This article is sponsored by VISIT ZURICH>
On my first weekend trip to the Swiss metropole, I was surprised to see that the youth of Zurich has reared up against the banker’s narrative. Although still more expensive than other city’s in Europe, Zurich – like many other places in the world – has made an effort to nurture and develop a culture that is much more than just tacky flutes of Champagne and untouched oysters for the price of a kidney.
Together with my friends from the FIBER roster, I visited the city on a short weekend trip in September for the last days of the FOOD ZURICH, an annual, month-long celebration of the city’s food and gastronomic community. The result is a combination of my thoughts and restaurant recommendations while being very well aware of the fact that this is just a glimpse into what the new side of Zurich is (and will further continue to become).
I had already heard about the uncanny contrasts of Zurich. On the bank of the famous Zurich lake, there is the established, medieval backdrop of a touristic and picturesque, Alpine metropolis; on the other, far away from the Frauenmünster and cobbled streets, is a collection of massive industrial structures and concrete bridges. The remnants of harbors and shipyards make up the West of the city and is garnished with that ubiquitous design of the 21st century that gave “industrial style” it’s definition.
A stroll through the old quarters of Zurich is highly recommended. After all, it is indeed a quaint, little town. But for an old, European soul like mine, there’s only so much fascination left in me for that kind of clean cut experience of history. Yes, it must be great to swim those impeccable waters in the summer. But a boat tour wasn’t on my list of things I needed to do in Zurich.
Walk along the river banks of the Lake Zurich on both sides to see Frauenmünster and Grossmünster cathedral in their whole beauty, then get lost in the quaint streets of the old town.
Zurich West was the industrial heartland of the country. As happened to many cities (like Berlin), the production decline led to a slow decay of the area. Zurich West became a nasty congregation of petty crimes and prostitution and was consequently forgotten.
Quickly, I fell in love with the sleek lines and concrete heaviness of the Toni Areal, built in 1977. Very aptly, the building houses the University of Arts of Zurich today. It used to be an industrial creamery.
It is the kind of building that has special powers. I have no patience for the theory of architecture, so on excursions like this, I like to bathe in the emotions foreign, massive structures like the Toni Areal evoke in me.
On a clear day, you can sit on the roof top terrace of the Toni Areal and enjoy a view of what’s left of Europe’s industrialization era. Toni Areal is also home to the Zurich Museum of Design, which has revolving exhibitions on the ground floor.
While on a food tour organized by FOOD ZURICH, I found another high prized location. Bar, restaurant Lasalle and a theater are located in a former shipyard (not the classic shipyard design, but there are leftover train tracks outside of the building to carry the ship parts to the lake).
The untreated walls, leather sofas and light design reminded me a lot of what can be found in Berlin (in a more shabby chic variety of this sleek and polished Schiffbau version).
Zurich’s French side is best discovered at Les Halles, a restaurant, brasserie and supermarket in a former warehouse in Zurich West. Expect to be wined and dined with exceptional Moules-frites and the according, rich wines. It’s a messy, chaotic place, dedicated to bike racing paraphernalia, drinks of the Cote d’Azur and Peugeot paraphernalia.
Enjoy Moules-frite at Les Halles, either in the garden or in the colorful warehouse restaurant.
The Kreis 4 (the districts of Zurich are nominally declared, the old town being number 1) is where the notorious Langstrasse is. The former red light district has become the party boulevard for tourists and locals likewise. Like in Frankfurt, it can still get dodgy at night, but what’s dodgy in Zurich is pretty safe in other places.
There are a few interesting spots on Langstrasse, but sometimes its worth diverting from the main boulevard to find hidden gems (which aren’t as overcrowded). One of those places is Der Kern, a solid bar that is close enough to the main street without being an obvious choice.
My favorite stop in the city was the Volkshaus. Built in 1910, it serves multiple purposes: it’s a restaurant, concert hall, and conference building. The cozy and homely interior and the local menu were delightful; I ate a red wine risotto with chanterelles and perch. Don’t try to compare prices to Berlin when you go to Zurich, though. Relatively speaking, you can get very high quality fair at Volkshaus for a very decent price.
Have dinner at Volkshaus after exploring the city, or pass by for a cup of coffee to see the beautifully restored building.
How do you call the new part of a city? The part that is dedicated to boutique experiences, premium products and the manifestation of aesthetics into architecture and commerce? In Zurich, this specific quartier is named “Tribeka”, which stands for Triangel am Kanzlerareal. It’s a polished, beautifully sleek, modern and almost alienating part of town. Langstrasse and Volkshaus are located in this part of town, as well as other points of interest. There’s a whole map dedicated to the area.
I found a pile of furniture outside of a building here with a sign that said “zu verschenken” – for free. Absurdly, this furniture could be sold in one of Berlin’s upmarket vintage boutiques. I had a good laugh at that.
There’s a whole map dedicated to the Tribeka areal. I grabbed mine at the 25hours Langstrasse hotel, where I stayed for the weekend. It’s a good place to start and explore the city, although you’ll be a little far off the traditional landmarks.
Across from Volkshaus, also on Helvetiasquare and in another formidable building, is restaurant and café Bank. A good breakfast place with a hip and young vibe. And yes, as the name says, this used to be a former bank… another building that has found a new meaning post-cliché Zurich.
Breakfast, quick snack, elaborate dinner – either way, I can definitely recommend the chicken & lamb pita at Bank.
I would love to return in the next years to Zurich to explore the mountains around the city, the various clubs and events, and hopefully meet the people who’ve managed to detach Zurich’s landscape from the dominance of the money industry. I was pleasantly surprised and I’m definitely coming back.