Stylish, sophisticated and scenically beautiful, the charming Swiss city of Zürich brings a touch of class to the Central European city break.
With an enviable lakeside location and stunning alpine backdrop, Switzerland’s largest city is a culturally vibrant destination with a distinct urban buzz. From the quaint, cobbled alleyways of the Niederdorf district to the modern, bohemian vibes of the city’s former industrial quarter, the crystal clear waters of the Zürichsee to the sweeping, panoramic views from Uetliberg, Zürich offers a perfect balance of indoor and outdoor attractions, and a wealth of world-class hotels, bars and restaurants.
Wander the meandering streets of the old town, marvel at the imposing twin towers of the Grossmünster and the graceful elegance of the Fraumünster with its famous Chagall stained glass windows. Sip espresso with locals at the stand up tables of Confiserie Sprüngli, visit the Kunsthaus (for old masters to modern art), the Helmhaus (for contemporary art) and the Schweizerisches Landesmuseum (for the history of Switzerland). Take the Polybahn from Limmatquai for superb views over the old town, shop (or window shop) on the Bahnhofstraße - one of the world’s most expensive streets, take a boat ride on the lake. Pay a visit to Zürich West - the former industrial district, now a thriving community of independent shops, bars and restaurants. Visit the Markthalle Im Viadukt - a collection of retail and food outlets showcasing local makers and artists, grab a coffee or snack from one of the amiable vendors then call in at Westflügel bookshop for rare collectibles; the flagship store of Zürich brand Freitag is around here too - a tower of 19 rusty shipping containers stacked on top of each other, from where you can enjoy a fabulous view of this ever-evolving district.
In a city synonymous with banking and famed for its high standard of living, it comes perhaps as no surprise to learn that Zürich is expensive. Even by Swiss standards, Zürich’s hotels carry something of a premium. But, having said that, you get what you pay for and the quality of accommodation here - across all star ratings - is second to none. At the top of the market, Zürich is home to numerous palatial properties - both chains and independents - ranging in style and character from traditional elegance to contemporary urban chic. One of the city’s best abodes is The Dolder Grand - a renowned first-class hotel on a hill above town, offering spectacular views of the city, the lake and the entire region. Accessed via a scenic drive, or tram / funicular combination from the centre, this majestic hotel comprises the original castle-like building and two modern wings designed by Norman Foster. Service is impeccable, rooms are elegantly furnished, and the hotel boasts a two star Michelin restaurant serving unforgettable imaginative cuisine along with a wine list that balances well-known labels with rare finds from around the world.
Another premier Zürich address is La Réserve Eden au Lac. Built in 1909, and transformed in 2020 by French designer Philippe Starck, the hotel is now the epitome of informal luxury. Enjoying a lakeside location just a few steps from the opera house, Eden au Lac offers first-rate accommodation in a distinct, contemporary style, as well as a fabulous array of wining and dining options including the Michelin starred Eden kitchen and popular La Mûna rooftop bar. Also worth a mention are B2 Boutique Hotel and Spa - housed in a former brewery, notable for its contemporary design and open-plan library of more than 30,000 hardbacks! And Baur au Lac - a historic five-star hotel in a private park on the lakeside, which famously hosted the premiere of the first act of Wagner’s Die Walküre ... with Franz Liszt at the piano!
Zürich’s culinary scene has exploded over the past few decades. An influx of top chefs driven to push traditional boundaries in pursuit of innovative, imaginative cuisine, together with the redevelopment of the industrial quarter, has led to the city emerging as one of Europe’s top food destinations. There’s ample choice here across all price points, and the range of cuisine on offer reflects Zürich’s multicultural population. From food-halls with a focus on locally sourced produce and communal dining, to Michelin star fare in stylish surroundings, Zürich’s culinary scene is distinguished by its wide variety.
Amongst the best traditional restaurants in the city, Kronenhalle stands out for its fascinating history, classic home-style cooking and sumptuous wines. A Zürich institution for the past century, Kronenhalle is also notable for its magnificent art collection including works by Chagall, Léger and Rodin amongst others. The two star Michelin restaurant Pavillon, at the aforementioned Baur au Lac, is another of Zürich’s most acclaimed eateries, serving classic French cuisine with a modern twist. The extensive, award-winnng wine list here includes a locally produced varieties - including some from its own vineyard - but is particularly noted for its depth in vintages of French wines. Also with two Michelin stars, Rico’s is a modern Mediterranean restaurant decorated in an eclectic mix of styles. Full of charm with a relaxed vibe often missing in upmarket establishments, Rico’s offers a set menu of between three and eight courses and a thoughtfully curated list of wines which includes an extensive Swiss selection. Others of interest include Rechberg 1837, whose philosophy of locally sourced produce and sustainability extends to its only using ingredients that were available when its was established almost two centuries ago, and its exclusively Swiss wine card. If you’re looking to try a rare Lafnetscha from the Valais region or a Blauburgunder (Pinot Noir) from the shores of Lake Zürich, this is most definitely the place. And Sushi Shin - a Michelin starred contemporary Japanese restaurant offering a 16 course menu selected by the chef, accompanied by an exciting list of wines and / or saki.
Besides consuming it alongside dinner, or in one of the city’s many wine bars, wine enthusiasts visiting Zürich can enjoy a wealth of activities related to their passion. There are vineyards within the city, around the lake and further afield in the canton, many of which welcome tourists. Here you can taste the best local varieties, sample something you’ve never heard of like the hybrid siblings Gamaret and Garanoir, and pick up a bottle or two to take home. If you happen to be in the city during the first two weeks of November, the Expovina Wine Fair, which takes place on 12 boats moored on the Zürichsee, is well worth a visit.
Once considered clinical and dull, modern day Zürich has well and truly shaken this tag to emerge as a vibrant, culturally conscious city with a superb bar and restaurant scene. Gourmets and wine lovers visiting the city for the first time will wander simply what took them so long.
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