Clustered around the mineral-blue waters of Lake Zurich with a regiment of snowy Alpine peaks marching across the horizon, Zurich could just be the most scenic city in Europe. Mind-boggling views, countless elegant church spires and an Old Town that come straight out of a biscuit tin scene give this Swiss gem a timeless appeal – but it’s also a leading cultural, financial and gastronomic centre. Hanna Lindon takes you on a whistle-stop tour.
Nowhere does understated opulence quite like Zurich, and waking up in one of the city’s swish five-star hotels is the perfect way to start your day. If francs are no object then book into the Dolder Grand (Kurhausstrasse 65, 044 456 6000), a turreted, Disney-esque palace with a 4,000-square-metre spa and epic views over the city. A quirkier option is the B2 Boutique Hotel & Spa (Brandschenkestrasse 152, 044 567 6767), once a giant brewery and now a firm favourite with visiting hipsters. If you can drag yourself out of your feather bed, wander down to locally loved Babu’s Bakery & Coffee Shop (Löwenstrasse 1, 044 212 8745) to sample their signature blueberry pancakes and the best hot chocolate in town.
With breakfast out of the way, it’s time to get exploring. The Grossmünster, (Grossmünsterplatz) might be one of Zürich’s premier tourist attractions, but it’s worth braving the crowds to admire the views from the top of its twin towers. Enjoy more head-spinning vistas by hiring a rowing boat from the lakeshore between Bellevue and Zürichhorn. Sculling gently through the pure waters of Lake Zürich is one of the most relaxing ways to see the city and its Alpine backdrop.
Despite its shiny, clean-cut image, Zurich has a lively artistic counter culture – and nowhere showcases the city’s underground designers better than the narrow streets of Kreis 4. By night a seedy red-light district, Kreis 4’s daytime face is far more intriguing. Here, cutting-edge galleries rub shoulders with eclectic shopfronts. Former garage Bord (Badenerstrasse 123a, 043 243 6911) is a must for fans of interior design, with its intriguing mix of big-name modern designers and up-and-coming local talent. If you prefer fashion to furniture, then Josefstrasse in Kreis 5, particularly at the end closest to Zurich’s main railway station, is fabulous for shopping. Melvins at number 26 (044 440 1144) offers labels from all over northern Europe, while Beige at number 10 (044 272 7422) showcases the innovative work of textile designers Manuela Helg and Karin Maurer.
Just around the corner from this shopping mecca is one of the leading lunch stops in Zurich. Les Halles (Pfingstweidstrasse 6, 044 273 1125) is locally famous for its French-style ‘moules mit frites’ and its bohemian atmosphere. If you’re too busy sightseeing to squeeze in a sit-down lunch, then Holy Cow (Zähringerstrasse 28, 021 312 2404) is the answer. Hawking juicy burgers made from locally sourced ingredients and the crispiest, most potatoey French fries you’ll find this side of the Atlantic, this is fast food at its very best. A fabulous veggie alternative is Haus Hiltl (Sihlstrasse 28, 044 227 7000), which opened in 1898 and draws inspiration from Asia, the Middle East and India to create subtly spicy vegetarian spreads.
With only a day to spare, you won’t have time to explore the airy wildflower meadows and snow-smothered mountains that lie just a few hours’ drive outside the city. Still, hiking fans can work off that scrumptious lunch by scaling one of Zurich’s mini peaks. Uetliberg Mountain is the area’s most famous viewpoint – but the Pfannenstiel hill range on the northeastern shore of Lake Zurich offers equally spectacular vistas without the big crowds. If you prefer urban exploration, then take a wander around the winding cobbled lanes of Niederdorf. This is the heart of the Zurich cultural scene, home to world-class institutions like the Swiss National Museum (Museumstrasse 2, 044 218 6511) and the Kunsthaus Zürich (Heimplatz 1, 044 253 8484), as well as many of the city’s sightseeing staples.
Don’t miss the chance to pop into the Kunsthaus Zürich before closing time. This internationally acclaimed art museum showcases work by Swiss artists such as Hodler and Segantini as well as Van Gogh, Manet and Kokoschka. Fancy delving a little deeper into Zurich’s cultural scene? Art Dock Zürich (Hohlstrasse 258, 043 322 0790) is an art archive dedicated to preserving artwork that doesn’t make the radar of institutions such as the Kunsthaus, and its late-evening opening times make it the perfect place to while away the hazy twilight hours.
Zurich is teeming with chic night spots and boasts some of the finest cuisine on the continent. For something a little bit different, bag a coveted table at Blinde Kuh (Mühlebachstrasse 148, 044 421 5050), the restaurant that pioneered the concept of eating in darkness. You won’t be able to see either your plate or your date – but the flavoursome fare offers plenty in the way of compensation. Prefer to eat with the lights on? Tucked away down a narrow alleyway, Coco (Bleicherweg 1a am Paradeplatz, 044 211 9898) is a warm and welcoming little bistro that turns charcoal-grilled meat and fish into a symphony for the taste buds. Its five-course evening ‘surprise menu’ is a nice little twist that has made it a huge hit with the locals. If your taste runs to fine cuisine, Michelin-starred Spice in the Sorell Hotel Rigiblick (Germaniastrasse 99, 043 255 1570) turns each of its dishes into colourful works of art. Don’t bother with a menu – just let the chef know your likes and dislikes, and let him surprise your taste buds.
The most civilised way to spend an evening in Zurich is to net tickets for the opera. Opernhaus Zürich (Falkenstrasse 1, 044 268 6666) puts on a constant succession of world-class ballets, operas and concerts, although seats here don’t come cheap. If you’re here to party, then the city’s clubbing scene rivals its cultural offering. Supermarket (Geroldstrasse 17, 044 440 2005) and Hive (Geroldstrasse 5, 044 271 1210) are the big boys of the dance scene, although new player Komplex 457 (Hohlstrasse 457, 044 500 0060) is putting in a decent rival bid. For a little more intimacy, Icon (Augustinerhof, 044 448 1133) is a smaller club set in a townhouse, complete with wooden beams and music featuring house and R&B.
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Written by World Travel Guide.