Zürich is more than just bad banks and boring bougies. I know this much already from my last trip to buzzing Swiss metropolis. It was time to revisit the city to encounter more of its classical European charm as well as its innovative and creative food, bar and cultural scene. Armed with sunscreen, camera and ZürichCard – the ultimate ticket for getting around the city – we took a 3 day discovery summer tour through Zürich.
On our way to from the airport to the hotel, we got a quick dinner at Rosso, a wonderful Italian restaurant in Zürich’s west end. The restaurants minimal and industrial interior has no impact on its warm, typically Italian ambience. The food, on the other hand, stays conservative side of Italian food: classic oven baked pizzas and fresh pastas are center pieces. We had satisfying, no frills Pasta Vongole and enjoyed the uncomplicated ordeal.
The 25hrs chain has made itself irreplaceable for young European travelers who care about the basic essentials of Millenialism: high-speed internet connections and modular service. That usually comes with all sorts of cost-cutting methods (like smaller rooms and an abundance of branded products to purchase – if you’ve never stayed at a 25hrs hotel, it’s like sleeping in an Urban Outfitters). But if that’s the standard, then the Langstrasse franchise is certainly a very surprising outlier: great food, attentive service and very spacious rooms (as well as a sauna and a gym) have won my heart over.
On my last visit, I spent most of my time around the hip areas around Langstrasse (once a working class neighborhood – today the creative center of Zürich, quickly gentrifying but still preserving an eclectic mix of nationalities and people). This time around, we wanted to see more of proper Zürich. Admittedly, the city center is very charming. It’s not the Zürich we initially came to discover, but we stayed regardless, captivated by the clear waters of the Limmat and hypnotized by the beautiful architecture. We had lunch on the hidden terrace of Neumarkt and enjoyed a chocolate tasting at Dieter Meiers flagship store.
Zürich is famous for its 18 central lidos. It’s easy to understand the attraction: Caribbean blue water invites urban swimmers to enjoy a summer day in the best way possible. Imagine jumping into the Spree at the Canal in Kreuzberg and enjoying a cool Spritz on its banks. Yeah,… no.
We found our oasis in the art-nouveau style Frauenbadi, a women only lido. It was the first of its kind and opened in 1837. Public bathing culture was practically invented here. Those who want more than just a dip can ask for a full body massage (in a private section of the pool). A trip to the Frauenbadi is quite an empowering and luxurious urban experience. I really wish we had something like that in Berlin.
Like other lidos, the Frauenbadi transforms into a bar (open for women and men) at night.
At the Frauenbadi, we found out about the so called national “Frauenstreik”, a feminist demonstration. Although we had different plans, we recognized the unique atmosphere. The turnout – 160.000 women – was a monumental feat in the modern history of Zürich. And to be honest, it was also quite a monumental personal experience: we were swept away by the energy, and marched along proudly with our peers.
Our dinner was a boat ride away. Fischer’s Fritz is part of a re-vamped camping site and popular along the entire spectrum of Zürich locals, from bankers to bachelor parties. We were picked up on a speed boat and idly crossed the Zürichsee to the Western banks of the lake.
We shared truffled fries for starters and fried Knusperli from the lake – Fischer’s Fritz own the only fishery in Zürich -, while enjoying the cool breeze and a cold glass. Fischer’s Fritz is a pretty young establishment with a wholesome mix of people and a solid menu – a great escape off the beaten path.
After our off-shore dinner, we headed back to the fringes of the city. At Seebad Enge – another Badi-turned-Bar- we enjoyed an aftershow party of the Feminist Strike, had a few drinks and wondered further what it must be like to live here permanently. Zürich isn’t as rough and untamed as Berlin still is in some places, but who needs that at my age? We were definitely held hostage by the great infrastructure and cleanliness of the city.
On the other hand, everything comes at a price – quite literally, at 10 CHF per glass of Spumante.
Zürich Pride 2019
Our plans had already been mixed up by the Frauenstreik. What’s one more monumental and political occasion? We joined the LGBTQ+ scene of Switzerland marching for pride, tolerance and diversity, a parade almost as fierce and joyous as the feminist strike had been. Apparently, Zürich’s got a throbbing and good looking queer scene. Who woulda thunk it?
Zunfthaus zur Waag
Ultimately, we had to quit our hedonistic shenanigans and get back to our schedule, which consisted mostly of dining out. We picked out Zunfthaus zur Waag for their reputation of making the best classic “Züricher Geschnetzeltes” in town. Although we weren’t dressed for the occasion (we did not expect patrons to come in suits and evening dresses), our waiter Dino and his colleagues made sure to treat us like VIPs. He showed us around the old building, now used as event space for weddings and other celebrations. The Zunfthaus used to be a traditional meeting house of the local guilds and served for festivities and hostels for journeymen. A frat house for the middle ages, if you will.
Expect refined Swiss cuisine at the Zunfthaus. Although we were truly satisfied with the traditional Zürcher Geschnetzeltes – a ragout of veal in mushroom and cream sauce, served on a potato Rösti -, the mousse au chocolat by Marcel Chandon really stole the show.
Although our trip was short, we managed to squeeze in a little hike on the Uetliberg. Only a 15 minute train ride from central station away, you can easily plan a day or only a few active hours out on Zürichs own local mountain. We call it “Hausberg” in German, which is one of my favorite words. We met many joggers, hikers and mountain bikers up there, but left our own exertion at a light Spaziergang (another favorite word).
On the north-west side of town, beyond the central station and right where the most popular Obere Letten lido is located, there is a spectacular path along the water which we explored on e-scooters. On our way, we found the sweet Stazione Paradiso café, which is built into an old Berlin S-Bahn carriage and located right at the waters. A perfect stop for an afternoon apèro or a succulent Foccacia.
National Museum of Switzerland
The museum is a breathtaking sight to behold: one part of the building is an old, noble castle while the other is a jagged block of contemporary brutalism. Imagine the love child of King’s Landing and Blade Runner’s LA. The park complex in front of the museum and the eerie courtyard were calm and serene. We spent around half an hour just resting on bizarre lawn-tables.
The rest of it
While every holiday can be inspiring and provoking, Zürich is an especially great breeding ground for creativity – clearly expressed through the abundance of beautifully designed urban elements and innovative solutions for common problems. I used to detest this type of cleanliness (I remember hating Stockholm). Like hanging up posters on clips on the tram: who would dare to do that in Berlin? What kind of trust in people is that? Although I still like the wild west of Kreuzberg and Neukölln, I’ve learned how to appreciate other places, where they actually can have nice things without losing the cultural friction. Zürich, I’m coming back!