Zurich, a city known as the world’s largest financial hub, where the streets are expected to be populated by bankers on a suit and briefcase. Perhaps this reputation, on a travel point of view, for many, is what makes most people dismiss the largest capital of Switzerland as the place to go to for vacation, even for a short city break.
I confess I was guilty of this perception too, I thought Zurich will be boring and only consider the city on my Europe trip in order to break my flight onwards after Iceland, but I will say that I was extremely happy to be proven wrong.
Zurich is a charming town.
With the Lake Zurich meets the Limmat River as it divides the city into two, combined with the winding lanes of Old Town (Altstadt) dominated by the towering church steeples, then there are the efficient public transport system and the welcoming local residents, it is definitely more than just a city built for finance and wealth.
Despite being smaller in size and population when compared to other European city, Zurich has a vibrant mix of urban parks, museums, historic churches, cafes and shopping alleys, listing everything that are essential for a great day of city exploration.
It is easy to navigate around Zurich’s main attractions, it doesn’t matter whether you started at the left or right bank of the river, chances are, you will likely cover every corner and slopes of the Old Town. There is no need for a map, though it will be a wise decision to come up with a plan, in order not to miss out some of the city highlights.
The Romanesque-style Protestant church, with its twin-towered is one of the most visited and recognizable landmarks in the city, and to enter the church, to admire its interior is free. However, pay 5 CHF and never miss out the opportunity to climb the 200 narrow stone and wooden steps to the top and access the four balconies for the panoramic view of the city inclusive of the other three major churches, the river, the trams, the pedestrians moving across the streets.
Apart from the Grossmünster, the Fraumünster, the Predigerkirche, the St. Peter are the other churches that completed the so called four main churches of Zurich under the Evangelical Reformed Church of the Canton of Zürich.
All these churches located in the Old Town have prominent feature that sets them apart from each other- namely, The Grossmünster with the twin-towers, the Fraumünster with the beautiful large 5-stained glass windows by Marc Chagall, the Predigerkirche with its highly Gothic edifice, the St. Peter with the largest church clock of Europe.
But one thing that unites them together and the one that is a source of joy for many visitors is when the clock strikes an hour, all the four church bells rang simultaneously into one harmonious chorus.
I stayed right in the heart of the Old Town (highly recommended Otter Hostel), where everywhere is a short distance walk and did experience two days of totally contradicting weather, nonetheless, I enjoy every single time that I navigated both the main thoroughfare and the back alleys.
Starting from the location of museum of fine arts, the Kunsthaus Zürich, to the lively area around Bellevueplatz, the cafes and shops at Marktgrasse, the lovely Opernhaus Zürich and the adjoining Quaianlagen (Lakefront), to the main downtown and shopping street of Bahnhofstrasse, the maze like streets of Rennweg, finally ending to the always busy Zürich Hauptbahnhof, walking the alleyways of the Old Town is a sheer delight, and to do it on a day with clear blue sky while eating the takeout macaroons from Confiserie Café Sprüngli is a blessing, but even when the sky is grey, the Renaissance vibe of the Old Town never disappoints.
But one thing that remains constant when walking the Old Town is that everyone at some point will end up at the Lindenhof. The hilltop park is another great place to take in some memorable panoramic view of the city. The park is relaxing despite being crowded at certain times, it is a place to play some outdoor chess or to sit quietly on a bench daydreaming.
Apart from everything nice about the Old Town, what makes Zurich such a charming destination is how calm and relaxing it is. The city doesn’t demand any traveler to be mesmerized and certainly, it doesn’t expect anyone to be in jaw-dropping awe, what it asks for every traveler is to let the time flies, find enjoyment in doing the most basic activity, to simply walk, discover its streets and find pleasure in the surrounding.
After Iceland, Copenhagen, Santorini, Athens, the city of Zurich is such a breath of fresh air for me. The quiet moments I find myself purposely lost in the back alleys, pondering about life and the occasional home sickness are always my favorite time on any trip, and for this reason alone is what I am glad to be proven wrong about my initial perception about this charming city.