Insider’s Guide to Zurich


The old cliché remains true: Zürich, Switzerland runs as steadily as a Swiss watch. One of the most expensive cities in the world with a quality of life to match, Zürich is best known for its theaters, restaurants, nightclubs, and up-scale shopping. The Altstadt (Old Town) neighborhood is where you’ll find it all. Visiting Zürich is a pleasure both in the winter and in the summer. Skiing is the main wintertime activity: The Flumserberg Ski Resort is an hour twenty minutes by train ($29 one-way ticket) and provides great skiing for both beginners and experts. In the summer, Lake Zürich, located on the southern portion of the city, provides beaches, waterside bars, and relaxing ferry rides. You can literally swim and sunbathe just a few blocks from the city center.

Zürich, a leading international economic center, serves as the headquarters for many of the world’s largest companies. As a result, the city has a strong corporate feel, it is well organized, and everything runs smoothly, from restaurants to public transportation. If a bus or tram happens to be one minute late, locals will undoubtedly look at their watches in disbelief. Combine this clean-cut appearance with the elite Bahnhofstrasse, a shopping street that is famous for its unbelievable high prices and exclusive merchandise; and Zürich can at first appear both sterile and prohibitively expensive. While Zürich is not a cheap vacation (a beer at an average bar usually costs around $10), it would be a mistake to skip it on this pretense.

Zurich’s Altstadt

Zürich’s Altstadt neighborhood is in the city center; it straddles the Limmet River and runs along a portion of Lake Zürich. This neighborhood of twisting streets and quaint boutiques is where you’ll find the best restaurants serving traditional dishes such as Weiner Schnitzel and fondue. The popular Zeughauskeller restaurant, an inexpensive beer hall,  is also located here. The Niederdorf district, located along the eastern bank of the Limmet River, is also in the Altstadt. It is here that you’ll find popular bars filled with the university crowd. The western bank of the Limmet is home to Lindehof. A castle once stood here, and today it’s worth visiting for the view.

There’s nothing better than sitting on the deck of one of Zürich’s many ferries on a nice day with a glass of Swiss beer in your hand while watching the cityscape spread out before you. Board the ferries at Bürkliplatz, which is located in the Altstadt just west of where the Limmet River meets the lake.

Zurich Churches

Any walk through the Altstadt will bring you to Zürich’s many churches. The most important churches are Grossmünster, Fraumünster, and St. Peter. At Grossmünster church, climb the stairs up to the tower for a bird’s eye view of Zürich. The Fraumünster abbey features beautiful stained-glass windows by Marc Chagall, and St. Peter’s church boasts the largest church clock face in the world.

Nightlife in Zurich

Though the nightlife in Niederdorf district of the Altstadt is excellent, those looking for something a little more edgy might prefer the Langstrasse neighborhood, aka Zürich’s red light district. A strange mix of seedy and chic, Langstrasse is filled with fine cafes, bars, and art galleries featuring Zürich’s up and coming artists.

Zurich’s Museums and Culture

If you’re looking to see fine art in the city center, the Kunsthaus museum is your best option. Kunsthaus is one of the most important museums in Switzerland and provides a unique opportunity to see major works by the greatest Swiss artists, including modern sculptor Giacometti and surrealist painter Fuseli. The museum also provides a tour de force of Impressionist and Modernist works from Salvador Dalí to Claude Monet, but the collection is mostly of lesser-known works. Admission is free for children up to age 16.

To travel back in time to medieval Switzerland, visit the Swiss National Museum; it has many medieval artifacts, from cooking utensils and clothing to medieval art.

The composer Richard Wagner chose the Zürich Opera House to perform many of his best-known works. You can purchase tickets on the official site of the opera house.

The Schauspielhaus Theater is famous for premiering many of the works of Bertolt Brecht and Thomas Mann. Unfortunately, performances are mostly in German and the theater does not offer tours at present.

A Worthwhile Hike in Zurich

Uetliberg, a nearby hill within easy walking distance from the city center, offers unparalleled views of Lake Zürich and the city. It is one of the top free sights in Zürich. To get to the top, where there’s a decent restaurant, you can either hike or take a train.

Day Trips from Zurich

One of the most spectacular sights near Zürich is the Rhine Falls: one of the largest waterfalls in Europe. To its detriment, it is quite  popular with tourists. However, you can rent a boat and take a guided tour up the river to the base of the falls. You may want to bring a snack and plenty of bottled water as the concession stands are not cheap. To get to the Rhine Falls, take the train to Schlosshaufen (45 minutes) where a bus will take you on a short ride the rest of the way.

Written by Mattie Bamman for

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