Zurich is a nice city to relax, to leisurely stroll around, and to spend a couple of days in.
Although it’s not the capital of Switzerland, it definitely feels like one. See ten activities I’ve enjoyed there the most and a lovely hotel we’ve stayed in!
1. Have a view from ETH
Take the Polybahn (local transport) up to the observatory and Polyterrasse – the best views over the city are guaranteed!
You can also enjoy observing the impressive building of Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), built in 1864, that floats over the city, or popping into one of the museums around this area – such as the Zoological Museum.
2. Fell in love with Chagall Windows
It’s a common knowledge that Marc Chagall didn’t just create paintings but stain glasses as well (think about … church near London, for instance!). In Fraumünster church you can appreciate a series of 5 windows and a rosette produced by this famous Belarusian artist when he was 83 years old – photography is not allowed inside but I made sure to take a photo of a postcard for you 🙂
The Fraumünster Church itself is one of four main religious places of Zurich. It was erected on the ruins of a once powerful abbey for noblewomen founded in 853.
Another important feature of it is stained glasses by Augusto Giacometti.
3. Stroll along the Zurich Lake
I must confess, that natural gems usually attract me more than the man-made ones. So, I mainly headed to Switzerland to enjoy mountains and lakes (read about our bad luck with mount Pilatus at Lucerne via this link!).
And the Zurich Lake, or Zürichsee, didn’t disappoint me at all! I cannot express this feeling of serenity and tranquility it brings even when the swans around you are fighting for food.
You can start with Bellevueplatz and continue walking along the lake or get a boat ride.
Btw, Bellevueplatz is precisely the place where during the Sächsilüüten celebrations snowman Böögg filled with explosives is getting burnt – I know it sounds surreal but that’s true. We missed this celebration by just a couple of days but still were lucky to try this delicious dessert (see more about the cafe it’s from below):
4. Drink hot chocolate at Grand Café Odeon
I bet you’d find this glorious Art-Nouveau Grand Café Odeon in every single travel guide to Zurich, and for a reason.
First of all, it attracted public attention when it introduced a new rule: you could order a single glass of champagne over there, not a whole bottle, which doubtless was cheaper and attracted people. Later on, it gathered a bunch of 20 century’s celebrities of all sorts, from the intellectual elite to politicians. Among its visitors were, writers James Joyce, William Somerset Maugham, Erich Maria Remarque, Stefan Zweig, physicist Albert Einstein, Benito Mussolini, Russian revolutionaries Lenin and Trotsky.
Photo from https://fred-tschanz.ch/en/odeon/history/
Having gone through some tough times in the 70s, Grand Café Odeon, which first opened its doors on the 1st of July 1911, celebrates its 108 anniversary this year!
5. Climb Lindenhof
Lindenhof hill, the very heart of Zurich, is a must visit.
It was a base for the sequence of very important historical erections: Galloroman settlement Turicum where taxes were collected from goods transferred via the river, Roman fort, Carolingian castle, point of civic gatherings… But still, the views from it on the Limmat river and the most striking architectural landmarks were amazing – see it for yourself. And yes, there are a lot of lindens 🙂
Although Lindenhof’s usually described as a quiet place, we witnessed a local holiday taking place over there.
6. Walk above the ruins of the Roman baths
Termengasse, in contrast to a mighty Peterskirche with Europe’s largest clock face nearby, is easy to miss. It’s a tiny alley where you can explore more of the ancient Roman history right under your feet.
Small exhibition with explanatory signs will tell you of the thermal baths – including cold-watered frigidarium, hot caldarium and filled with steam laconicum – Romans used to bath in up to the 4th century AD. This discovery was made just recently, in 1983.
See more about Roman Baths in my other blog!
7. Learn the history behind the Wasserkirche
The location where you stand has been used for religious purposes for centuries – according to a legend, local saints Felix and Regula were executed there by Romans. With the first church over this place in the 10th century, The Wasserkirche was mentioned under its current name in the 13th century – and the title comes from the fact that the church used to stay in an island up to the 19th century when the newly built embankment connected it to the mainland.
Reformation era (look for the statue of Huldrich Zwingli (1484-1531) right behind it!) and other historical events, later on, struck it quite hard but now it again became used for religious services.
Extension of the church is called Helmhaus and it’s a museum.
8. Try Luxemburgerli at Confiserie Sprüngli
Another iconic cafe in Zurich is the Confiserie Sprüngli – and its precursor, initial chocolate shop in Zurich, was founded in 1836 and a few decades later moved to its current location. Now the sixth generation of the same family runs the place.
Both floors that contain the shop and the cafe were quite crowded during our visit but their choice of desserts and savory snacks was really mouthwatering – and just look at this view from one of the windows!
But the main thing you should thy there is Luxemburgerli – it looks like a tiny macaron with a nice variety of flavors including seasonal ones!
9. Cross Rathausbrücke bridge
We stepped on Rathausbrücke bridge on Sunday when the vegetable and flower market was there – that’s how the medieval tradition of markets on this bridge lives! It was hard to believe that it was actually a bridge – it totally looked like a street!
Back in time, it was made out of wood, but later, in the late 19th century, new construction of iron and stone took over. The latest version of it came to life in the 70s.
10. Explore the Old city Altstadt
Finally, don’t forget just to wander around Altstadt or the Old city of Zurich. Its narrow swinging colorful streets are charming, and you can encounter many places of interest there.
For instance, you can spot well the former house of Lenin, Russian revolutionary, at Speigelgasse 14, Marktgasse or The Schwarzenbach, a colonial goods store.
Pay attention to the very well-preserved city hall Rathaus as well – the building carrying out such civil functions stays there for over 7 centuries.
If you still haven’t popped in, make sure you pay a visit to the Grossmünster (Great Minster), completed in 1230 whose towers became one of the city’s symbols. Locals will tell you that the building covers the tombs of Felix and Regula, patron saints fo Zurich, and the Reformation centre is situated nearby. Have a look at Grossmünster’s doors as well, they are amazing.
Where to stay?
We were kindly hosted by Small Luxury Hotel Ambassador, a modern but classy hotel near the Zurich lake.
It’s located inside a gorgeous neo-Baroque building constructed over 120 years ago. As you know, I love having rooms with views – and the view over the Opera House from our room was just incredible!
Moreover, there is a terrace on the hotel’s roof with some wonderful views as well.
I liked the location of the hotel as well – all the city landmarks were easily accessible from there, say, Zurich lake is 20 sec away, Opera is about 1 min away and Cafe Odeon is about 7 min away.
Hope you enjoyed today’s blog!