Planning a trip to Zurich, where Swiss counterculture meets high finance

Switzerland's largest city and banking capital, Zurich is the prettiest of the country's big cities. Its oldest quarter is spread over the steep banks on either side of the swan-filled Limmat River as it flows out of the Zürichsee (Lake Zurich).

I would spend a relaxing 48 hours in Zurich, but you still can get a surprisingly good feel for the city in just a day.

Zurich sights

Swiss radicals
Zurich has always been a hotbed of radicalism and liberal thought. The Swiss Protestant Reformation started here in the 16th century, and the 20th century has drawn the likes of Carl Jung, Lenin (who spent World War I here, planning his revolution), Thomas Mann, and James Joyce, who worked on Ulysses in Zurich and returned a month before his death in 1941. Joyce's grave in Friedhof Fluntern cemetery (take tram 2) is near those of Nobelist Elias Canetti and Heidi author Joanna Spyri.
The 13th-century St. Peter's Church at St. Petershofstaat 6 has the largest clock face in Europe—28.5 feet across with a 12-foot minute hand.

Nearby is one of Zurich's top sights, the Gothic Fraumünster church, with five 1970 stained-glass windows by artist Marc Chagall (they're best in the morning light).

From here, cross the Münsterbrücke over the Limmat River to reach Zurich's cathedral, the twin-towered Grossmünster. Founded on a site said to be chosen by Charlemagne's horse (he bowed his head on the spot where a trio of 3rd-century martyrs were buried), its construction ran from 1090 through the 14th century. The stained glass was designed by Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti in 1933. Climb the tower (2 SF/$1.35) from May to October for a great city view.

A long walk up Kirchgasse from the church and a left on Seiler Granben/Zeltweg takes you to Heimplatz and the Kunsthaus (tel. 01/251-6765), Zurich's fine arts museum. The main collection starts with the impressionists of the late 19th century and runs to contemporary times, featuring works by Monet, Degas, Cézanne, Chagall, Rodin, Picasso, Mondrian, Marini, and especially the Swiss-born Giacometti. Admission is 5 SF ($3.35) for adults, 2.50 SF ($1.65) for children, and it's closed Monday (you can also take tram 3 here).

Zurich's cheapest sight is the park lining the mouth of the Zürichsee. You can join Swiss joggers and romantic couples strolling the west bank of the lake up and down the General Guisan quai (at the end of Bahnhof-strasse), which leads to an arboretum.

Also at the base of Bahnhofstrasse are the piers from which dozens of steamers embark for tours of the lake. Most boat trips fall into two categories. The four-hour journey all the way to the opposite end of the lake and back (add in more time to get off and explore en route) runs about 26 SF ($17.35). A 90-minute jaunt just around the northern end of the lake should cost about 10 SF ($6.65).

Before boarding the train out of town, pop into the free Landesmuseum (Swiss National Museum) just behind the station at Museumstrasse 2 (tel. 01/218-6511). The well-laid out collections trace Swiss civilization from pre-history to the 19th century.

How to get to Zürich

Zurich is well connected with Europe's major cities and is only 75 to 120 minutes from Bern by train (50 daily). Trains arrive at Hauptbahnhof (main train station) on the riverbank at the north end of town.

How to get around in Zürich

The tourist office (tel. 01/215-4000, fax: 01/215-4044; www.zurichtourism.ch) is at the train station, Bahnhofplatz 15.

From the station, the tree-shaded shopping street of Bahnhofstrasse runs south, paralleling the Limmat a few blocks away, all the way to the shores of the Zürichsee.

Running off to the left of this street are a series of medieval alleys that lead down to the river. Several bridges cross the river to the wide Limmatquai Street. Narrow side streets lined with shops lead to the other half of the old city.

Although you can easily navigate most of central Zurich by foot, you'll need to hop a tram or bus for some of the outlying sights and hotels. The cost is 1.90 SF ($1.25) for rides up to five stops, 3.20 SF ($2.10) for longer trips, and 6.40 SF ($4.25) for a Tageskarte 24-hour ticket.

Where to stay in Zürich

Although a bit pricey at 400 to 500 SF ($266.65 to $333.35) a double, the romantic Hotel Zum Storchen (tel. 01/227-2727, fax 01/227-2700; www.storchen.ch), Am Weinplatz 2, is the best bet in town—an 640-year-old inn right on the river in the center of Zurich's Altstadt.

Where to eat in Zürich

Zur Oepfelchammer (tel. 01/251-2336), Rindermarkt 12 (just off the Limmat), serves up reasonably priced Swiss and French cuisine in a friendly, atmospheric ambiance.

Tours Under $995 G Adventures

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in December 2011.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.