Zurich is renowned for being clean, efficient and above all, affluent. Yet beyond the designer shops, Felicity Cousins finds a city that is just as wealthy in art, architecture and outdoor spaces
1. BahnhofStrasse and Lindenhof (West Zurich)
Zurich straddles the river Limmat and sits at the head of Lake Zurichsee. Start at the main station Hauptbahnhof and walk down Bahnhofstrasse where designer shops, including Gucci, Armani, Prada, Chanel, Bulgari, Louis Vuitton and Cartier, stand proudly amongst the serious well-dressed shoppers. Turn left down Augustinergasse and right after the church. Here, you’ll find the James Joyce foundation (joycefoundation.ch) – if you are a fan, it’s well worth a climb up the creaking stairs into the library to see the range of books and treasured photographs. There are also exhibits on Thomas Mann. To reach the oldest part of town, head up one of the steep cobbled streets, passing under shuttered windows, to Lindenhof, the former Roman centre, a huge, gravelly square with views over the river and the old town.
2. Niederdorfstrasse (East Zurich)
From Lindenhof, walk left along the river and cross the bridge over to the east of town. Niederdorfstrasse, which runs parallel to the tram-lined Limmat-Quai, is a popular place to meander among the antique shops and trendy boutiques. It is also the home of Dadaism where, from 1916, the movement of the absurd against reason, art and anti-art spread through the cobbled alleys. There are ample café and bars down each narrow street, but for a quiet drink, head for the Altstadt café bar on Kirchgasse, just below the towers of Grossmunster church. Green tables slope gently on the road outside, while the jazz music inside attracts locals who come to read the papers and sip strong coffee. It is open from 7am. Afterwards, walk down to the river, turn left and head towards Bellevueplatz.
3. Kunsthaus (Art Museum)
From Bellevueplatz take tram five or eight, one stop to Kunsthaus. This is Switzerland’s finest art gallery. Inside, it is difficult to know where to begin: Manet, Monet, Hodler, Picasso, Munch, Ernst, Miro, Dali, and Warhol entice you into each high-ceilinged, spacious room. Soon you’ll be absorbed by sculptures, drawn to photographs and surprised by old masters: gleaming Rembrandts and glowing women from Rubens’s brush. English headsets are free. Open 10am-9pm Tues-Thurs and 10am-5pm Fri-Sun. Entrance CHF10/£4.25 (free on Wednesdays and free with Zurich Card). Kunsthaus.ch.
4. Pulse 5/Zurich West
Head back to Bellevueplatz and take tram 11 back into town. Jump on number 13 at Paradeplatz or Bahnhofstrasse to Zurich West. Get off at Escher-Wyss Platz, cross the tracks and head left down Hardturmstrasse. This industrial area has become an exciting canvas for artists and architects alike, who are regenerating the area into a hip and modern hangout, a total contrast to Zurich’s centre. After a few minutes, you will reach Pulse 5 on the left. Inside, the old factory retains its original frame and the huge open space houses boutique shops, café, restaurants and a fitness centre. Outside is an attractive, if unruly, garden with rusty barrels used as bins, and wooden platform areas for sitting amid the tall, wild plants. Walk through the building, cross the square and head left down Shiffbaustrasse until you come to the Schiffbau (shipbuilding) factory. This was converted by architect Peter Kern into a space for music, theatre and food. Steel girders and machinery hang from the ceiling and the space houses one of the city’s most popular restaurants, LaSalle. There is also Moods jazz club. On Limmatstrasse, there are the Kunsthalle galleries (kunsthallezurich.ch) and the Migros Museum (migrosmuseum.ch) in the old LöwenbrÃ¤u brewery. See websites for latest exhibitions. Free with the Zurich Card.
5. Swiss National Museum
Take tram 13 back to the main station to the Schweizerisches Landesmuseum. Inside its fairytale towers it covers Swiss history from ancient times through to the modern day. A special exhibition called Preview – an Excursion Through 20th Century Switzerland explores Swiss national identity through a range of exhibits (showing until October 29, 2006). There is also an interactive exhibition, Images of Power and Vanity – the History of the Coin, in which you can fill in questionnaires about your relationship with money. Open 10am-5pm Tues-Sun. Tel +41 44 218 65 11, musee-suisse.ch. Entrance CHF5 (£2; free with the Zurich Card).
Twenty minutes from Zurich’s centre, winding through forest with deer skipping idly over the tracks, is Uetliberg, a popular hiking and cycling area. Take the S10 from platform 2 at Hauptbahnhof (leaving every half an hour) and escape into the hills, where the air is cool and crisp. Walk up the steep steps, along a gravel road, until you reach the Top of Zurich Hotel, which has a metal viewing tower that offers panoramic views. If you can’t face the breezy 176-step climb, there are still good views over the whole of Zurich and the lake from the base. There are also various walks to take from Uetliberg, including a “planet walk”. I started it, but only managed to reach Jupiter, with Pluto still a good two hours away. There is a shop and restaurant at the station in case you miss the train back.
The Zurich Card can be bought from the main train station or from most hotels. A card valid for 24 hours costs CHF15 (£6.40).