Zurich: where even bankers know how to have fun

by Jeff.Mills

Zurich may have an image of staunch conservatism but there are fun and games to be found on every street during a weekend break

Zurich is not only one of the foremost business centres of Europe. Visit the city on a fine day - when the sun reflects off the waters of the lake and bathes the facades of the old guild buildings lining the elegant squares in a golden glow - and it's clear that it is also a great place to spend a few leisure hours. If you do spot the odd banker, he is just as likely as the rest of the population to be sitting at a pavement café enjoying a cool drink, rather than sitting behind his desk in some great banking hall.

The great thing about Zurich is that, in spite of its importance, it really is a very small city. Indeed most of it, particularly the Altstadt or old town, with its maze of tiny mediaeval streets, can easily be explored on foot. And when you do eventually get footsore, you will find plenty of taxis and a superb integrated public transport system, the ZVV (Zurcher Verkehrsverbund), which operates throughout the entire Canton of Zurich and allows you to combine different forms of transport, including trains, buses and trams. You can, if you choose, buy one-day and multiple-day passes at discounted rates.

There’s no shortage of superb hotels, either. Even if the budget won’t let you stay there, it’s worth visiting the Hotel Baur Au Lac, thought by many to be one of the finest hotels (if not the finest) in Zurich, particularly since a major refurbishment in the 1990s. This is the choice of serious VIPs and visiting royalty.

The same is true of the Dolder Grand Hotel, another of Zurich’s grand old hotels. This one has been in business for more than a century, providing its well-heeled guests with some of the most spectacular views of the lake and mountains to be had anywhere in and around the city.

If you prefer somewhere cool, so cool you could even imagine there’s a risk of frostbite, try the X-TRA hotel Zurich, a little 43-room gem that acts like a magnet for the young and fashion conscious. It’s only rated three-star but that doesn’t stop the hotel having all the facilities a cool visitor may desire, including a late-night bar and even an in-house disco with live entertainment some nights. More good news is that the restaurant, with its terrace in summer, stays open until 2 in the morning.

But let’s not get too sidetracked by Zurich’s hotels, excellent as they may be - there are plenty of other sights to see in this fascinating city. The Clock and Watch Museum Beyer is a must. Established in 1970, the museum, at Bahnhofstrasse 31, displays a wide-range of timepieces dating from 1400 BC to the present day.

You can’t miss the Landesmuseum (Swiss National Museum): just look out for the turrets of this castle-like building, which stands at Museumstrasse 2, behind the Hauptbahnhof (main station). The exhibitions provide an extraordinary look into the culture and history of the Swiss people, with artefacts dating from the 4th millennium BC right through to an exhibit of Swiss clock-making from the 16th to 18th centuries.

While you are on the culture trail, it would be a shame to miss out on some other icons of the city: St Peter's Church (Peterskirche), dominated by an enormous clock face measuring nine metres in diameter and said to be the largest in Europe, with a minute hand almost four metres long; the Tonhalle, Zurich’s  best established concert hall, at Claridenstrasse 7, with some of the best acoustics to be found anywhere, as well as a first-rate range of around 90 performances per season; and, of course, Zurich’s most imposing landmark, the Grossmunster, which dominates the east bank area known as the Niederdorf. The building’s twin towers, which pierce the skyline and dwarf nearby buildings, are in stark contrast to the cathedral’s fairly plain decoration and unimposing interior dimensions.

And for culture of a different kind, let’s not forget the food. If your idea of Swiss cuisine is little more than cheese fondue and raclette, you are in a treat. Head, for example, to Jacky’s Stapferstube at Culmannstrasse 45, close to the centre, for some of the best excellent beef and veal, sold, just as it has been for over a century, by weight. There’s also an excellent wine list.

And if it’s atmosphere you are after with your good food, make a beeline for Haus zum Rüden at Limmatquai, a restaurant in a building dating back to 1205, where the menu features food fresh from the various markets around the city. Look out for the foie gras as well as the fresh salmon and roast lamb

Jeff.Mills

Jeff Mills has been reporting on the business and leisure travel and lifestyle sectors for more than 30 years, during which time he has visited most countries of the world at least once. A previous editor of the leading travel industry newspaper, Travel Weekly, and travel editor of Sunday Business, London-based Mills now has a business travel column in the Spectator Business and writes on travel regularly for a number of national newspapers, glossy consumer magazines and travel websites.