Zürich is a stunningly beautiful city that sits astride the River Limmat (the Zürichsee flows into the River Limmat). Its charming old town, comprising a substantial part of the city center, is full of beautifully restored historic buildings and narrow, hilly alleys. In the distance, snow-clad peaks overlook the waters of the lake, and the shores are dominated by turn-of-the-century mansions.

Zürich Sights

From the northern tip of the Zürichsee, the Limmat River starts its brief journey to the Aare and, ultimately, to the Rhine—and it neatly bisects Zürich at the starting gate. The city is crisscrossed by lovely, low bridges. On the left bank are the Altstadt (Old Town), the grander, genteel section of the old medieval center; the Hauptbahnhof, the main train station; and Bahnhofplatz, a major urban crossroads and the beginning of the world-famous luxury street, Bahnhofstrasse.

The right bank constitutes the livelier old section, divided into the Oberdorf (Upper Village) toward Bellevueplatz, and the Niederdorf (Lower Village), from Marktgasse to Central and along Niederdorfstrasse, which fairly throbs on weekends. Most streets around the Rathausbrücke and the Grossmünster are pedestrian-only zones.

Scattered throughout the town are 13 medieval guildhalls, or Zunfthäuser, that once formed the backbone of Zürich’s commercial society. Today most of these house atmospheric restaurants where high ceilings, leaded-glass windows, and coats of arms evoke the mood of merchants at their trade. Often these restaurants are one floor above street level because in the days before flood control the river would rise and inundate the ground floors.

Zürich is officially divided into a dozen numbered Kreis (districts), which spiral out clockwise from the center of the city. Kreis 1, covering the historic core, includes the Altstadt, Oberdorf, and Niederdorf. Zürich West is part of Kreis 5. Most areas in the city are commonly known by their Kreis, and a Kreis number is generally the most helpful in giving directions.

Zürich Reviews

Some of the newer, trendier Zürich restaurants are leaning toward lighter, leaner meals, but it’s still easy to find traditional cuisine, known as nach Zürcher Art, meaning “cooked in the style of Zürich.” Think meat, mushrooms, potatoes, butter, cream.

Zürich-style cuisine is extremely rich, perfectly suited to the leaded-glass and burnished-oak guildhalls. The signature dish is geschnetzeltes Kalbfleisch, or in French émincé de veau: bite-size slices of milky veal sautéed in butter and swimming in a creamy, rich sauce. The inevitable accompaniment is Rösti (hash brown potatoes); you may also find Spätzli, or “little sparrows”: flour-egg dough fingers, either pressed through a sieve or snipped, gnocchi style, and served in butter. Another culinary must is Zürich’s favorite portable food, sausage and Bürli (a roll).

Zürichers also have a definite sweet tooth: Refined cafés draw crowds for afternoon pastries, and chocolate shops vie for the unofficial honor of making the best chocolate truffles in town.

The city’s inflated cost of living is reflected in its restaurants. There is a shortage of truly budget options, but daily prix-fixe menus are considerably cheaper, and even the glossiest places have business-lunch menus at noon—your best bet for sampling Zürich’s highest cuisine at cut rates. For tight-budget travel, watch for posted Tagesteller listings: Cheap menus of the day, with meat, potatoes, and possibly a hot vegetable, can still be found in the Niederdorf for under 20 SF.

Zürich Reviews

Spending the night in Zürich is as expensive as eating out, though the options are no more outlandishly priced than those in the prestigious ski resorts. Deluxe hotels—the five-star landmarks—average between 450 SF and 600 SF ($250—$330) per night for a double, and you’ll be lucky to get a shower and toilet in your room for less than 140 SF ($80). Yet a full (if top-heavy) range of choices is available in the city center, so even if you’re flying into Zürich-Kloten on your way to a mountain retreat, don’t shy away from a stopover of a day or two. Luckily, almost all the hotels that cater to businesspeople during the week offer significantly cheaper weekend rates.


Of all Swiss cities, Zürich has the liveliest nightlife. The Niederdorf is Zürich’s nightlife district, with cut-rate hotels, strip joints, and bars crowding along Marktgasse, which becomes Niederdorfstrasse. On Thursday and weekend nights, the streets seethe with rowdy crowds of club- and bar-hoppers. In winter things wind down between midnight and 2 AM, but come summer most places stay open until 4 AM.

Zürich Shopping

Many of Zürich’s best boutiques lie hidden along the narrow streets between the Bahnhofstrasse and the Limmat River. The fabled Bahnhofstrasse—famous because it’s reputedly the most expensive street in the world—is dominated by large department stores and extravagantly priced jewelry.

Virtually every street in the center of town has some kind of antiques or collectibles shop. Especially intriguing are “modern antiques” shops, which carry odds and ends from decades past.

The antiquarian bookshops in the upper streets of the Niederdorf area are rich with discoveries—and most have selections of English books.

Many city-center stores are open weekdays 9-8, Saturday 8-4. Most close on Sunday, with the exception of the shops at the Hauptbahnhof and the Stadelhofen train station. Many smaller shops, particularly in the Niederdorf area, open later in the morning or early afternoon and are closed entirely on Monday.

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