No visitor to Zürich, of course, expects a stay there to be inexpensive. Still, it would be a pity to miss Switzerland’s largest city for fear a visit might cost too much.
Reflections of the tall white houses of the Altstadt shimmer in the Limmat River that is its centerpiece. Swans glide grandly by. A stroll along the Schipfe from which ships of long ago set out across the waterway, affords a splendid view of the riverfront. But an even grander one is from the higher Lindenhof—a park that marks the site of the Roman settlement that was the start of the city. And, best of all, from the 2,857-foot high Uetliberg, the whole city comes into view.
In summer, sailboats tack across the lake—the Zürichsee—and on clear days the mountains of Uri and Glarus are its backdrop.
On the pedestrian Limmatquai on the river’s left bank (across the river if you are coming from the Hauptbahnhof) stand the 17th-century Renaissance-style Rathaus, and the 15th-century Wasserkirche, in whose crypt are the remains of the city’s patron saints, Felix and Regula, beheaded by the Romans. Here, too, is the 18th-century Helmhaus, formerly a law court and a linen market. Along the quay are souvenir shops and hotels, shoe stores, and trendy clothing stores.
Uphill from the river, is lively Niederdorf, along whose largely pedestrian main street, cafés and restaurants, hotels and bars abound. On the narrow, cobble-stoned side streets leading down to the river, are a number of small hotels.
Legend has it that it was Charlemagne who, on the left bank, founded the twin-towered Romanesque Grossmünster that is the city’s symbol. Later, on the right bank, his grandson founded the Fraumünster, which is now decorated with five stained-glass chancel windows by Marc Chagall. Zürich also boasts the largest clock face in Europe in the tower of St. Peter-Kirche.
For those more interested in the present than the past, the Bahnhofstrasse, on the right bank of the Limmat, is the site of some of Switzerland’s most elegant shopping and window-shopping, with department stores such as Globus and Jelmoli, watchmakers and jewelry shops and fashion boutiques. There are also fine cafés and restaurants and chocolate shops. On the little streets above, along the Rennweg, are smaller elegant boutiques and, on the Schipfe, artisans’ shops.
Zürich proudly boasts 50 museums for its residents and visitors. Some of them—the Spielzeug (Toy Museum), the Swiss Hotel and Tourism Museum, the Museum of the Reformation under the Grossmünster, and the writer Thomas Mann’s study in the Thomas Mann Archives—are free.
There is art for visitors on a budget to view for nothing, too: Along the lakefront are sculptures by Henry Moore and Jean Tinguely while in the Heidi Weber House is the last work of Le Corbusier. Murals by Alberto Giacometti cover the entryway of Zürich’s Police Headquarters and Zürich is home to some 100 art galleries.
Zürich Tourist Information
Options for Less Expensive Zürich Hotels
Although there are some relatively inexpensive hotels in the center of the city, newer less costly ones are in Zürich West, an up-and-coming “young “area that is being developed in the former industrial section. Here, there are bars and clubs and a number of fine museums: the Kunsthalle Zürich, emphasizes contemporary art, and the Migros Museum offers a permanent collection of the work of 700 modern artists of many nations plus temporary exhibits. All are housed in the former Löwenbräu Brewery Building. (Please bear in mind that, in addition to its attractions, Zürich West is an area in transition and a workplace of cranes and bulldozers and torn-up streets.)
In the neighborhood is an ETAP Hotel at Technoparkstrasse 2 (tel. +41 44-276-2000, fax +41-44-276-2001). A simple room, big enough for three persons with one double bed and a bunk bed above it, a shower, washstand and toilet, TV, but no frills (no closet, only hooks for clothes, one hard chair, a small desk-like table, no phone) is CHF 101 to 107 single, and CHF 110-125 double with an 11 additional francs for a buffet breakfast. But prices can change quickly so it is wise—as is the case with all Zürich hotels—to price shop and make bookings well in advance of any trip.
The slightly more expensive three-star Ibis Zürich City-West Hotel is nearby at 11 Schiffbaustrasse. Double rooms are CHF 129 to 199, without breakfast. (tel. +41-44-27-62-100, fax +41-44-27-62-101)
Inexpensive Restaurants of Zürich
For inexpensive dining—though it won’t be romantic and must be finished by 8pm—department store stand-up bars and self-service restaurants are the places to go. At Globus on the Bahnhofstrasse, a meal of pizza or lasagna is under CHF 15, a small salad less than 10, fish with dill sauce under CHF 20, and a small portion of lamb with rice under CHF 15.
At Manor on the Bahnhofstrasse, the soup of the day is less than 10 francs, a pizza less than 20 and a small salad less than 10. Coop-City on the Bahnhofstrasse is another good bet. The top floor of Jelmoli also offers relatively inexpensive dining, and in summer an outdoor terrace is an inviting part of the experience
On Lowenstrasse, a street parallel to the Bahnhofstrasse, and only a five-minute walk from the Bahnhof, the Migros food store has a top-floor restaurant where the midday menu is 12 francs, salads start at CHF 3.40, coffee and soft drinks at 2.60 francs.
The cafeterias of the University of Zürich and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology also offer inexpensive meals.
If the weather is fine, Marinello near the Rathaus is an outdoor stand with stand-up tables where soup with bread is about CHF 10, falafel a little less, and pizza under CHF 20.
For more restful sit-down midday dining try Restaurant Schipfe 16 along the riverfront. A midday menu is about CHF 20, but the restaurant is closed in the evening.
And then there is Zeughauskeller at Bahnhofstrasse 28a near Paradeplatz. A former arsenal, it is much frequented by local residents because of its hearty Swiss fare, beer hall ambiance and fine prices. The décor is a curious mix that includes old armor and a TV screen. A hefty pan-fried veal sausage with onion sauce and homemade potato salad is CHF 18.5. (Note: In 2003, Gemütlichkeit placed Zeughauskeller among eight “Great Dining Halls” of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.)
At Pizzeria Molino at Limmatquai 16, pasta is CHF 15 to 39, eggplant Parmesan is about 20 francs, or a fish dinner about 15. A 24-hour branch of this chain restaurant is near Bellevue.
At Vorderer Sternen, Theaterstrasse 22, the grilled meats are renowned and a half-chicken is just five Swiss francs, a chicken or vegetarian burrito is less than CHF 10, and Schnitzelbrot—veal cutlet on a roll—less than CHF 15. But it is for the six-franc grilled wurst that the restaurant is most famous.
Urban, trendy Les Halles, Pfingstweidstrasse 6, is an organic marketplace that sells fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and wine, but it’s also a restaurant with pasta for CHF 15 and meat dishes at CHF 24. In the evening, however, the prices rise.
At the Thai restaurant, Ah-Hua, at Brauerstrasse 9, fried noodles and fried rice dishes cost CHF 18 and soups are less.
Lili’s Stomach Supply, a pan-Asian restaurant at Langstrasse 47 is another good bet with curries and noodle dishes under CHF 20.
Such American and Mexican items as hamburgers, quesadillas, enchiladas and tortillas at reasonable prices (many under CHF 20) are offered at Iroquois, 120 Seefeldstrasse, while New Point, at 77 Kasermenstrasse, specializes in inexpensive Turkish fare. Both Iroquois and New Point are chain restaurants.
Zum Guten Gluck at the Bahnhof Wiedikon is an inviting café specializing in pancakes. Some are sweet. Some are sour. The price is about CHF 12.
Zürich need not break your pocketbook. —Phyllis Meras