Zurich is a really cool city. This was my second time here, although the last time was 15 years ago, and only for a day. (Definitely not enough time to do the city justice.) Not surprisingly, this time around I found the city to be completely different from what I remembered. Grand and bustling, Zurich has all the trimmings of a financial powerhouse capital for sure, but also has quiet old town streets that feel a million miles away from all that. The train station is one of Europe’s grandest, filled with modern art on the inside and classical European architecture on the outside. Leading off from the station is Bahnhoff Straße, the grand street that runs into the heart of town.
Sleep: Widder Hotel
We stayed at the glamorous Widder Hotel, a bastion of comfort and luxury where our two story room overlooked iconic church spires in old town. It’s a gorgeous place built right on top of the design of nine different historical houses, so crooked corridors stretch from one end to another in a non-uniform fashion. I can’t begin to describe how luxurious this hotel is, so let me simply say it’s so fancy that you can adjust the firmness of your mattress, and some rooms have full marble hammam saunas in their bathrooms. Every room is individually decorated and in the center of our room, there was a glass staircase leading up to an entire second story. The hotel also features designer furniture and art by the likes of Rauschenberg, Giacometti, and Warhol.
Zurich’s oldest and best vegetarian restaurant is Hiltl, a fancy 2 story place with chandeliers and a stylish contemporary kick. Climbing the staircase to the second floor, you can peer down into the glass ceilinged kitchen and watch the staff prepare their artful dishes. There’s a library filled with cookbooks adjacent to the dining room, which has great views over the city. The cuisine at Hitl is incredibly flavorful, enough to make you forget the dishes are all meatless. I had a Green Thai Curry along with a creamy Mango Lassi that was packed with a blast of flavor. The Indian Plate was all-encompassing, made up of an assortment of spicy curries. For dessert we were told we had to try the seasonal specialty: Vermicelli. This chestnut paste dessert looks like spaghetti, and is served over ice cream. The rich, unsweetened flavor of chestnuts perfectly balanced out the sweetness of the ice cream.
One of the best things to do in Zurich is to just wander through old town. Along the way you’ll come across stunning architecture, stylish eateries, boutique shops, and interesting churches. Fraumünster is one of Zurich’s most iconic churches and features a rare treat: stained glass windows by Marc Chagall. These windows have the same soft whimsical quality of Chagall’s paintings, only on glass. Quirky little spots abound everywhere and other interesting sights you’ll wander by are places like Cabaret Voltaire. Now a boutique shop, it was once the birthplace of Dadaism. Just across the way is a building where Lenin once lived, planning war while the dadaists plotted a different course for peace. Another thing I love is that sections of old town still use gas lamps, making it feel like you have stepped back in time.
Cafe Break: Café Conditorei
We stopped in at Café Conditorei, where they serve up extra creamy and delicious hot chocolate and sweet treats. If you’re here around the holidays, you’ll get to see the cafe in its full seasonal glory: illuminated to the max with Christmas lights both inside and out, windows overflowing with gingerbread houses and elves. Upstairs are several floors of dining rooms, some with plush pink chairs that create an old world atmosphere.
Kunsthaus Zürich is Zurich’s go-to art museum with a collection of roughly 4,000 paintings, sculptures and installations spanning the Middle Ages to Contemporary Art, with an emphasis on Swiss art. The museum’s collection also includes works by Edvard Munch, Jacques Lipchitz and Alberto Giacometti. Swiss artists such as Johann Heinrich Füssli, Ferdinand Hodler, Pipilotti Rist, and Peter Fischli are also represented.
Dinner Hotspot: La Salle
Located in the trendy industrial corner of Zurich, La Salle is enclosed in a glass cube inside an old warehouse decked out with chandeliers and featuring a giant wall of alcohol illuminated from behind. A couple standout dishes included the Steak in Red Wine Sauce and a starter of Scallops and Mango Salad with Avocados.
One of the best things to do when it’s cold out (or really anytime!) is to unwind and decompress at the spa. A great spa in Zurich is Thermabald & Spa, which is housed in an old brewery. The spa is part of the same chain as the spa at Mount Rigi, although the Zurich spa is above and beyond.
Bathing in Beer Barrels
This spa features “mystic grottos” encased in hundred-year-old vaulted stone walls inside atmospheric underground rooms that give one the impression of swimming in tunnels under the city. With wavering watery light from the water dancing across the ceiling, you can bathe in bubbling hot water inside large wooden brewery barrels.
Irish & Roman Spa
The Irish-Roman Spa section is divine. It features a circuit of baths that take about 1.5 hours to go through and there is a bistro inside stocked with free tea and water to nourish serious spa goers between baths. The first stop on the circuit is a steam room with steam so thick you won’t be able to see in front of yourself when you enter. The next station features a peel bath where you can rub yourself down with an exfoliating scrub evocative of apricots. Next is another steam bath, followed by a shower station where you can reset your body temperature by rinsing off in ice water. That is followed by a cooler pool that will refresh you, then a medium-warm pool lined with jets along the walls and railings. You can float from one room to another in these warm pools looking up at the brick ceiling with its gentle water reflections. If you get too relaxed, off to the side are relaxation stations with waterproof beds perfect for naps that are stocked with pillows and lit with candles and chandeliers.
Zurich Sky Bath
You can also take the elevator to the top floor where you can soak in an open outdoor thermal bath under the sky and take in beautiful panoramic views of Zurich’s skyline from the steaming waters. From this pool on the roof of the old brewery, you can see all of Zurich while you soak, the cold air on your face, with the snowy alps in the background and Lake Zurich spread out below with church spires and rising steam creeping up from the city.
A spa day was the perfect way to finish off our stay in Zurich. I love Zurich because the city offers the perfect blend of old-school European charm and cutting-edge cosmopolitan flare. After my second visit to Zurich, I know it’s just a matter of time before I come back.
To read about our other adventures in Switzerland, click here.