Switzerland Culture Trip: Part I
Fun Fact: Switzerland is a country surrounded by different cultural influences and each region speaks a different language. For example, if you are in the North/Northeast, the dominant culture and language is German; South/Southeast is Italian and off to the West is French. It was interesting to see the cultural influences present in each city, especially that there isn't one official language for the entire country--The closest was english, which was a bonus for me! Join me in my journey through Germany, Italy in Spain a la Swiss Country, AP Style.
Our first stop...
Zurich: A Taste of Germany
If you are looking for some German influence, head north to the city of Zurich, one of Switzerland’s main business hubs and global center for banking and finance. Just because it is a business city, don’t let that fool you; there are a lot of cultural and recreational things to do here.
3-4 days depending on what you want to do. I was there for 3 days.
How to Get There
As much as I hate the reliability of the SNCF due to all the strikes, I still recommend taking the train to Zurich. You don't need to get to the airport ahead of time and get to save on some precious sleep IMHO. First class fare is roughly 110€ for a one-way ticket and worth not having to deal with airport lines. Take the 7:30am train from Gare de Lyon to get in before noon and you have the whole day ahead of you!
Where to Stay
If you like being close to the center, but not in a tourist trap, stay at The Opera Hotel. It’s a cute boutique hotel right by (you guessed it) The Opera. They have a coffee station in their lounge that rivals any hotel lounge I have stayed in including the Four Seasons. They also have a snack bar at the front desk which includes both healthy and less healthy savory and sweet snacks to satisfy and craving, plus my essential H20. The best part is that it is all complimentary! Their staff is beyond friendly and helpful and deserve five stars based on that. Their sister hotel across the street houses a rooftop bar if you wish to unwind and take in a view of Lake Zurich after a long day or for an after dinner drink or afternoon cocktail.
What To Eat
If you are craving Swiss German fare, this is the city to do it! Before you head off to other parts Switzerland, make sure to get your fill in Zurich.
For lakeside dining, I highly recommend going to Restaurant Schipfe 16. They have seasonal menus and all products served are sourced from the region—i.e. fresh water fish is from Switzerland, as is the meat, poultry and pork. Mostly all the produce is from organic farming, and all other products are sourced organically as well. I have to say that this was one of the best meals I have had EVER. If you eat poultry, I highly recommend getting Sautierte Pouletbrust an Zitronengras- Limetten-Kokossauce (Sauteed chicken breast with lemongrass, lime and coconut sauce)—you get a side and you must get it with the pasta. I hardly eat my whole meal and I actually wanted to lick everything off the plate. The menu is not in English but the owner and all the staff are very helpful and can (and will happily) translate everything for you. PS-people are uber nice here...the woman at the table next to me realized I didn't know German as soon as I sat down and helped me straight away!
A trip to Switzerland is not complete without my favorite German staple—Schnitzel! Though there are many places to get it, I really liked Alexis, which is a traditional restaurant off of the Münsterbrücke bridge on Niederdorfstrasse 40. It is a no frill’s restaurant, as it should be. If you are going to get Michelin star to get schnitzel, you clearly have a problem. The other pro of going here is that they have an EXTENSIVE wine list that you will drool over. Definitely order the traditional schnitzel that comes with their parsley potatoes—YUM. And pair it with the Dark Knight Toscana. Even if you are dining alone, I recommend getting the bottle. It. Is. That. Good.
Quai 61 is the perfect place to get your brunch on. For one, the restaurant is right on the water, so you get amazing views and the breeze during the hot summer months. Also great place if you plan on lounging for the rest of the day as they are right by the park and the lake if you choose to go swimming. They have a great assortment of food and drink based on your lifestyle. I, of course, needed to get the Muessli, since it is the Swiss breakfast staple. I have to admit at first that I was reluctant because I hadn’t eaten since the night prior and it was already 1pm, but I was pleasantly surprised. Not only was it delicious, but filling as well. Another moment where I wanted to lick the dish it was served in!
When you get tired of full blown meals, head over to Movenpick wine bar. The wine selection is AMAZING and the food is pretty solid. Love that there are many seating options--there is the front terrace area, back garden and indoor dining space that looks like a modern wine cave. Oh, and for any of you Americans in France reading this, THEY MAKE THINGS SPICY (real spicy, not french spicy). When the waitress asked me if I wanted my beef tartare spicy, I almost died and went to heaven. Definitely have the ice cream, but one scoop will suffice. I learned the hard way. Saying that, I still ate it all.
Definitely trek out to Fischer’s Fritz one day for lunch, apero or dinner. I’m glad I decided to venture here despite the reviews online. The food and view are amazing and the service that I received was actually great, so don’t believe everything you read! The only qualm I had about this whole experience was being charged 5CHF (swiss franc) for tap water. I mean, if you are going to charge that at least give me a small mineral water. Despite that little snafu, totally worth trying. The fish they serve is what they catch the night prior, so definitely get the grilled whole fish of the day and pair it with the Heida Visperterminen, a great Swiss dry white that goes very well with whatever fish you try or just by itself!
Want to try a traditional Brasserie? You can’t go wrong at Schiller’s. They have a very substantial menu and the setting is just divine, PLUS the service is top notch. You can eat indoors for an artsy traditional feel or enjoy the terrace and do some people watching in the Opera Square. Get the raclette burger and pair it with the Nebbiolo if you want a completely divine dining experience. Also works if you drank too much the night before--it's the comfort food dreams are made of.
What to Do
CATCH SOME SUN
To live like a local, definitely do a day or an afternoon at the beach one day, or in other words, hang out lakeside. My two favorite places to lounge out are either in Parc Chinagarten or Strandbad Mythenquai. Both are south of Old Town. Don’t stress about finding it…just follow the people. Zurich parks (“beaches”) are basically the equivalent of Central Park in NY but cleaner--i.e. there is no garbage on the ground or the water AND you can actually go swimming in the water.
If you are not a swimmer like me, but love the water check out Seebad Enge, which is basically a pool inside the lake. It’s pretty cool and you can go day or night and they serve both food and cocktails. If you are in for a dose of #healthyliving, they have a sauna, offer massage, yoga classes and energy balancing. Talk about a one stop shop for blissing out.
Fischer’s Fritz is also a good alternative to lay out and enjoy the sun as they have daybeds overlooking the lake. So enjoy some lunch or just some drinks and lounge around all day and soak up the Zurich sun!
LOOK AT THE VIEW
For amazing views of Zurich, there are many options. Jules Verne Bar on the top of Brasserie Lipp is a perfect place to get 360 degree views of the city while sipping on a classic or bespoke cocktail. Living in France I miss getting proper martinis…this bar definitely did the trick. The bartender is super friendly and serves up one proper drink after another. If you are hungry, you can either have a snack or a full blown meal.
For insta worthy epicness, make a visit to The Dolder Grand. It really is one of the most beautiful hotels I have visited and has amazing views of the city below. Enjoy a drink at the bar or dine for lunch or dinner at their Michelin Star restaurant.
To get some culture and some views in, go to the Grossmünster Cathedral. The Church itself is amazing from the stained glass windows to the architecture. If you have the stamina, pay the 5CHF and climb up to the tower. The panoramic views of Zurich are amazing. This climb isn’t for the faint of heart as it is almost 200 steps and the staircase is narrow and steep. I have a fear of heights but have to admit it was totally worth it.
One of my favorite surprise views was from Lindenhof. I would suggest going either before sunrise or right before sunset and do a picnic. The view of the city is amazing and it is a nice place to unwind and enjoy a glass or two of some Swiss wine. Honestly, the view is intoxicating enough without the wine!
TAKE IN SOME CULTURE
If you want to get your culture on, definitely go and see the Chagall windows at the Fraumünster. The entry fee is only $5/5€/5CHF (gotta love universal payment) and includes the audio guide. I went to see the Chagall windows, but honestly, the whole church is pretty impressive. Definitely check out the crypt area and listen to the audioguide to understand a little more the history of Switzerland and why it is the country it is today.
In my opinion, the best way to get some culture in is to do some wandering and exploring. I highly, highly recommend doing the boat ride in Zurich. ZurichSee offers many options, but definitely make the trip to Rapperswil. The trip is 4 hours roundtrip, but definitely worth it. You get to view all of Lake Zurich by boat and if you feel like getting off at another stop or island you can. If you are doing that I would suggest getting on a morning boat so you have the time to board on and off the boats and make it on the last boat getting back to Zurich. Timetable here. The dining options of the boat are great if you haven't eaten, or if you just rather sip on some rosé or a nice white wine and take in the view, that is fine too! If you do end up in Rappersweil, definitely do the walk to the wooden bridge that connects Rapperswil and Hurden—the views of the Alps and lakes are breathtaking and not to be missed.
Whatever route you do choose for your boat trip, do splurge on the First Class Ticket. You get to sit above deck and the views are better. You also have the option to move below deck if you prefer or to get different camera shots if that is your thing.
If you are one to lose track of time and get caught up in the moment, make sure to look up the train schedule before leaving Zurich. You can take the train back to Zurich if you do miss the last boat from Rapperswil.