One Day in Zurich
By Ed Wetschler
It's a good thing Zurich is such a swell town: If you're a world traveler, you inevitably spend time here. For starters, its airport and railroad hubs make it a gateway to other places in Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, and the Austrian Alps, which — trust me –are much closer to Zurich than to Vienna. Moreover, Zurich itself is a major financial/educational/cultural center.
Zurich's Old Town. Photo by Ed Wetschler.
So even if Zurich isn't your primary destination, you might spend a day there shaking the jet lag before continuing elsewhere by train. Or you may have a morning return flight, so you'll get back to Zurich the day before. Or there's a layover in Zurich between your morning arrival from JFK and your afternoon departure for, say, India.
What to do with that day or half day? Here's your game plan:
If you don't have the time or energy for the short train ride to downtown Zurich, enjoy the Flughafen (airport). Listing its restaurants would test your patience and mine, so I'll just mention two newcomers: Brezelkoenig, which offers light meals, also bakes the best pretzels — all kinds — on earth. Caviar House & Prunier Seafood Bar serves some of the finest roe on earth, but cheap, it is not.
Hotel rooms at Zurich Airport start at 88 CHF, essentially $88, for a double. There are dayrooms for $49 for three hours or $63 for six hours. You can also rent a reclining chair for $25 for six hours or $30 for overnight. It bothers me a bit that this airport charges for recliners, because they're free at Schiphol, in Amsterdam. But that's okay; most American airports don't even offer recliners.
The children's playrooms are cheerful and — surprise — spotless. There are staffed nurseries and kitchenette facilities, too.
A spa has just opened; you can use the gym and sauna, from $35 for two hours. A massage costs $109 and a half-body treatment, $59, which isn't cheap, but it's less expensive than I'd feared. The spa was planning to offer hot chocolate massages, but management seems to have backed off on that. Unforgivable, in a country where chocolate is a staple.
For more info, visit Zurich Airport.
Chess game in the Old Town. Photo by Ed Wetschler.
Visit Old Town
The train from the airport gets you downtown in 10 minutes; try that at JFK or Miami. Once there, you're but a few blocks from Zurich's Altstadt, which, naturally, grew up along the water.
The tourist office at the station distributes free (and excellent) maps. In part because many Old Town building walls have had to be reinforced, you shouldn't expect half-timbered facades. You will, however, find delightfully quirky shops, plus plenty of free or near-free beauty:
Lindenhof: Now a terrace with 50 linden trees, this plaza above the west bank of the Limmat River was a Roman stronghold. Sweeping vistas take in the river, guildhouses, churches, and the university, perched across the river on an east bank hillside.
The remains of a Roman bath lie under the grate in an alley facing the Storchen Bar and Hermangosse. A Zurich resident told me, "Even most locals haven't seen this."
Grossmuenster, the twin-towered former cathedral, honors three martyrs said to have buried themselves here after they were beheaded. The interior is a Romanesque classic, as is the Chapter House cloister. Pay the $2 to climb one of the towers — splendid view.
Fraumuenster, the former convent across the river from Grossmunster, boasts five boldly colored windows by Marc Chagall. Print up the guide and follow the adventures of Elijah, Moses, et alia.
The diameter of the clock at St. Peterskirche is almost 30 feet, making it the largest clocktower clock in Europe. That figures, given Zurich's obsession with timepieces.
Along the river in the Old Town. Photo by Ed Wetschler.
Restaurant Zunfthaus zur Waag, in a 14th-century guildhall, is so atmospheric, it doesn't have to serve great food yet it does. Unlike all of the above, Zunfthaus is not a cheap thrill, but the dorade with carrot ginger sauce on risotto and the chocolate mousse are unforgettable. P.S. The east bank of the river has more affordable eateries.
Hike the Solar System
From Zurich's railroad station, take the S10 on Platform 2 to Mt. Uetliberg, overlooking Zurich. The two-hour walk to Felsenegg doesn't just offer grand views of Zurich, the lake, and the Alps; it also features scale models of the planets. Told you Zurich is big on science.
Take Tram 6 or bus 751 past the university to this great zoo. Animals from all over the world chomp/chatter their way through natural environments. The new Masoala Rainforest, an immense greenhouse containing a Madagascar ecosystem, is the perfect place to spend a rainy day. Tortoises, tropical birds, orange lemurs, jaw-dropping foliage, and a fine cafeteria, to boot.
Hugging Lake Zurich and its rivers, Zurich has quite a few swimming areas. Badi Unterer Letten offers river swimming as well as pools for children and adults — all at no charge. The river water is clean enough to drink, which is unusual for an urban stream, but this is Switzerland.
Hotel and other information
The Hotel Leoneck is a comfy/edgy three-star that's walkable from the train station. A double costs $180 or less, and the tongue-in-cheek cow motif (hey, this is Switzerland) is a hoot. Visit Switzerland Tourism and Zurich Tourism, which offers a hotel-booking service.
ED WETSCHLER, Associate editor of Everett Potter's Travel Report, has written for The New York Times, Delta Sky, Caribbean Travel & Life, the Official Pennsylvania Guide, and other print and new media. He is president of the New York Travel Writers Association and former editor-in-chief of Diversion magazine. In a previous life he played backup piano for bands like Jay and the Americans.