Let’s just stereotype for a moment, and take for granted that Switzerland is that clean and very well-organised mountainous land, notorious for its chocolate and cheese production, and expensive watches. And let’s not forget the money bit, as Switzerland is undoubtedly a very prosperous country too. Despite not being the capital (Bern is), Zurich is the largest city of this heavenly country.
Lying at the northern tip of Lake Zurich, the city’s historic core develops around the Limmat and Sihl rivers, where the city saw its origins around two thousand years ago. The city gained increasing importance from the Middle Ages, and became one of the main centres for the Protestant Reformation spreading. However, it is only in the last two centuries that Zurich started to develop into a modern city, incorporating within its borders the outlying districts (in German, Kreis). Since then on, Zurich gradually turned into what is now, along with its French-speaking sister Geneva, the most important economic and financial hub of the Swiss Confederation and, on a world-wide level, among the most influential and powerful. Most Swiss banks have their headquarters here, as well as several international companies – so it comes as no surprise that a big share of its visitors stop over for business reasons.
So let’s just get back to where we started and pose a question: is Zurich all about Swiss culinary highlights, virtuous approaches and a profit-oriented culture? The reply is: obviously not.
Sure thing, the city is pristine, definitely impeccable under a number of points of view and yes, you can find incredible chocolatier boutiques and jewelry shops – but Zurich is also renowned for its active cultural life, its museums and galleries. While walking around town you will always spot stiff suited business men and bankers – but regardless of that its citizens know how to have good fun (Street Parade anyone?) and there are thousands of places and occasions for relaxing after a hectic day at work. As a matter of fact, Zurich is a very green city with one quarter of its area being covered by forests. Given its small size, its inhabitants tend to move around using public transport, and the city is one of the world-leaders when it comes to ecology and climate protection. All these variables make for a fantastic place to indulge in outdoor activities and a wholesome lifestyle.
Whether you’re visiting Zurich for leisure, or even if you are staying over after a busy business trip, what’s better than spending a couple of days taking care of your body and soul, keeping fit with some exercise and salutary food? Here’s a wellness-focused 48 hour itinerary that will help you enjoy Zurich in the healthiest way. As a local, of course.
Day 1: 09:00 – 13:00
Alright, you should really consider starting off your day a bit before 09:00 if you want to jog on the extensive running routes that you’ll find all around Zurich. They won’t be too hard to spot, as most of them are marked. The choice is yours: explore the Limmat or Sihl banks, or run up to the Hönngerberg north of the city centre, or maybe head to the lake shores. Be an early bird and just hit the road while the sun rises – sweating is less of a burden when the city glitters in the morning light.
Indeed, at this point you do have a good excuse to reward yourself with a big breakfast at Café Zähringer, a favourite of our Spotter Roman. Everything they serve is freshly prepared, locally produced and mostly organic. Moreover, their menu will meet everyone’s taste, as a vegan, a vegetarian and a carnivore option are generally available.
Day 1: 13:00 – 19:00
Lately the “eco” scene has gotten quite a foothold in Zurich: Elle’n’Belle is the demonstration that veganism can be as tasty as it can be groovy, Bachser Märt is proof that the city is witnessing a “revival of the old good life”, as stated by Christine. The latter one is essentially a cooperative, where families gather and cook together – a great spot to visit for its positive vibe and quite amazing grocery shop (again, everything here, from vegetables to meat to beer, is organic). Just in case grocery shopping has awakened not only your appetite for food, but also for more shopping, visit Neumarkt for some (expensive!) great pieces of furniture, and the super chilled Lola Fred. Spotted by Ana, Lola Fred sells clothes and accessories made of organic materials and – here comes the surprise – during the day the clothing racks are airlifted and the industrial setting of the shop turns into… a yoga studio! Don’t worry if you didn’t bring your yoga pants and mat with you: Lola Fred has them for free, along with showers and changing rooms.
Day 1: 19:00 – 23:00
There’s still a big bunch of people expressing skepticism about entire veggie-based meals. Our Spotter Miltiadis was no exception, up until he tried Tibits. Have you ever thought a salad was not filling enough? Try their buffet and its zillions of ingredients, you might have to reconsider your point of view. Yet, as full as you might be after that, you won’t feel too heavy and you’ll be able to keep rolling. For example, to Wohnzimmerbar. The name literally means “living room bar”, and it does look like one. Is it relaxation you’re after? Just sink into their comfy sofas and totally feel at home.
Feeling more like an old sea dog? Then the place for you is Hafenkneipe, in German “the Dockland Pub”; ok, no sailors around maybe, but the walls are blue, it’s tiny and a bit edgy too – not the ordinary bar you’ll find while in Zurich. Hafenkeipe often hosts gigs, generally on Mondays – in case you have not sweated enough while running or doing yoga during the day, now you know where to go. Alternatively, Rote Fabrik is a polyvalent venue where, depending on their lineup, you could spend the whole evening and part of your night: This old factory located on the Lake Zurich hosts a bar, a restaurant, a theatre, and loads of different events such as gigs and readings.
Day 1: 23:00 – …
Zurich works hard – hence parties hard too. As our Spotter Ajuni said, “look beyond the too-shiny, too well-polished surface and you’ll find an edgy, cosmopolitan place brimming with life and joie de vivre.” Dynamo is one of those places that matches the description: on the Limmat, Dynamo hosts parties and (often rock) concerts throughout the weekend, and the crowd is artsy and alternative. In case you don’t feel like dancing, you can always grab a beer at their bar, or just check out the latest project going on – so don’t really expect to hit the hay that soon.
If your prospect of keeping nice and fit has not faded away with your umpteenth drink, go early to Kauz, a club that opens at 21:00. Disclaimer: the fact that it opens so early doesn’t make it an awkward place – indeed, loads of local, talented DJs play here. And just in case energy keeps flowing, you can stay until late.
Day 2: 09:00 – 13:00
Was the previous night a tough one or did you manage to get home stumbling only a few times? Either way, recharge your batteries starting at Miyuko, a cozy, funny Japanese coffee place. The place is something in between a traditional, old European cafe and an anime heaven, and their menu offers a tasty selection of gluten-free, lactose-intolerant, vegan delicacies (which get even better if combined with their teas).
If the weather is warm and you feel like putting your body to the test again, you can climb the Uetliberg, a mountain west of the city centre, overlooking Zurich and its surroundings. Tourists generally take the train to get to the top – and miss out on the lush natural setting of its slopes. Instead of using public transport, take some time and walk all the way up – you’ll feel like you’ve really achieved the breathtaking view that you can enjoy from there.
Day 2: 13:00 – 19:00
Not far from the railway tracks, Frau Gerolds Garten in West Zurich has all the attributes of the ultimate hipster venue – and whether you like or dislike that, it’s a nice spot to spend some time: it’s a bar and a restaurant that offers food either grown on-site (it’s a gardening project too) or organic and local, and a shopping area (the boutiques are hosted in containers).
On the other side of the railway, in the former working-class Kreis 4, Volkshaus is a well-established institution, founded in 1910. The venue is now famous for its gigs and cultural events, but it also boasts a bar and a restaurant that have retained a vintage touch, a bookshop and, in the basement, a cool, modern spa with a hammam and a sauna.
Talking about pampering yourself, in case you are searching for some facilities with a view, Sauna Enge is right on Lake Zurich. Weather permitting, you can enjoy its wooden platform and sunbathe. For the more dynamic ones wanting to release endorphins and who love bouldering: consider popping over to Minimum. The gym has a relaxed atmosphere, and the crowd is unpretentious and international.
Day 2: 19:00 – 23:00
Did you know that the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Europe is in Zurich? Hiltl will defy the preconceptions of the starkest meat-based-diet defender: the menu is huge, with dishes and specialities from all over the world. Whether you go buffet or a la carte, it will introduce you to a whole new world of exotic flavours that any carnivore would have not imagined even in their wildest dreams. For a cultural evening/night, Schiffbau is a cool, young theatre housed in an eye-appealing old warehouse. The pieces and plays are quite experimental and niche, and even if you’re not interested in that, the location is stunning – as a plus, some nice bars and restaurants have opened on the site.
For drinks, you could opt either for Total Bar, a cool cooperative that attracts an alternative crowd, or the International Beer Bar. As the name of the latter suggests, here it’s all about… beers. Run by two experts in the field, here you will find beers you’ve never heard about – and that you might really want to try (gluten intolerant? Try their gluten-free one!).
Day 2: 23:00 – …
It’s your last night in Zurich, so get the best out of it! Among the places Allan would suggest is La Catrina. Since its opening, La Catrina has become a famous venue among the city’s indie subculture; Tuesdays and Wednesdays are for bands, while the weekends are reserved for DJs. It’s tiny and always crowded, but that’s part of its charm, and if you enter with the right mood you might consider spending the whole night there. But just remember that on your way back you could chance upon Meyer’s Bar. It’s just a little bar that might not seem that appealing, but for many party animals and late nighters it has become the final stop before eventually slipping into bed.
You might argue that this is not exactly the most proper way to end your 48 hours in the sign of wellness: fair enough but, as you might have understood by now, Zurich is a city full of surprises.