Switzerland’s largest city and Europe’s wealthiest, voted as having the best quality of life in the world, the list of superlatives describing Zurich is endless. Yet, with a little careful planning, you can catch the best of it in two days
Limmatquai, Old Town
Follow the bank of the River Limmat to Bellevue to understand Zurich’s historical context. Modern boutiques in medieval buildings, al fresco cafes, chocolatiers, florists and imposing churches—this is the last 1,000 years of Zurich all around you. Do not miss the Chagall windows at the Fraumunster Church, or the divine pastries at Conditorei Schober and the Bacherei Vohdin. Have a pre-lunch aperitif at Café Odeon and brunch at La Terrasse, over the flowing river.
Niederdorf, Old Town
This pedestrian plaza is a visual and gastronomic treat at every turn of the head. From cosy cubist art galleries to lingerie shops, open-air bistros to smoky dives, medieval guildhalls converted to swish restaurants, this area is all cobblestones, arches, old- money and modern enterprise. Have a late afternoon coffee with tapas at the Bodega Espanola when you’re done capturing every delightful detail of this colourful and vibrant smorgasbord of culture.
This place is unbeatable in summer: waterfront cafes, street-performers, jewellery vendors, and smart executives (male and female) shedding their Boss suits for a quick lunch-hour swim. Sip ale at the Biergarten, or get a tan at the Tiefenbrunnen Beach. The Chinese Garden at Zurichhorn, at one end of the promenade, is worth a walk-around. In the distance, the twinkling boats on Lake Zurich back-dropped by snow-capped Alps make for one of the city’s most defining sights.
If you have an insatiable appetite for shopping, this mile-long strip will truly test your physical and financial stamina. Mingling with thousands of other shoppers, ducking into and out of stores, grabbing for sales and bargains can be exhausting but immensely gratifying. Every haute retail giant is here, shoulder to shoulder, and with rents the most expensive anywhere in Europe, you can expect a great workout for your credit card as well.
Old Town (and downtown) by night
Start with a world-class meal at the Kronenhalle, where works of art by Chagall, Monet and Picasso still hang on the walls while you sample their smoked pork with lentils or the mouth-watering meat-fest called the Bollito Misto (beef, chicken, pork sausages and tongue). Then, head out to the Kauflauten, an old, refurbished guildhall with rich tapestries and thirty-foot ceilings, transformed into a thumping nightclub. If you know a member, go to the uber-exclusive Club Diagonal.
Even if you don’t have kids in tow, a morning at the zoo is not a bad idea at all, particularly since it will involve a trip through a climate-controlled Madagascar jungle, complete with exotic vegetation and frisky lemurs swinging from branch to branch over your head. Every other animal, from penguin to snow-leopard, lives in its own carefully controlled habitat. What is new here is an immense walkway in the jungle that takes you up to tree-top level with the unique arboreal fauna of Madagascar.
Viadukt Arches, West Zurich
Take a tram out of the old-world into the new: built on the remains of defunct industry, West Zurich is the new, edgy face of the Old Town. Once a railway embankment, the 36 stone-arches are now home to bustling art-galleries, eclectic furniture stores and bistros. This is not haute-chic—this is street trendy-grunge. Round off your shopping and browsing with a four-course lunch at Clouds, Switzerland’s highest restaurant, aptly named for its stunning view.
Freitag Tower, West Zurich
Only the classy Swiss could take something as prosaic and industrial as reject truck material and transform it into a million- dollar, uber-grunge-chic industry. Imagine old seat belts forming the strap, tyre tubes and tarp making up the main body of these smart, swish, all-weather, extremely durable and dependable carry-bags. As a bonus, they look great too. This is a symbol of new-age Zurich enterprise and dazzling entrepreneurship; you will be proud to own a Freitag Bag.
The Schiffbau, West Zurich
The only evidence of its erstwhile avatar as a boatyard is an art installation of a huge ship-propeller out in the courtyard. Inside, it’s all glass and dome and chandelier, temperature-controlled, good for any time of the year. Get a drink at the Tower Bar prior to the evening’s performance at the three-stage theatre. Alternatively, catch a live jazz act at Club Moods, and follow that up with a sumptuous meal at La Salle where Europe’s finest cuisine is prepared to Gault Millau perfection.
This ‘long street’ exists for one reason only: nightlife. Almost all of Zurich’s 600+ clubs are lined up here, all of them heaving and pulsing with people and music. The Gonzo, the Longstreet Bar, the Hive—they are all here, as is the Zukunft, with its ever- changing line-up of DJ’s belting out tunes six days a week, all year. Bar hopping was never as easy and as fun as this; the perfect adieu to the city that is constantly re-inventing itself.