There’s more to Zürich than cheese, chocolate and cuckoo clocks. These three Swiss stereotypes, whilst undeniably fascinating, are a far cry from Zürich’s commercial chic and expensive ambience.
Zurich being the financial capital of Switzerland and the wealthiest city in Europe, the vast majority of its visitors arrive armed with an expense account which has elevated everyday costs. However, those looking for a less than costly stay can take advantage of the city’s lakeside setting, mountainous scenery and clean air. Factor in its easily walkable Altstadt – complete with historic lanes, medieval churches, quays, parks and gardens – and visitors can experience the real Zürich without the need for a corporate credit card.
Zürich’s location in northern Switzerland ensures it is well connected to the bordering countries of France, Germany, Austria and Italy, and the city’s one million inhabitants and 500,000 annual visitors enjoy direct train connections as far afield as Barcelona, Brussels, Belgrade, Budapest and Zagreb.
Many of Zürich’s sights are conveniently located in one square kilometre area on either side of the Limmat River between the railway station and Lake Zürich. This area loosely corresponds to the city’s District 1, and is known as the Aldstadt.
Directly south of the train station is the Bahnhofstrasse, home to some of Zürich’s most exclusive shops and boutiques. The area is dotted with churches and old houses, and the street arches south east to the Lindenhof, the historical hilltop site of a Roman castle and the later Carolingian Imperial Palace.
After exploring the delights of the nearby Fraumϋnster Abbey, Zunfthaus zur Meisen and St Peterskirche, cross the Limmat River at Gemϋsebrϋcke near Zürich’s baroque town hall. From here you can head back north along the Limmatquai. This 19th century promenade makes for a scenic walk, particularly at night.
The city’s quays are some of its most loved attractions; the main promenade along Zürichsee (Lake Zürich) is Uto Quai which runs to Bellevueplatz and Quaibrücke. Take a steam ship trip on the lake for a day with a difference.
Zürich’s place on the international stage ensures it caters for many global tastes, but for a quintessential Züri experience try Zürigschnätzlets, veal in a cream and wine-laced sauce. Grilled Wurst (sausages) are also popular, often accompanied by Rösti, a Swiss potato pancake, or Chnöpfli, small noodle dumplings.
From further afield than Zürich – but still typically Swiss – are fondue and raclette, often served at wood-panelled taverns in the Aldstadt. These traditional melted cheese dishes utilise large amounts of locally produced Gruyere and Emmenthal, and are calorific but delicious. For something a little better for you try a bowl of muesli, a fibre-filled breakfast invented as a Swiss health food, and then ruin all your good work with coffee, cake and chocolate at one of Zürich’s many confiseries.
Nightlife in Zürich is so good that it’s occasionally referred to as ‘downtown Switzerland’. Zürich might not be the capital - that honour goes to Bern – but it’s certainly where the action is. The Altstadt's historic lanes attract a lively crowd with a mix of pubs, jazz bars and pavement cafés, while Züri-West's hip lounge bars and high-octane clubs provide late-night partying. However, it’s worth noting that Zürich’s nightlife tends to end earlier than most comparable cities; on the bright side, it starts earlier. To find out the latest hotspots, pick up a copy of the Zürich News, freely available around the city.
Two hours by train from Zürich is Interlaken, a small town in the Bernese Highlands. Squeezed between the two Alpine lakes of Brienzsee and Thun, Interlaken is a popular base for travellers looking to experience outdoor activities and adrenaline-fuelled sports in the surrounding Bernese Oberland Alps. Walk, hike, swim, sail, raft and bike during the summer months, or ski, board, sledge or skate during the winter. The more daring can paraglide, hang glide, bungee jump, canyon, white water raft, rock climb or even sky dive, all with one of the Alp’s most scenic backdrops.