An Irresistible Stopover in Zurich
By Athena Lucero
Zurich, Switzerland, is the "Gateway to Europe," pulsating with one of the world's busiest rail stations and the densest transportation network on the continent. It's also the country's financial capital, the capital of German-speaking canton Zurich and Switzerland's capital of the world's favorite feel-good food.
Each day, 350,000 to 500,000 locals and international travelers pass through Zurich HB, the main train station in the city center. As a frequent traveler to Switzerland, I embrace the efficiency here that gets me from Zurich HB to Zurich Airport's train station in 12 stress-free minutes. This ease in getting in and out of Zurich makes for an irresistible stopover -- be it a few hours or a few days -- to take in this compact, walkable metropolis that's one of Europe's hippest destinations and among the world's most livable cities.
To start, inside Zurich HB is Shopville, a high-end shopping mall cleverly sandwiched between platform levels. Complete with clothing boutiques, restaurants, supermarkets, beauty services and drugstores, it's open late every day of the year. On this two-day stay I exit the station, cross the short bridge toward my hotel in the romantic Aldstadt, or Old Town, then stop midway to catch a glimpse of iconic St. Andrew's Church and St. Peter Church's famous clock tower (the largest clock face in Europe).
Zurich's city center is surrounded by water, hence, its other nickname: the Water City. The labyrinthine railyard on the "mainland" connects with the train station's huge, airy hall that straddles the River Sihl. On the other side of the small islandlike land mass flows the River Limmat. At the southern tip is massive Lake Zurich. Come summertime, the city looks more like the Mediterranean.
"Badis," Zurich's version of Italian lidos, are scattered along the river and around the lake juxtaposing bikinis with power suits and bathhouses with office buildings. When the sun sets, badis transform into night clubs. You know it's a lifestyle here when office workers spend their lunch hours taking a swim in the river.
Local guide Annamaria Pal Muller helps make the most of my brief stay. On a walking tour, she updates me on the city's coolest quarter and reacquaints me with Zurich's quintessential landmarks -- the Opera House; the world-renowned Kunsthaus museum of art; the Swiss National Museum next to the train station; the Bahnhofstrasse, Zurich's world-famous shopping avenue; the cobbled streets and romantic medieval alleyways of Old Town; and a stroll around the University of Zurich, one of Europe's most important research institutes.
We head north of the station to explore Zurich West, the exciting rebirth of the former industrial quarter that's now a culinary mecca, economic hub and the center of Zurich's nightlife. Here, Im Viadukt (German for "in the viaduct"), is the ingenious reuse of the 19th-century 292-foot-high railway bridge. Trendy restaurants and independent shops selling locally designed clothing, accessories and more are cleverly built into each of the stone viaduct's 36 arches. Nearby, colorful Markthalle Im Viadukt is home to 20-plus local food vendors, takeout counters and a stylish restaurant offering bagels and coffee, groceries, sushi and Swiss products.
Defining Zurich West's skyline, Freitag Tower gives new meaning to repurposing shipping containers. Nineteen stacked metal containers create the 85-foot-high "skyscraper" housing its flagship showroom of collectible waterproof messenger bags recycled from truck tarpaulins.
Steps from Freitag's boxy architecture we wander into bohemian Frau Gerolds Garten, an outdoor garden-restaurant-bar and popular community gathering spot. My taste buds tingle when I peek through a window of the popup chalet-style yurt that's erected each winter and offers warm, gooey cheese fondue and raclette, favorite Swiss comfort meals.