If you are looking for somewhere in Europe with history, Zurich is your one-stop shop. From Roman foundation over 2000 years ago to modern history, Zürich covers it all. If you want to shop, Zürich has one of the best (and most expensive) shopping districts. If you need to deal with finances, Zürich is one of the financial capitals of the world. Want to get away from it all? The world-famous opera house offers operas and ballets to pass the evenings. Afterwards go out with your friends for the night of your life! This relatively small city really does pack a punch for things to do.
Quick note: make sure you bring lots of money with you. A ‘budget’ holiday in Zürich (as in much of Switzerland) is a normal holiday in many other countries; prices are generally 3 to 4 times as expensive for the same product/equivalent (e.g. breakfast costing €20 in Switzerland instead of €5 for the same in Germany). While the Swiss Franc is the national currency, there is almost always the option to pay in Euros. This is especially true if you are paying with a debit/credit/EC card; sometimes they accept Euros in cash as well.
Get to Know the City – Walking Tours
The best way to get to know the city of Zurich is through walking tours. These typically last 2.5 to 3 hours and are usually free! Tours are offered in many languages. These include the four official languages of Switzerland, English, and others, depending on where the tour guide comes from.
The tour that I went on started from Paradeplatz, which is where tours for Downtown Zurich often start; it is well connected by the local trams. As no reservations are usually needed nor required (usually, except for large groups), the actual tour can be any size. Many tour companies operate from the same places; if your group is too big and you want a small-group experience, simply jump ship!
The downtown walking tours stay mostly around District 1, which is the old city and ends at the lake. This area is without a doubt the most beautiful area of the city; it contains the oldest buildings (hence the name Altstadt). District 1 is split into four sub-sections: Lindenhof (‘lime tree courtyard’), Rathaus (‘town hall’), Hochschulen (‘Universities’), and City.
If you are looking for the oldest part of the city, you can find it in the Lindenhof, which dates back to before the Roman settlement. If you are also looking for powerful ladies in history, the Lindenhof is the place to find it as the women of Frauminster Abbey ruled the city for the longest period in its history (until approximately 1340 when the Guilds took over in a coup-d’etat). While the Abbey no longer exists, a church from the end of the 19th century now stands in its place. The modern church also has a nice view up and down the river due to its riverside location on one of the bridges that connect both halves of District 1.
A lot of buildings in this section have been modernised. In some cases, you have to find history by wandering around and searching through the new buildings. It is recommendable, but if you don’t want to have to search for history, head across the river to the Rathaus section of District 1.
Traditionally, the eastern bank of the Limmat was the poorer side of the city, that is until the guilds took over the city. Guild houses were built left, right, and centre to show the newfound wealth of those who came from families who had previously lived in poverty. As a result, many of the large churches and cathedrals reflect this wealth, such as the Grossmunster, St Peter’s Church and the Predigerkirche (a Dominican monastery).
If you are looking for some beautiful buildings, mostly small streets (little more than alleyways, most unsuitable for motorised traffic) and a feel for how Zürich would have been like during its history, this is the place to go. There are also lots of small shops (especially the farther you go away from the river, which is where most of the tourist traps are) that sell great products such as food (butchers, cheeses, spices, international), handmade goods, and much more.
If you continue heading east from the Rathaus area (up the hill), you get to the university section of the city, which is where Universität Zürich (University of Zurich) can be found, along with some of the best views of the city. As the elevation is higher, it is much easier to see out over the city. In the distance, you can also see more of Zürichsee (Lake Zurich).
If you want views, this is the place to go. As the University was in session during my visit, we were not able to wander around the university as we wanted to. However, if you are fit and able, the Universitätsspital Park is worth the climb. You get a view over the city. It is much easier to see the shape of the old city, where the city walls were (now a zigzagging part of the river in the City section), and get a different, higher perspective on the layout of the city.
City (in Zurich)
Going back across the river and over to the western-most section of the Altstadt, City is mostly very modern. This section used to be the wall and ramparts of the old city. It is now a combination of parks, shops, and restaurants. This section extends from the northern part of the island, where the main train station (or Hauptbahnhof) is located down to Bürkliplatz (across from the Zurich Opera House), which is a major junction for local transport (i.e. trams).
Zürichsee (Lake Zurich) is a prominent feature of the Canton of Zurich; it extends into the Canton of Schwyz to the south-east. District 1’s southern border is the beginning of Zürichsee. The banks contain small ports (for trips up and down the lake) and parks until the edges of the city limits. On a clear day, you can easily see the mountains at the southern end of the lake. What struck me the most about this feature is the beautiful scenery that one can see from the city centre. At a glance, you can see the lake, mountains, and greenery from the central district. I would say it is something that you have to see while in Zürich; the truth is that it would be very hard to miss!
Enough of my chatter! Pictures say a thousand words, so have an album: