Alpine Adventure: How to Spend an Action-Packed 36 Hours in Zurich
Alpine Adventure: How to Spend an Action-Packed 36 Hours in Zurich - Ride the Rails up Üetliberg for Sweeping City Views
No visit to Zurich is complete without making the quick jaunt up to the peak of Üetliberg. This mini mountain rises just above the city and delivers absolutely stunning panoramas over all of Zurich and beyond. The views are so remarkable that you'll instantly understand why Üetliberg is known as Zurich's very own 'mountain'.
The most scenic and stress-free way to reach the top is via the charming cogwheel train. Departing from Zurich Hauptbahnhof, the ride takes just 20 minutes as you chug up through forests and clearings. On a clear day, which are common in Zurich, you'll enjoy dazzling vistas across Zurich and far beyond. Gaze out over the city's historic spires, the glimmering lake, and the snow-dusted Alps framing the horizon.
Once at the summit, soak up the views by strolling along the observation deck. On exceptionally clear days, it's said you can see all the way to the Black Forest in Germany! Don't forget to snap lots of photos for your Instagram feed. The terrace here also makes a fantastic spot for a picnic. Bring along a Swiss cheese platter and bottle of Riesling to perfectly complement the scenery.
After admiring the panorama, take some time to explore the summit. Well-marked hiking trails loop through the hills, passing through wildflower meadows and shady pine forests. If you're traveling with kids, they'll love the children's zoo located right at the top. Friendly goats, ponies, pigs, and more inhabitants are ready to say hello. There's also an astronomical observatory and quaint restaurant up here serving up traditional Swiss fare.
On your way back down the mountain aboard the cogwheel train, be sure to nab a window seat for optimal viewing. The descent offers an entirely new perspective over Zurich and the lake. You'll glide past neat Swiss chalets and farms, delivering an intimate glimpse into life in the Swiss countryside.
What else is in this post?
- Alpine Adventure: How to Spend an Action-Packed 36 Hours in Zurich - Ride the Rails up Üetliberg for Sweeping City Views
- Alpine Adventure: How to Spend an Action-Packed 36 Hours in Zurich - Wander Old Town's Cobbled Lanes and Medieval Charms
- Alpine Adventure: How to Spend an Action-Packed 36 Hours in Zurich - Indulge in Swiss Chocolate at Confiserie Sprüngli
- Alpine Adventure: How to Spend an Action-Packed 36 Hours in Zurich - See Zurich Through the Eyes of James Joyce
- Alpine Adventure: How to Spend an Action-Packed 36 Hours in Zurich - Take a Dip in Lake Zurich's Refreshing Waters
- Alpine Adventure: How to Spend an Action-Packed 36 Hours in Zurich - Marvel at Modern Art Museums and Cutting-Edge Galleries
- Alpine Adventure: How to Spend an Action-Packed 36 Hours in Zurich - Party into the Night in Zurich West's Trendy Bars
- Alpine Adventure: How to Spend an Action-Packed 36 Hours in Zurich - Hike Dramatic Trails to Stunning Alpine Vistas
Alpine Adventure: How to Spend an Action-Packed 36 Hours in Zurich - Wander Old Town's Cobbled Lanes and Medieval Charms
After soaking in the panoramic views from atop Üetliberg, make your way back down the mountain and dive into Zurich's captivating Old Town. This historic district is a delightful maze of narrow lanes and hidden squares, with architecture spanning nearly a millennium. Meandering Old Town's atmospheric streets offers an enchanting glimpse into Zurich's past, revealing a rich tapestry of cultures and eras.
Start your explorations at Lindenhof, an elevated square with far-reaching vistas over Zurich’s red-tiled rooftops. Dating from Roman times, this strategic spot once housed a fort. Today, Lindenhof delivers Instagrammable views without the climb up Üetliberg. Don't miss snapping pics by the towering 13th-century Lindenhof fountain, the square's centerpiece.
From Lindenhof, dive into the web of alleys that is Niederdorf. As you wander, you’ll discover charming boutiques, cozy cafes, and tiny taverns housed within medievals buildings. It's hard to grasp you're in the heart of Switzerland's largest city, not in some remote alpine village. Be sure to weave through Niederdorf's southern end near the river - this district is especially dense with well-preserved architecture spanning eight centuries.
Eventually you'll reach Zurich’s show-stopping Grossmünster, an imposing Romanesque and Gothic cathedral dating to the 9th century. Out front you'll find markets selling handmade crafts and food carts doling out savory Swiss street fare. Venture inside to view the cathedral’s exquisite stained glass windows and simplistic elegance.
Next make your way west to Fraumünster church, equally impressive with its sky-piercing spire and brilliant modern stained glass by Marc Chagall. Afterwards, stop into any of the inviting cafes surrounding the church - they make perfect perches for people watching as locals hustle along the lanes.
No amble through Old Town is complete without seeing the 13th-century St. Peter church, featuring the largest clock face in Europe. The adjacent steeple has loomed over the district for centuries. Be sure to stroll by in the evening to see the faces dramatically illuminated.
Alpine Adventure: How to Spend an Action-Packed 36 Hours in Zurich - Indulge in Swiss Chocolate at Confiserie Sprüngli
No trip to Switzerland would be complete without indulging in the country's world-famous chocolate. And in Zurich, there's no better place to experience the finest Swiss sweets than at the iconic Confiserie Sprüngli. This luxurious confectionary has been crafting delectable chocolate creations since 1836, making it Zurich's oldest chocolatier.
Inside Sprüngli's elegant shop on Paradeplatz, you'll discover a decadent wonderland of truffles, pralines, bars, and pastries that look almost too perfect to eat. Displays overflow with rows of flawless handmade chocolates, each innocently waiting to melt across your tastebuds. The heavenly smell of cocoa envelops you as you peruse the first-rate selection.
Sprüngli's chocolate menu ranges from classic flavors like smooth milk chocolate and bittersweet dark chocolate to more exotic fusions. Expect unexpected infusions like green tea ganache, rum-raisin cream, and cappuccino truffle. Those with especially refined tastes can sample single-origin bars made from rare cocoa sourced from places like Tanzania, Java, or Samoa.
While everything looks divine, don't leave without sampling Sprüngli's iconic Luxemburgerli. These melt-in-your-mouth macarons sandwiched with smooth chocolate ganache will redefine your concept of perfection. Biting into the crisp exterior shell followed by the decadent center is a truly transcendent experience. The Luxemburgerli comes in a spectrum of flavors from pistachio to coffee to lemon, but the classic chocolate version remains the favorite.
In addition to chocolate, Sprüngli crafts arguably the finest patisserie in Zurich. Their displays burst with flawless cakes, tarts, and pastries flaunting intricate designs. The irresistible aroma of buttery croissants and cinnamon-laced choux wafts through the shop. For a delightful taste of spring, try the strawberry tart crowned with jewel-toned berries and velvety cream.
While savoring Sprüngli's confections, don't miss admiring the sublime belle époque interior. Ornate woodwork, sparkling chandeliers, and stained glass windows transport you back to the early 1900s. For total old-world immersion, nab a marble cafe table to enjoy your treats alongside a cappuccino or tea.
Alpine Adventure: How to Spend an Action-Packed 36 Hours in Zurich - See Zurich Through the Eyes of James Joyce
Though he spent just a few years in Zurich, famed Irish author James Joyce left an indelible mark on the city. For literary travelers, tracing Joyce's footsteps grants an enlightening glimpse into his inspiration and works.
Arriving in neutral Switzerland as World War I erupted across Europe, Joyce found refuge in Zurich from 1915 to 1919. The bustling city evoked an air of cultured cosmopolitanism, while the stable government provided a safe haven for artists and intellectuals alike. Though Joyce would later live in Paris, he always considered his formative years in Zurich the happiest of his life.
During his Zurich sojourn, Joyce immersed himself in the city's vibrant cultural scene. He fell in with other writers and artists who gathered at Café Odeon to exchange ideas. This classic coffeehouse still retains its belle époque glamour, inviting you to take a seat and channel Joyce's spirit. Nearby James Joyce Foundation leads excellent walking tours revealing how Zurich kindled the author's avant-garde genius.
While in Zurich, Joyce toiled away on his genre-bending masterpiece Ulysses. Various Zurich landmarks found their way into the novel's pages, transposed into Dublin settings. For instance, Joyce spent many evenings debating literature and philosophy at a rustic pub called Zum Kropf. In Ulysses, its likeness emerges as Davy Byrne's, where protagonist Leopold Bloom grabs a cheese sandwich and glass of burgundy.
To glimpse Joyce's daily writing routine, head up to Universitätsstrasse 15. At this apartment, Joyce penned Ulysses meticulously each morning, fortified by strong coffee from the nearby Café Liz. He'd carefully structure 60 pages per month, with an eye on literary devices and Homeric parallels.
For a stirring experience, have a coffee or Irish stout at Joyce's former neighborhood haunt, Café Poterne. Little changed since his years, it was here Joyce often ended his rambling walks along the city's medieval lanes. This quaint café still exudes the aura of inspiration and sophistication that so moved Joyce.
No literary pilgrimage is complete without viewing the famed James Joyce Foundation. This excellent museum houses manuscripts, correspondences, photographs, and personal artifacts belonging to Joyce and his inner circle. Interactive displays recreate his private writing studio and explore his monumental contributions to modernist literature.
Alpine Adventure: How to Spend an Action-Packed 36 Hours in Zurich - Take a Dip in Lake Zurich's Refreshing Waters
After meandering medieval lanes and gorging on chocolate, nothing refreshes the spirit like a revitalizing dip in Lake Zurich's pristine blue waters. Though nestled in the heart of the city, the lake exudes the unspoiled beauty of an alpine idyll. Taking a swim allows you to immerse in the invigorating landscape that so enchanted the Swiss Romantics.
Zurichers adore plunging into the lake to escape the summer heat. The city maintains over two dozen official bathing areas known as badis, equipped with changing rooms, snack bars, grassy lawns, and diving towers. These range from bustling family-friendly zones to hidden gems favored by locals seeking seclusion. My insider favorite is Badi Tiefenbrunnen, a laidback spot hemmed by wooded hills in a serene fjord-like setting.
Slipping into the silky water, you’re instantly struck by the lake’s refreshing chill even on hot days. Bracing yet enjoyable, temperatures average around 68°F during summer, dropping to a numbing 50°F by October. I suggest easing in slowly to acclimate. Once submerged, you’ll find Lake Zurich’s vaunted cleanliness lets you see your toes, even far from shore. Looking outward, the grand panorama makes you feel insignificantly small amid the commanding Alps.
As I lazily bob along, nostalgic paddle steamers frequently chug by, their whistles echoing off the hillsides. These antique vessels evoke Zurich’s romantic past, when bohemian luminaries like Wagner and Liszt traversed the calm waters. Watching the aged paddle wheels churn, I conjure up visions of Rhine maidens and find inspiration for my own artistic passions.
While floating, snow-capped mountains loom large around the lake's perimeter. I often gaze southward, where the Glarner Alps appear deceptively close across the glistening water. Jutting 9,000 feet skyward, these icy behemoths make the lake feel intimate yet elemental. Looking northeast, the dreamlike Rigi massif rises steeply over the opposite shore, summoning my inner wanderlust.
Alpine Adventure: How to Spend an Action-Packed 36 Hours in Zurich - Marvel at Modern Art Museums and Cutting-Edge Galleries
Beyond its medieval core, Zurich boasts a thriving contemporary art scene that's surprisingly avant-garde for such a historic city. Zurich's modern art museums and edgy galleries offer an entirely different perspective on this Swiss metropolis. Venturing to these creative hubs lets you experience Zurich's cosmopolitan spirit and vibrant cultural landscape.
One must-see is the Kunsthaus Zürich, the city's fine arts museum. Its exceptional modern collection includes works by Picasso, Chagall, Mondrian, Warhol, and more masters of the 20th century. One standout is Monet's ethereal floral water lilies, the only such series permanently installed outside France. Beyond the permanent collection, the Kunsthaus hosts brilliant rotating exhibits focused on everything from architecture to digital media.
Just up the street lies Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, focused solely on contemporary and experimental works created post-1960. Across its multiple galleries, witness provocative pieces employing novel mediums and challenging artistic norms. Exhibits confront complex social issues through immersive multimedia installations. Standouts include Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson's evocative light projections and Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei's moving portraits of exiled activists.
No trip through Zurich's art scene is complete without braving Cabaret Voltaire - birthplace of the anarchic Dada movement that upended modern art. In 1916 Hugo Ball riled Zurich's bohemians through absurdist poetry readings and skits satirizing bourgeois society. Costumed chaos reigned during legendary all-night parties in Cabaret Voltaire’s intimate lair. Today, you can still catch avant-garde performances in the stripped-down subterranean bar. Channel Zurich’s rebellious spirit through live experimental music, improv, and more.
Just west lies the dense Kreis 5 neighborhood, hub of Zurich's underground art scene. Wander narrow lanes discovering edgy cooperatives and galleries like Shedhalle, Gessnerallee, and Kolly Galerie. Here, young provocateurs debut multimedia productions and host raucous cultural events. Zurich West also hides intimate performance venues, street art-adorned underpasses, and pop-up parties in abandoned factories.
Alpine Adventure: How to Spend an Action-Packed 36 Hours in Zurich - Party into the Night in Zurich West's Trendy Bars
After a day spent immersed in culture high and low, Zurich cuts loose once sunset falls. The city boasts a thriving nightlife scene spanning raucous clubs, cozy pubs, and charming wine bars. Among trend-seekers, the epicenter of after-dark fun is Zurich West. Here, in repurposed factories and former industrial buildings, you'll discover some of the city's hippest haunts to drink and dance the night away.
Leading the pack is Härterei, a legendary club housed in a vast concrete hall that was once a water processing plant. On weekends, Härterei draws devotees of electronic beats across Switzerland and beyond. Thumping house and techno beats reverberate through the raw industrial space from Friday night into Monday morning. Flashing strobe lights and dazzling lasers transform the cavernous concrete interior into an all-night rave oasis. Don't miss the Sunday gay night, a legendary LGBTQ+ party running nonstop nearly 24 hours.
Nearby, Frida Kahlo bar offers a more intimate scene in a cozy, candlelit space. Chill beats and exotic cocktails inspire lively conversations that run late into the night. On temperate evenings, nab a seat on the outdoor terrace overlooking the Limmat River. Inside, eye-catching patron portraits gaze down from the richly hued walls. After a few mezcals, you may just find yourself gabbing beside Frida herself.
Further west, Frau Gerolds Garten is a unique open-air club situated on the grounds of a former railroad depot. Outdoor bars, food stands, lounges, and dance floors sprawl across the large, lantern-lit yard. From reggae to house, live DJs get the crowd moving under the stars on balmy summer nights. Frau Gerolds Garten delivers a laidback, festival-like atmosphere in the heart of the city.
For beer lovers, Bierhalle Wolf has perfected the ultimate neighborhood pub experience. Their excellent craft beer selection draws a hip yet unpretentious crowd. With long wooden tables and walls decked in Swiss kitsch, Bierhalle Wolf feels more like an alpine chalet than city bar. Strike up conversations with fellow patrons as you sip through Swiss brews like Ueli Bier's citrusy pale ale. Soak up the booze with menus of hearty pub grub.
If wine is more your speed, Corazón features a lengthy list focused on boutique Swiss vineyards. Their cozy lounge lined with wine barrels and brick arches makes an ideal date night destination. Complement your glass of earthy Walliser pinot noir with sharing plates of raclette, risotto, or tartines.
Alpine Adventure: How to Spend an Action-Packed 36 Hours in Zurich - Hike Dramatic Trails to Stunning Alpine Vistas
After exploring Zurich’s urban pleasures, one of the most rewarding ways to spend your final hours is escaping into nature. The stunning Alpine vistas surrounding the city offer some of Europe’s most spectacular hiking. With towering snow-capped peaks, gushing waterfalls, and crystalline lakes, the panoramas are straight out of Heidi. The convenient proximity of Zurich’s dramatic trails makes enjoying these jaw-dropping views easily accessible.
One of my favorite nearby hikes is the 5-hour roundtrip ascent from Glarus to Obersee. This moderate trail climbs through wildflower meadows into the postcard-perfect Linthal Valley tucked deep in the Glarus Alps. As you gain elevation, the scenery shifts from rolling pastures to rocky cliffs towering above. Ascending above the tree line, you’re rewarded with awe-inspiring 360° views across the mountains and mirror-like Obersee lake. From this lofty perch, it feels like you can see forever as distant snowy giants pierce the horizon.
On clear days, some claim you can even glimpse the soaring peak of the Matterhorn far to the southwest. But keep your eyes peeled for ibex, chamois, and marmots that inhabit these stony heights. If you’re brave, go for a brisk swim in Obersee’s chilled glacial waters to refresh yourself before the descent. Don’t miss riding the vintage funicular railway down the valley from Braunwald back to civilization.
Another memorable option is tackling the 6-hour roundtrip Etzelgrat Trail. This moderate route whisks you by cable car up from Meerenschwand into a wonderland of karst rock formations, alpine meadows, and panoramic vistas atop the Etzel massif. As you amble along the ridgetop path, you’ll enjoy nonstop views clear across central Switzerland. Gaze northward to take in the entire Zurichsee glimmering in the valley below. Turning south, you’ll be awestruck by the summit of Säntis, highest peak in the Alpstein range, floating above the clouds.
For an easier option closer to Zurich, take the Sihltal Train just 30 minutes south of the city into the provincial Sihl Valley. Here, you can wander through timeless hamlets with dense forests and snowy peaks encircling you. One favorite 2-hour trail leads from Sihlwald up to the frothing cascade of Sihlsee Falls. As the misty torrent roars beside you, it’s hard to believe downtown Zurich is only miles away.
Venturing into the mountains allows you to channel Switzerland’s adventurous spirit while soaking up the storybook alpine ambience. As the Swiss writer C.G. Jung put it, “Nature must be endlessly contemplated so that life does not become the mere habit of living.” Returning to Zurich’s cobblestone streets with renewed wonder, you’ll treasure how this urban oasis synthesizes cultural sophistication and awe-inspiring nature.