Zurich: A Pleasant Surprise

JUNE 2011…

Zurich is one of the largest financial centres in the world. Most travellers enter Zurich to conduct business rather than sightseeing. Tourists to Switzerland typically head to the Alps or the more scenic cities of Geneva and Bern. I was also more interested in using Zurich as a base to hop to other Swiss destinations. Even so, a tour of Zurich beckoned and I was pleasantly surprised by what it had to offer.

Stay at the airport to save on accommodation
Hotels in downtown Zurich don’t come cheap. Hence, I stayed at the airport hotel to save on accommodation and commuted into town by train. Though the travelling time each day was longer, the dollar savings were quite significant. Plus, the clean and efficient Swiss transport system was a joy to ride on.

Note to self: double check the public holidays
That said, my Zurich trip did not start well. I made the mistake of arriving on a public holiday and everything downtown was closed. In my defence, it was a last-minute trip and I was more concerned about fitting it around my schedule rather than their schedule. Oh well, lesson learnt. Lucky for me, I was staying near the airport so it wasn’t a day entirely wasted. I strolled around the airport shops (they were open!), grabbed something to eat and went back to enjoy my hotel room.

The cobbled alleys of downtown Zurich.

The cobbled alleys of downtown Zurich.

A compact city on the water’s edge
Without the oppressing crowds that characterise other capital cities such as Paris or Rome, Zurich was a pretty relaxing city to stroll through. Sitting on the edge of Lake Zurich with the River Limmat running through it, there is a seaside resort calm to the city. The old town centre at the water’s edge and other sights were all within walking distance from each other, making it a compact city to explore.

Fraumünster, Zurich.

The Fraumünster standing tall in the old town of Zurich.

The main attractions of Zurich are the four main churches that tower over the rest of the city. One of them is the Fraumünster, a 13th-century cathedral famous for its stained-glass windows.

Grossmünster, Zurich.

The twin towers of the Grossmünster.

Another is the Grossmünster. Located right across the river from the Fraumünster, its twin towers vie with its fellow church for attention. Climb the 187 steps to the top of the south tower, called the Karlsturm, for panoramic views of the old town and Lake Zurich.

The clock face of St. Peter and the Limmat River Cruise boat in Zurich.

The clock face of St. Peter and the Limmat River Cruise boat.

Even though I wasn’t deliberately looking for it, the steeple of St. Peter caught my eye with its striking clock face. Peeking through the low-lying buildings, its clock face is the largest in Europe at 8.7 m wide.

I also highly recommend taking the Limmat River Cruise (in picture above) to see the city. The cruise starts from one end of the River Limmat, sails past the old town and churches, makes its way to Lake Zurich, and then turns back. The glass roof ensures passengers stay perfectly dry while providing unobscured views all around.

The S10 train at the Uetliberg terminus, Zurich.

Riding the S10 to Uetliberg.

Panoramic views from Uetliberg
The next day, I headed out on a mini excursion to Uetliberg, the highest mountain in Zurich at 871 m above sea level. Getting there was half the fun as the S10 train slowly trudged up the mountain to the Uetliberg terminus. Watching the scenery gradually change on the way up was exhilarating, to say the least.

The watch tower at Uetliberg, Zurich.

Climb the watch tower at Uetliberg for unobscured views of the city.

So, what’s there to do at Uetliberg? Plenty, it seems. Besides panoramic views of the city, you could dine at the peak restaurant or climb up the watch tower for an even better view. In summer, hiking or mountain biking are popular activities. In winter, the hiking trails turn into sledding tracks.

Panoramic city view from Uetliberg, Zurich.
Panoramic city view from Uetliberg, Zurich.

Panoramic city views from Uetliberg.

Don’t forget the Swiss chocolates!
Sightseeing done, it was time to hit the shopping street. In Zurich, this was none other than Bahnhofstrasse, a 1.4 km stretch of shops, departmental stores and boutiques. Of course, it is well-known that the Swiss Franc is not cheap. Hence, window-shopping would be a more fitting description of what I actually did.

What I did splurge on were Swiss chocolates! My favourite shop is Läderach, a top chocolate brand in Switzerland famous for its exquisite pralines and fresh chocolate slabs. I especially love the nuts- and berries-packed chocolate slabs! Yum…

My tour of Zurich completed, it was now time to head out of the city. To find out where I went, stay tuned for the next article! (Hint: it’s noisy and there’s lots of water involved.)

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