Nestled on the shore of its tranquil eponymous lake where it meets river Limmat, Zurich is a city that dons many hats. Founded by the Romans as early as 15 BC, the town’s historic centre or Altstadt is a kaleidoscope of historic buildings, churches with tall steeples and majestic clock faces, boutique stores and restaurants. All hosted on its winding, narrow cobbled roads and alleys, the area has a distinct medieval vibe that is both intriguing and interesting.
Beyond the old town is a city that is a bustling financial centre which is chic and contemporary. With cosmopolitan neighbourhoods, trendy shopping centres, a vibrant nightlife and excellent local transportation, it is little wonder that the largest city of Switzerland has been ranked consistently as one of the most liveable cities of the world.
Given its eclectic nature, there is a lot to explore in Zurich beyond its famous landmarks. From chasing water fountains in the city to munching on piping hot heissi marroni, here is a list of some of the unusual things to see and do in Zurich.
If Zurich old town is the conventional favourite with tourists, head over to the hip and stylish neighbourhood of Zurich West. The area which was earlier home to industrial establishments, warehouses and ship building yards is now an effervescent quarter with a distinct creative and bonhomie vibe. While here, do not miss the Prime Tower, Switzerland’s second tallest skyscraper as well as the Viadukt which is a refurbished railway viaduct housing restaurants, pubs and boutique shops within its arches.
If nature and plants are your cup of tea, then do not miss the Zurich Succulent Plant Collection that has a whopping 6000 varieties of succulents all housed under one roof. In fact, the collection makes up for close to half of the succulent species of the entire world. For the uninitiated, succulents are a wide group of plants with fleshy stems and leaves that thrive in arid and semi-arid conditions. The collections include plants native to countries like North America, Africa, Chile and Mexico. With detailed descriptions within each of the glass houses, the plants with their amazing growth replete with spines, thorns, buds and even flowers and fruits are totally stunning! It is here that you can learn about the differences between aloe and agave as well as the fact that many species of orchids are actually succulents!
There is no denying that fact that chocolates and Switzerland are a match made in heaven. So, if you have had your fair share of exploring the delectable candies of Lindt, Sprungli and Callier, head over to sample some gourmet goodies. A champion of sustainability and fair trade, Max Chocolatier is a specialist in hand made chocolate with completely natural ingredients. With offerings inspired by the season, they curate some of the most exotic flavours like saffron, port wine, black tea and even tobacco. Set up on the bank of river Limmat, Oro de Cacao is yet another speciality boutique who follow a patented cold extraction process and do not roast the cocoa beans at high temperatures which make it very bitter. This way they retain almost the entire aromas and flavours of the bean and need to add less sugar to make the chocolate sweet. A panacea for all the calorie conscious tribe!
Ride the Dolderbahn
Yet another unique thing to do while in Zurich is to ride the 1.3 km Dolderbahnn rack railway. Operational since 1895, the line was originally was a funicular railway before being converted to a rack operation. A perfect way to escape the urban chaos, the line takes you to the forested area of Adlisberg within minutes. With a steep gradient almost high as 20% in parts, the ride treats you to some splendid views and beautiful scenery all around. With the Dolder Grand Hotel and the Dolder recreation area at the summit, you can indulge in your share of relaxation and unwinding before you take the train down back to the city.
Beyer Clock and Watch Museum
Located on Zurich’s Bahnhofstrasse which is the most sophisticated street in the city, the Beyer Clock and Watch Museum is a treat for any watch lover. The private collection housed within the complex of the Beyer Chronometrie shop has close to 200 time keeping and navigation instruments starting from 1400 BC. Opened in 1971, the collection belongs to Theodor Beyer whose legacy is being continued by his son, Rene Beyer. From sundials to hourglasses to grandfather’s clocks to pocket watches and wrist watches, the collection is truly spectacular. There are special cases dedicated to watches and clocks made in and around Zurich as well as to Renaissance clocks.
Arguably the backbone of the city’s transportation system, trams and tram hopping are an intrinsic part of life in Zurich. A great way to learn all about the history and development of trams in Zurich is the tram museum housed in the Tram Depot of Burgwies. The exhibits on display include the original vintage vehicles dating to as early as 1897, yesteryear equipment like ticket punching machines and paraphernalia like sign boards, uniforms, sample tickets, ticket pouches and the like. The museum has interactive hands on activities like operating an actual tram car, models as well as getting to touch and feel the components that lie beneath a tram car. With extensive information boards and pictures, a visit to the Tram museum is indeed an insightful one. Read more about the museum here.
An edited version of this article was originally published in The City Story.