For Zurich or Poorer: A Weekend Travel Itinerary
It’s an apt title: one of the financial capitals of Europe, as well as a descriptor for what became my most (fiscally) disastrous weekend escape to date. Fear not, the trip ended well! I had a great time in Zürich and it surprised me in many ways. Good ways. I was warned it waned on the side of boring, but there was plenty to do over my short time. More than enough stimulation for all the senses, without shaking the purse strings too much. Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland, but the capital is its neighbour, Bern. Sun, snow and expensive Swiss watches all came in one tidy weekend.
Don’t let the banking and finance front fool you, there’s so much more to Zurich than meets the eye. Intersections of cultures and picturesque lake views breathe life into this remarkable, global city. After seeing some of the town, old and new, don’t miss out the opportunity to see more with a day tour out to Lucerne and Engelberg. Or other.
My misstep begun by mistaking the Gatwick Express for a coach service (don’t ask) and subsequently arriving at the wrong terminal. But truly, leaving only a small window to get to the airport in the first place was my critical error. These days I’m much more pragmatic, aiming for a two hour slot before the flight. The service was not entirely blameless, engineering works reduced the number of services. My plan B was thwarted. As I had already booked in the not-so-cheap tour, it remained imperative to make it to Zurich. I ended up forking the extra £ (crying just a little) to get another Easyjet flight. This was from Luton (my fave, not) later in the afternoon. A good lesson and reminder to have I suppose.
I didn’t have much luck on the return either, but at least I didn’t miss that flight. Our journey was 1.5 hours delayed (although we didn’t know this at the time). Due to the post-midnight arrival at Gatwick, I was unable to catch the last Gatwick Express service home. Of the options I decided to shell out for a taxi. Exiting the plane at Gatwick is painful. It’s a bus back to the terminal, so you have to wait for everyone to exit the flight. The comfort of having a driver was nice, and I had some company too. What turned into an Uber-sharing exercise ending up being a nice little chat circle for the long ride home. We had some empathy, having the same cocktail of emotions. National Express could have done the same for less mind you.
The original flights were cheap (under £90) but the fail inflated the cost of the weekend considerably. Note that Gatwick Express does offer a refund (minus a £10 service fee) which was some consolation.
This time I booked myself in for the Zurich Youth Hostel. This proved to be the most cost efficient option at 50CHF. Zürich is an expensive city, and that particularly shows in the cost of accommodation and in the food. I generally don’t mind too much since I’m only there (or here) for two days or so. The Hostel requires a train (but a very fast and convenient one to catch) and a walk. But both were easy and I enjoyed the nice, quiet neighbourhood that it was in. The location was also handy to one of the evening activities that the staff had recommended. I ended up heading along to this, it was a sort of arts/ music night.
Zürich Hauptbahnhof or (HB as the locals shorten it) is the main transport hub with over 1,900 connections every day. Despite the size and velocity of these many movements, it is very easy to navigate to (and from). The signs are reasonably easy to follow, the plane symbol makes it easy to mark the airport-bound routes. I spent most of my weekend on foot so I only ever purchased the one off passes. These are easily procured from the conveniently located machines. The HB terminal itself has a fair chunk of shopping and cafes inside. Perfect if you do need to kill some time. The toilets cost money, as in much of Europe.
A Limmat between the sand
There’s two halves of the city and that’s split between the Limmat. Old and new. Expensive and well, actually everything looked expensive. My first few hours in the city was a blur, as I sprinted from spot to spot making the most of my few hours of daylight. I started east from the Hauptbanhhof and took plenty of snaps as I made my way towards the gorgeous Lake Zurich. The 88.66 km² sized lake is clean and perfect for a dip. There was many a number of locals enjoying the warm temperatures on this afternoon. The lake’s cruises come recommended, but I definitely didn’t have the spare time to relax!
I ran a little to make sure I got to the Chinese Garden before closing. But it ended up being a wee bit underwhelming. Some parts were closed for renovations and the rest felt familiar. So you’re not missing out, if you miss out.
There’s a staggering 1,200 drinking fountains in Zurich so you can be guaranteed you won’t ever need to buy the liquid stuff And I quite love this. The drink is also some of the best tasting I’ve had, and even on this hot summer’s day it actually came out cool. So make sure you pack a good bottle along to keep filled up.
Zurich is a very clean (and safe) city and although some might find that sterile, I find it plenty comforting. Now that I think about it, I can’t recall seeing an idle cigarette butt or spray paint tagging at any point in the city. It’s well looked after by all means.
Colour and flavour
Did you know? Corine Mauch is the first openly gay mayor to be elected here, and over my weekend it was also the annual Pride parade. Due to my later arrival into the city, sadly I missed out on the main festivities. Every August Zurich also hosts the largest techno street party in Europe. The very cool open air festival Openair Wollishofen (that I mentioned) was buzzing. Street food, lights, music, DJs, drinks. Families and young ‘uns alike. Hanging by the lake, park and cool drinking holes also seemed like a regular local pastime.
Who said a financial capital has to have boring food? If you glaze over the usual tourist trapping and corporate dining options, you’ll find some funky cuisine going on. Vegetarian (and vegan) seems to do exceptionally well at the Hiltl. A very popular buffet option gives you variety and self-portioning. I went in for the full dining experience, ordering the convention-shredding banana madras, which become my first, and only fruit salad curry. Intriguing but delicious.
Alive in Lucerne
For the Sunday I booked via Viator a tour that would cover off the city of Lucerne and Mt Titlis, Engelberg. This was a full day adventure and would leave and arrive back in Sihlquai (coach area). This is next to HB, so ideal for the commute back to the airport. The weather again was a scorcher, so the air conditioning of the bus was a blessing. There are other tours options that do other permutations of the cool spots.
After my experience, Lucerne itself had plenty so I would suggest spending a bit more time here. As a group we also checked out the famous lion monument before splitting up. The short hour or so that we had flied by. The time we had on the mountain was about right. Cheekily, the buses all meet at Harry’s Watch Shop. Slight entrapment right there. Due to the timings, it was a bit of a sprint for me to get to the Museggmauer lookout (and a few other things) and back but I made it, phew.
It’s the Titlus
Back on the bus and then to our final destination – Titlis. Titlis is part of the Uri Alps, located on the border between Obwalden and Bern. Mildly famous for having the first rotating cable car, which you can’t miss. This was my first instance of tourist rage. There’s was some (read: heaps) awful behaviour on the tour that was irking me already. And here it manifested into shoving, pushing and shouting. Without pointing fingers, there were some cultural differences. I lose patience quickly, and the poor staff had it too, and apparently, it was like this every day.
Still, it didn’t completely take away from the spectacle of the mountains. I did a very chill glacier walk, rode a few chairlifts, ate two lunches and video called my parents, who were also on their travels! I met a lovely couple who I ventured around with, although we were all too meek for the tobogganing. The Movenpick stand was particularly feral, people were shoving their way in like no tomorrow for the treats. Manners is not a universal language, unfortunately. We made in back to the bus in safe time and we all lamented the scenery made it still worth it. My new friends also checked out Uetliberg, which they preferred of the two.
I wasn’t in Zurich long enough to have ever felt bored. The lake and surroundings are picture perfect, and the relaxed vibe of the city makes you feel completely at peace. It’s okay to relax! Enjoy the calm waves of the warm lake. I’m glad I booked in the extra day trip here too, to see a bit more of the country. The company on that part could have been less undesirable, but its all part of the travelling experience. Don’t be swayed but the naysayers, Zurich is absolutely worth a visit.