Switzerland’s largest city is really starting to come into its own. With its huge crystal-clear lake, attractive old town and backdrop of beautiful mountains, Zurich has always been known for its high standard of living (as well as anonymous bank accounts). Now though the city is also shedding its once uptight and dare we say…slightly stuffy image. Zurich now has a large gastronomic focus, an almost Scandinavian level of interest in design and one of the most interesting nightlife scenes we’ve experienced in a long time. It’s just that the rest of Europe hasn’t realised this yet. Here’s our favourite 10 cool things to do in Zurich (thank you Zurich Tourism and Swiss Air for our recent trip):
Mess around on the lake
On sunny weekends, the city’s social life seems to be centred around Zurich’s enormous clean, clear lake. Locals sunbathe on the banks or on wooden pontoons, charter a yacht or a pedalo for the day or even a cadillac shaped boat (yes really). If you are feeling a little more adventurous then definitely give paddle boarding a go. It’s not easy, especially on windier days, but if you fall in you only have to worry about getting back on your board. Handily, lifejackets are supplied.
Go to Züri Fäscht
Every three years the most icily calm and efficient city in Europe lets its hair down. Almost like it’s saved up three years worth of partying, Züri Fäscht is a huge affair where no expense is spared. Expect a funfair, food stalls, music concerts, circus-style acts, stunt planes, street entertainment, plenty of chilled beer and not one, but two nights of lengthy and beautiful firework displays over the lake set to classical and popular music. Although if you don’t like crowds you may want to give the Saturday night a miss. 2016 may seem like a long way off now but trust us, it’ll be worth the wait.
Try the cocktails at the Frau Gerolds Garten
Thanks to the liberalisation of the party scene in Zurich, the city has become home to some increasingly interesting nightlife. The centre of at least some of the action seems to be to Frau Gerolds Garten, located in the city’s newly trendy Kreis 5 district industrial area. A Berlin-style industrial wasteland turned Bohemian oasis, here, old shipping containers house bars, a restaurant, a couple of boutique shops and art studios and even an onsite urban garden (which is used to supply the restaurant kitchen). A mix of wooden tables and festival style tents surround a live band giving it the sort of trendy, eclectic vibe many parts of Zurich now seems to be striving for. Also expect an inventive cocktail list, just make sure you try the Black Pepper G&T.
Visit a historic cafe
Perfectly juxtaposed to Zurich’s forward-thinking design scene is the city’s fondness for all things historic. Small and beautifully decorated traditional shops have become the places to be seen, and although Zurich’s always had a thriving cafe culture, the locals seem to have a special place in their heart for their historic cafes (which are often redesigned with an exceptional level of detail). Cafe Schober is a perfect example; a building dating from 1314 it was turned into a confectionery and coffee shop by Theodor Schober after 1875. It’s a beautifully kitsch grotto of a café, with old-fashioned decor and a large range of homemade sweets and cakes.
Try a Badi Bar
Badi Bars are a concept that are completely alien to us Brits. By day the city’s famous lidos (the first of which opened all the way back in 1837) cater to the water babies of the city, offering a place to swim or just grab an afternoon cocktail by the lake-water pool. By night the swimming pools turn into open-air bars and clubs, making them some of the most unusual features of the city’s ever-increasing after-dark offerings. Try Rimini Bar for pizzas and large scattered floor cushions or Seebad Enge for beautiful hipsters and excellent views of Lake Zurich.
Explore the Old Town
We were told that the locals of Zurich make their money in the financial district and spend their money in the Old town, and not surprisingly – it’s home to a mile of shops and the highest concentration of clubs in Switzerland. Throw in a handful of medieval churches, a beautiful art gallery and an engaging café culture all set against an attractive medieval background with narrow cobbled streets and you have the kind of place that you could easily spend a few days.
Eat the chocolate
Not many visitors leave Zurich without trying the chocolate. Yes the city is also famous for its watches, but Zurich one of the most prestigious chocolate centres of the world and sampling a chocolate or two is arguably more fun (and a lot less expensive). Sprüngli is Zurich’s most famous ‘confiserie’ but also give Laderach a try for their to-die-for pralines and Beschle for their absinthe-infused truffles.
Find the Dada Museum and Duda Bar
The Dada art movement was born in Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire in 1916 and the city’s celebration of all things Dada can be found in the preserved home of the movement’s founder. The house has now been turned into a museum and a shop filled with unusual gifts. If you take a look upstairs you’ll also find its on-site café is now a bar complete with comfy loungers and art adorning the walls. The bar’s name, Duda, is a play on words, coming from Dada and the German for ‘you there’.
Zurich’s very own little mountain – reachable by a short train ride – is the place to hike, mountain bike or just enjoy a good old fashioned panoramic viewpoint. In winter there’s even a sledging trail that stretches all the way from the peak to Tremli. Make sure you save a bit of time to eat at the resident restaurant Uto Kulm; the views of the city and large range of creative dishes make it a worthy lunch spot.
Stay in a design hotel
The hotel owners of Zurich are chucking out the chintz and replacing them with hardwood floors and modern decor. In fact, in keeping with the onward progression of the design scene in the city, trendy hotels are springing up all over the place. Try the newly built 25 Hours hotel located in the up and coming Zurich West quarter. Developed by Alfredo Haberli, the rooms are uniquely decorated in bright colours and a quirky original design. Thought-provoking messages greet you when you take a look in the mirror or rest your head on your pillow and whimsical graphics adorn the hotel lobby walls and corridors – a world away from Zurich’s formally stuffy image.