A [Sept 2013] poll named Zurich the best city in the world to live in. It’s good for tourists, too. The city makes visiting especially easy, with an extensive tram system and entry to museums and galleries all on the one ticket. Gareth found this friendly city on its namesake lake the perfect choice for a low-stress weekend away.
Just the ticket.
Buy the go-anywhere ZürichCARD at the airport (Europe’s Leading Airport for the tenth year running, in the World Travel Awards) and use it on the train (17 minutes to the central station, Hauptbahnhof, a splendid neo-Renaissance sandstone building with elegant lobbies and halls). The 72 hour ticket costs CHF48 (£33); it gives free access to most Zurich museums. The trams, smart and slick, rule the roads in Switzerland’s largest city, while cars creep meekly behind. The consequent low traffic levels in the city centre contribute to a noteable lack of stress – I was struck by how cheerful people were, from passport control to the museum entry desk. Use trams to go everywhere. The ZürichCARD is valid, too on the city’s cable trains and the regular boat services on the 22 mile long lake.
This city is exceptionally visitor-friendly. Swift public transport lets you tick off attractions easily. it took us just 14 minutes by tram from the city centre up to the zoo. The same stop serves the Fluntern Cemetery, where we found the grave of Irish writer James Joyce, who spent his last years here. We wandered through the twisting ways of the Old Town, with Alpine swifts chirruping high above our heads, to find two exceptional examples of stained-glass. Fraumünster church has windows by Marc Chagall, while Sigmar Polke’s stained-glass in the Grossmünster is equally striking. St. Peter’s Church boasts Europe’s largest clock face. The Kunsthaus is a world-class art museum, free of the crowds you see in many European capitals. It holds the largest collection of paintings by Munch outside Norway. The Zurich Opera House attracts world-class singers and conductors.
Take to the lake.
Zurich is a city on the water. The Limmat river bisects the city, adding distinction to many a view in the Old Town. The Sihl river refreshes the once derelict Zurich West neighbourhood, with its host of specialist shops, fashion boutiques, and lively restaurants. (Look for Viaduct, the parade of shops under 36 viaduct arches.) For pure city relaxation I recommend the 90 minute short trip – use the ZürichCARD – on a boat on Lake Zürich. We passed green and fertile slopes, fabulous waterside homes, swans in abundance near the landing stages, and a tempting park and bathing beach at Tiefenbrunnen, next to the Chinese Garden. I’m glad we gave in to the very persuasive waiter who insisted we had cake with our tea.
The first thing we see in the Swiss National Museum – free entry with our ZürichCARD – is an original, bright yellow Gotthard stagecoach, from the days of epic journeys through the high mountain passes. The eclectic collection tours the country’s history, from a 1000 year old Palm Sunday procession led by a Christ figure astride a wooden donkey, and a wooden Madonna preserved because Medieval villagers reverently buried it, to an introduction to the Swiss financial system. Star items from the archaeological collection include one of the heaviest gold bowls ever found in Europe, and a cache of golden amulets pressed into a rock in Celtic times to win the gods’ help during those perilous mountain passages.
For a Sunday brunch of high prestige, take the steep hillside railway to the Dolder Grand and ask for a table overlooking the lake. It’s a way to sample this fabulous old hotel, recently refashioned by Foster + Partners, even if you are not staying. In the city centre the one cafe to rule them all is Confiserie Sprüngli. This venerable patisserie offers the “incomparable pleasure” of its trademark Luxemburgerli mini-macaroons. Hot chocolate’s good, too. I recommend Restaurant Zeughauskeller – built 1487 – where, under a William Tell crossbow, we were served good wholesome Zurich fare by smiling waitresses quite at ease in the crush. And the more formal (1315) Zunfthaus zur Waag, a spacious ancient wood-walled guild house, for a marvelous value CFR.45 menu of the day. When we said we were in a hurry to get to the airport, the waitress wished us a good flight.
Art all around.
We stayed at the Park Hyatt, in the financial district, near the lake. A measure of the tranquility was hearing an owl as we walked to the hotel one night. This comfortable business hotel – a Bang & Olufsen TV in our room set the tone – ideal for a weekend stay, is distinguished by a generous modern art collection. Works chosen for their “noble elegance and beauty” were everywhere – in the lobby, by the lift, and in the corridor to our room. Brightening our breakfast was a busy mix of primary colours in a work by Serge Poliakoff. The hotel’s Parkhuus restaurant, with an enormous wood-fired grill, tells you the exact provenance of its ingredients, around the world. Signature dishes include locally-sourced free range chicken, and bison tenderloin.
Gareth was a guest of the Park Hyatt, http://zurich.park.hyatt.com/
City web site www.zuerich.com
This article is based on the writer’s piece – Six Things you must do in Zürich, which appeared in the Mail on Sunday. Is similar version appears on the writer’s other website – http://www.directoryofdestinations.com