Zurich: A Modern Old City

This is the kind of city I used to imagine when I think of Europe: modern, beautiful, expensive, with just enough hint of the grandeur that comes with age.


  • Dates visited: April 24-26, 2014
  • Base of operations: Leonardo Hotel at Universitatstrasse
  • Currency: Swiss franc ($1 = about 1 CHF)
  • Major attractions: Lake Zurich, Fraumunster, Grossmunster, Swiss National Museum

We arrived early Thursday on a red-eye from New York. We try to sync our body clocks with the location as soon as possible, so we checked into our hotel and freshened up, then headed out to explore.

Getting around

The polybahn is a funicular railway in Zurich

The polybahn is a funicular railway in Zurich

Zurich has the best public transportation I’ve encountered anywhere in the world so far. It has a great network of trains, trams, buses and trolleys that reach pretty much everywhere. They provide excellent maps, so figuring out where to go (and what vehicles to take) isn’t too difficult. If I lived in Zurich, I might not even own a car, their public transportation is so good.

This is the best piece of advice you’re going to read on this blog about Zurich: get the Zurich Card. Basically, for either CHF24 (24 hours) or CHF48 (72 hours) it gives you 2nd class transportation around the city of Zurich, as well as getting to and from the airport. That includes all trains, trams and even the polybahn funicular, which is a pretty good deal. Also, free admission to various museums including Kunsthaus (entry: CHF 15/25 for special exhibits) and Swiss National Museum (CHF 10). There are a bunch of other discounts as well. The convenience is great, and the math works out depending on where you choose to go.

If that doesn’t work for you, try a day pass. The only difficulty with this is figuring the zones out, but the ZVV has plenty of resources for you on their website. Also, for the most part you should probably only be within 1-2 zones if you’re touring the city itself, and thus should cost CHF 8.40 per person.

We purchased our Zurich Card from the ticketing office at the airport, but you can also get it in advance from the link above. Or you can buy it at pretty much any ticket office in Zurich, whether SBB (Swiss Railway) or ZVV (Zurich Transport Network).

Major attractions

Lake Zurich

First thing to do, of course, was to check out Lake Zurich. Our Zurich Card afforded us a free boat tour, so we proceeded to the waterfront to take advantage immediately.

The “tour” is really pretty much just getting on a passenger ferry, which stops at several piers around the lake. The ride took about an hour and a half. We sat outside in the back, since it was a lovely day and the sun was really pleasant, so nice that I actually dozed off a bit during the ride. We had a small guidebook to tell us what was around the lake, which I suggest looking up beforehand in order to better enjoy the view.

After the tour ended back at the beginning, we walked around the lake some, enjoying the nice day and the beautiful views. Many birds love to hang out around the lake, including, much to my delight, swans!

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After our cruise on the lake, we headed to Altstadt (Old Town). Here we did our own walking tour of the interesting buildings in Zurich, including the Fraumunster and Grossmunster. We pretty much followed the Limmatquai as well as heading up to Lindenhofplatz for a wonderful view of the city.

Zurich is impressively walkable. There was a relaxed feel to the whole area so that it seemed so easy to just stroll, check out something at leisure if we felt like it, stop and sit on some steps at Limmatquai and watch ducks swim in the water, or grab a pastry or a drink from the various shops and eateries.

Before I came to visit, all I knew about Switzerland was chocolate and the Alps. There is much more to the country than that, and much more to Zurich than the lake and the Old Town. Our walk also took us to the more modern areas of Zurich: the streets with the high-end shops, the expensive watchmakers (yet another thing for which Switzerland is known), architecture both old and modern. I think the truth is that as we advance as a civilization, we continue to hold on to many of the things that have brought us from the past to where we are today… more on that in future posts.


4 thoughts on “Zurich: A Modern Old City

  1. Pingback: Uetliberg: The Best View of Zurich | World and Time Enough

  2. Pingback: Tourist vs Traveler? Stop the Debate! | World and Time Enough

    • We were poor in Switzerland, yes…. A couple times were actually went to the supermarket and bought bread and cheese to eat instead of going to a restaurant. The cheese is amazing. 🙂

      Zurich did get pretty quiet in the evenings. We usually started out early and were done by about 9… There are some places that stay open but it’s definitely not a nightlife central by any means.


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