Ana Kinsella shares the best spots for food, shopping, swimming and drinks in the pristine streets of Zürich
Introducing a new series of alternative city guides, specially curated for the cultivated traveller.
Zürich is a city ripe for reputational reassessment. Currently, it might be known to most as a home for not much more than finance, business and delicious chocolate. But look a little closer at the pristine streets and you’ll find the kind of buzz and excitement you’d expect from any young and enlightened city. With a lively art scene fuelled by the local university ZHdK and backed by an illustrious design heritage, right now, Zürich is ready to step up as one of Europe’s preeminent cultural hotspots. And there’s more to do than just exhibitions and art fairs. Between outdoor swimming, natural wine, an exciting food scene and easy access to Switzerland’s stunning landscape, it’s hard to see how anyone could see the city as dull.
So perhaps it’s time you paid Zürich a visit. Around four hours by comfortable train from either Milan or Paris, you might consider a detour next time you’re in the area. And while you’re there, here are some places worth your time.
There are plenty of outdoor lidos along the fringe of Lake Zürich, most of which are social hubs for young sunbathers in summertime and cost just a few francs to enter. But none are quite like the Frauenbad. This beautiful Art Deco baths for women floats elegantly on the surface of the Limmat, the river that leads to Lake Zürich. There’s room for sunbathing and two pools of crisp refreshing Alpine water to swim in – one on the bankside, with a bottom, and one riverside with just the river itself. After your dip, dry off while you watch the boats go by on the river. A café provides snacks and drinks; after 7pm, the pool becomes a hip bar and is open to all genders. Stadthausquai 12, 8001 Zürich.
Deriving from the German word for butcher, Metzg is an ideal dining spot for solo diners or small groups, with a focus on local speciality meats and natural wine. Overseen by chef Marlene Halter, who takes a nose-to-tail approach to her cooking, the restaurant doubles as a neighbourhood butcher and bottle shop. Choose your sausages from the meat counter and enjoy them accompanied by hyper-local vegetables and delicious sourdough, all served in modern and Instagrammable pink surroundings. Metzg is my favourite kind of restaurant for a few days away: one that feels both relaxed and a little special at the same time, serving food and drink to remember. Langstrasse 31, 8004 Zürich.
3. Cocktails on Sihlfeldstrasse
Once apero hour rolls around, this short stretch is where you’ll want to be. Between hip ramen restaurants and the popular Gelateria di Berna nestles Raygrodski, a renowned cocktail joint with good music and a perfect perch for people-watching on bright evenings out front. Prepare to pay Zürich prices for your spritz here – if you’re looking for something a little more low-key, try the chic Italian Bar Sacchi further north, with its mid-century marble-and-pink interiors and its numerous house negronis, some of which come straight from a charming soda gun. Sihlfeldstrasse south of Badenerstrasse.
You wouldn’t guess, walking past this unassuming police station, that its lobby housed a rare gem in Zürich’s artistic history. Augusto Giacometti’s amazing murals, commissioned in the 1920s, cover the walls and vaulted ceiling inside with glowing technicolour renderings reminiscent of Art Nouveau stained glass. It’s free to enter, though make sure you check the unusual opening hours and bring your ID, as this is still a working police station! Bahnhofquai 3, 8001 Zürich.
A mere ten minutes from downtown courtesy of the city’s extremely effective public transport system, Atlantis by Giardino provides a retreat that feels totally removed from Zürich’s relative hustle and bustle. Sitting at the foot of the Üetliberg mountain (itself a worthwhile trip by tram), the striking Y-shaped building is a prime example of sleek post-war Swiss modernism. Inside, you’ll find indoor and outdoor pools, a well-equipped Ayurvedic spa, a Michelin-starred restaurant called Ecco and rooms with sweeping views out over the city and the hills. Keep an eye out for the striking concrete spiral stairwell at the heart of the building. Döltschiweg 234, 8055 Zürich.
6. 169 West
169 West, named for its address on Weststrasse, serves coffee and snacks during the day and segues to an incredible selection of natural wine by both glass and bottle as the day progresses. A calm and cosy place to while away an hour or two over a glass of something unusual – ask the owner what he’s got open on the day and you might discover your new favourite wine. Weststrasse 169, 8003 Zürich.
This imposing building is dedicated to concrete, constructive and conceptual art. Housed in a former electrical sub-station, it’s a temple to minimalism – quiet, calm and austere. This year they’re celebrating 100 years of the Bauhaus, alongside exhibitions from Swiss abstract artist Olivier Mosset and Kirstine Roepstorff, whose Ex Cave exhibition sheds new light on the idea of darkness. If you’re planning on gallery hopping, consider a Zürich card from the tourist office, which gives free entry almost everywhere and also includes an all-access travel pass. Selnaustrasse 25, 8001 Zürich.
The only place in Zürich for stylish pens, office goods, household bits and essentially all those useful, beautiful items you long to fill your home with. Stepping into Fabrikat is a little like stepping into another era, when shops were more like workshops and everything you owned had a clear and defined purpose. Rotating French soap on a stick? It’s here. Sky-blue steel toolboxes? Of course. I left with an enamel ladel (who knew I was in the market for one?!), some perfectly-packaged soap and a newfound determination to turn my humble desk into a place of great, practical beauty. Militärstrasse 76, 8004 Zürich.