Are You Thinking of a Zurich, Switzerland, Visit?
Scenes from 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.
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.
Where Is Zurich, Switzerland
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