Just three weeks after visiting Zurich I decided to go back and spend the last weekend of August there. It was a weekend full of city events: street parades, free outdoor music festivals and parties (much like the Notting Hill carnival) and public swimming on the lake and river through the city. Who said that there are not many things to do in Zurich?
If you go, here is my list of 7 things to do!
1. Travel like a local
Two thirds of the city’s inhabitants have a bicycle and there is an average of 1.4 bicycles per household in Zurich. There are lots of cycle lanes throughout the city and it is very easy to move around by bike as the city is quite small. If the weather is nice I recommend hiring a bike. It is a great way to explore the streets and safe too!
You can borrow free Zurich city-bikes during the day from near the main train station, near the Landesmuseum (the Swiss National Museum), or near the Globus shopping centre on Bahnhofstrasse. Bring an ID and 20 francs for a deposit (per bike). There’s a 10-franc charge if you keep a bike overnight/past 8 or 9pm.
Below: cycling around the city I got a chance to enjoy some of the amazing street art!
Alternatively take a tram. This is a reliable and fast way to move around. If you will be making more than three trams journeys in a single day, I would recommend buying a 24-hour ticket.
2. Eat some pretzels!
The Swiss love their pretzels, except they call them brezels. These brezels have a hearty yeasty flavour with a nice hefty chew (you need a strong jaw if you’re eating a huge one!) and you can find all types of them being sold all over the city. Personally my favourites are the traditional ones with salt and, for a sweet treat, the ones stuffed with chocolate. They are sold in shops, cafes, and street stalls everyone, they are generally cheap and the quality is always really good. If you are like me and you cannot wait to get into town and buy one, I recommend buying it at Brezelkonig which is located at the train station.
Below: me enjoying a giant chocolate brezel!
3. Drink from a fountain
Zurich, has over 1000 drinking fountains in the city, 400 of which run with spring water from the nearby mountains. It tastes amazingly fresh and clean without the usual chlorine after-taste that you get when you drink tap-water from many other cities. I just wish some of them were chocolate fountains instead!
Below: making the most of the public water fountains to keep hydrated during the warm day!
4. Discover some cafes
The range of cozy coffee houses in Zurich is endless, and each welcomes visitors with the smell of freshly ground coffee, baked treats and sweets. Here is a selection of the best places in my opinion:
Caffee for Dich: has a nice atmosphere, and a substantial child-/parent-friendly interior. Few afternoon sun places though. Trams & traffic outside. Order at bar.
Café Lang on busy Limmatplatz: a cozy place which offers a nice brunch during the weekends. Good coffees for circa 5 CHF each. Good sun for most of the day.
Bank on Helvetiaplatz: lots of good outdoor seating for all-day sun and great for people watching.
One of my favourite places (in city centre) is Grande, on Limmatquai 118. Great coffee. It is also a pretty-people venue in the evenings.
If you want more than just a coffee – for brunch: Maison Blunt (Quellenstrasse, Sat & Sun from about 10:30 until 16:00). This is a busy former car mechanic garage re-fitted with Moroccan tiles. Go early unless you’ve reserved. Cheese, Farmers’ and Oriental brunches for 18-25CHF including fruit juice, excluding coffee.
Below: me sitting outside waiting for my coffee. I love the chairs!
Below: homemade Swiss chocolate ice-cream on a Belgium waffle. Delicious!
5. Explore the Globus shop
If you fancy a bit of shopping, or just want to do a bit of nosing around, go visit Globus in the centre of Zurich. It is a chic department store where you can find all types of pretty things. My favourite section was of course the food hall. Everything was beautifully presented. The sweet section had a vast and incredible selection!
6. Swim in the river
If you visit during summer, and if you like swimming, I would definitely recommend swimming in the river (the Limmat) or the lake in Zurich. On Saturday 27 August from 12 noon to 4.30pm, 4500 lucky people swam from the lake, down the river and across the city. This is a special event that only takes place once per year. It is immensely popular. This year the tickets sold out in just 8 minutes! The Limmatschwimmen event is a great way to celebrate the end of summer and even though I could not participate I enjoyed watching, and made sure to have a dip in the river another time.
Swimming (paying) — most of lidos and indoor pools have a circa 7 CHF entry fee. If you need a big locker to store your stuff. Smallest lockers usually require a 2-franc coin as a deposit, medium lockers a 5-franc coin.
Swimming (free) — it is free to swim in the Limmat and the lake. Bring a 2 CHF coin for the mini lockers at the Limmat’s two free lidos, Unterer Letten and Oberer Letten. Bring the padlock for the larger ones.
The lake is usually 1-2˚C warmer than the Limmat. Check current water temperatures by searching Stadt Zürich Badi Temperature for the official site or there’s a free Swiss-wide app.
7. Alternative night life
Zurich isn’t a boring place at night – there’s lots of funky places to visit. One of my favourites is the old industrial zone that reminds me a lot of Berlin. The cafes, bars and clubs are open during the day and at night. They are built out of shipping containers and porta-cabins and are quite funky. Lots of arty and creative – hipster – people can be found here. Drinks on a night-out here are not that expensive, and there are often live music sessions at night held in some of the bars.