I’ve been meaning to post this for a while now… After all the talk about Italy and the intensity of its sights, sea and food, I almost forgot that I made a pit stop on my way to Rome. With a six-hour layover in Zurich, I followed the advice of all the braver travelers before me and took the 15 minute train ride into the city. Not surprisingly for Switzerland, the trains are frequent and punctual. I didn’t have a plan for my layover (big surprise), but discovered a few things this pristine, almost-too-clean city has to offer other than chocolate and duty-free.

You might want to take advantage of the Zurich Card which, for 20 francs (about $20) grants you unlimited access to the city’s transportation system and free admission to its museums. Given that a return train ticket from the airport is 13 francs and entrance to Kunsthaus, Zurich’s modern art museum costs 15 francs, even if you only went to one museum, the card pretty much pays for itself. Start at the main train station and walk straight ahead down Bahnhofstrasse , Zurich’s main shopping avenue. Opulent window displays, shiny watches glinting in their cases, and every designer you might have ever heard of and more line the clean sidewalks of this busy street. Even if you haven’t got a dime to spend, it’s an experience in itself to see so much European luxury in one place.

Keep walking to the end of Bahnhofstrasse and you’ll eventually reach Bürkliplatz, the docks which host a peaceful view over Lake Zurich, the Alps in the distance. This area is also a marketplace where antique vendors and knick-knack collectors set up their stalls around a gazebo in the middle of the square. A slight contrast (if it can be called that) to the main avenue of designer stores. Head back, away from the lake, down Stadthausquai along the river. Docked boats covered in matching blue tarps line the quay and, if it’s still summer, a few sunbathers lay on the wooden docks of Bauschänzli, a restaurant and cafe that sits out on the water.
If you’re ready for a drink and culture in a single place, cross the river and head to Cabaret Voltaire – the birthplace of Dadaism. The movement, combining a mix of art and the absurd, was born here in 1916 when a few exiled artists congregated to question the existing idea of art. Order coffee or a beer while you learn about this avant-garde art movement and its founders.
After picking up a pretzel from one of the street vendors or city-wide chain called Brezelkönig, ride a tram to the Kunsthaus museum, home of Switzerland’s most significant art collection. Covering almost every period since the Middle Ages, you’ll find everything from Late Gothic to Italian Baroque, to Nordic Expressionism. A short walk away, along the banks of the Limmat River is one of the city’s three prominent churches, the Grossmunster, with impressive views of the city from the top of its church tower. Five minutes across the Limmat is a second major church, the Fraumunster, which features stained glass works by Russian artist Marc Chagall. If you have time, wander through the old town, through elegant boutiques and cafes.
With the clock ticking until you have to catch your next flight, ride a tram back to the main train station, and feel satisfied knowing you’ve discovered a new place and done something other than check your emails.
[Photo credit: all photos are mine unless stated otherwise]