Can you believe that in more than 6 years of living in Switzerland, I do not have a single blog post about Zurich, the largest Swiss city? Although I’ve been here several times (even once long before I knew that Switzerland would one day become our home). So all I have to do is correct this mistake immediately and introduce you to this bustling city, which is in a way beautiful in all seasons.
Getting to Zurich
With a large train station (Zürich Hauptbahnhof) and an international airport, Zurich is the main transport hub in Switzerland. If you go here by train, it is most likely that your train connection will spit you out directly on the busy Zurich HB.
If you go here by car: there are several parking houses in the city center and I would like to warn you in advance that parking here can be quite expensive on weekdays (even 5 CHF/hour). During our recent trip, we used the Urania parking house that is pretty close to the old town, where on Sundays and holidays, parking fees cost a pleasant 2 francs per hour.
A brief history of Zurich
It should come as no surprise that the area was first fortified in the first century by the Romans, who called it Turicum. Just as Rome has its Romulus and Remus, so Zurich has its two holy patrons: the siblings Felix and Regula, who were Roman Christians, deserters from the Theban Legion, which was encamped in 286 in Valais. The siblings made their way through Glarus to Zurich, where they were captured and executed by beheading.
In 1351, Zurich joined the Swiss Confederation, and during the Middle Ages, the city became rich, mainly due to textiles and banking. The town reached its peak in the 16th century when the first reformer Huldrych Zwingli was the first to accept the Reformation.
In 2020, Zurich was declared the most expensive city in the world *. Many banking and financial institutions have their headquarters here, which makes it one of the world’s largest financial centers.
Tour of the Old Town
There are undoubtedly many tourist attractions in Zurich, but the tour on the following lines focuses on the sights in the city center. It’s quite small and compact, but you can easily get lost in a tangle of narrow cobbled streets. The old town is bordered by the central train station in the north, Lake Zürich in the south, and spreads a few blocks east and west from the Limmat River that runs through the city and divides the old town into two sections. Btw. The Limmat River flows out of the lake after flowing through the lake as it flows into the lake like the Linth River.
The route of our tour was given by the “hunt” for the fountains full of roses, which were prepared here over Easter by the local Reformed Church. There were a total of 7 fountains and they were located on both banks of the Limmat River near the main tourist attractions of the Old Town (especially churches), so the route can perfectly serve first-time visitors of Zurich.
From Parkhaus Urania we crossed Rudolf-Brun-Brücke (by the way, Rudolf Brun was the mayor of Zurich in the 14th century, who handed over power over the city from the merchant nobility to the local craft guilds) to the eastern bank of the Limmat river to the part known as Niederdorf, or Dörfli. It is known for being full of cafes, shops, but also picturesque nooks.
2. Grossmünster Cathedral
Through Marktgasse and Münstergasse we reached the Grossmünster Cathedral. The church was founded by Charlemagne in the ninth century, but it acquired its present appearance as a three-nave basilica between 1100 and 1220. According to excavations, there was a Roman cemetery with the relics of Saints Felix and Regula. Yeah, the two siblings I mentioned above (and I’ll mention them a few more times). Here was the place where they passed away. But not only that, it makes Grossmünster one of the city’s most famous sights. In the 16th century, the preacher and rioter Huldrych Zwingli began his campaign against the Catholic Church, and so the Reformation reached Zurich. Admission to the cathedral and its crypt is free and photography is not permitted here. The crypt under the altar contains the original statue of Charlemagne from the 15th century, which was removed from one of the towers. For 5 francs you can climb 187 steps to the Karlsturm tower and enjoy wonderful views of the city.
3. Wasserkirche church
With a stone’s throw from Grossmünster stands another important church – the Wasserkirche, a late Gothic church originally standing on a separate island. It was at this place that Felix and Regula were executed. Legend has it (nothing for the faint of heart, so if you don’t have a strong stomach, skip the following lines) that even though their heads were cut off here, they were miraculously able to get up, took their severed heads in their hands and took another 40 steps uphill (ie to today’s Grossmünster), where they knelt, prayed to God, and then passed away.
We crossed the Münstrerbrücke and reached the left bank of the Limmat river at Stadthausquai. Here is a wooden building – Frauenbad (aka Women’s bath). This Art Nouveau open-air bathing facility, built between 1881 and 1887, remains the exclusive domain of female guests to this day.
Bürkliplatz square is the mainhub, where you will find the main boat station, the bus, and the tram stops, which meet right where the farmers’ market takes place every Tuesday and Friday morning, and the antiques market on Saturdays.
6. Lakeside promenade
You can’t make a mistake if you decide to see Zurich and its surroundings from the deck of a cruise ship. It is a pleasant and comfortable break from walking through the streets of a busy city. The short cruise lasts about 1.5 hours and costs CHF 8.80 (half with Halb-tax). During this cruise, one of the stops is Kilchberg, where you can get off and visit the Lindt chocolate factory (link below). The mini-cruise costs CHF 6.80. More information here. A cruise at sunset is also very beautiful.
7. Fraumünster Church
From Bürkliplatz, we took Fraumünsterstrasse towards the Fraumünster church, which is another important church in the city. In 853, the first Benedictine female convent was founded here. Inside you can see the famous stained glass windows of the Russian painter of Jewish origin Marc Chagall. For CHF 5 you can take an audio-guide tour of the church and the crypt. Btw. This church also has something to do with saints Felix and Regula – in 874, the crypt was built here to store their remains.
The Münsterhof is the largest square in Zurich’s Old Town and is surrounded by medieval buildings.
9. St. Peter’s church
From the Münsterhof you can head to the St. Peter’s church. With a diameter of 8.7 m, the church clock is the biggest clock face in Europe. However, we went through the alleys of Storchengasse (to the famous Hotel Storchen) and then continued Strehlgasse until we joined the famous Augustinergasse.
Augustinergasse is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and most photographed streets in Zurich. The street is lined with multicolored histori, with one cuter than the other.
The Augustinergasse opens onto the famous Bahnhofstrasse. The busy Bahnhofstrasse is the main street in Zurich and one of the most expensive and exclusive shopping avenues in the world. Every year, on the last but one Thursday of November, the Lucy lights – 23,000 light crystals spread over a distance of one kilometer – light up here, announcing the beginning of the Advent period.
When you turn right from Bahnhofstrasse at the Jelmoli department store to Oetenbachgasse, and then once again to Lindenhofstrasse, you reach the Lindenhof lookout point. It was here in Roman times that there was a customs post. Today it offers beautiful views of the Zurich skyline. And from here it’s a few steps back to the Urania parking house.
It is quite clear to me that it was beyong my power to include all the landmarks, cool bars and trendy restaurants that you could/should visit in Zurich into this post. But that was not my goal. I just wanted to outline a detailed overview of where to go if you are in Zurich for the first time and would like to see the best of it. But if you have tips on places that you would recommend to me and the readers of this blog, do not hesitate to send them to me!
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