With history, culture, shops and lovely lakeside location, to say nothing of lively restaurants and bars, plus its own little mountain Zϋrich truly is a great city break destination as Anna Hyman discovered.
At first thought Zϋrich might not be the obvious choice for a short break, but why not? After all for travellers from the UK and Dublin SWISS provides a quick flight into Zurich airport with fast and easy transport links to the city centre.
Several years earlier I had stayed in a hotel in a somewhat rundown Zϋrich district. The other month I was back there staying in the same district in the stylish 25hours Hotel Zϋrich West with its colourful rooms, lively and well-stocked bar and sunny little courtyard garden.
Transformation of an industrial district
What a transformation. On my earlier visit Zϋrich-West’s industrial past had been much in evidence. In its place I found a rapidly developing residential and business area boasting trendy bars and restaurants, a theatre and funky shops.
To add to the appeal of the area, built into the arches of the old viaduct on Limmatstrasse is the Markthalle with its tantalizing food outlets. It is a foody’s idea of heaven with well-displayed and well-stocked stands.
It got even better when we discovered that there is also an excellent, and very popular, restaurant! The menu evidently is constantly changing – the chef seeking inspiration from the market produce.
Explore with a ZϋrichCARD
Equipping ourselves with a ZϋrichCARD we set off to explore. It is well worth buying one of these cards, they are good value. They offer unlimited 2nd class travel on all forms of public transportation in the city and surrounding region, and free or reduced price admission to the majority of Zurich’s museums, discounts in some local shops/restaurant, etc and a 50% discount on public city tours organized by Zurich Tourism. Incidentally there are some 50 museums in Zurich.
We started our walk outside the main rail station (Hauptbanhof or HB, as it is called locally) heading down Bahnhofstrasse noted for its expensive luxury stores to the lake. It was a glorious sunny day and Lake Zϋrich sparkled. We couldn’t resist it and spent a happy hour and a half on one of the lake steamers calling in at lakeside towns and villages and admiring elegant villas with grounds sweeping down to the water.
Back on shore we headed into the old quarter and Lindenhof, a small hill in the old city offering good views over the river Limmat. It was a spot favoured by the Roman’s (incidentally the Roman tombstone set into one of the walls is a replica) and later in the Middle Ages by royalty and where the townsfolk gathered for meetings. Today it is a popular recreational spot where locals gather to play chess or pétanque.
Wander down the hill to St Peter’s church, you’ll recognize it by its large clock faces – their diameters are almost nine metres and are thought to be the largest in Europe. Certainly they act as a very useful landmark. Close by we found a narrow side street, Thermengasse, where we caught a glimpse of the ancient Roman city – these Roman bath house ruins are genuine.
Another useful landmark is the twin towered Grossmunster. But my favourite church was the Fraumunster. It has some stunning stained glass windows including five by Chagall.
Guild houses and sweet treats
Keep an eye out also for the impressive guild buildings. The Guilds date back to the 14th century when the city council was overthrown by a group of craftsmen who drew up a Constitution of the Guilds. By the end of the century these guilds had become all powerful and had built elegant quarters.
Today they are societies with no political power, but each spring they hold a special festival when the guild houses are open to visitors. Incidentally a number of the houses are also home to very good and elegant restaurants (as I had discovered many years earlier on a previous visit).
Over in the quaint old streets of the Niederdorf district we found the splendid shop Schwarenbach which has been selling the likes of coffee, spices, and nuts for some 150 years. Across the road is Schober with its delicious looking array of cakes and pastries. Anybody wanting to take home some sweet treats another shop to look out for is the renowned Sprungli – with its wonderful chocolates and melting macarons.
In our wanderings we kept coming across fountains. It turns out that Zϋrich is well-known for its drinking water fountains – there are 1200 of them! No need to buy bottled water in this city!
Not only does Zϋrich boast 1200 drinking fountains, it can also manage some 1500 restaurants!
On one particular occasion we had stopped for a drink at a pavement café where we watched not only the world, but also the river Limmat, go by before adjourning to the Zeughauskeller on Bahnhofstrasse for dinner. It is packed, lively and fun and we very much enjoyed our meal there. It even has its own beer sommelier – though it also has a very presentable wine list.
A couple of us settled for one of the local specialities Kalbsgeschnetzeltes nach Zürcher Art, a tasty dish of pan fried veal and mushrooms in a creamy white wine sauce served with rösti. The boys, however, went for the Bratwurst with potato salad. Another time we ate in the Brasserie Johanniter on Niederdorfstrasse, close to the main station. It specializes in traditional Swiss and seasonal dishes and very good it was too.
But the award for the meal with the best view had to go to the restaurant, Uto Kulm, on top of the Uetliberg, Zϋrich’s very own mountain. Take the train from the city, it’s about a 25 minute ride, and then be prepared for a moderately steep, but easy 10 minute walk up to the top of the mountain. The views over the city, and if it is a clear day, to the Alps are lovely and even better, or so I am told, if you climb the lookout tower.
Yes, Zϋrich, definitely a great place for a short break, or come to think of it – a longer one too.
Switzerland Tourism: www.MySwitzerland.com; or call Switzerland Travel Centre on International freephone 00800 100 200 30 or e-mail, for information firstname.lastname@example.org ; for packages, trains and air tickets email@example.com .
Swiss International Air Lines: SWISS offers up to 19 daily flights from London Heathrow, London City, Birmingham and Manchester to Zϋrich, as well as a regular service from Dublin. www.swiss.com
Swiss Travel System: www.swisstravelsystem.co.uk. The Swiss Travel System provides a dedicated ange of travel passes and tickets exclusively for visitors from abroad including a Swiss Transfer Ticket covering a round-trip between the airport/Swiss border and destination.
25Hours Hotel Zϋrich-West: http://www.25hours-hotels.com/en/zurich-west/home/home.html