ON THE ROAD
∙ Why Zurich is the Centre of the Universe
Paris is most romantic, and Berlin is steeped in history. Vienna is a place for culture buffs, and Florence a place for foodies. Nearly every major European city has a unique offering for a different kind of traveller. But if there is one city that has it all, it’s Zurich.
Old european charm
I don’t feel like I’m in Europe unless I’ve tripped at least twice on an uneven cobblestoned road. There’s just something that’s so darn charming about the organic look and feel of the raised stones that pave the streets of old towns in Europe—even though they hurt your feet and sometimes ruin your shoes. You’ll feel like you’ve been placed inside a medieval romance as you stroll through the winding narrow streets of Zurich’s old town, popping in and out of cheese shops and cafes, and taking in the beautiful historic architecture.
Take your time to explore one of the city’s several great churches. The iconic Grossmünster church looks lovely when lit up at night and provides a spectacular view of the city from the church tower during the day. The Fraumünster features bold and colour- By Zebunnisa Mirza
ful stained glass windows by Russian-french artist, Marc Chagall. St. Peter’s Church is decorated with a giant eye-catching clock face, which is the largest in Europe.
Be sure to tour through one of the several magnificent guild houses that dot the old town for a glimpse into the history of trade unions—or Zünfte—in Zurich. Dating back to the 14th century, these grand buildings were a gathering place for tradespeople. Today, the decorative grand halls at these buildings are used to host special events.
Modern vibe and Nightlife
Once you’ve finished exploring the old town, hop into a time machine and fast forward to present day in Zurich West, a place where art, fashion, design and entertainment collide into a beautiful rainbow of creativity.
When you first arrive in Zurich West, it feels a bit like someone played a cruel joke on you. At first glance, this neighbourhood appears drab and dirty (well, “dirty” according to Swiss standards!), but don’t be too quick to judge. This area is sprinkled with public art installments (like colourful graffiti and sculptures), and hidden inside the old, dreary industrial buildings is an endless line-up of the trendiest spots in the city.
The coolest of them all is the Schiffbau. From the outside, it still looks like an old shipbuilding facility—which is what it used to be—but one step through the door proves otherwise. Upon entering, you are forced to walk around a barricade of bright yellow metal strings that run from the floor all the way up to the ceiling, an immediate signal to let you know that things are about to get very creative in here. Schiffbau is a cultural centre where the city’s most creative minds gather to make art. On a regular basis you can come here to catch live theatre, poetry slams, live music (jazz, blues and hip hop) and a spectacular meal at La Salle restaurant.
Time for a bit of shopping? You’re in the best neighbourhood for stylish and unique finds. A tall stack of rusty freight containers is the site of the flagship store of the famous Swiss brand, Freitag. Make your way through five floors of one-of-a-kind bags and accessories made from upcycled tarps, then climb to the very top of the structure for a great view of Zurich West.
You’ll find tons more if you walk just a bit further up the street to the Viadukt, one of the coolest modern adaptations of space I have ever seen. While a train line still runs along its tracks, the hollows under the stone arches of the West Zurich’s railway viaduct—originally built in 1894—have been transformed
into an urban space lined with shops, fashion boutiques, art galleries and market hall full of farmers and food vendors.
Culture, art, history and food
Creativity and out-of-box thinking thrives in Zurich, which is why it isn’t much surprise that the city was the birthplace of the avant-garde art movement of Dada. It began in 1916 as a negative reaction to World War I. Artists rejected the concepts of reason and logic, and embraced a feeling of irrationality and nonsense to create art in various mediums. They gathered at the Cabaret Voltaire, a nightclub where all artists and performers were welcome to share their work in an environment that celebrated this anarchic art movement. Cabaret Voltaire still exists today in the same building where it began. You can catch regular events in the evenings or pop in for a coffee and a snack during the day. And if you’re still craving more Dada, book a stay at the Hotel Limmatblick where all of the rooms are individually decorated in Dada style.
Art lovers will also benefit from a morning spent at the Kunsthaus Zürich, the fine arts museum housing Switzerland’s most important collection of modern art. Come here to take in significant works from Edvard Munch, Van Gogh, Picasso, Claude Monet and Marc Chagall. There’s also a sizeable collection of colourful pop-art works.
Of course, if you’re in Switzerland your visit can’t be complete without two key food experiences—swiss chocolate and a cheese fondue. Get the finest chocolate in the land at Sprüngli where dairy ingredients from Swiss farms come together with the finest cacao beans from across the world to create only the most fresh and delicious pralines, truffles, macaroons and solid bars of chocolate. Warning: it is completely possible to get much too excited inside a Sprüngli boutique!
Although you can get a fondue nearly everywhere in the city, the most fun experience can be had in the back of a tuk-tuk. Book a Fondue tuk-tuk tour to enjoy a Swiss cheese fondue from the back of a Tuk Tuk while taking in a city tour.
Nature and the outdoors
You can see the mountains in the distance right from downtown Zurich, and getting to the closest peak will only take you 15 minutes by train. If you already have a transit pass, hop on a train from Zurich Main Station and within minutes you’ll arrive at the Uetliberg Station, a ten-minute walk from the summit of the mountain Uetliberg.
Uetliberg stands 870 metres above sea level, providing panoramic views of the city of Zurich and its surrounded villages, Lake Zurich and the Alps in the distance. Several well marked hiking trails and mountain bike routes makes Uetliberg popular in the summer. You can even climb right up to the top of Uetliberg, which takes about an hour to complete. And if all that hiking made you hungry, the Uto Kulm restaurant is a great place to enjoy a traditional Swiss meal while you take in the breathtaking view.
If you prefer to take in nature at water level, a boat tour on Lake Zurich is perfect. You can choose from trips that last anywhere from 1.5 hours to 7 hours. You can take in views of pretty little towns and villages as you cruise along the perimeter of the lake, with the snow-capped Alps forming a dramatic backdrop in the distance.
Spa and relaxation
Lastly, what is a good vacation without a little rest and relaxation?
Make a point to spend some time at the Thermalbad & Spa. Located deep underground inside the stone walls of an old brewery, the rustic interior of this spa will make you feel as though you have entered an ancient Roman bath. Thermal waters fill up giant wooden vats that look like old barrels, and hundredyear-old stone vaulted ceilings create an air of mystique. You can soak away your aches and pains in the therapeutic tubs featuring massage jets, bubble seats, and whirlpools, or relax in the emerald bath or a meditation pool with underwater music. At the other end of the spa, the Irish-roman spa ritual will allow your entire body to be warmed, cleansed, relaxed and then cooled once again through a series of ten consecutive stations. Need a bit of fresh air? Head to the rooftop hot tub to enjoy panoramic views of Zurich while you soak.