ZURICH

Ancient Times

The first settlers made the shores of Lake Zurich, their place of home 5,000 years ago. Traces of these settlements can be traced from Bauschänzli to Wollishofen.

About 57 BC the Romans came to Zurich and founded the Turicum customs station, where travelers and goods were dispatched before crossing into the province of Raetia.

The ancient name Turicum and evidence that there was a customs station is only because of the grave inscription for Urbicus, son of the local customs superintendent, made in 1747 and found on the Lindenhof.

In the 4th century a castle was built on the Lindenhof, which remained until the Early Middle Ages, around which the settlement of Zurich expanded.

In 1218, after the death of the last of the Zähringers, Zürich’s ruling family, Zürich became a free city. Although it was under the emperor’s rule, Zürich was allowed to govern itself.

Early Middle Ages

According to legend, in the 8th century, Charlemagne rediscovered the tombs of the patron saints of Zurich, Felix and Regula. While out hunting, he was pursuing a stag from Aachen to Zurich when his horse suddenly fell to its knees to pay homage to the saints’ tombs. Charlemagne subsequently had the bones exhumed and he founded the church and the provostry of the Grossmünster in their honor.

In 853 AD, Charlemagne’s grandson, Louis the German, built a “Pfalz”, or palace, on the Lindenhof and gave an existing women’s convent with its own jurisdiction as a gift to his eldest daughter, Hildegard. Thus the Fraumünster abbey was founded.

Zurich prospered in the 11th and 12th centuries thanks to the Fraumünster, which as a convent for aristocratic women attracted princesses from all over Europe. Under the Frankish kings, Zurich also grew to become the most important market town, with trade connections reaching from northern Italy to Holland.

Thanks to the relics of Zurich’s patron saints, Felix and Regula, the city was also an important pilgrimage site.

In 1218, Zurich gained its freedom from the Empire after the extinction of the main line of the Zähringer family, the imperial bailiffs responsible for Zurich. Zurich was placed under the direct control of the emperor, but was allowed to govern itself.

Late Middle Ages

In 1336, Rudolf Brun and the tradesmen of the city stormed the Town Hall. From this time on, the council no longer consisted only of aristocrats. Half of it was made up of tradesmen, who organized themselves into guilds. In 1351, 60 years after the founding of the Helvetic Confederation, Zürich was the sixth canton to join.

Reformation

In the 16th century, as moral decline reached its peak and the council could not bring the population to its senses, Ulrich Zwingli became the priest of Grossmünster Church. He started the Reformation, which spread from Zürich to all of German-speaking Switzerland. In the time following the Reformation, many religious refugees came to Zürich. Thanks to them, Zürich developed into a center of the textile industry.

Modern Age

In 1648, the Peace Treaty of Westphalia granted the Confederation independence from the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.

During the age of industrialization in the late 18th and 19th centuries, Zürich changed from a city of tradesmen to a capital of machine-driven industry.

After World War II, 70% of the workforce was already active in the service sector. Restaurants, bars, galleries and shops took up residence in former factory halls.

Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, the former industrial districts have become the trendy districts in Zürich.

In past years, Zürich has repeatedly been chosen as the city with the highest quality of life in the world.

1. The Old Town


The Old Town or Niederdorf is a popular spot for tourists and locals alike, as it is a historical, cultural and nightlife center. Cobblestone streets wind down narrow alleys and surround beautiful houses. Scores of often ugly statues provide interest on every street and the area is framed by the relaxing waters of the Limmat river. 

Walking around the neighborhood is a treat in itself, as every single corner seems to have been charmed with a peculiar grace. A number of restaurants and cafes have popped up along its streets, catering to those enjoying a long stroll through the Altstadt. The neighborhood houses some of the city's most important religious buildings, such as the Minster of Our Lady Church. It also houses important historical and cultural landmarks, like the Lindenhof and the Swiss National Museum. The Lindenhof is a Roman castle, which delights visitors with its majestic beauty.

So as so perfectly contrast its medieval architecture, the Old Town has seen a surge of bars and nightclubs that have turned it into a nightlife hub.

Fraunmunster (Church of our Lady) and St. Peterskirche

2. Üetliberg Mountain


Ride the Train up the Uetliberg.

Breathtaking views, tranquil trails, and scenic paths make Uetliberg Mountain one of Zurich's most popular attractions. At 2,858 feet above sea level, the mountain  is the perfect place to catch a panoramic view of Zurich and the surrounding Alps. Though it is outside of the city itself, it is well-worth the effort, as it gives visitors an opportunity to witness postcard-perfect Switzerland. 

There are numerous trails and paths that lead up, down, and along the mountain. Visitors can hike, walk and bike through them at their own discretion and pace. Because the paths are marked and they do not present an extreme challenge, they are suitable for all ages and levels.

On weekends, the mountain receives numerous families, tour groups, and individuals who seek to escape into nature while maintaining the modern commodities offered at the top: restaurants, clean bathroom facilities, and even a hotel.

3. Swiss National Museum

 

Situated in a castle, the Swiss National Museum offers a thorough journey into the nation's history.

People say that visiting the museum, also known as the Landesmuseum,  is worth it even if just to see its impressive architecture. The collection that it houses, however, is just as worthy of admiration.

Starting four centuries before Christ, the museum takes visitors through a comprehensive history of Switzerland. With permanent exhibitions that include information on important events, lifestyle and national art. It provides an opportunity to understand the country's past and present.

The Museum's 14 collections, which house over 800,000 objects, include Archaeology, Painting and Sculpture.

The most unusual collection is called "Carriages, Sledges and Wagons", and includes an 18th century sledge in the shape of a lady's shoe.

Temporary exhibitions bring fresh perspectives to the museum. Showcasing new artists and representing modern issues. They are the connection to modern-day Switzerland that makes the museum invaluable.

 Because of its size, visitors often spend hours, if not an entire day, browsing through the exhibitions. The museum takes pride in being interactive and innovative and it is considered one of the finest museums in the nation.

 

4. Lake Zurich Promenade


Beautiful lakefront views and an extensive network of promenades and gardens make Lake Promenade the perfect plan for a sunny day.

Lake Zurich is undeniably picturesque. Its waterfront is decorated by colorful houses packed tightly together. Shops and restaurants line up along it, offering everything under the sun. Add to this plus it's parks, gardens and promenades, it is not difficult to see why this is often ranked as the number one thing to do in Zurich.

The promenade is always busy, but on sunny days you will see half of the city head down to the water. Families pack picnics, foodies sit at the outdoor terrace of cafes and tourists walk up and down, capturing as much as they can.

Boat tours float along the lake, offering a unique and interesting perspective of the city. Because of the myriad of choices it offers, it is a wonderful opportunity to take a break from hectic sightseeing and simply enjoy the city.

5. Bahnhofstrasse

 

One of the world's most famous shopping strips, this is the place to find world class brands and high end dining. Anyone looking to buy Gucci and Chanel, as well as top Swiss brands, will find everything they need on this street.

Distinctive for being an attractive station street (bahnhofstrasse), it is one of the most frequented places in Zurich. Those who do not wish to buy brand names can still enjoy walking about and window shopping.

A number of top restaurants can be found here, so it is a wonderful place to stop for a rest and enjoy the best the city has to offer. Strolling around the Bahnhofstrasse is a great way to people watch and see locals in their daily lives.

6. Grossmunster


This Romanesque Protestant church was built during the 12th century and is now one of the most iconic landmarks in the city. Ask any local about the Grossmunster and they will tell you that it is one of the prides of the city.

Its twin towers topped by identical cylinders preside over the city and reflect beautifully on the river. Unique stain-glass windows filter the sunlight that decorates its interior with a kaleidoscopic effect and permeates the church with a sense of tranquility.

The Grossmunster is also connected to important historical figures. Local legend claims that the site of the church are the graves of Felix and Regula, the patron saints of the city. After learning this, as the story goes, Charlemagne himself commissioned its building. It is also from here that the father of the Swiss Reformation, Heinrich Zwingli, conducted much of his business and changed the religious and political landscape of the country. Without a doubt, this is one of Switzerland's most recognized churches.

 

Grossmunster

7. Kunsthaus

 

With works ranging from the Middle Ages to the Modernity era, the Kunsthaus is home to a truly impressive art collection.

Built in 1910, this art museum is regarded as one of the most important in the entire country, ranking just behind Bern's Kunstmuseum.

Its collection boasts many great works of art, but is most famous for its impressionist and modern art section, which includes pieces by masters like Van Gogh, with his Thatched Roofs by Auvers is the highlight, Picasso, including his Guitar on a Table, Cezanne, with one of his Mont Saint-Victoire works on display, Monet, with ten of his works on display including two of his water lily paintings and Matisse, including his 1907 work Margot.

The Kunsthaus has also established a reputation for its emphasis on Swiss artists, such as Jonathan Heinrich Fussli and Alberto Giacometti.

The Kunsthaus is constantly expanding to fit additions to its permanent exhibits. Its temporary exhibits draw large numbers of people and are renowned for their excellent collections and thoughtful curatorial work.

Kunsthaus

8. The Old Botanical Garden

 

Often confused with the Botanical Garden of the University of Zurich, the Old Botanical Garden was the first of its kind in the city. Founded in 1837, the Old Botanical Garden is still one of the most pleasant places in Zurich.

Its central location makes it accessible for both locals and visitors who wish to step into an enchanting green space. The garden is dotted with various beautiful and interesting species.

The octagonal glass pavilion creates a dialogue between the inside and the outside, the arboretum is a perfect place to relax and the medieval herb garden provides some insight into medicine in the middle ages. The palm house is the space that gets the most attention, since it often hosts concerts, art exhibits, and plays.

There are also several sculptures that play with and decorate the landscape.

What makes the Old Botanical Garden one of the best things to do in Zurich is its buzz and the range of activities that one can enjoy here.

9. Zurich Opera House

With prestigious companies performing some of the world's greatest ballets and operas, the Zurich Opera House is the perfect place to spend a cultural evening.

As one of the Zurich's most important cultural centres, the Opera House holds a special place in the hearts of locals. After all, it is here where they enjoyed special plays as children, where they saw Romeo and Juliet for the first time and where they can go to listen to incredible renditions of Wagner's symphonies.

Sitting more than a thousand people, this is one of the world's great opera houses, alongside the Opera Houses of Sydney and Vienna. It's repertoire of ballets, operas and concerts definitely reflects this status.

This opera house was built in 1891 over the old one that burnt down in a tragic fire. The building itself is a work of art and even those who are not particularly interested in operas and ballets enjoy seeing the inside of this architectural gem.

Zurich Opera House

10. Lindenhof

 

Between the Bahnhofstrasse and the left bank of the Limmat, the western half of Zürich's old town rises steeply to the quiet tree shaded Lindenhof.

This is where the Romans built their fortified settlement in the fourth century to defend against migrations from the North. Five centuries later, the grandson of Charlemagne built a palace here as a royal residence.

Long after, remains of these structures had all but disappeared, some incorporated into buildings around the park, the site was still used for important ceremonies; in 1798 the oath confirming the Helvetic Constitution was taken here.

Today, it's a tree shaded park with benches, chess players, and tourists enjoying the sweeping views across the river and Old Town.

11. Limmatquai and the Rathaus (Town Hall)

 

Along the Limmatquai, a popular riverside shopping street, are a number of elegant old guild houses with sumptuous interiors reflecting the wealth of the guilds which governed the town until 1789. Many of them now house restaurants, so you can get a look inside at the 1719 Haus zur Saffran (number 54); the 1660 Haus zur Rüden (42); and the two-storied Haus zur Zimmerleuten (40) from 1709, with a beautiful oriel window.

Zürich's Town Hall, the Rathaus, is easy to spot, as it overhangs the river and is supported on wide arches at the east end of the Rathausbrücke. Constructed between 1694 and 1698, the massive Late Renaissance building has rich sculptured decoration and a Baroque ceremonial hall that is well worth seeing.

At the end of Münsterbrücke stands the Late-Gothic Wasserkirche, once entirely surrounded by the River Limmat. It was not connected to the land until 1839 when the Limmatquai was constructed.

Built onto the north side of the church is the 1794 Helmhaus with an open fountain hall in which special exhibitions are held.

Rathaus (Kimmatquai)

If you are staying near Zurich Airport in Balsberg at one of the airport hotels, you can catch the S-Bahn trainline, number S7 from Kloten Balsberg station to Zurich HB, downtown main station. This journey will take you 15 minutes and 4 stops.

You can download Google Maps and download your offline map. You can then enter your desired travel route. The app will provide you with the updated train schedules. 

You can purchase a 24 hour zone ticket or maybe your hotel might provide you with one. Make sure you validate the ticket at your first station before traveling on the train. This ticket will also work on city trams. 

1. FONDUE AT ZUNFTHAUS or QUAI 61


Usually served in the cooler months, this is one of the classic ways to try it is by dining at one of the city's ancient guilds or Zunfthaus, many of which have restaurants.

At the Zunfthause zur Zimmerleuten they have classic Swiss cuisine and their fondue is supposed to be noteworthy.

If you would prefer something a little more modern, head to Quai 61, a sprawling lakeside restaurant that serves local wine, fondue, and raclette on their rooftop!

 

2. CHAMPAGNE TRUFFLES AT TEUSCHER

 

Teuscher can be a bit kitschy when it comes to how they decorate their chocolate but they are super classic when it comes to truffles. The queen of their truffles are the Champagne truffles, as they are made with Dom Perignon. I am partial to the rose Champagne truffles but they are all delicious.

3.LUXEMBURGERLI MACARONS AT SPRUNGLI

 

Another of the great chocolate houses of Switzerland, Sprüngli has some amazing pralines and truffles too. But they are really known for their macarons known as Luxemburgerli (think a mini macarons that's lighter and airier).

There are a ton of flavors but the ones with acid or salt, like the citrus flavors or salted caramel, were the ones that were most balanced.

4. HOT CHOCOLATE AT CONTIDOREI SCHOBER

 

You pretty much cannot go wrong at Contidorei Schober, a century-old patisserie and cafe that looks like a confection wonderland. There are breads, pastries, and chocolate covering everything from strudel to macarons and croissants.

Why not try their brunch menu there one morning, feasting on chocolate croissants, eggs benedict and both iced and hot chocolates. It is hard to go wrong here but the hot chocolate us a show stopper, with rich chocolate and whipped cream so thick it is like mousse!

5. BIRCHERMUESLI ALL OVER

 

Yes, you can have műesli elsewhere but you will want to try it in its hometown of Zurich. Sure, the history of this dish is a bit sterile, a doctor created the oat, fruit, nut mix for patients in his Zurich sanatorium,  but don't let that deter you.

It is available at most cafes where it is not just served at breakfast but truly all day.

6. GESCHNETZELTES AT HOTEL AMBASSADOR

 

If there is only one dish you order in Zurich, have it be Geschnetzeltes, a dish so local to Zurich that it is part of the city's identity.

Almost like a stroganoff and veal Marsala met and then got Swiss citizenship, Geschnetzeltes are pieces veal (sweetbreads, kidneys, etc) cooked in a creamy mushroom-white wine sauce.

There are super old school places to try it like Zeughauskeller but one of the favorites is the slightly more sophisticated version served at the Hotel Ambassador (served with nothing less than a side of rosti)!

7. CAFFE FREDDO AT BOVELLI CAFFE

 

This one only applies if you are there during the warmer months, but, if you like coffee, try the Caffe Freddo at Bovelli Cafe. Like a Shakerato and a Mocha.

8. ROSTI AT HILTL

 

Hiltl has some serious street credentials seeing as it's on record in the Guinness Book of Records as being the oldest continuously operated vegetarian restaurant anywhere, and I am talking worldwide.

They have a buffet that rivals the best buffets in Vegas except that every one of the hundreds of dishes are vegetarian.

Their veggie burger and veggie tartar are most must trys but I was partial to their Swiss-style potato pancakes  or rösti. Buttery, crispy on the outside and as light on the inside. So delicious, you might order it twice.