The dos and don’ts of Zürich, Switzerland

The dos and don’ts of Zürich, Switzerland

Zürich is known as the world’s centre of banking. It’s situated on Lake Zürich and surrounded by the Alps.

While it’s often included in backpacker trips around Europe, many Americans come to Zürich and you can’t go a few metres without bumping into some.

Zürich also has the highest average wage of any city in the world. Stories of how expensive it is here aren’t exaggerated. The currency is the Swiss Franc. Some idea of how this currency compares to others:

Swiss Franc to £: 1 CHF = 0.78 GBP

Swiss Franc to €: 1 CHF = 0.91 Euro

Swiss Franc to $: 1 CHF = 1 US Dollar

 

The dos and don’ts of Zürich.

 

Don’t go on a Sunday

 

While most museums are open on a Sunday, barely anything else is. Clothes shops, grocery stores, bakers, cafes are all closed. This also includes bars and pubs – even the Irish pubs are closed.

Only shops in the main train stations and a few in the Old Town for tourists are open.

 

Old Town on a Sunday
Old Town on a Sunday

 

Walking around the city, outside of the Old Town, you can really see how deserted it is. Many people who work in Zürich commute and live in nearby towns and stay home at the weekend.

Sunday is also a time for cleaning. Zürich is a really clean city.

 

Sunday is for cleaning in Switzerland
Sunday is for cleaning in Switzerland

 

Do consider flying to Basel

 

Just over the border in France is EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg, 3.5km northwest of Basel in Switzerland. Many low-cost airlines fly here.

 

EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg
EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg

 

I flew here with EasyJet in May from Manchester and my return flight cost £41. If I had flown direct to Zürich it would have been £200.

From EuroAirport Basel I got the regular bus to Basel train station, which took 30 mins and caught a train from Basel SSB to Zürich HB. There’s a train every 15 minutes and the journey time is 55 minutes.

This website is helpful to book trains in Switzerland: https://www.sbb.ch/en/home.html

 

Zürich train
Zürich train

 

I booked my train 3 weeks in advance and got a supersaver ticket for 17 CHF. On the return journey I took the Flexibus direct from Zürich HB to EuroAirport Basel for €11.90.

 

Backpacker train station selfie
Backpacker train station selfie

 

Even including the transport fees to and from EuroAirport Basel to Zürich, it was significantly cheaper to do it this way. Plus Basel and Freiburg are nice cities if you have time for a stopover.

 

Don’t be put off by the accommodation costs

 

I stayed in the most expensive hostel I have ever stayed in and it wasn’t even in the city centre but a 20 minute tram ride outside. It cost £40 a night for a 6-bed dorm with no en-suite bathroom.

But when you arrive in Zürich you realise that everything is expensive and this is in line with the city. Paying high prices is part of visiting Switzerland.

A benefit of this hostel (Youth Hostel Zürich) was they included breakfast which I filled up on. If anything is free in this city – take it!

 

Breakfast included
Breakfast included

 

Look out for people around Zürich HB and Bahnhofstrasse giving out free juice and chocolate samples.

 

Do take the tram

 

The Swiss are known for being as efficient as the clocks they produce. Their public transport runs on time and takes you all around the city. A zone 1-2, 24 hour public transport pass costs 8.80 CHF.

 

Zurich HB
Zürich HB

 

I made good use of this pass on the tram. The tram came every few minutes and the electronic time tables were always correct. I strongly advise not to use taxis as they are very expensive and public transport is so good in Zürich it’s not necessary. If you do need to get a taxi then use Uber to get a rough idea of the price so you’re not too surprised when you have to pay.

 

Tram on Bahnhofstrasse
Tram on Bahnhofstrasse

 

Don’t buy a kebab

 

17.50 CHF for a doner and chips! That should say everything.

 

Crazy kebab prices
Expensive kebab prices

 

Don’t be afraid to buy alcohol

 

After seeing the prices of fast food I was worried about how much a beer would cost. I went to a cabaret bar in the Old Town and to my surprise a large beer was only 6.50 CHF.

 

Swiss beer
Swiss beer

 

Do splash out on Fondue

 

The number one food you must try in Switzerland is Fondue. Cheese Fondue is where you dip pieces of bread into melting cheese.

I went to Restaurant Swiss Chuchi. This is an extremely popular place and usually requires a reservation. I didn’t have one but luckily I squeezed onto the end of a table.

 

Restaurant Swiss Chuchi
Restaurant Swiss Chuchi

 

I had the Traditional Waadtländer Fondue for 26.50 CHF. It was delicious. So much cheese.

 

Traditional Waadtländer Fondue and red Swiss Merlot
Traditional Waadtländer Fondue and red Swiss Merlot

 

They had a great wine selection including Swiss white Merlots. I tried both the red and white Merlot.

 

Do make time for Zürich West

 

This is the up and coming hip district with new bars, shops and clubs appearing every week.

 

 Shop in Zürich West
Shop in Zürich West

 

In the past it had a reputation for being an industrial wasteland filled with empty warehouses but now these empty buildings have been turned into clubs, shops and gyms.

 

Club in West Zurich, closed during the day
Night club in Zürich West, closed during the day
Abandoned warehouse is now a bar
Abandoned warehouse is now a bar

 

Anyone fancy a game of badminton and beer at a Japanese bar?

 

Japanese badminton beer bar
Japanese badminton beer bar

 

There’s also the Viadukt, trendy stores built under the railway line.

 

Viadukt
Viadukt
Frau Gerolds Garten - Garden bars made from recycled containers
Frau Gerolds Garten – Garden bars made from recycled containers

 

Currently there’s lots of construction going on and this area is rapidly changing.

 

Supermarket - Old garage turned into an electronic club
Supermarket – Old garage turned into an electronic club
The Freitag Flagship store - made from recycled freight containers
The Freitag Flagship store – made from recycled freight containers

 

There’s also a top floor bar on Prime Tower in Zürich West where you can get a view of the whole of Zürich on a clear sunny day.

 

Prime Tower
Prime Tower

 

Do visit the churches

 

Both Fraumünster and Grossmünster, two of the four major churches in Zürich, are both worth visiting. They lie just across the lake from each other in the city centre.

 

Fraumünster

 

You can see Fraumünster’s tall green spire from anywhere in the city.  It costs 5 CHF to enter and for this you get an audio guide which explains the church’s history and the stained glass windows.

 

Fraumünster
Fraumünster

 

Chagall’s windows are the highlight of this church. The five windows represent – the Prophet, Jacob, Christ, Zion and Law, and were designed by Marc Chagall. Each window is in one bold colour and they are beautiful when the light shines through.

 

Fraumünster
Fraumünster

 

Don’t be disappointed you can’t take photos

 

Even after paying to enter, you can’t take any photos of the windows or inside the church.

If you try and take a photo someone will come over quickly and make you put your camera or phone away.

Tip – you can get in for free if you’re a true believer/act like one and throw yourself on the floor praying but you won’t get an audio guide.

 

Grossmünster

 

This church is characterised by two tall towers. Inside it is a traditional church with nothing out of the ordinary. However, you can go up one of the towers and take in 360 degree views of the city.

 

Grossmünster
Grossmünster
Entrance to Grossmünster
Entrance to Grossmünster
Inside Grossmünster
Inside Grossmünster

 

Don’t be put off by the climb

 

It costs 3 CHF to climb Grossmünster’s tower and the stairs are very steep and narrow with no room for people to cross but the views from the top are worth the climb.

 

Narrow long climb to the top
Narrow long climb to the top
View from Grossmünster
View from Grossmünster
View from Grossmünster tower
View from Grossmünster tower
View of Lake Zurich from Grossmünster tower
View of Lake Zürich from Grossmünster tower

 

Do a day trip outside the city

 

From Zürich you can visit many other places using their excellent railway system.

If you like nature, sites include – the Alps, for example Mount Rigi (near Lucerne) and Mount Titlis, or Rhine Falls in Neuhausen, the largest waterfall in Europe.

 

Mist rolling in over the Alps
Mist rolling in over the Alps

 

I chose to do a day trip to Vaduz the capital of Liechtenstein as I was curious about this little county. You can read about that here.

 

Vaduz Liechtenstein
Vaduz Liechtenstein

 

Do take photos from Lindenhof

 

There is an old Roman castle on Lindenhof hill in the Old Town. From here you get a fantastic view of the city and can take photos. There’s lots of tourists and tour groups up here, even on a rainy day in May.

 

Walk up to Lindenhof hill
Walk up to Lindenhof hill

Lindenhof hill

Lindenhof hill
Lindenhof hill
View of Zurich
View of Zürich

 

Do drink from a fountain

 

Zürich has approximately 1,200 water drinking fountains, more than any other country in the world. So there’s no need to buy bottled water.

 

Fountains in Zurich

Drinking water fountains in Zürich
Drinking water fountains in Zürich

 

Do visit a museum

 

There are two main museums in Zürich – the Swiss National Museum and Kunsthaus.

Kunsthaus is the museum of fine arts.

I only had time to visit the Swiss National Museum. It was well worth the 10 CHF entrance fee.

 

Swiss National Museum
Swiss National Museum

 

While I was there I caught a free tour in English of the Highlights of the Swiss National Museum. This runs every Tuesday and Saturday at 11am to 12pm. I enjoyed this tour and learnt a few things.

 

Interactive archeology section
Interactive archeology section
Interactive archeology section Swiss National Museum
Interactive archeology section

 

There isn’t much written information next to the exhibitions so make sure you pick up an audio guide when you buy your ticket.

 

Shoes at the Swiss National Museum
Shoes at the Swiss National Museum

 

Inside the museum it’s very modern and interactive. I particularly liked the archeology section which had interactive screens, light shows and holograms. It made me feel like a kid again.

 

Don’t be put off by Langstrasse’s red-light district reputation

 

Langstrasse is a diverse and multi-cultural area with a reputation as a red-light district and drug hotspot. However, like Zürich West it’s recently started to be cleaned up and gentrified with young designers and creative types moving into the area.

 

Langstrasse
Langstrasse
Langstrasse
Langstrasse
Hipster coffee shop in Langstrasse
Hipster coffee shop in Langstrasse

 

While walking along the street I felt safe but there was an edge. It was interesting to see the mix of hipsters and older locals. The street alternated between hippy coffee shops, turkish take-aways, old men social clubs, and by the hour hotels.

 

Langstrasse Zurich

Hotel in Langstrasse Zurich
Hotel in Langstrasse

 

I had a few strange looks when I was taking photos of the graffiti and shops. As it was only 3pm none of the bars were open yet but the street was busy with traffic.

 

Locals in Langstrasse
Locals hanging out in Langstrasse
Artwork in Langstrasse
Artwork in Langstrasse

 

Do indulge in chocolate

 

Zürich is all about cheese and chocolate.

 

 Chocolate shop in Zürich
Chocolate shop in Zürich

 

An excellent place to get some chocolate is Confiserie Sprungli. The chocolate shop is connected to its cafe on Bahnhofstrasse, one of the world’s most expensive and exclusive shopping avenues.

 

Confiserie Sprüngli
Confiserie Sprüngli

 

I got an Amaretto coffee and sat outside the cafe people watching. While this coffee was expensive (9.50 CHF) and the service wasn’t great, for me it was all part of Zürich’s rich experience.

 

Amaretto coffee on Bahnhofstrasse
Amaretto coffee on Bahnhofstrasse

 

After, I walked down Bahnhofstrasse window shopping. Each store had its own bored looking security guard that shames anyone who can’t afford the thousand pound handbags from coming in.

 

Bahnhofstrasse window shopping
Window shopping on Bahnhofstrasse
Bahnhofstrasse window shopping
Bahnhofstrasse

 

At the end of the street I reached Bürkliplatz, where you can go on a boat tour of Lake Zürich. In the summer you can choose from four different boat tours, the shortest takes 1.5hrs and the longest takes 7hrs. I didn’t have time to do a boat tour on this trip but if I ever go back in the summer I will.

 

Bürkliplatz

Bürkliplatz

Bürkliplatz
Bürkliplatz

 

I hope you enjoyed my dos and don’ts of Zürich. If you have any suggestions, please comment below.

One Reply to “The dos and don’ts of Zürich, Switzerland”

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