Zürich Travel Guide
While maintaining an aesthetic perfection usually reserved for period dramas, Switzerland’s capital of Zürich also harbours an unexpectedly edgy personality. Its storybook centre of majestic squares and cobblestoned corners contrast with an edgier west side, made up of former factories now the creative centre of a post-industrial art scene. In addition to incomparable natural surroundings and a world-leading quality of life, Zürich is also a city that has championed gay rights since the 40s, now boasting a lesbian mayor and a diverse LGBT+ nightlife centred around the Old Town where you’ll also find Europe’s oldest gay bar, Barfüsser. Noteworthy events in Zürich include the Pink Apple LGBT film festival and of course Zurich Gay Pride. Wondering where to go in Zürich? Mr Hudson has got you covered.
For an opulent stay fit for a king, book a stay at the Dolder Grand, a hillside oasis minutes from the centre
The best hotels in Zürich
With so many Zürich points of interest to discover, the first thing you should know is where to go in Zürich for a good night’s kip. EMA House Hotel Suites provide more than your usual accommodation, from hotel suites to serviced apartments in prime locations throughout the city as well as hotel headquarters within walking distance of the tranquil River Limmat. Another option fit for even the fussiest traveller is the B2 Boutique Hotel + Spa housed in the former Hürlimann brewery and offering an atmospheric domed-vault spa and rooftop infinity pool in cosy, architecturally sublime settings.
Built over a 15th Century townhouse once catering to Zürich’s culinary elite, Marktgasse is a boutique beauty that seamlessly combines both old and new-ish. It’s select few elite suites mimic the hotel’s overall minimalist style and hushed tones, as well as offering distinct craft furnishings and unique architectural aesthetics. For an indulgent taste of Swiss hospitality, book a table at adjoining Baltho Restaurant where you can peruse the eclectic international menu in a chic setting, or, how about unwinding at the complementary Munstergasse Spa nearby, the oldest Hamam in town?
With an emphasis on whimsical urban design and bold colour embellishments, Zürich West’s 25hours Hotel is rightly touted as a ‘lifestyle wonderland for creative souls’. Extravagant extras include cushy kitsch and kaleidoscopic lounge spaces, complimentary bike rentals, a kitchen club and a sauna/fitness room with city views. For an opulent stay fit for a king, book a stay at the Dolder Grand, a hillside oasis minutes from the centre, boasting a spacious spa, 2-Michelin star restaurant, golf course and romantic views of Lake Zürich and the distant snow-tipped Alps, all with butler service included! Choose between a classic room featuring marble bath and neutral-toned furnishings or go all-out contempo in a mod mansion or rock star-style dig.
Things to do in Zürich
If the Swiss were to be known for one thing alone, it would be chocolate. Or money. Or, perhaps, money-making chocolate. Enter Lindt Chocolate Factory, the ingenious permutation of both, a global phenomenon and creators of the perfect Swiss souvenir. Try not to slip on your own salivate as you take a guided trip into their inner workings of the factory, working with master chocolatiers to produce your own mini masterpieces to eat on the spot or take home to a lucky loved one.
With no end of sensual experiences in the city, you’ll soon be wanting to take a lie down. Our Zürich guide highly recommends the Thermalbad & Spa Zurich where you can soak your weary loins in wooden tubs of varying heat, or while in the rooftop pool enjoying views of the city. The spa also offers an Irish-Roman spa ritual for those curious enough to indulge.
Other top picks of what to do in Zürich include wandering around the quasi-industrial Neu Oerlikon district or exploring MFO Park, a uniquely designed, steel-frame public space featuring abstract artwork framed by entwined vines and recycled glass flooring. Big kids might also consider heading to the Pegasus Small World, a museum housing over 4,000 weird and wacky toys and miniatures dating back to the 1890’s. Alternatively, art snobs should be sure to get metaphysical over a glass of ‘green fairy’ absinthe at the Cabaret Voltaire, in the footsteps of 20th Century artists such as Hugo Ball and Hans Arp who came here to express criticism for the political and cultural zeitgeist of the time, eventually establishing the Dadaist art and literary movement.
Last but not least, for the festive fella, Zürich holds two fab events of merit not to be ignored. Every summer, the Zürich Pride Festival welcomes more than 10,000 queer folk and friends to celebrate love, life and non-conformity. In August meanwhile, the dazzling Street Parade, the largest techno parade in Europe boasting over 30 multi-hued “love mobiles”, is said to be on par with Berlin’s sorely missed Love Parade.
Many a summer’s days can be spent paddling and socialising at popular spots on the long grass-lined promenade at Tiefenbrunnen Beach
What to see in Zürich
There are myriad answers to the question of what to see in Zürich, and although the place is most renowned for chocolate, watches and impeccable cleanliness, Zürich is much more than just a pretty picture. While other cities might overindulge in café culture or Sunday brunch, this Swiss town is all about lake lounging. Many a summer’s days can be spent paddling and socialising at popular spots on the long grass-lined promenade at Tiefenbrunnen Beach, where you’ll find the men’s-only Schanzengraben and the pristine beach area of Strandbad Mythenquai.
The Botanical Garden is another contender in this Zürich guide for ultimate serene escapism, a place always in bloom regardless of the time of year. With around 7000 different plant species spread over 53,000 square metres featuring meadows and ponds, a trip here will no doubt induce Buddhist monk-levels of zen. Meanwhile, a trip to the tippy-top of Uetliberg will afford you panoramic birds’ eye views of the city, Lake Zürich and the not too distant Alps. While the spot is accessible and worth a visit all year round, the perfect time to visit Uetliberg is in Spring when the mountain flowers begin blossoming.
Rieterpark, Zürich’s biggest public park, home of the Museum Rietberg’s unique global art collection, is one of the best choices of what to see in Zürich for both wanderers and art geeks. In addition to 19th Century architecture and sprawling open space, this is the Zürich point of interest known for its horizon views of the Glarus Alps. Back on the streets, however, there is no better place to while away a day than on the cobbled streets of the Old Town (or Altstadt), where visitors can feel free to ogle 19th Century architecture, browse quaint boutiques and enjoy freshly roasted coffee. After your caffeine hit, try clambering up the hills at Lindenhof Park for some more definitive views of the region.
Swiss cuisine is a multi-cultural affair, due in large part to the country’s bordering proximity to France, Italy and Germany
Where to eat in Zürich
Swiss cuisine is a multi-cultural affair, due in large part to the country’s bordering proximity to France, Italy and Germany. Traditional dishes tend to be simple with a strong emphasis on cheese and potatoes. Specialities vary throughout the districts; in cosmo Zürich, hearty fare such as Rösti (hashed potatoes) paired with various kinds of sausages are as in demand as Michelin meals and lighter, veggie-centric bites while international staples sushi, tapas and pizza can be found on every corner.
Creative comfort food best describes the cuisine at Café Boy, a rustic crowd pleaser with over 200 wines on offer. For high-end Euro eats and panoramic sightings, make your way up the 35 floors of the Prime Tower – the tallest building in Zürich – to the cleverly-named Clouds, an ultra-mod restaurant featuring a ritzy bar, bistro and bird’s-eye views of the city. Nature lovers flock to Fischers Fritz for the catch of the day served with seasonal sides in a rustic lakeside cabin, and as for flavours from afar, notables include Gartenhof’s exceptional French-style mussels, Bottega Berta’s pasta delights and the authentic Japanese edibles of Sala of Tokyo.
As the weather warms, foodies and fashionistas alike swarm to the happening outdoor market scene. For fresh produce, cheese and exotic goods from around the world, make a morning stop at the Helvetiaplatz Markt, Zürich’s most celebrated farmer’s market. Wander the stalls at the Bürkiplatz market for regional specialities, spices and gorgeous flowers. In the summertime, fight the Monday blues at Montagsmarkt, a must-see for any clotheshorse and a showcase for trending up-and-coming fashion designers.
Craft coffee is en vogue all around Europe and Zürich is no exception. Here, dapper folk of all stripes go wild for eco roasts and baked goodies in retro-fab cafés. With cosy locations all over the city, Vi Cafe spreads java love made from fine, fine Arabica beans roasted at their own brewery in Eglisau. The Rhythm Henrici of Coffee is everything a hip coffeehouse should be; quality brews, a flora-filled terrace and a relaxed, artsy vibe that gives rise to a popular Tuesday night live music jam. For a slice of romance with your coffee, take a cold brew break at Bovelli; a spot for homemade cakes and conversation around art deco tables draped with linens and mood lighting come sundown.
Artisanal food and drink aficionados need not worry; some of the best trendsetting shops reside in Zurich
Shopping in Zürich
Synonymous with quality and classic tailoring, Swiss fashions haven’t exactly turned heads among the fashion-conscious. But with unique urban styles emerging from alternative areas Zürich West and Langstrasse, times, they are a-changing.
For dapper duds with a sprinkle of vintage style as well as books, fragrances and accessories, visit AP & Co, a men’s concept shop boasting curated finds. Urban wear with flair is the speciality at Street Files, a unisex store showcasing indie brands including Samsoe & Samsoe and Raised by Wolves. Beautifully eclectic, Maiuki is worth a gander for well-crafted shoes, bags and clothing. Rounding off the local talent, Freitag creates lifestyle accessories graphically designed for maximum comfort.
Artisanal food and drink aficionados need not worry; some of the best trendsetting shops reside in Zurich. Java junkies will find all the spiffy tools needed for excellent brews at Bear Brothers and Cow. Craving confiserie-style macaroons? Sprüngli has been preparing them with a dollop of chocolate and a spoonful of skill since 1845. Hiltl, the oldest vegetarian resto in Switzerland now boasts a new first; the only veggie butcher shop for green foodies in search of plant-based substitutes for popular dishes including Cordon Bleu and Züri-Geschnetzeltes (veal strips in mushroom sauce).
In the spirit of celebration, special shout out to the Hive Club for their annual Aera Nacht der Blumen
Nightlife in Zürich
For the discerning gent, accompanied or solo, Zürich offers a wealth of nocturnal possibilities. If jazz is your scene, Moods is a must-visit; live concerts galore from the world’s top soul, blues, funk and, naturally, jazz musicians. For the truest of fans, take a jazzy break pre or post flight at the Zürich Airport’s Montreux Jazz Café, providing video clip highlights of all the legendary acts to have graced the celebrated Montreux Jazz Festival, all in a convivial coffee shop setting.
French cabaret meets retro revival at Les Garçons, an all-are-welcome boy bar featuring craft concoctions, a smoke at the en suite fumoir and a spin – or twenty – around the dance floor. For award-winning cocktails in an ultra-mod exposed brick and shocking red Campari bar setting (try that in one breath), make a stop at Cranberry’s, arguably the most popular gay bar in town. Carbo-load before showing off dance moves at the divine, chandeliered, industrial joint Gerold Chuchi; Italian eatery extraordinaire by day and intimate dance club after the sun goes down. And in the spirit of celebration, special shout out to the Hive Club for their annual Aera Nacht der Blumen, a magical musical blowout on two dance floors in a space temporarily transformed by the ethereal beauty of flowers.
Freitag | Photo: Roland Tännler
Aqua Spa Resorts Thermalbath & Spa Zurich
Le Cafe Ensoie by Vicafe
B2 Boutique Hotel & Spa Zurich