Zurich & Lucerne (Luzern)
One wonders what to expect from Switzerland’s largest and richest city. Zurich’s reputation precedes it and the reviews are mixed at best. “Boring”, “the epitome of Swiss efficiency”, “dry & dull”, “a trendy banking capital”, “uptight”, “spotless”- the list goes on. I’ve learnt that all of these are both true and untrue; Zurich is exactly what you make of it. Home to the 4th largest stock exchange in the world (as well as Google’s European HQs & and Europe’s largest street party), Switzerland’s financial nerve center also has one of the highest standards of living and quality of life indexes. It is trendy, cultural, historical & fashionable all at once and attracts over 1 million visitors per year. Zurich city is made up of 12 districts with 400,000 inhabitants. The medieval old town, the beautiful Lake Zurich and the Limmat River add to the city’s European charm, while the gorgeous Swiss Alps lend it a dramatic backdrop. Filled with sights of interest, bars, restaurants, churches, museums and an opera there is constantly something to do. But the best way to enjoy Zurich is to go there expecting nothing, suppress your need for an agenda or a plan, and just take in the city by simply letting it guide you.
What to See & do
- Altstadt (Old Town) & Limmatquai: get lost in the narrow pedestrian only, cobbled streets of the Old Town. You’ll wind your way through small shops, historical sites, restaurants bars and cafes. Walk on the beautiful, adjoining Limmatquai by the water, for more shopping and restaurants with beautiful views. The area is also home to the Grossmunster (A Romanesque style church with twin towers, which are a popular part of most Zurich photos), Fraumunster (A cathedral known for its famous stain glass windows and large organ) St. Peterskirche (the first baroque style, protestant, post reformation, church in Zurich)
- The lakeside promenade, Burkliplatz & Bellevue square: The area surrounding Lake Zurich is a great place to breathe fresh air, people watch and while away time. All of Zurich seems to walk around here at some point, and so should you. The views of the city, lake and the Alps, are stunning; there are many restaurants, café’s a well-connected tram station. It is possible to take a boat trip on the lake from here.
- Banoffstrasse: Probably one of the “richest streets” in the world. Gold is, rumored to be, stashed away in secret bank vaults below the street. Above the ground however, it is a great place to walk around shop and dine. The world famous Sprungli Chocolate has its largest store just off Banoffstrasse.
- Zurich Zoo: With over 300 species of animals, exploring Zurich’s zoo provides for a fun-filled couple of hours. Be sure to check out the exhibits by region. The rainforest exhibit is particularly interesting, as are the tigers and elephants.
- Other attractions include: The upcoming and trendy west Zurich area, Kunsthaus Museum, Rietberg Museum, Urania observatory, Opera House, Swiss national museum & Botanical gardens.
Where to Stay, Eat and Shop
Zurich hotels are expensive. So if you budget it generous stay at high-end classics like the Dodler Grand Resort (away from the city) or Bar Au Lac boutique hotel on Banoffstrasse. Altstadt also has some luxury and easier priced options like the Widder, Wellenberg and Helmhaus, which are very centrally located. We stayed at the Swissotel in Oerlikon, which is an excellent value for money, business hotel, as is expected from this Swiss chain. Facilities include an infinity, pool, spa, on site bar & restaurant and gym. It is located only a few steps from the Oerlikon train/tram station which takes you directly to Zurich HB (6 mins) and right behind a lively square with shops and restaurants. The rooms are small but well equipped. Unfortunately however, it has the worst beds we have come across in all our travels (the double bed, which was actually 2 singles joined together, sunk in the middle and sloped inwards on the sides- at the end of the trip we had severe back pain). Other than that, it was a great hotel with friendly staff.
Zurich is filled with restaurants and cafés including some Michelin star feats. Here are a few popular local haunts we visited:
- Hiltl: an institution in Zurich with the vegetarians and carnivores alike. Their Sunday brunch buffet and a la Carte are delicious. It is a fully vegetarian menu (not cheap) and attracts health conscious, glitzy crowd. The decor is excellent and the staff friendly.
- Blue monkey: by far our best find on the trip. A hidden gem tucked away on Wiengasse in a small square in Altstadt. Some of the best authentic Thai food, outside of Thailand, that we’ve ever eaten. Great décor, has a cigar room and lounge attached. Excellent cocktails try the Hendrix kiwi cocktail; there isn’t anything like it. A MUST visit!
- Nagasui Sushi: perfect for a quick bite or take away. Fresh sushi, open late.
- Mucho Gusto: Sumptuous Spanish tapas at this Ecuadorian restaurant. Try the grilled shrimp tapas, which are delicious.
- Café Sprungli: Sprungli is known world wide for its chocolate but the café on Banoffstrasse also serves up a nice deli style meal. The cheese quiche (as recommended by a friend) and the hot chocolate are treats for your taste buds.
- Mexikano: small Mexican restaurant in Altstadt, with good tacos and guacamole.
- Tao’s: This sexy restaurant has a bar, club and lounge attached. The crowd consists of Zurich’s pretty people from bankers to models who can be seen here dining or enjoying the outside deck garden. The food is excellent and is a mix of Asian fusion and local influences.
- Fondue at Hotel Adler: another Zurich institution popular for Swiss cheese fondue.
- Cupcake affair: for your sweet tooth. In Altstadt.
- Bars & Clubs: even though we didn’t visit these, they were interesting recommendations: The bar at hotel Widder, Tina in Altstadt, Mascotte, Kaufleuten (where Madonna and Prince have hung out), Acapulco (a ’70s-themed bar), and Pur Pur.
Shopping in Zurich is expensive. Prices are about 20-25% more than in New York! But if you must spend the G’s here are the places to do it
- Banoffstrasse: Every well-known luxury and international brand has a store on this avenue. Consider it the 5th av of Zurich. Also has the departmental store Jelmoli.
- Old town: less fancy than Banoffstrasse you’ll find trendy and traditional small stores in the picturesque Old Town.
- Zürich-West & Aussersihl: has sophisticated Zürich labels.
- Zürich’s Main Railway Station: has over 135 stores, open 365 days a year.
- Zürich Airport: 60 shops +, including sprungli.
◦ Both Zurich airport and Zurich central railway station are the largest and busiest in the country with excellent connectivity to most national and international destinations.
◦ Zurich has an excellent and highly efficient & clean transportation system. Getting around the city by it system of trains, trams and buses is really easy and safe. Taxi’s are easily available too but can get expensive.
◦ On Sundays the city pretty much closes down. Plan ahead and look at a list of activities you can do on Sunday or simply enjoy the silence.
◦ Zurich pass: lets you use all of Zurich’s public transport systems and has discounted/free offers on museums, restaurants, events etc. good value if you are in Zurich longer than a day and plan to do lots of sightseeing.
◦ Zurich’s connectivity and location provides excellent short trip options including Bern, Basel, Lucerne, Rhine falls, Lichtenstein, Jungfrau and more
A day trip to Lucerne
If you don’t want to venture too far, but would love to experience another Swiss town, Lucerne makes the perfect day trip from Zurich. Only 50 minutes by train, Lucerne is a beautiful medieval town with a heavenly location, which attract many tourists year after year. On the banks of Lake Lucerne and surrounded by the Alps, this once small fishing village and port of trade now has over 70,000 residents. Its famous landmark the Chapel Bridge is one of the most photographed bridges in Switzerland. There is a lot to do in Lucerne if you wish to stay there (http://www.luzern.com/en/). For a quick day trip, walk the “Red route” shown on the tourist map, given by the Lucerne tourist office. It covers all the main sites like Lion monument, the Chapel bridge, the Spreuer bridge, the Swiss Transport Museum, The Rosengart Collection and more. Take the boat trip on the Lake Lucerne or a short train ride up to Interlaken to enjoy the beautiful vistas, if you have the time.
Lucerne has a surprisingl many restaurants with international & local cuisine options. We chose to have a more traditional meal at Fondue house, an excellent, warm little restaurant that serves up varieties of Swiss fondue (including truffle, garlic and champagne fondue) and racklette in an intimate alpine setting. The menu is extensive and well thought through with a surprising amount of variety. The fondue was the best we’ve ever had and the staff is delightfully friendly and helpful. We happened to meet the owner of the restaurant, Hans Wenner, as well as the designer, Michael Lucerne, and producer (owner of Muya Glass) of the restaurants most interesting feature- its glassware.!
Lucerne is also great for shopping and all of Zurich’s local and international mid level fashion brands have lager outlets here. Expect to find the like of H&M, Doodah, Jack Wolfskin, Max Mara etc.
Enjoy Zurich and Lucerne!