Although I kind of don’t want to leave my hip and comfy hotel spa, I guess I should explore Zurich some. I was only in Zurich for three nights (short for me, since I am never really “on vacation” anymore, I have to spend time working as well…I know, poor me).
What To Do in Zurich
Zurich is Switzerland’s largest city (but NOT the capital — that’s Berne) and yet it feels totally manageable. It has a population of about 400,000 in the city proper and sits on Lake Zurich, which flows into the River Limmat, in the north of Switzerland. You can enjoy the city right from the river and hop in a boat for a cruise. If you happen to get a ZurichCard, this boat tour is free! Some times these city cards can really be worth it (IF you are planning to do/see a lot)…especially in pricey Switzerland. If you plan to check out some museums and ride public transport (which is not surprisingly super clean and efficient), it may be worth it for you. This one includes unlimited travel by tram, bus, rail, boat and cable car throughout the city and surrounding area, free entrance to most of Zurich’s museums, a discount at some shops, a culinary surprise at selected restaurants and some other discounts.
Long known as über clean and efficient, Zurich is the financial center of Switzerland and houses the stock exchange and the headquarters of many national and international companies…and it’s also home to FIFA’s headquarters. GOOOOOOOOOAL!
But today, the city is also increasingly becoming more diverse (every third inhabitant is a foreigner) giving it some much needed flavor.
In the last few years, Zurich has broken away from its austere (read: boring) stigma with big leaps in gastronomy, new unique neighborhoods like Zurich West, where they are reusing old warehouses as galleries and mixed use spaces. This has become Zurich’s trendiest place to go out. The former industrial district is full of new and renovated buildings, hip restaurants, thumping nightclubs, and independent shops like Freitag, where the Freitag brothers produce over 120,000 bags and accessories every year from recycled materials taken from the streets — used, exhaust-stained truck tarpaulins, the inner tubes of bicycle tires, old seat belts and air-bags. All this is transformed into totally unique items that are mod, functional, waterproof, and robust. In fact, it was Zurich-West itself that inspired the Freitag brothers to make bags out of truck tarps in the first place, thanks to the colorful trucks that trundle through the district on their transit route every day.
Also in Zurich West, I wander through the Viaduct Arches, a shopping paradise has been created under 36 viaduct arches. This colorful mix of delis, studio galleries, sport and fashion boutiques is open to the public. At the heart of it all is the Market Hall where 20 farmers and food vendors from the area offer their wares.
Of course, I love the charm of Old town – with its cafes, cobblestones, art galleries, and book shops. In the evening, the old town transforms into an entertainment quarter with an eclectic array of music and entertainment.
It’s a pretty easy walking city, but you can also “rent” bikes, skateboards etc. for free daily from May-Oct at several places in Zurich and year-round at the central train station. All you need is your passport and a CHF 20 deposit as guarantee.
Who cares about watches and army knives when there is Swiss Chocolate!? I was sad to hear that the Lindt factory no longer offers tours. But I did splurge on some delicious truffles and one of the best cups of hot chocolate I’ve ever had at Cafe Schober in the old town.
I also had to pop into Sprüngli, a Zurich institution that offers a variety decadent chocolates, from hand-made truffles to special chocolate bars. It’s the same company that owns Lindt and now Ghiradelli. Some specialities include the Luxemburgerli, a sort of soft macaroon. Most items are rather pricey, but the splurge is worth it.
Just last month, more than 50 of Zurich’s restaurants received a rating in the eminent French Gault Millau restaurant guide (one of the most influential French restaurant guides, similar to Michelin). Among them: Sein, Pavillion, and Mesa. None of which I ate at…this time.
Today, there are quite a few newer, more diverse offerings in the city center and especially in Zurich West. But if you’re looking for a real authentic spot with old world charm, step inside and back in time at Zunfthaus zur Haue. Here you can try the quintessential Zürich dish — Zürigeschnätzlets, chopped veal in a cream and wine sauce, normally served with Rösti — sort of like hash browns (boiled potatoes then grated, then pan fried in butter until crisp). Not exactly what to eat if you are looking for something light! Also, older, but very trendy, is the all vegetarian buffet juggernaut, Hiltl. I had a fun and tasty experience there which you can read about in my post on eating at Hiltl.
Want to get out of the city and explore the gorgeous Swiss countryside? Head to Flims for a via Ferrata course and hike.
Disclosure: During my stay in Zurich, I was a guest of Switzerland Tourism. As always, all writing and opinions are my own.