A Zürich travel guide – lakefront shopping, luxury escapes and groundbreaking culture
Get your bearings
Bordering the north-western tip of its namesake lake, Zürich is divided in two by the Limmat River, which flows through the medieval Altstadt (Old Town). On the east bank the distinctive twin-towered Grossmünster minster looms above a cluster of restaurants, bars and shops. Home to a string of theatres, restaurants and boutiques, the west bank is famous for Schipfe's quaint riverside galleries and high-end shopping on Bahnhofstrasse, which leads to the Hauptbahnhof (main station). Stepping west of the centre is the working-class-turned-trendy district of Züri-West, known for its upbeat nightlife and dynamic arts scene.
Locals bag Swiss cheese and organic picnic goodies at lakefront Bürkliplatz market on Tuesday and Friday mornings. Nose around the medieval Schipfe quarter on the riverfront for one-off galleries, artisan workshops and homespun fashion boutiques. Kitsch meets cool in the Altstadt's pedestrianised cobbled lanes - think non-stop cuckoo clocks, army knives and creamy Swiss chocolate. The main shopping boulevard Bahnhofstrasse is a catwalk for big-name designers like Prada and Chanel. For durable tarpaulin-made bags with street cred, head to Freitag's flagship store in Zuri-West.
Find out why Zürich ranks among the world's top cities for quality of life on a luxury Zürich city break. Once frequented by James Joyce and now by champagne-sipping socialites, chandelier-lit Café Odeon exudes Art Nouveau decadence in Zürich’s city centre. Presuming you've booked weeks ahead, a table awaits at Michelin-starred Petermann's Kunststuben in Küsnacht, where master chef Horst Petermann puts his artistic stamp on French cuisine. Slung castle-like above Zürich, hotel Dolder Grand pampers in its Zen-style day spa, with panoramic jetted tubs and treatments from caviar facials to moor-mud wraps. For a lingering taste of Zürich, take home weightless macaroons and fresh truffles from Confiserie Sprüngli.
Zürich's vibrant arts scene swings from traditional to progressive. The cavernous Kunsthaus Zürich shelters Monet and Rodin works, alongside an unrivalled collection of Swiss surrealist Alberto Giacometti's stick-figure sculptures. Be transported back to 1916 and the birth of the anti-conformist Dada movement at Cabaret Voltaire. One-time brewery Kunsthalle Zürich stages cutting-edge art exhibitions. Classical music fans can book tickets for the world-class Zürich Opera House, or concerts at the Art Nouveau Tonhalle, opened by Brahms in 1895. For a more alternative cultural programme, try the post-industrial Rote Fabrik.
Lake and mountain views give Zürich an air of soothing tranquillity. Peer over the city's rooftops and spires from Lindenhof, where chess players huddle under the lime trees. In summer, locals flock to the lakeshore for a refreshing dip. Take this as your cue to do likewise and make for Seebad Enge, with yoga, a deck for lounging, and mellow grooves after dark. The sights sail into view on one-and-a-half hour city cruises, departing from sculpture-dotted BürkliterrasseFor an Alpine atmosphere and long views over Zürich, head up to the 871m-high Uetliberg peak - don't forget your walking boots.
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