Best things to do in Zurich
If you are heading to Switzerland, it’s very likely that your trip to this country will start at Zurich airport or train station. Zürich is the largest city in Switzerland with a population of almost 400 000 people. Permanently settled for over 2,000 years, Zürich was founded by the Romans. In earlier times, the city was called Turicum. The earliest record of this name was found on a second-century tombstone discovered at the Lindenhof hill. A fact to be aware of is that the most expensive cup of coffee in the world you can buy at Starbucks in the airport of Zurich. So here is a selection of things for you to do in Zurich.
Check the plate of Churchill’s speech in Zurich
Let’s start our tour by noticing a plate on the square memorising the place where Winston Churchill delivered his famous speech «Let Europe arise!» in September 1946. Churchill spoke about the future of the maltreated and destroyed the continent of Europe. To never let such a tragedy happen again, Churchill pleaded for «building a kind of United States of Europe» with the reconciliation of Germany and France as its core. Then continue with going back to the historic roots of Zurich by visiting Fraumünster church.
Immerse in history and art at Fraumünster church
This church is one of the landmarks of Zurich. Founded in the 9th century by King Louis the German, this church with its convent was inhabited by female members of the aristocracy of Europe. The convent once held great power in Zurich. The present church dates from the middle of the 13th century. Important architectural features include the Romanesque chancel and the high vaulted transept. Its most adorable treasures are the stained glass windows by Augusto Giacometti and Marc Chagall.
A fresco in the exterior alcove on the church wall shows the story of Felix and Regula. As the story goes, they were brother and sister, beheaded with their servant Exuperantius for being Christian converts, by Roman soldiers in 3rd century Zürich. The legend has it, they picked up their heads, walked 40 paces, knelt down, prayed, and then finally passed away. For this miracle, Regula and Felix were named the patron saints of Zürich. Then, according to the story, Grossmünster church was built in the place where Felix and Regula died.
Learn about the nickname of Grossmünster church
According to a legend, Charlemagne discovered the graves of the city’s patron saints Felix and Regula and had a church built as a monastery on the spot. The stained glass windows by Sigmar Polke, the Romanesque crypt, choir windows by Augusto Giacometti, bronze doors by Otto Münch and the cloister Reformation Museum are just some of the highlights to see there. The square at the church is a well known meeting place for the locals. These days the church is called salt and pepper because of the shape of its towers. Some say that Richard Wagner mocked the church’s appearance as that of salt and pepper dispensers.
Have the best view of Zurich from Lindenhof
Get up to Lindenhof, the scene of numerous historical events and stunning views. In the 4th century, a Roman fort stood on Lindenhof, and in the 9th century, a regal palace was built on the very same site.
Soak in the glorious view of the Old Town, Grossmünster Church, City Hall, the Limmat River, the university and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH). By the way, did you know that ETH Zurich lists whooping 21 Nobel Prizes for researchers connected to the institution, including Albert Einstein?
Enjoy the tranquillity of the place and look for chess players around.
Check the time with the clock of St. Peter’s Church
The Swiss are known for their watches but they also have the largest clock in Europe, with the diameter of its dial being 8.7 metres, placed on the clock tower of St. Peter. For centuries, it had been Zürich’s ‘official local time’, and all public city clocks had to conform to it. There are also five bells in the tower, dating back to 1880, with the largest weighing over 6,000 kg. St. Peter’s parish church is the oldest church in Zurich and dates to before the year 900. From the Middle Ages to 1911, the church tower was used as a fire lookout point. Until now, the tower has been owned by the municipality, and the church building belongs to the parish. Notice the different colours of the tower and the building. It’s the reason why.
Admire Opera house building and chat with friends at Bellevue square
Opera house, designed by Viennese architects Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer, was built in 1891. It is not a big theatre, with just 1,100 seats but regardless, it is one of the best in the world. In 2014, it was awarded Best Opera Company of the Year at the International Opera Awards. It stages around 250 performances each year, featuring the best international stars. Behind-the-scenes tours are available. Bellevue (‘beautiful site’) square in front of the Opera is one of the largest city squares in Switzerland – created with 16,000 m² of elegant quartzite. Trees, places to sit and water elements make it a very attractive and a really cosy spot.
Watch swans and boats at the Lake Zurich
The Lake Zurich is certainly one of the city’s highlights. Fed by clear glacial waters from the Swiss Alps, the bow-shaped Lake Zurich (Zurichsee) forms the scenic backdrop to the city. Measuring 40 kilometres (25 miles) in length and 3 kilometres (1.9 miles) in width, this alpine lake offers plenty of swimming spots in summer, hiking routes, tranquil islands, and picturesque mountain scenery.
Feel the breath of the art of the world at Museum Rietberg
Rietberg museum is located on the grounds of Rieterpark, Zurich’s largest and most impressive landscaped garden. The Museum Rietberg, with its three villas and surrounding parkland, has an impressive history. For example, famous composer Richard Wagner stayed at the Villa Schönberg while working on the libretto for “Tristan and Isolde”. The collection of the museum comprises treasures from Asia, Africa, America, and Oceania, and incredible carved masks from Switzerland. The museum also holds impressive exhibitions. The visitors enter the museum through a glass pavilion, the “Emerald”, the more recent extension of museum mainly running underground. If you are luckier with the weather than me, walk around the awesome park nearby after your museum visit.
The museum is closed on Mondays.
Never pay for drinking water in Zurich
There is always a supply of fresh, top-quality drinking water in Zurich, thanks to more than 1,200 fountains that can be found every few meters all over the city. Thus, Zurich is one of the cities with the largest number of fountains in the world. Here are just a few fountains for you to notice, including Lindenhof Fountain on the Lindenhof: in operation since 1667. The present-day fountain was erected in the early 20th century to commemorate the brave women of 13th century Zurich. They dressed in full battle gear to scare away the Austrian army and thus prevented the city from being besieged. So just have your refillable water bottle ready.
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What did you think? Have you been to Zurich? Or perhaps you’re thinking of visiting there in the near future? Either way, I’d love to hear from you so please add your comments below.
Author: Anita Sane