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Zurich by night with panoramic view over the whole lake basin.

A weekend break in Zurich: An insider’s guide to Switzerland’s largest city

By Rebecca Underwood on 24th March 2017

For those yearning to escape the constant demands of life in the fast lane, consider taking a weekend break this summer and escape to Zürich, the largest city in Switzerland, located on the northern shores of the tranquil Lake Zürich.

Zürich is widely regarded as the best city in the world for its quality of life and as a centre of finance and banking it remains the wealthiest city in Europe. The people of Zürich are clearly dedicated to protecting their environment as the public transport system is used by the vast majority. Trains, trams, electric and diesel buses, river and lake boats and a cable car are the preferred modes of transport and this is reflected in the quality of the city air. Zürich offers visitors the opportunity to experience an insight into a thriving and vibrant city, which is not dominated by the car.

Zurich with view of Quaibruecke and Alps.
Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland. Credit: Switzerland Tourism

Take a leisurely stroll along the promenade of Lake Zürich, festooned with colourful flowers creating a heavenly scent, which hangs in the air. Head for the meandering cobbled stone streets of Aldstadt (the old town) and browse around the eclectic art galleries, the charming antique shops and book stores galore. Pause awhile and stop off for a coffee and a Swiss pastry or two. No doubt you will be enchanted by the view of the snow capped Alps in the distance.

For an exceptional shopping experience wander along Bahnhofstrasse, where the finest boutiques and stores feature international fashion labels, exquisite jewellery and of course an abundance of wrist watches. Even the most resistant shopper is sure to part with a substantial amount of francs, once succumbing to the sight of those glittering treasures displayed in the shop windows.

To examine another impressive collection of time pieces visit the Clock and Watch Museum within the Beyer Chronometrie shop, also on Bahnhofstrasse. This private collection includes exhibits dating from 1400BC to the present day and features fascinating oil and water clocks, sun dials, hourglasses, table and grandfather clocks and delicate pocket and wrist watches.

Baur au Lac Hotel
The Baur au Lac hotel offers effortless luxury on the edge of Lake Zurich

Take a leisurely stroll along to the nearby Confiserie Sprüngli; it’s Swiss chocolate heaven for those of us with an insatiable sweet tooth. The Sprüngli company dates back to 1836 and they are certainly masters in their field and you are sure to be tempted by the mountains of homemade pralinés and truffles. Sample the delicious VIP selection, made with butter ganache with a hint of kirsch or rum or the chocolate apricot or Tahitian vanilla.

After that calorific overload, make your way to Platzspitz Park, the location of the Swiss National Museum where you will be able to take an intriguing glimpse into Swiss culture and history. The Museum was built in 1898 by the talented Gustav Gull and it is a truly striking building reflecting the style of a French Renaissance city chateau, with beautiful towers and courtyards. The main exhibition effortlessly guides the visitor from prehistoric to ancient times, through to the Middle Ages and on to the present day. There are several fascinating artefacts including colourful costumes, old pieces of furniture, stained glass and a selection of weapons and the mesmerising collection of Gothic art is not to be missed.

Baur au Lac Junior Suite Bathroom
Baur au Lac offers 119 luxury rooms and suites

For art lovers, Zürich is a treasure trove with more than 100 galleries and over 50 museums, and 14 of those are dedicated solely to art. View Zürich’s largest collection of modern art at the Kunsthaus Museum, which houses the widest selection of Munch masterpieces outside Norway. Other works include masterpieces by Chagall, Picasso, Braque, Giacometti and Monet, several medieval sculptures and a selection of contemporary pieces by Swiss artists including Ferdinand Hodler.

Be sure to make your way to the Fraumunster Church, which dates back to the 13th century, and where you can view five magnificent stained glass windows designed by Marc Chagall and visit St Peter’s Church, another treasured landmark, located next to the Lindenhof hill, its towering steeple is a city landmark and features the largest clock face in Europe.
For a relaxing afternoon take a 90 minute boat cruise and sail on the calm waters of Lake Zurich. The Lake Zurich Navigation Company at Burkliplatz harbour is a short walk from the old town and it is one of the most popular attractions in the city.

Baur au Lac Hotel
Baur au Lac enjoys a unique location overlooking the lake and the Alps

Weary explorers seeking relaxation should head for the luxurious Baur au Lac Hotel, which offers the highest levels of comfort and service. The property is set within its own private park overlooking the lake and the Alps, and is within walking distance to the Bahnhofstrasse. Accommodations are spacious, elegant, comfortable and inviting. Treat yourself to a 70 sqm deluxe suite with an unforgettable lake view. The spacious bathroom is the ideal spot to sink into a bath tub of bubbles, and the ultra comfortable beds with plump pillows and crisp white linens ensure a deep and rejuvenating slumber.

The hotel’s Michelin starred Pavillon restaurant provides an exceptional fine dining experience and the service is first class. Sample the Gyoza tortellini filled with butternut squash and sweet and sour diced pumpkin, followed by the most delicious steamed sole roulade, garnished with crayfish, Nantua sauce, Swedish turnip and pilaf rice, and the Grand Marnier Soufflé just cannot be ignored.

's Pavillion Restaurant
Baur au Lac’s Michelin starred Pavillon restaurant provides an exceptional fine dining experience and the service is first class

To dine further afield, hop on to tram no. 4 and head for the LaSalle restaurant and bar on Schiffbaustrasse. This stylish restaurant resembles a glass cube and is housed within the Schiffbau building, which dates back to 1825 when it was a cotton mill and later became a production plant. Steel beams and old rivets remain in place and a trolley crane hangs down from the ceiling. The menu features a wide variety of delicious dishes including a first class squid and papaya salad with chilli and coriander and a mouth watering braised beef in a red wine sauce.

For jazz lovers, Moods, also on Schiffbaustrasse, is undoubtedly one of the best ‘live’ jazz clubs in Europe and attracts some of the biggest names in the industry. Located next to LaSalle restaurant, this is the place for a toe tapping jazz experience.

And for a late night tipple or two visit Clouds on the 35th floor of the Prime Tower, the tallest building in Switzerland, located on Maagplatz. This contemporary and sophisticated bar, which is also a restaurant, is set on two floors and features floor to ceiling windows, which of course ensures that the visitor is overwhelmed by the stunning views over the city.
Whatever you decide to do in Zurich, you are sure to be charmed, it really is a Swiss gem.

Zurich river cruise on the river Limmat with view towards Town Hall and Grossmuenster.
Zurich river cruise on the River Limmat with a view towards the town hall and Grossmuenster. Credit: Switzerland Tourism

Top tip: Take advantage of low air fares. Visit easyjet.com for daily flights from Gatwick to Zurich.

Tip: Consider visiting Zurich in June or July when the Zurich festival takes place. A wide selection of operas, concerts, drama, dance and open air theatre performances take place and the city is even more vibrant and colourful in the Swiss sunshine. For more information visit zuerich.com/en/visit/bluesnjazz-rapperswil