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Zurich in 12 hours

The city offers the best of north Europe, in its manicured, picture-perfect precision

Published: Oct 22, 2016 05:50:37 AM IST
Updated: Oct 22, 2016 11:17:41 AM IST

Image: Shutterstock.com
Zurich city with a bird’s eye view of Fraumünster Church, the Limmat river and Lake Zurich

With all the rapturous prose southern Europe receives, with its sun-drenched coasts and produce bursting with flavours, I feel the need to make a case for its neighbours to the north. Yes, things are a little colder and greyer, and la vita doesn’t feel quite as dolce on the surface, but there is something to be said for the northern European sensibility: The fashionable blacks and greys, the clear rules, brushed steel with clean lines, the reassuring thunks on doors and windows, and that most things work like their manuals say they will.

I’ve had a chance to wander the streets of Zurich and steal a day or half to explore the main sights during my business trips there. It combines the prettiness of a classic European city with the meticulousness of the Swiss and more than a healthy varnish of affluence. For my money, here’s what 12 hours in Zurich could look like:

7 am
From Zurich Main Station, walk along the Limmat river to Lake Zurich. Take in the crisp morning air and beautiful, calm views before the tourists arrive. If you’re there on a Tuesday or a Friday morning, there’s a fresh and local produce market at Bürkliplatz next to the lake. Here, you can pick up some great local cheese, meats or preserves.

Make your way down Bahnhofstrasse, the shopping area, and stop at the Paradeplatz square. You have two options here: Admire the heart of Zurich’s fame as a financial capital, the twin headquarters of UBS and Credit Suisse and the bankers getting off the trams to get to work, or head to Confiserie Sprüngli. The problem solves itself. Your search for great chocolate ends here, or at least it takes a long pause. Get breakfast, shop for chocolates and wander around the square amidst some solid old buildings housing premium retail.

Image: Getty Images
The Paradeplatz square at Bahnhofstrasse in downtown Zürich is an exclusive shopping avenue besides being home to UBS and Credit Suisse banks

10 am
The Fraumünster Church on the western bank of the Limmat is a beautiful, almost 800-year-old structure with wonderful stained glass windows designed by Marc Chagall. Make your way across to the eastern bank and stop by at the Grossmünster Church, one of the other major churches in Zurich, en route to Kunsthaus Zürich—the contemporary art museum. If you’ve visited the Musée d’Orsay in Paris or the Museum of Modern Art in New York, this may not wow you, but if you don’t get to see works by masters like Édouard Manet, Chagall and Pablo Picasso very often, I’d recommend a visit. Alternatively, you can make your way to the Landesmuseum Zürich —the Swiss National Museum—that is a great walk through the country’s turbulent past to the more peaceful present.

Image: DeAgostini / Getty Images
At the Swiss National Museum, one can gawk at the wonderful objects on display

12 noon
At lunch, head back towards Paradeplatz to the restaurant Zeughauskeller, your definitive stop for good Swiss fare. A meat-and-potatoes kind of place, it is a bit touristy but enough of my Swiss colleagues have enthusiastically tucked into a meal there with me to give me comfort that locals love this place too—always a good benchmark. Originally an armoury set up in 1487, it is now a bustling restaurant with chilled pints of beer, heaped plates of comfort food and a few crossbows and lances mounted on the walls. The Swiss are a pastoral people at heart and their food reflects that rustic honesty. Be prepared for a heavy meal and, if your diet permits it, the Zurich specialty, pan-fried sliced veal with mushrooms in a lovely cream sauce—the Zürcher Geschnetzeltes —is particularly good.

Image: Shutterstock.com
The Zeughauskeller restaurant serves the Zurich specialty Zürcher Geschnetzeltes, or pan-fried sliced veal with mushrooms in a lovely cream sauce

Settle down with an espresso at one of the little cafés around Bahnhofstrasse to digest your lunch, and then exercise your credit card with the great retail, which would have opened by now.

5 pm
Snap out of the afternoon lethargy with a walk up to Lindenhof, a lovely, shaded little hill that overlooks the Limmat. It is a gentle uphill climb to burn the last vestiges of the lunch, and you get great views of both banks of the river, and a view of the University of Zurich, which is where Albert Einstein received his PhD. Such reflections and the view will put you in the mood for cocktail hour. That means the east bank with numerous cafés and wine bars dotting the little streets. Like many European cities, the two banks of the Limmat have different characters: The east bank is decidedly livelier.

Image: Nandor Nagy

Stop at one of the smaller bars for a drink before making a beeline for Odeon (pictured above), one of the most historic bars in Zurich. It attracts an eclectic mix of people and counts Somerset Maugham, Albert Einstein and Vladimir Lenin among its past clientele.

7 pm
Now you have two choices. You can make your way to a slightly different part of the town, if you are done with the pretty lake and river and manicured streets, to taste a dish that is truly exotic, local and one of a kind: Pizza! Now, before you roll your eyes, the Rosso Pizzeria is always packed with local patrons for a reason. The pizzas are awesome —thin crust, with all the goodness of fresh European produce, and an energetic vibe set in a minimalist decor. It is located in a restored industrial-chic former warehouse, on the other side of the tracks, off the Main Station. I have not ventured past the prosciutto and rocket pizza washed down with Zurich’s finest beers, but I am sure the rest of the menu won’t disappoint.

If you want to really class it up and splurge, dress up for a cocktail and dinner at Kronenhalle, close to the Opera House off Lake Zurich. It is not often that you will dine amidst original Chagalls, Mirós, Picassos, and find out what the fuss has been for close to 100 years. You could be in any age with the wood panelling décor and the white-jacketed waiters.

Finally, do stop by at their bar for a drink. James Joyce wrote a fair bit of his novel Ulysses at a corner table, and maybe you can whip out a notebook and write down your musings from the day, in a stream of consciousness like one of Kronenhalle’s earlier, more famous patrons.

In this new series, we give you a tasting tour of some of the most exciting cities of the world.

(This story appears in the Sep-Oct 2016 issue of ForbesLife India. To visit our Archives, click here.)