Sure, the clichés—efficiency and safety, chocolate and fondue—are true, but Zürich 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, where it all started. Now a bar and event space, it continues with artist collaborations, book events and performances.
Any visit to Zürich will inevitably start with the historic attractions in the Old Town (and for good reason), but even among the celebrated monuments, contemporary shockers abound. While tourists pack into the Fraumünster Church to gawk at its windows by Marc Chagall, across the Limmat River, the striking stained glass windows of the Grossmünster Church appear. They were commissioned from German artist Sigmar Polke in 2009, which is like asking Andy Warhol to design a synagogue. Seven of the windows are composed of slices of colorful agate; five others are whimsical depictions of Old Testament stories, standing out alongside the more traditional earlier windows by Swiss artist Augusto Giacometti.
Left: The interior at Markthalle in the Viadukt. Right: The courtyard at Markthalle in the Viadukt.
Despite its obvious appeal, don’t get stuck in the historic quarter: Head by tram (or bike, which can be obtained for free between May and October) to Zürich 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 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, a young, gay-friendly dance club that takes off during late-night hours. Nearby, the red brick Schiffbau, a historic shipbuilding factory, is the converted home to theater performance spaces, a jazz club, and LaSalle, a stylish restaurant that is casual and classy. The Maag Music Hall is a converted factory where thousands of cogs were manufactured and is now a coveted stage for everything from pop groups to dance parties. Continue the leisurely walk toward the Viaduct—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 will inspire browsers with its eclectic mix of vintage and industrial craftsmanship. Save time for Markthalle in the Viadukt, a large space under a bridge that has been transformed into an indoor market. The bright, airy space has over 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.
Left: Exterior of the Storchen Zürich Hotel. Top right: Interior of the bar at Barchetta. Bottom right: Guest room at the Storchen Zürich Hotel.
For a romantic experience, Storchen Zürich is a four-star hotel, which claims over 650 years of hospitality. John Irving immortalized the Storchen in his novels, A Son of the Circus and A Widow for One Year. Even if you don’t stay here, grab a drink at the Barchetta Caffè Bar, directly fronting the River Limmat.
The team behind the oldest and most famous gay club in Zürich, T&M, opened Platzhirsch, a 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 noisy into the wee hours.
Although Barfüsser still gets cred as the oldest gay bar in the city, it’s really just a sushi spot now. Cranberry is the place to get your evening started, and unlike so many gay bars, you can actually get excellent cocktails from a bar staff that prides themselves on their skills (just look at all the trophies at the upstairs bar).
Take a map. You won’t just happen upon Neumarkt without a little help, since it’s tucked away down an alley and far from the tourist crowds. The leafy garden out back is a magical spot far from the bustle of the streets, and the kitchen uses market-fresh ingredients in modern dishes.