Welcome to one of Europe’s most misunderstood cities! You caught a glimpse beyond the stereotype of banks, watches, chocolate, cheese and mountains and came to see what keeps it teeming with young architects and artists – be prepared to have your eyes opened to the quirkiness of this city!
Zurich may be the country’s industrial, financial and now technological hub, making it easy to think of it as a corporate playground, but let’s not forget the impact of such a varied portfolio of job opportunities has – a good quarter of the city’s locals are originally from elsewhere. So many hopeful people come to Switzerland with the view of securing a little prosperity, hoping to stash away some cash and take it back to their home country. What invariably ends up happening is…this becomes the new homeland.
Of course, while the “golden handcuffs” certainly keep some here, it’s the revitalizing cocktail of man-made attractions and the natural playground around which they’re built that leads people to sinking their roots into the place. The original locals, as in, the Zurchers, have a reputation for being the least welcoming of Swiss communities, but they’re just a tad shy. Once they catch a twinkle of curiosity in your eyes, they’ll gladly encourage you onto a full-blown educational experience – the locals are proud of their city and so they should be.
Get ready for 48 hours of stereotype-busting. Get your ZVV travel card and meet me at Helvetiaplatz – it’s a Friday morning so we’ve got to hit the market!
Day 1: 09:00 – 14:00
If you happen to be in Zurich on a Tuesday or a Friday, you’re in luck. Helvetiaplatz, right bang in the middle of Zurich’s action-packed red-light district is home to political demonstrations on occasion, but the farmers tend to be the permanent residents of this square. It’s flanked by two great bar/restaurants – Volkshaus and Bank – both provide a warm coffee refuge in winter or the ideal people-watching spot in summer. Buy some local produce for your upcoming city hike and sandwich it in some bread from John Baker.
Now that we’ve had our coffee and have our lunch ready to go, it’s time to take advantage of the gorgeous weather – hop on tram #14 at Stauffacher and cruise up to Triemli. From there you can follow any of the yellow hiking signs marked “Uetliberg”. In just over an hour of walking you’ll be gazing down at the city and over at the alps. If the weather takes a turn for the worse, the Uto Kulm restaurant is a worthy back up.
Day 1: 14:00 – 19:00
I always find this is the time of day when a city gets to show you what it’s really got. Restaurants and cafes are easy to stumble upon, but filling the time slots between feeding frenzies is where most people default to famous museums or mindless shopping. Rest assured that you won’t need to do this in Zurich.
If, like most people, you couldn’t get enough of the view of the mountains from up on the hill, head down to Rote Fabrik and sit by the lake with a local Sorbetto icecream or a hot chocolate. The place is a mish mash of cultural event spaces and a relaxed restaurant – well worth a visit regardless of the lakeside location.
If you still have some walking energy left in you, I recommend you stroll down the side of the lake back into the city. Or you could hop on the boat.
There are still a couple of hours before dinner, so you say to yourself, I wonder what shops are worth a visit here, everything is so expensive. You wouldn’t be wrong in thinking that, but, for the conscious shopper, there’s a plethora of boutiques offering unique wares, many of which have been made with the view of promoting sustainability. The ubiquitous Freitag bag is the most well-known icon of this movement. The shop also happens to be made of shipping containers and is also, rather conveniently a good place to start a little shopping stroll.
From there you can make your way to the Viadukt and end up on the Josefswiese where young families kick off their shoes and light BBQs, play beach volleyball or slackline across the field. City relaxation Zurich-style.
Day 1: 19:00 – ???
You’re a meat-loving, Swiss food-seeking bundle of hunger, so you make your way to Eisenhof and order yourself a filet steak on a hot stone. Or perhaps today you’re in the mood for a more balanced meal and you’re with a group of friends, Zum Alten Loewen will seduce your taste buds with its Tavolata menu and, weather permitting, the terrace table you didn’t forget to book in advance ( ;-) ) will transport you to Southern Europe. This place will hit the spot for omnivores and vegetarians alike, but if you’re searching for a hidden vegetarian gem or looking to appreciate a meatless meal, look no further than Osteria Candosin.
Now for a much-needed aperitif. Since you’re planning on stretching out your night tonight, I’d head for the Langstrasse area and go for an invigorating cocktail or sip on one of the 100s of rums stocked at Bar 63. Good drinks, good vibes, mixed crowd – all you need to get you started.
Uh oh, last orders, ok, time to move on. In about 100 steps you’ll find yourself dancing til dawn at Gonzo. Zurich’s trusty night buses will get you safely back to your sleeping quarters.
Day 2: 09:00-14:00
Given that the nightlife in Zurich can bring you through to morning, your next day’s starting point will certainly be variable depending on how much energy you had to spend last night. If you’ve managed to rise before lunch time, I’d say it’s time to head to Kafi Dihei for a resuscitating breakfast. If you’re on the prowl for something distinctly healthy to wash away the guilt of that late-night kebab you snuck in before dancing from the Palestine Grill (and I mean, who wouldn’t?), then perhaps it’s time to head to Hiltl – Europe’s first vegetarian restaurant.
If you think you’ll need to park yourself in a café for a little longer to nurse your hangover or to catch up on your reading, Café Zähringer will provide that oasis you’re in need of. Perhaps you’ll find something to do in the evening on their event programme.
Day 2: 14:00 – 17:00
Zurich does offer a few museums, but we won’t cover them here, instead, we’re going to lead you to a little-known spot in the city where you can have a go at bouldering – Minimum.
Now, the reason you should visit this part of town, whether you like the idea of climbing or not, is for the current hotspot of the local squatting scene – the Koch Areal. Zurich’s squatters are alive and kicking and they foster an arguably beautiful community of politically-minded people offering an insight into their philosophies via the art they put on display, as well as the concerts and readings they put on. Their old haunt, Binz is no more, but the spirit lives on.
In case you’re in the mood for a bit of a pamper before dinner, one of the saunas in the city will do the job. The one at Volkshaus is open year-round, but if you’re in Zurich during the winter, you absolutely must give yourself a bit of a cooking in the one at Enge and then plunge into the lake. Stark naked, of course.
Day 2: 19:00 – ???
Right, dinner. If you haven’t had your fondue fix this winter – head over to Frau Gerold’s Garten’s pop-up winter tent (open until the end of March) and you will get a waft of cheese as soon as you step in. Or perhaps it’s summer and you’re in the mood for something you can eat al fresco – then sit yourself down at Gartenhof . If you thought potatoes feature heavily in the Swiss cuisine, you’d be right. Perhaps now’s the time to see how far it can be taken – hop on the boat, sip on an aperitif and get off two hours later at Rapperswil and walk over to Jakub. Eating out in Zurich isn’t cheap, that’s for sure, so make sure you pick a memorable spot.
Now, onto how you’ll spend the rest of the night. Wild Bar has brought natural wines to the city – if you’re up for a bit of an education in viticulture, look no further. Perhaps you’re in the hunt for something a little more moody, then Old Crow will supply both the cocktails and atmosphere. If you get the itch to go dancing again, Zukunft is for the electro lovers and Helsinki for an element of surprise, music-wise. If you want old school hip-hop in a chilled bar, then Enfant Terrible is your jaunt for the night.
Now that you’ve seen the antithesis to Zurich the banking hub, you’ll be back for more, we know it. That’s why we’ll keep providing you with our secrets over on the app. Bis bald!