My visit to Zurich was brief but I found the City culturally vibrant, efficiently run (like a well oiled machine) and handsomely anchored where the River Limmat and Lake Zurich meet. Zurich is regularly recognised in all survey’s as one of the world’s most liveable cities. I must admit that this is not a cheap City to stay in for too long. A coffee almost set me back CHF6.00 (GBP4.00)
Zurich is long known as a savvy, intelligent, cool, hard-working financial centre. Switzerland’s largest and wealthiest metropolis has also emerged in the as one of central Europe’s hippest destinations, with an artsy, post-industrial edge that’s epitomised in its exuberant Summer Street Parade. I even found the currency ‘lively’.
Much of the City’s ancient centre, with its winding cobble lanes and tall church steeples, has been kept lovingly intact. Yet Zurich has wholeheartedly embraced contemporary trends, with the conversion of old factories into cultural centres and creative new living spaces. This is very transparent in the city’s Zuri-West area, the epicentre of the city’s nightlife.
SOME USEFUL INFORMATION
ℹ️ Travel: Arriving into Switzerland by air is easy. There are regular daily services to Zurich from London Heathrow and Manchester. Transferring from the airport to the city is fairly easy too with up to nine trains an hour connecting with Hauptbahnhof train station Fare’s are around CHF6.60 (GBP4.50)
ℹ️ Currency: Switzerland national currency is the Swiss Franc (CHF)
Switzerland is not in the EU (European Union) but is part of the EEC trade agreement.
ℹ️ Credit Cards and Banks: ATMs are common place in almost every shopping street, with several ‘bureau de change’ around the city centre, with almost every retailer accepting Mastercard and Visa. There is no fear of an establishment declining card payments.
ℹ️ Weather: Like the majority of Northern Europe the Winter months are damp, grey and very cold. The Continent sheds its Winter cold around March and days become long and warm during the Summer months until around early October. Depending on snowfall Switzerland is a hive of activity for skiers navigating the pistes.
WHAT CAN ZURICH OFFER?
This long, crescent shaped lake curves past the wooded peaks of Pfannenstiel to the east and the Albis chain to the west. The lake is a great place if you’re just ambling around the city, take the scenic promenade along the east shore in the Seefeld quarter. There you can look over to Uetliberg and see the hundreds of yachts and other craft breezing across the lake in summer. The promenade starts at Bellevue and extends for just under 2 miles (3 kms) down to Tiefenbrunnen.
ZURICH OLD TOWN (ALTSTADT)
The medieval and early modern streets of the Altstadt are where much of the city’s culture, nightlife and shopping is concentrated. It’s one of those places you’re happy to get lost in, to chance upon squares, cafes, quirky one-of-a-kind shops and all manner of historic monuments from the four medieval churches to 17th-century Town Hall.
The Limmat waterfront needs to be seen, and on the right bank along the Limmatquai are beautiful medieval guild houses for associations representing carpentry, merchants, spice traders and more.
SWISS NATIONAL MUSEUM
Switzerland’s biggest collection of historical artefacts awaits at this museum that explores Swiss culture and guides you on a trip through the country’s past. You’ll begin with prehistoric weapons tools and pottery and move through the ages to the 20th century.
Certain eras are particularly well represented, like the medieval period. Extending into the Renaissance is the extensive collection of wooden images, carved altars and triptychs from chapels and churches around the country.
With its two towers this church could well be Zürich’s most iconic landmark. The Grossmunster, originally a monastic church, began construction at the start of the 12th century and was finished just over a century later.
Anyone keen on medieval architecture will be taken with the main portal and its sculpted capitals bearing grotesques. The crypt, the oldest part of the church, is also original and has faded frescoes by Hans Leu the Elder from the 1400s. In the 16th century Grossmunster was ground zero for the Reformation in Switzerland, initiated by Huldrych Zwingli, and the church broke from the papacy in 1523. There’s a museum about these events at the church.
Zurich’s prime shopping street is one of the priciest in the world. And it’s fitting that most of the sleek shop-fronts should bear the logos of international luxury brands.
Think Prada, Chanel, Burberry, Gucci and Louis Vuitton. Zurich wealth is never more ostentatious than on Bahnhofstrasse. There’s no traffic, but the street is used by the tram network and these can catch you by surprise.
The plushest shops tend to be towards the south near Paradeplatz. On this square you can pop into fabled Sprüngli confectionery shop and cafe, where Zurich’s wealthy have been coming for coffee and pastries for decades.
ZURICH OPERA HOUSE
The Opera House at Sechseläutenplatz dates to the 1890s and was conceived by the prolific Viennese architects Fellner & Helmer.
On the square you can pass a minute or two pinpointing the busts of famous cultural figures on the facade, where Mozart, Wagner, Schiller, Goethe, Shakespeare and Weber all have pride of place. There are German-speaking tours of the interior and its majestic Rococo Revival hall. But the only way to taste its magic is at one of the 250 performances each year, by international opera stars and conductors.
Whatever you’re passions are Zurich does offer some great points of interest. You can get lost walking down the streets of the city just in awe at how beautiful some of the buildings are. Zurich is not for the budget conscious. Prices are expensive pretty much anywhere – expect to hit your funds hard.