to enjoy a drink or two. Begin at the Old Crow, located just a stone's throw from the Limmat River in the Old Town at Schwanengasse 4. This atmospheric backstreet bar boasts more than 1600 rare spirits with a particular focus on whiskies, handpicked from the owner's personal collection. Bentwood bar stools and a checkered floor add to the old fashioned magic as the bartenders mix long forgotten cocktails alongside more recent classics. Note: the bar opens at 5p and is closed on Sunday. Just up the street inside the Widder Hotel at Widdergasse 6 is the splendid Widder Bar. The service is top notch and the drinks are delightful. The menu has more than 250 malt whiskies and some innovative cocktails you won't find anywhere else. Try the Burn Baby Burn (Calle 23 tequila, lime juice, chili syrup, chili salt and a lime) - es muy bueno. From there, head west to Selnaustrassse 29 and Tales Bar. In my opinion, this is the best cocktail bar in Zurich. It's cozy with a fantastic atmosphere, wonderful service and great drinks. Note: the bar opens at 8p and is closed on Sunday and Monday. Located at Munstergasse 30 on the right bank of the Limmat River is BarMunster. This cool space next to Cabaret Voltaire has a chill vibe with relaxing music and brilliant cocktails. With friendly service and a lot of drinking options (I went with a classic Old Fashioned), this place is not to be missed. For your final 2 stops, make your way towards the lake. Cafe/Bar Odeon can be found at Limmatquai 2, just off Bellevueplatz. It is a cultural icon - where Lenin and Trotsky plotted the Russian Revolution and James Joyce scrounged drinks while working on Ulysses. It's a prime people watching spot with an art nouveau interior, high ceilings, mirrored walls and chandeliers. Across the street at Ramistrasse 4, connected to restaurant Kronenhalle is the Kronenhalle Bar. This intimate and legendary room is from a long forgotten world of style and grace. Sit at marble tabletops or on fine leather couches below priceless works of art and enjoy a tasty martini or two. It is the perfect way to conclude your evening in lovely Zurich.
WHERE TO STAY
Zurich offers a number of places to call home during your stay. There are 2 superb hotels in particular that I highly recommend. They both provide exceptional service and comfort and are located in the heart of the Old Town (Altstadt). The first is the Widder Hotel, located at Rennweg 7. A supremely stylish boutique property in the equally grand district of Augustiner, it is a pleasing fusion of five star luxury and 12th century charm. This posh hotel is a short walk from the Grossmunster and close to the Bahnhofstrasse. Featuring unique art and modern furnishings, the individually decorated rooms have complimentary WiFi, flat screen TVs, Nespresso machines and minibars, while upgrades add seating areas. Other amenities include free breakfast served in room or on a terrace, a chic restaurant with wood paneling and outdoor dining, the aforementioned Widder Bar and a library.
A second option is Hotel Storchen, located at Weinplatz 2. The central location of this airy 600 year old building, tucked between the Fraumunster and St Peterskirche on the left bank of the Limmat River is stunning. The refined rooms feature simple decor, in addition to free WiFi, minibars and flat screen TVs. Some add terraces, Nespresso machines and/or river views. Additional perks include a free breakfast buffet, loaner computer tablets, a piano bar, a casual cafe and terrace dining.
Zurich is loaded with charm, history, culture and great food. I enjoyed the tranquil change of pace and look forward to returning.