Zurich: A Swiss stadt of mind
Thomas Breathnach on the bargain wonders of his former home town, Zurich
As an expat living in Switzerland's urban hub, one soon learns to adjust to the city's curious idiosyncrasies: bizarre fondue etiquette, an aversion to small-talk and the noise-curbing ban of laundry on Sundays.
For tourists, however, budget-busting prices are likely to be the main cultural eye-opener - a weekend visit to this city of millionaires doesn't have to break the bank.
''Your train will arrive in drei, zwei, eins…". From the nanosecond tourists touch down at Zurich Airport, a red carpet of Swiss stereotypes are punctiliously aligned. Alpine cowbells soundtrack the futuristic sky-metro transfer, Roger Federer appears almost ubiquitous on billboards, and a strictly metered skyline of Swiss banks flanks the route towards Zurich Hauptbahnhof. Willkommen to downtown Switzerland - exactly 11 minutes and 6.60 Francs later.
Scooting around on Europe's most envied public transport system may cost a pretty pfennig, but there are options beyond the fleets of eco-buses, Cobra trams and shuttle ferries. The city's mushrooming Velo-stations offer bike hire (or if you fancy it, skateboard hire) across Zurich gratis. You'll have to surrender your ID and a CHF20 deposit upon pick-up, but consider this soupcon of Swiss bureaucracy all part of the cultural experience.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
With a spectacular setting hemmed by the snow-capped Glarner Alps, the best things in Zurich are indeed frei. The city's 869m landmark Uetliberg mountain offers romantic wanders or heart-pumping treks, all chased with panoramic views, while Lake Zurich's Chinawiese is the favourite shoreside meadow to enjoy the crystal-water swimming on tap. For a real insider spot, head to Rimini Bar, near Schanzengaben canal, to sip Panasch (local beer shandy) and sun-lounge Zurich-style upon a floating wooden lido.
FONDUE FOR THOUGHT
While most tourists flock to the cobbled quarter of Niederdörfli for its bustling Bierhalle, Zürchers themselves tend to find their fondue fix elsewhere. The Langstrasse area is peppered with affordable local restaurants: try Köchlistube for its traditional Swiss fare, Lily's for the best Vietnamese food in town and Casablanca for coffee.
Despite a borderline prim arts scene, Zurich hosts an eclectic cultural calendar from outdoor sofa cinema soirées to spoken word 'poetry slams' at the city zoo. Summer in the city is stacked with events such as the family-geared Idaplatzfest and the Oh See festival at the iconic Rote Fabrik venue. Consider ronorp.net your excellent go-to guide.
Zurich carries a reputation as one of Europe's ultimate party capitals, where high-end joints such as Kaufleuten and Adagio leave Lillie's Bordello looking like The Rovers Return. But beyond the bling décor, the top clubs can feel pretty clinical, so try the Red Light district haunts of Kinski or Gonzo.
Need to know
Aer Lingus (0818 365 000; aerlingus.com) fly from Dublin to Zurich daily from €145 return.
Accommodation is the single thing likely to bust a Swiss budget: top-end hostel Zurich Jugendherberge has doubles from €55pps per night while trendy boutique bolthole 25hrs Hotel (25hours-hotels.com) is a relative bargain at €70pps. Given its prices, it's also worth checking AirBnb (for a great location, try the Kreis 5 funkytown district).