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Zurich is a rich and luxurious city in every way, from the elegant boutiques along Bahnhofstrasse, to the unimaginable treasures that are lying in underground vaults in the famous Swiss banks, and not to forget the wealth of its historical and cultural significance to the world. Zurich is the world's banking capital, but as well as being a city of fat cats parading in pin-stripes, glued to their mobile phones and swinging patent leather briefcases, visitors will also discover that this is the city that gave birth to the avant-garde Dadaist movement, and where James Joyce wrote Ulysses. The city's Museum of Fine Arts houses one of Europe's most extensive collections, from 15th century religious iconography to the modern art works of Dali, Arp, Hockney, Cezanne, Monet, Gaugin, Munch and Picasso.
Visitors can spend days exploring Zurich's cobbled streets, wandering through its museums, exploring its flea markets or walking away with free gifts from its chocolate factories. The quays, with their promenades, are made for walking, especially along the shores of the lake. Zurich also lays claim to an active restaurant and café culture that's ideal for people-watching, and a lively, multi-ethnic population to rival any other major European city. The exacting order of the Swiss, with their passion for neatness and precision, may create an impression of rather a prim and staid society, but visitors will discover quite the opposite when exploring Zurich more intimately.
Of the church spires that characterise Zurich's skyline, the thin blue spire of Fraumunster is the most graceful. Overlooking the historic old square of Munsterhof, the former pig market, the church was founded in 853 and its convent inhabited by German noblewomen until the 13th century. Important architectural features include the Romanesque choir and the enormous elaborate organ, but its chief attractions are the five beautiful stained-glass windows designed by Marc Chagall in 1970.
A fascinating exploration of Swiss national history, the Swiss National Museum has an impressive and varied collection of ancient artefacts, providing visitors with a richer understanding of Swiss life and consciousness through the centuries. Housed in an exquisite castle-like building, with a distinctive tower, the permanent collection contains a comprehensive anthology of artefacts from the Stone Age to modern times. First stop is the archaeology exhibit where tools and articles dating back to before 800BC are on display. Highlights at the museum include the Celestial globe of Jost Bürg (1594), a groundbreaking symbol of European thought, religious reliquaries from the 13th to 16th centuries and ancient wheels, considered to be among the earliest ever found. Another major drawcard is the Armoury, where historic Swiss weaponry used in combat between 800 and 1800BC can be found. Visitors can expect to see crossbows, swords and suits of armour.
Devoted for the most part to 19th and 20th century artwork, the Kunsthaus Zurich (Zurich Fine Arts Museum) is a cultural drawcard for any art lover. Holding one of the largest collections of works by Edvard Munch outside Norway, as well as works by renowned modern artists such as Chagall, Picasso, Monet, Rothko and the Expressionists, Kokoschka, Beckmann and Corinth to name a few, there is a whole host of quality artwork at which the visitor can marvel. Visitors can also view the creative talents of cutting edge Swiss artists such as the sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti, and well-known Swiss duo Fischli and Weiss. Situated in a sophisticated building with contemporary exhibitions, a trip to the Kunsthaus Zurich makes for a very rewarding cultural day out.
Trains, buses, trams and bikes are common ways of getting around Zurich. To get above the bustling streets and cobbled walkways, travellers should hop onto either the Polybahn or Rigiblick Funicular for panoramic views of the city and Lake Zurich. The traditional Polybahn was first opened in 1889 to solve the transport problem of students travelling from central Zurich to the University of Technology, which is situated on the towering Zürichberg hill. The Polybahn has maintained its classic Swiss appearance and continues to haul students and tourists to the Polyterasse viewpoint. Serving an attractive neighbourhood north of Zurich, the Rigiblick Funicular rewards travellers with a sweeping panoramic view of the city and the unmistakable Mount Rigi (1797m).
Known for sophisticated designs such as the internationally recognised symbol of the Red Cross, it is no wonder that Switzerland has a museum dedicated solely to design. With four separate collections, visitors can indulge in the designs of the Poster Collection, Design Collection, Graphic Collection and Decorative Arts Collection, spanning the past century or visit one of the temporary exhibits where works of acclaimed industrial designers, photographers, graphic artists and architects are regularly shown. Designed by the progressive Swiss architects Adolf Steger and Karl Egender as a Functionalist manifesto, the Museum of Design Zurich is a great example of modern architecture in Switzerland and is a gallery not to be missed.
Situated in the old town across from central station, the narrow lanes of Niederdorf wind through towering 14th century buildings revealing small plazas where restaurants spill onto cobbled streets and buskers entertain diners and passers-by with miscellaneous music. This charming district has an interesting array of fashion stores, bookshops and antique dealers, as well as superb independent cheese, wine and pastry shops. In the evening the area transforms into one of Zurich's buzzing nightlife venues, and there are a wide selection of bars, restaurants and clubs to be explored.
Unlike the dubious reputation of zoos worldwide, the Zurich Zoo is refreshingly dedicated to nature conservation, maintaining ecosystems and protecting animal species, and runs many projects aimed at reintroducing animals into the wild. Offering guided tours and in depth information tools, the Zurich Zoo does its best to educate the public. With over 340 different species and 4000 animals, visitors will get the unique chance to view endangered animal species such as snow leopards and red pandas. Recreating ecosystems from exotic Madagascar to the rugged Ethiopian Highlands and housing the various animals in spacious enclosures, a visit to the diverse Zurich Zoo is a pleasurable and invigorating excursion. Travellers should visit the website to see feeding times and to discover whether new pups have been born.
The final work of the renowned Swiss architect who pioneered modernism and laid the foundation for Bauhaus, the Pavillon Le Corbusier in Zurichhorn Park is the epitome of modern design. A conglomeration of his life's work, the former Centre Le Corbusier and Heidi Weber Museum unify Le Corbusier's architecture, paintings, furniture, sculpture and writings, all in one space. Created in the 1960s, the contemporary building has strong references to Mondrian and is a jumble of cubic structures made of coloured panels, glass and steel, protected by a detached angular roof. Initially designed as a private house, the many spaces of the Centre Le Corbusier have fared well as an exhibition and learning centre. While travelling to this illuminating masterpiece, tourists can take a stroll alongside the Limmat River in picturesque Zurichhorn Park and should look out for the sculptures of Jean Tinguely and Henry Moore.
The tradition of skiing goes back two centuries in Switzerland and, today, with more than 1,700 mountain railways and ski lifts, renowned ski schools and instructors, the best ski equipment in the world, and outstanding slopes and facilities catering for all levels of ability, it deserves to be called 'Europe's winter playground'. The ideal resort for beginners or families is Grindelwald in the Jungfrau region, while intermediates and snowboarders should head for the twin resorts of Davos and Klosters, where there are miles of excellent ski terrain. Expert skiers can enjoy the challenge of 7,200 ft (2,700m) vertical drops on the Klein Matterhorn at Zermatt, and the ski valley of Verbier is ideal for shoulder-season skiing, as its location provides early snow that lingers late into the spring. Grindelwald has long been the capital of summer hiking in the Bernese Alps, and has a network of groomed trails for winter hikers.
The climate of Zurich is continental, and temperatures are modified by winds off the Atlantic Ocean. Winters are cold, while summers tend to be hot and sunny. In January, generally the coldest month, temperatures range between 14F (-10C) and 41F (5C), and in July, mid-summer, temperatures range between 59F (15C) and 86F (30C). The wettest time of year is the summer, between June and August.
Zurich boasts a plethora of eateries that cater to just about every nationality under the sun, including, of course, restaurants with strong French, German and Italian influences. Visitors should try the delicious traditional Christmas snack, Tirggel, which is a hard, thin and very sweet biscuit made from flour and honey. Zurcher Geschnetzeltes, a veal stew made with mushrooms, white wine and cream is a must while in Zurich, and visitors will notice potato Rosti is a popular local dish. Other famous exports not to be missed are, of course, the decadent and delicious Swiss chocolates as well as Swiss cheeses such as Emmental, Gruyere, Vacherin, and Appenzeller. Other famous Swiss culinary inventions include fondue and muesli. The left bank and right bank areas are where all the best restaurants can be found and it is customary to make reservations in advance. For special occasions, the restaurants at the top of the Uetliberg have fantastic views.
Widely considered to be one of the finest restaurants in Switzerland, perhaps even the whole of Europe, maestro chef Rico Zandonella's award-winning reputation attracts the wealthy gourmets of Zurich and boasts a celebrity list that includes the Swiss president, singer Tina Turner (who lives nearby) and the emperor of Japan. The restaurant is in the lakeside town of Kusnacht, about 15 minutes from the city, housed in an elegantly decorated building that was once an art gallery. The menu changes regularly, and can include outstanding speciality lobster dishes or a number of other inventive dishes such as Tuscan dove, scampi lasagne in lemongrass sauce or stuffed squid with a fennel confit. All entrées, desserts and cheeses are of exceptional quality, as is the wine cellar. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday to Saturday. Advance booking essential.
One of Zurich's most famous restaurants, Kronenhalle is the place to see and be seen, and over the years has attracted celebrity greats such as James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, Richard Strauss and Yves Saint-Laurent. The interior is decorated with original works of famous 20th-century artists including Picasso, Matisse and Miró. The fare is traditional Swiss and includes huge portions of rösti, a delicious herring in double cream, veal steak and duck liver. Reservations are essential.
Originally the carpenter's guildhall, Zunfthaus Zur Zimmerleuten is one of the architectural showpieces of Zurich. Up a flight of Baroque stairs, the elegant dining room serves up dishes that combine Zurich specialities with chef innovations, including the Lake Zurich fish soup with garlic rouille or the triple fillet accompanied with rösti and cream sauce. Reservations recommended. Open daily.
The huge dining hall built in 1487, with thick stone pillars, wooden beams and a decorative ceiling, was originally the city's armoury, and the medieval character of the restaurant is highlighted by the décor, with weapons and paintings from the Middle Ages, and waitresses in old-fashioned costume. Known for its tasty traditional Swiss meals, the portions are hearty and served with local beer. Classic speciality dishes include the Zurich-style sliced veal and mushrooms and rösti potatoes. Zeughauskeller also offers a wide variety of different types of sausage. Open daily from 11.30am. Reservations recommended.
Situated on the site of a 300-year old mill, this slick modern restaurant draws trendsetters from the advertising and arts scene who are attracted by the modern approach to fresh ingredients and light cuisine. Duck ('blaue ente' means 'blue duck') is the house speciality and comes in various forms. Other dishes include fish and crustaceans, loin of lamb, vegetarian curry and pastas. Reservations recommended.
Established in 1325 as a wine cellar and a restaurant in 1551, Veltliner Keller evokes a sense of history and charm in its detailed wooden panelling. Originally used to store Italian-Swiss wines that were transported to Zurich over the Alps, this delightful restaurant offers wholesome, hearty cuisine that will not disappoint. The seasonal menu includes Swiss and Italian dishes as well as the traditional Zurich dish, kalbsgeschnetzeltes (sliced veal and mushrooms in a white wine sauce).
Located in the St Gotthard Hotel, the Hummerbar (Lobster Bar) is one of Zurich's top dining spots. The rich scarlet décor and dark wood creates the perfect setting for a romantic dinner. Fresh caviar, oysters and shellfish are flown in daily from Iran, and woven into the menu of classical French cuisine with a Mediterranean flair. Open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner and on Sunday for dinner.
This trendy cafe and bar, formerly a coffeehouse where the pre-revolutionary Lenin met intellectuals, has been transformed into an art-nouveau eatery frequented by locals and tourists alike. Other celebrities to have dined here include the likes of Joyce, Einstein, Mata Hari and Mussolini. Nowadays it is the bourgeois-chic crowd who like to dine on fine pasta dishes and other delicious meals. This eatery remains open late so expect an eventful evening! Reservations recommended.
A trip to Switzerland would be incomplete without sampling traditional Swiss fare. A country famous for cheese, most notably the tasty Gruyere variety, communal dishes such as raclette and fondue are commonplace in both Swiss homes and upmarket restaurants. Ideal for a wintery treat, travellers should head to Chez Crettol, where these particular dishes are the speciality. With a selection of fondues to choose from, patrons can while away the time dipping, twirling and eating and finishing off with a zesty local white wine. Those who can't handle more than a few mouthfuls of bread can opt for raclette, a combination of boiled potatoes, pickled onions and gherkins, drizzled with melted cheese, which is scraped off a melting block. For a heart-warming Swiss evening, a warm crackling fireplace and an understated environment that looks characteristically similar to a Swiss dining room, Chez Crettol is the place. Open daily for dinner.
With one of the best locations in Zurich, the Seerose offers a romantic element to Zurich dining. Situated on the vast lake, guests are surrounded by water, quaint boats, city lights and majestic snow-capped mountains. Whether travellers are looking for a sunny and crisp lunchtime venue or an evening out, with a European flair, the Seerose will fulfil their expectations. Reminiscent of a yacht on the Mediterranean with elegant beachhouse trimmings, the Seerose serves up fresh cuisine ranging from seafood to curry. Patrons can start with goat's cheese and honey on a salad bouquet or a Salade Noel, with chicory, nuts, fresh fruits and an Indian sauce. Popular mains include moule et frites and duck l'orange or for the more adventurous, a red beef curry. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner, booking recommended.
A good way to start an evening is to visit one of the open-air bars, where revellers can enjoy a relaxing drink before heading out to the trendy Zurich-West area. The former industrial zone is home to some of the city's hottest underground bars and nightclubs. Visitors should also check out the Old Town, as it has a range of upmarket lounges and hotel bars. Formerly Zurich's red-light district of Langstrasse, it's the place to go for an edgier night of biker bars and strip clubs.
While watches, cuckoo-clocks and chocolate may be the traditional purchases on a visit to Zurich, there are also many upmarket boutiques and speciality stores for luxury shoppers to play in. The main shopping street is Bahnhofstrasse, which is home to department stores Globus and Jelmoli, and jewellery shops such as Bucherer and Beyer, as well as fashion shops such as H&M. Fine Swiss chocolates (including Frey and Lindt), Swiss Army knives, embroidery, linen, Swiss watches, and handmade clocks are available from shops such as Schweizer Heimatwerk and Confiserie Sprungli. At Zurich Hauptbahnhof, Shopville is a subway shopping centre offering Swiss souvenirs and fine wines. The Niederdorf district has trendy boutiques, 'modern' antiques and a few bookshops. Nearby, Schipfe is a street where artisans and craftsman offer quality and custom-made products. Elegant boutiques, department stores and speciality shops are clustered in the Old Town. International visitors may reclaim VAT but some conditions do apply.
Zurich is easy to navigate, as a modern, user-friendly network of trams and buses covers the city daily from 5.30am to midnight, with a more limited night service on weekends. Transport works on a zone system, and tickets are valid for one, two or 24 hours. Tickets are transferable but must be bought before boarding; they are also valid on some boats and local city trains. The most useful travel pass is the Tageskarte (one day ticket), as it allows travel on all buses and trams for 24 hours; however, tourists should use the ZurichCARD, which entitles the holder to unlimited free use of public transport. Travelling by taxi is expensive even by Swiss standards, but they are safe and convenient and can be hailed on the street, found at taxi ranks or ordered by phone; Uber and Lyft are also options. Getting around by car is not recommended due to congestion and expensive or scarce parking. From mid-April to mid-October, bicycles can be hired free from various stations. Walking is also a good option in the city centre.
Zurich is full to the brim with attractions and sightseeing opportunities for travellers, who can visit wonderful monuments, museums and churches, and wander through the cobblestone streets of Niederhof and enjoy a light meal or cup of coffee while being entertained by the street performers and buskers. Culture vultures will love the Swiss National Museum, the Fine Arts Museum and the Museum of Design Zurich, and children of all ages will love the Zurich Zoo, where endangered species such as snow leopards and red pandas can be seen. Visitors keen on doing a lot of sightseeing in Zurich should purchase the Zurich Card, which includes access to transport services of Zurich Public Transport and offers free admission to over 40 museums, reduced admission to the zoo, a complimentary welcome drink in over 20 restaurants and a number of other benefits. The card can cover a period 24 hours or 72 hours.
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