The Perfect Day in Zurich

Begin a perfect day in Zurich by taking in the grandeur of the city with catch-your-breath views from the terrace at ETH University. Head to Paradeplatz to feel the pulse of the city, afterward enjoy lunch at a traditional Swiss restaurant, then explore Zurich’s most charming canal on foot. If by this point your legs are weary, head to the rooftop spa in Zurich’s Hürlimann area for late-afternoon pampering.

Rämistrasse 101, 8092 Zürich, Switzerland
Paris has the Sacré-Coeur, on top of Montmartre, for catch-your-breath views of the city. Zurich’s answer: the terrace at ETH Zurich. Also known as the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich and where Einstein was an alum, it lords high above the city for prime views beyond to the lake, the Uetliberg, and the Alps. The bQm café and bar lets you pair that stellar view with a drink.
Paradepl., 8001 Zürich, Switzerland
This square on the left bank of the Limmat serves as the very crux of the city, a must-visit for understanding the Zurich way of life in all its elegance and efficiency. It’s home to the headquarters of its largest banks (Credit Suisse takes up one side, UBS another), the iconic eateries Zeughauskeller and Sprungli, the luxe department store Grieder, and is a junction for most of the city’s tram lines. It’s also Swiss-style pretty—for most of the year, red and pink geraniums line the square in immaculate rows. Photo © Martin Rütschi/Zürich Tourism.
Am Schanzengraben
The Limmat River and Lake Zurich might be the showstoppers, but it would be a pity to overlook the charming Schanzengraben Canal. Built as a city fortification system in the 17th century, the canal is now lined with wooden boardwalks and sandstone slabs, and runs from the Gessnerbrücke past the Mannerbadi to the mouth of the lake at Bürkliplatz. It’s at its prettiest near the Baur au Lac hotel, but the action—water polo!—happens near the Selnaubrücke.
Münsterhof 2, 8001 Zürich, Switzerland
This small, elegant church near Paradeplatz has been around since 853, but it wasn’t until 1970 when it received its crowning touch: five glorious stained glass windows created by Marc Chagall when he was in his 80s. Also not to be missed: Augusto Giacometti’s magnificent mosaic. The massive 5,793-pipe organ, the largest in Zurich, plays every Wednesday at 7:45 am.
Weinpl. 3, 8001 Zürich, Switzerland
This wondrous four-floor toy shop in the Altstadt near the banks of the Limmat specializes in wooden toys, including all manner of wooden blocks, train sets and puzzles. It’s also the place to go for a giant selection of the iconic Trauffer cow, each handcrafted from wood sourced from sustainably managed forests in Switzerland.
Brandschenkestrasse 150, 8002 Zürich, Switzerland
Over the past few years, Zurich’s Hürlimann area—the site of what once was Switzerland’s largest brewery—has transformed into the home of Google Zurich, a complex of shops, and this stunning spa built into the former brewery’s hundred-year-old stone vaults. Its crowning touch: a heated rooftop pool with stellar views overlooking the city. For an extra dose of pampering, book a room at the adjoining B2 Boutique Hotel + Spa.
Niederdorfstrasse 70, 8001 Zürich, Switzerland
The right bank of the Limmat is home to the busy, cobblestoned Niederdorfstrasse, lined with bustling cafés, bars and restaurants, none more bustling than the sprawling over-a-century-old Johanniter, a can’t-miss-it spot with its giant Swiss and Zurich flags marking its entrance. Inside, patrons dine on huge portions of traditional specialties like raclette (melted cheese served with potatoes and pickled cucumbers and onions) under tall, vaulted ceilings.
Bahnhofstrasse 28A, 8001 Zürich, Switzerland
Sure, the menu comes in a dozen languages, but Zeughauskeller is no mere tourist trap. Occupying a 15th century building on Paradeplatz, the setting—arched windows, wooden ceiling beams and stone columns—is transportive, while traditional dishes include the Bürgermeister Schwert (veal steaks pounded thin and wrapped around a long sword blade and grilled). The house beer is an exclusive from the local TurbinenBräu brewery.
7 Rennweg
Built on the site of Roman and Celtic ruins, the unassuming 5-star Widder Hotel comprises nine medieval townhouses that were painstakingly renovated over a 10-year period by Swiss architect Tilla Theus. The results are jaw-dropping, from the unusual structures such as circular rooms and passages that refer architecturally to a Roman well uncovered during construction, to the mix of antiques and modern designer furnishings (Eames, Frank Lloyd Wright) in the rooms.

Alongside the 35 standard rooms, 14 suites also mix the old with the new, featuring works of art by the likes of Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol, contemporary design classics by Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, and original medieval frescoes, exposed-beam ceilings, and brick or stone walls. All rooms are equipped with a TV, Quadriga communication system, and two telephones.

Widder Hotel also features three great restaurants, a bar with more than 1,000 spirits, and a cozy garden restaurant and lounge open in the warmer months.
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