Geographically speaking, Zürich has limits. But otherwise, the possibilities for exploring seem endless. So how to choose if you’re only in town for a quick getaway?
I live in Geneva, three hours away by train from my favorite Swiss city. (Sorry, Geneva!) So, on those too-rare occasions when we come to Zürich, my dedicated travel companion and I like to maximize our urban exploring.
But our mantra is: do less, experience more; go deeper on what appeals to our mood of the moment, skip other things until next time. Voilà, here are a dozen very subjective suggestions for Zürich from this still-smitten visitor.
Zürich West in District 5 has been dubbed the city's hip, happening neighborhood.
And it continues to earn that reputation with cool cafés, clubs, performance spaces, galleries, museums and markets. We love the Schiffbau for events and performances.
At the nearby Im Viadukt shopping mile, we usually browse the boutiques and galleries, then have a café or snack at the gourmet market.
The Old Town never gets old.
Its web of winding cobblestone pedestrian lanes are lined with countless little shops, galleries, cafés and restaurants. We like to put away our phone map and get lost.
There are inspiring medieval churches, too, including the 11th-century Fraumünster with its mesmerizing windows by both Marc Chagall and Augusto Giacometti. And in a small courtyard of the church, perhaps the weirdest religious art in the city, beautiful frescos of brother and sister saints carrying their heads!
You can eat (and drink) up the atmosphere almost anywhere in this city of countless excellent cafés, restaurants and bars. For starters, here is a ridiculously small sampling of our favorites:
Our latest culinary discovery: the bistro style Restaurant Kantorei in the Old Town. The building is owned by a guild known (in English) as The Singing Students of Zürich, a fraternity of students who apparently love to drink as much as they love to sing.
The Kantorei is thankfully more calm than the drinking and singing evenings up in the fraternity's practice hall, though some boisterous Thursday evenings, when the boys are upstairs, the hanging wine glasses over the bar can be seen shaking and swaying.
(Photograph copyright Restaurant Kantorei)
Haus Hiltl, said to be the world’s oldest existing vegetarian restaurant (opened 1898), offers a mind-boggling buffet of delicious cuisine from around the world in a modern two-story setting. Don’t miss their vegetarian "butchery." This is the original of seven locations around Zürich.
Zeughauskeller is a family-owned restaurant in the Old Town serving hearty traditional Swiss fare in a handsome historic building. Once a medieval armory, Zeughauskeller is now complete with a "William Tell" crossbow and other medieval arms on the walls. The lunch crowd is a happy mix of tradesmen in overalls and business people in sharp suits and chic ensembles.
Les Halles is a loud, fun, informal eatery in Zürich West. The food and drinks are nothing to complain about (panini, pasta, tapas, mussels), but it’s the convivial atmosphere and crazy decor that brings back the regulars.
The contemporary styled International Beer Bar offers beer lovers eight taps of draft beers, including IPAs, stouts and sours. The overhead chalkboard menu lists a large and changing variety of European bottled beers and whiskeys. The IBB also offers half bottles of wine, ciders and non-alcohol drinks.
Two art/design exhibit spaces draw us like magnets when we're in Zürich.
Museum für Gestaltung in Zürich West features its fascinating permanent collection of historical Swiss applied design, as well as revolving temporary exhibits and programs.
Currently running are the expos "Design Labor: Material + Technik", which displays design products seemingly out of science-fiction, and "Wissen in Bildern", which shows ground-breaking designs for combining words and visuals.
(Photograph copyright Museum für Gestaltung Zürich - Schaudepot)
On our next trip, we must get back to the museum's Ausstellungsstrasse location, which is newly refurbished with various exhibits and a new Swiss Design Lounge featuring contemporary Swiss furniture.
The Centre Le Corbusier by the Heidi Weber Foundation in Zürichhorn's beautiful lakeside park is a small but impressive collection of the renowned Swiss designer’s work in a building he designed.
Where to sleep in Zürich
The city of Zürich's accommodation choices are an embarrassment of wonders from hostels and attractive hotels with three stars and up.
A personal favorite has long been 25hours Hotel Zürich West, a boutique design hotel, where there’s contemporary, funny eye candy everywhere you look. But be forewarned: you might become so enamored of the hotel and its restaurant that you'll find it hard to tear yourself away.
Hotel Belvoir has recently reached out to Newly Swissed and offered to host us for our weekend getaway.
We are glad we didn't say no! What's unique and attractive about the contemporary four-star Hotel Belvoir? Let me count the ways: first, it’s a 20-minute train ride from Zürich's main train station to Rüschlikon, a suburb with a few fairy-tale medieval spires amid modern-minimalist homes.
We found it relaxing to take a break each evening from the bustling, honking, tram-rattling, red-light-green-light city center. Especially so since nearly every room at the Belvoir offers stunning panoramic views of Lake Zurich and hillside communities on the opposite bank, glittering all night long as if the starry sky had settled upon the land for a snooze.
We were also intrigued by what was inside our room, most of all, its shape. I'm a sucker for non-rectangular spaces, so we loved our 5th floor room, an eye-grabbing trapezoid of odd angles.
The hotel's restaurant also offers amazing views - and excellent menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner, well deserving the 14 Gault Millau points it has been awarded.
But the most intriguing thing about the Hotel Belvoir is its in-house three-lane bowling alley. I wonder if any other hotel in Switzerland (Europe? The world?) offers such a recreation opportunity to guests and non-guests?
One last tip for your next trip to Zürich.
Pick up a copy of The Visitor Zürich Magazine, published in English and German by Zürich Tourism. This handsomely designed little city guide is a treasure trove of short articles, fun photos and lists on the best that Zürich has to offer. Free copies are normally available at many area hotels and at the Zürich Tourism office in the main station.
So, there you go! Our too-few suggestions for a Zürich getaway. As for more around this city where "more is more," come explore!