Undoubtedly Zurich in the popular imagination is not a cheap destination. It will be because it is one of the tax havens in the world, because it has a whole neighborhood dedicated to the banks or because in its main street, the Bahnhofstrasse, there are alternate boutiques of famous brands, one after another, but the fact is that one of the concerns of those who choose Zurich as a destination for a vacation or just a weekend is to have to spend a small fortune.
But with a few tips you can take a trip to Zurich as a valid alternative to the most popular European capitals and not go broke.
Once in Zurich, we decide not to go to the hotel right away as the curiosity is too much and the hunger as well. I was taken back immediately by the orderliness of Switzerland as we leave our bags in the lockers and get out with the city map. All this at the station, which houses, among other things, an exchange office, a luggage room and a place of Zürich Tourism, where it's convenient to take a city card and purchase the Zurich Card. The Zurich Card is a valuable tool, a card that allows travel for 24 to 72 hours on all public transport in the city and in addition allows free entry to many museums.
A quick coffee is just enough time to look around and see in the lobby of the station the houses of the Christmas market, the largest indoor Christmas market in Europe, in the midst of which stands a very high tree decorated with over 15,000 Swarovski crystals.
We lift our eyes upwards to see floating in the lobby, the guardian angel of Niki de Saint Phalle, a giant rectangle of lights suspended from the ceiling of the station, with 25,000 light spheres each containing 12 LEDs. Not bad works of art at the station! We pass through the houses without stopping, because the market will be dedicated in our last hours in the city the next day, before taking the train back.
We jump on a streetcar line leading to a quick and cheap lunch. Street food, that's what it takes. In Zurich the street food is par excellence and is called bratwurst which can be found in the street kiosks. The basic choice is between a white sausage made of half beef and half pork, or a red sausage called Servelat, made entirely of pork.
We get ourselves refreshed with a drink of a beautiful Radler, a drink made of beer and lemonade, which immediately become the official drink of our two days in Zurich, as we decide to make an exploration walk. Zurich is beautiful to walk around and even discover its different souls. The pre-Christmas Zurich then is all a blaze of decorations and lights.
Several streets have themes of different lights. There is the modernity of the neon tubes that create furniture of light effects on Kunsthalle, the ecological spirit of the lights in a star made from recycled plastic bottles on Löwenstrasse, and the most classic and still beautiful tradition of the yellow lights waterfalls in other streets.
And much more. After this first taste we're going to put our luggage in the hotel. We sleep easy in a cheap Hotel which is in the center and has 3 basic rooms, which I would say was a modern zen with a bed, lights, a mirror and a bathroom that mimics that of the aircraft, but furthermore it has a shower.
The break in the hotel is fast, because the curiosity to see the city pushes us to get out of there and explore. And so on! Around the illuminated streets, the shops, walking along the river, we see the lake. With drop of lights, lighting up the decorations and there is a nice atmosphere from the winter to the north.
Swiss National Museum is a short walk from the station. The Museum is located in a century old building that has turned towers, but without being a castle. Inside, a courtyard hosts concerts and cultural events and at Christmas time is also present an ice-skating rink.
West Zürich is our next stop as we jump on a tram and go down in another Zurich. West Zürich is in fact a former industrial district, where old factories have been converted into bars, restaurants, galleries and cultural spaces. As the Schiffbau, a former shipyard that now houses a restaurant, a theater, a jazz club, a rooftop bar, we like the fusion of old and new for their ability to transform large areas of industrial structures, which have come back to life with stimulating aesthetics.
At dinner we go to eat at the restaurant, which was formerly a foundry, where the furnishings are reminiscent of the original use of the place and the menu is in iron and we here we enjoy a typical dish with the Zürcher Geschnetzeltes, a stew made of veal and mushrooms, accompanied by classic rösti, a crisp potato cake which we ask for the recipe to be able to do it again at home.
Nightlife? Yes! Let's see how is the Zurich night. At the exit of the restaurant we go nothing less than in the birthplace of Dadaism, in the Cabaret Voltaire, where in February 1916, he founded the Dada movement. Here between a beer and the other we look around and in the walls we find evidence of Dadaism with newspaper clippings, photographs and posters and even today in the back room of the bar, the one where we we enjoy our Radler, there is a stage where cabaret has indeed revived, after a long period of closure, with a busy program of events and exhibitions. Satisfied by the cultural-worldly-Dadaist experience, we decide that it's time to go to bed.
The next day morning, we deposit your luggage at the station, so we can retrieve them at the last moment before the train time and go where the city can be seen in a glance at the Lindenhof, on the hill that marks the beginning of the history of Turicum. Founded in 15 BC, from here you can enjoy an exceptional panorama of the historic core of the city and for the chess fans can enjoy a game using giant chess board that is located in this beautiful square.
A couple of photos and we go to Schipfe, one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, with a beautiful riverside location. Schipfe is also the neighborhood of the artisan workshops, where we ran to browse and buy. The Romanesque church of Fraumünster with beautiful stained glass windows by Marc Chagall is our next stop. We admire the colors of the stained glass windows that adorn the choir and then go for another round of shopping as we are in the pre-Christmas mood and we feel like acquiring self-gifts.
With loads of packages, it's time to enjoy some other Swiss specialties and so we sit at the restaurant, located in the heart of the city. The restaurant with wooden tables and an a little mountain atmosphere offers local cuisine, especially raclette and cheese fondue. Upon entering the scent of cheese we feel it in the air and immediately decide upon the raclette. Soon we start with the stove-funds cheese. We now also act as expert guides and explain what to do in Zurich to a Spanish lady and her daughter, who ask us curiously as we eat this dish. We are specialists for Switzerland, now.
The Christmas market in the station lobby with more than 160 stalls are waiting. Its nice to wander here and warm up with a cup of mulled wine, try cheeses and sausages. We especially like the cookies with spices, star-shaped hearts and snowman. We like the smell, which is different from stand to stand, and we like the colors and light effects with bright stars projected in the sky lobby. Other packages and other flavors bring us up to the time of our train, working like a Swiss watch, it's time to leave, but we promise to come back in the summer.
Here are my tips on how to make the most of Zurich on a budget:
Getting to Zurich
An alternative to the plane or the car is definitely the train. Zurich is well linked with trains from major cities of Europe. When booking your trip well in advance you can find discounted tickets through the German railways.
Where to stay in Zurich
First the choice of accommodation has a fundamental role. In Zurich there are many youth hostels with both single and double rooms and of course the dormitories that allow you to reduce staying costs and that have nothing to envy as against the hotels. Another solution is to choose a out of town hotel or an apartment, and use public transport, which in Zurich is very efficient, and you can arrive in the center within minutes.
Getting around Zurich
Whether you choose to live in the city or in the leafy suburbs, saving money by using public transportation is a must. Purchase the ZürichCARD, a subscription from 24 to 72 hours which allows you to save on the total price of the tickets and offer other incentives for those who he loves culture. ZürichCARD offers the ability to move on all public transports in the second class, and take a boat trip on the beautiful lake of Zurich and free or discounted entry to major museums. Another alternative may be to hire a bicycle and you can see the city on two wheels for free. Tram, bus and suburban train network allow you to arrive quickly and comfortably anywhere.
Where to eat in Zurich
As always we recommend the cheapest way to travel is by saving money on food. If you want to visit Zurich at a low cost, you can eat at the stalls of street food by having a mega feast of pretzel or you can take advantage of the splendid vegetarian buffets. I could not stop filling the stomach with all good things of Asian origin revisited in European style.
What to see in Zürich
In Zurich there are over one hundred galleries and art museums in which can enter for free. For those who love art, you must see is in Kunsthalle at the Löwenbräu area of the glass windows designed by Marc Chagall in the Fraumünster church. I remained transfixed in front of such beauty.
If you want to enjoy a breathtaking view over the city you can go to Uetliberg, the Zurich mountain on the western shore of the lake that can be reached by train (free with the Zurich card) with the S10 which starts from Central Station twice an hour. An outing in the coolest city park, to the Viadukt Zurich West is Unmissable. Do not miss a walk along the Limmat River, one of the two rivers flowing through Zurich and admire the swans swimming in the water.
Do not miss the historical center, with its typical restaurants, churches and alleyways of Niederdorf. A walk along the lake to Zϋrichhorn, the most beautiful park of the city, where you can also visit the Chinagarten. If you are traveling with children it is certainly worth a visit to the beautiful Zoo. The lovers of museums and art galleries are spoiled for choice. Do not miss, in the summer, an afternoon cocktail at sunset in Badi (outdoor baths), as well as in winter a chocolate cake in the historic Sprϋngli pastry. Finally, if you are of the house and techno lovers, know that every year, in August, Zurich hosts the most important event in Europe with the Street Parade.
When to go to Zurich
The best time to visit Zurich is definitely during the summer season, from late spring (late May) and summer (early September), when the city offers the best of themselves. Another time extremely charmful is the Christmas period with the famous street markets and the famous Singing Christmas Tree, even if the winter weather can be hard and not really welcoming.
Zurich with Children
It may be interesting to know that Zurich is a very welcoming place for children who are usually always welcome. Up to 5 years old children can travel free on all public transport and many tourist attractions including Zoo. In restaurants it is normal to find the Kindermenu, a selection of dishes designed especially for them and at cheaper prices.
It can be useful to know that mineral water in Switzerland is very expensive. The city, however, offers very good and fresh aqueduct water which is easily accessible to all via one of the 1,200 fountains that are a bit everywhere. Bring, then, an empty bottle or a water bottle and take the opportunity to also make a relaxing picnic in one of the beautiful parks along the lake promenade, tasting a Bratwϋrst!