After living and traveling around Asia for the past two years, a visit to Zurich felt like stepping foot onto another planet. It’s clean, arguably sterile, proper, elegant, charming and picturesque. You usually wouldn’t use those terms to describe most places in Asia, but that’s what makes Asia so exciting – it’s gritty, full of character and intoxicating. Zurich, on the other hand, is the opposite. After coming from the chaos of Hong Kong, it felt like walking into a storybook.
If you’re looking to go to one of the most beautiful, quintessentially European towns, Zurich is your place. It’s made up of small, winding cobblestone streets, medieval buildings and a river that cuts through the heart of the city, adding to its storybook appeal. It’s hard to believe that it’s a global financial capital, as most of its buildings aren’t more than five stories high. It has a small town appeal yet it has the resources of a major business city.
You can see why Zurich is consistently ranked among the places with the highest quality of life. Not only is it picture perfect, but access to hiking and skiing is just a short train ride away. As we were only there for a short time, we didn’t manage to stray too far from the city proper, but quickly became enamored by Zurich’s ambiance and culture, as described below.
Old Town: Most of Zurich’s main sites are located in Old Town on both sides of the Lammat river. Walking through the area, you’ll see churches, museums, art galleries and old Guild houses located just minutes away from each other. You can easily spend most of your time in Zurich visiting its many churches and high-quality museums, but it’s also an ideal city to wander and get lost. The Old Town is filled with bookstores, boutique shops, bakeries, flower stands, small parks and countless outdoor cafes where you’ll see beautiful locals in designer wear sipping white wine at noon. Of course, the famous Bahnhofstrasse, one of the world’s most expensive streets, is located here as well. The street’s home to high-end designer shops, many financial services firms and Zurich’s train station – you can’t miss it!
What’s best about the Old Town though is its charming old European architecture, made up of Roman, renaissance and baroque style buildings. The old Guild Houses are equally immaculate, reflecting the wealth of the guilds who used to govern the city. Whichever way you walk, you’ll feel like you’re in a storybook, passing pastel buildings with colorful shutters and flowers on the windowsill. There’s also countless clock towers throughout the city, including the largest clock face in Europe located on St. Peter’s Church in Old Town.
Uetiberg: If you’re looking for an easy excursion out of the city, go to Uetliberg. It’s a mountain, nearly 3000 feet above sea level, that provides spectacular, panoramic views of the city, Lake Zurich and the surrounding countryside. There are many walking, hiking and biking trails that start at Uetliberg, as well as a look-out tower that you can climb to see the landscape from the highest peak. If you’d rather not hike or bike, there’s also a few cafes at the top where you can sit and enjoy some of Zurich’s most stunning views. There’s no excuse not to go here, especially since there’s no fee and it’s only twenty minutes away by train. Can’t get much easier than that!
Parks and Nature: If you can’t fit a trip to the mountains into your visit, there’s still many places to get your nature fix in the city proper. There’s the Botanical and Chinese gardens, the zoo and Lake Zurich, which has a beautiful running path circling the lake. It’s just minutes from the Old Town if you head north, and if you begin your run on the river, the path extends to the lake after you cross a street. Another option is to see the lake by boat. There’s a water ferry that goes from town to town on Lake Zurich and there’s a popular cruise liner that hosts day trips, ranging from a short two hour trip to a daylong seven hour trip around the lake. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to do this, but was recommended it from multiple locals.
As Zurich is a cultural and arts hub, there’s of course many more sights to see and places to explore, such as its theaters, ballet, universities and famous Opera house. While the city is exquisite, it should be noted that it’s extremely expensive; you’ll pay twelve Euro for a grab-and-go salad with iceberg lettuce and canned tuna. That said, the benefit of experiencing it greatly outweighs the cost, if you only go for a few days!