Sure, the clichés -- efficiency and safety, chocolate and fondue -- are true, but Zurich is also full of surprises. And why shouldn't it be? After all, this is where the Dada movement began 100 years ago, and to get a taste, you can visit the renovated Cabaret Voltaire (Spiegelgasse 1; CabaretVoltaire.ch) where it all started. Now a bar and event space, it continues with artist collaborations, book events, and performances.
Any visit to Zurich will inevitably start with the historic attractions in the Old Town (and for good reason), but while tourists pack into the Fraumünster church (Fraumünsterstrasse; Fraumuenster.ch) to gawk at its windows by Marc Chagall, across the Limmat River are the striking stained glass windows of the Grossmünster church (Grossmünsterplatz; Grossmuenster.ch). They were commissioned from German artist Sigmar Polke in 2009, which is like asking Andy Warhol to design a synagogue.
Despite its obvious appeal, don't get stuck in the historic quarter: Head by tram to Zurich West, a former industrial district that is becoming the new heart of the city for artists, designers, and a trendier crowd.
Start at the famous Freitag (Geroldstrasse 17; Freitag.ch) flagship store (you can't miss the tower of stacked freight containers), where the designer bags are on display for four stories. Revisit later, as it's close to Club Supermarket (Geroldstrasse 17; Supermarket.li), a young, gay-friendly dance club that takes off during late-night hours. Nearby, the red brick Schiffbau (Schiffbaustrasse 4; Schiffbau.ch), a historic shipbuilding factory, is the converted home to theater performance spaces, a jazz club, and La Salle, a casual, stylish restaurant. Continue the leisurely walk toward the Viadukt -- it's sort of like New York City's High Line, complete with a path for walking or cycling, but the 36 ground-level arches have been retrofitted with stylish retail shops. Even if you're not looking for new furniture, Walter (Geroldstrasse 15; Walterwalter.ch) will inspire browsers with its eclectic mix of vintage and industrial craftsmanship. Save time for Markthalle in the Viadukt (Limmatstrasse 231; Markthalle.im-Viadukt.ch), a large space under the bridge that has been transformed into an indoor market. The bright, airy room has more than 15 vendors offering fresh produce, ice cream, artisanal cheeses, and wine, all for sampling. That's when you'll realize there's no rush to get to the next destination. --Jerry Portwood
Storchen Zürich For a romantic experience, this four-star hotel, which claims more than 650 years of hospitality, can't be beat. Even if you don't stay here, grab a drink at the Barchetta Caffè Bar, directly fronting the River Limmat. Weinplatz 2; Storchen.ch
Platzhirsch The team behind the oldest and most famous gay club in Zurich, T&M, opened this cute and comfortable boutique hotel in historic Niederdorf. The playful name means "top dog," and the 24 cozy rooms are above a popular bar and café, so you don't have to go far for a bit of mingling. But don't expect to go to bed early -- the plaza is booming until the wee hours. Spitalgasse 3; MeinPlatzhirsch.ch
A Son of the Circus by John Irving
Although the protagonist of the novel is Bombay-born, he spends much of his time in Zurich, and Irving even immortalizes the Storchen hotel in it, as he does with his later novel, A Widow for One Year.
The place to get your evening started. Unlike so many gay bars, you can actually get excellent cocktails from a bar staff that pride themselves on their skills (just look at all the trophies at the upstairs bar). Metzgergasse 3; Cranberry.ch
Take a map. You won't just happen upon this place without a little help, since it's tucked away down an alley and far from the crowds. The leafy garden out back is a magical spot away from the bustle of the streets, and the kitchen uses market-fresh ingredients in modern dishes. Neumarkt 5; Wirtschaft-Neumarkt.ch