Are You Thinking of a Zurich, Switzerland, Visit?

Scenes from Zurich

A cow is watching
A cow is watching
In the old section, a place full of good restaurants
In the old section, a place full of good restaurants
Swans in Lake Zurich
Swans in Lake Zurich

Travel Zurich, But Ignore Rick Steves' TV Version

Some notes about our Zurich, Switzerland, visit...

As with many other European cities you've heard about but haven't visited, Zurich is smaller and more compact than you expect. With a population only roughly that of Rochester, New York, Zurich has more international influence and things to enjoy because Europe has not abandoned its cities as we have in the U.S.

The difference is immediately evident in their modern airport with a fast and direct train to downtown Zurich only a few working escalators away.

Friendly personnel offering help are plentiful. On the train, announcements are multi-lingual and easy to follow. Zurich's modern station is conveniently situated downtown–walking distance to both of the hotels we stayed in.

Unless physical restrictions or weather require otherwise, walking is the best way to go. You get a feel for the city that you will never get by taxi. Street cars are frequent and reliable.


We stayed at two, The Continental, a very short hike from the train station and the Ladies First Designer Hotel. Both were great, offered terrific in-season bargains and are highly recommended. Both lived up to the expectations promised from our careful advance research. Should you be interested in different, lower cost or even backpacker hotels, you can find a huge group to selections here.

A quick note: at this writing, the local Swiss franc is close to par with the American dollar, if you are calculating, and I hope you are already aware that, in this economy, nobody pays listed prices. There are always bargains to be had. Ask. Bargains are offered for a reason.

What To Do In Zurich

Having read Rick Steves write up on Zurich in his guide and watching his show on public television, I became even more aware of how out of touch Rick has become. Not only does he devotes huge chunks of every story to churches, which are of zero interest to many of us, but he seems to have forgotten what an art museum is.

So, drop old reliable. Try Samantha Brown and put up the commercials to get a more reliable look or go online, score a map and get going on foot. Unlike Rick Steves' strangely inaccurate assessment, this is definitely not a one day city.

Personally, my wife and I have learned to experience cities most by learning enough about them to get oriented, then setting off on foot, map in hand. Amazing what there is to see beyond the tour book limits. These are cities with hundreds of thousands of inhabitants and rich histories, after all, waiting to be discovered.

This largest of Swiss cities is located at the northern end of Lake Zurich, a body of water embraced by low hills and feeding the Limmat and Sihi Rivers which rush through to form valleys beyond the city center.

The quai along the Limmat is busy with other walkers and pleasant restaurants and cafes are everywhere as are well kept public areas with plentiful benches.

By the time you reach Lake Zurich, the bordering quai expands to allow for bikes and strollers. Swans wrestle for attention (and bread crumbs) at the mouth of the river and beyond. In good weather, a restaurant with drinks and desserts expands across the walkway.

Locals relax and enjoy themselves with a casualness that is truly European. We enjoyed the walk on the way to our hotel, then returned for wine under the trees beside the water.

A block or two north of the river, east of the train station, is Alstadt, the old, well-preserved section of Zurich. Much of it is car free and walkers mingle along streets between low buildings with endless shops, boutiques and restaurants at the street level.

Combine the fun of walking around in such scenic, photo-ready areas with unique things to buy and delicious things to eat and a few hours fly by like a dream.

In the evenings, street entertainers perform for tips. Twice, we enjoyed a terrific jazz band that migrated from place to place, the best venue being an open air courtyard tucked in behind Spaghetti Factory (near the backpacker hotel) where a variety of restaurants serve food and drinks.

Yes, Rick, There Still Are Museums

And Zurich has many of them.

The Swiss National Museum is enriched with cultural history in an historic setting. If you love history and learning how it expanded into the modern world, this is a great corner of the world to discover.

The largest and most mainstream is the Zürich Museum of Art which covers classical and modern works as well as photographs. A comprehensive list of other art museums of great variety is here.

There is an excellent zoo, and if you need a thoroughly mind-washing escape, try the beautiful botanical garden.

Zurich, Switzerland Quick Wrap

For all of that, the greatest pleasure in Zurich for my money is walking around the neighborhoods, meeting people and gaining a feel for the local culture.

Summertime may be a bit misleading for visitors since, more so than the U.S., Europeans take summer lightly. August is filled with vacations and early quits, but it makes it an even more enjoyable time to be there in the stress free days while the days slowly shorten.

For those with other interests, there is plenty to satisfy. Avoid the one-day, breeze through tourist trips, if you can, pay little attention to Rick Steves and give Zurich a few, indulgent days.

While the Swiss are noticeably health conscious and cheerful, a startling realization was that each citizen is required either to chain smoke or sit with someone who does. After the cleaner, but vastly less relaxed public areas in New York, it was jarring to smell good old American cigarettes everywhere.

Well, no place is perfect. I think you will enjoy Zurich anyway.

David Stone, Writer

Where Is Zurich, Switzerland

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What do you think? 11 comments

David Stone profile image

David Stone 4 years ago from New York City Author

There's a pedestrian only street, Niederdorfstrasse (I think), that's just a block or two up from the the river. It's filled with boutiques and restaurants of all kinds. (By all means, avoid those nearest the northern start of the street. We ate at several and found a really nice courtyard with three or four restaurants extending outside. There were musicians appearing through the evening. This is, of course, in good weather only. There is also a really nice casual string of informal food and drinks in the park that runs along the river. Great for chilling out and getting up close to the locals where they unwind.

One caution, though. In the outdoor sections, there's a lot of cigarette smoke. If it bothers you, be careful where you sit.

Good luck. Zurich is great. You should love it.

reddirt 4 years ago

We are looking forward to a trip to Zurich this year and always enjoy eating where the 'locals' eat. Any suggestions for Zurich restaurants.

David Stone profile image

David Stone 4 years ago from New York City Author

Thank you. We loved it and hope to return soon.

auktionator profile image

auktionator 4 years ago from Zuerich

David, great Hub :-)) Living myself in Zuerich, I may admit that your Hub is very informative and does not bear false clichees, thank you for this! Please come back at your discreetion, you will not regret it, and so I recommend to all of you!

mariemanchester profile image

mariemanchester 5 years ago from Manchester

Love to travel around Europe. Got lots of plan after Zurich. Please check my hub

David Stone profile image

David Stone 6 years ago from New York City Author

Switzerland was a great surprise. We went to visit friends who have a chalet in the Alps, something we probably wouldn't have done, if they weren't there. Turned out to be a great trip. A thrill to be in the Alps, but the cities, Zurich and Luzern, were amazing surprises, beautiful walk around cities with great museums and Paris-like boulevards.

Sandyspider profile image

Sandyspider 6 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

Interesting to see the cow on the second floor. I would love to visit Switzerland.

David Stone profile image

David Stone 6 years ago from New York City Author

Italy's the best, but we decided we had to go other places, after Rome, Naples, Sorrento, Amalfi, Venice... Intoxicating. But we also loved Switzerland. Much of the time we spent with friends in the Alps. I did a short hub with a video from a hike we took that you might like.

izettl profile image

izettl 6 years ago from The Great Northwest

I'd love to visit Switzerland- it's on my must-visit list along with Italy. I'm jealous of your travels so for now I must settle for reading about them. I like the idea of setting out on foot with a map. Too bad about the smoking though.

David Stone profile image

David Stone 6 years ago from New York City Author

It's a blue cow I saw just out walking. If you like history and new places, Europe is an endless playground. We've been lucky to meet many friends here in New York and, then, visit them in Rome, Venice and, in this case, Spain. Our Zurich stay was organized around our stay with friends in the Alps later on. There's a hub on that with a video you may already have seen.


LillyGrillzit profile image

LillyGrillzit 6 years ago from The River Valley, Arkansas

Is that a Cow on the second floor of that building? I have not been to Europe yet, but am visiting vicariously through your wonderful Hubs, thank you!!! If the opportunity does ever present itself, I would travel as you and your wife do...Love it! Thank you Mr. Stone

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