Zurich: An Off-the-Beaten-Path Guide

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Its position perched along the Limmat River at the edge of the Zürichsee, its namesake lake, has earned Zurich consistent ratings as one of the most liveable cities in the world.  A bustling commercial, cultural, and financial center, Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland and dates back to as early as 15 BC, when the Romans founded a settlement here known as Turicum. Today, Zurich has much to offer in the way of picture-perfect landscapes, insightful museums, a compelling shopping scene, and unique gastronomic experiences.  Zurich is a city for all seasons; it is little wonder that it attracts over twenty million visitors each year. An ideal way to start your exploration of this multifaceted city is with a walk through the charming Altstadt (old town) with its winding cobbled streets, historic churches, eclectic boutiques, and quaint cafes.  But beyond the obvious must-sees, Zurich is home to unconventional attractions that offer totally unique perspectives to the city. Here is an off-the-beaten-path travel guide to Zurich

Zurich river and buildings.Unusual museums

The Swiss National Museum, aka Landesmuseum, is arguably the most popular museum showcasing the history and culture of Switzerland, while Kunsthaus is a famous museum dedicated to art.  But along with these attractions, Zurich is home to museums that pay homage to symbols that are quintessentially Swiss and famous to Zurich.

The Uhrenmuseum Beyer Zürich, or Beyer Clock and Watch Museum, is located in the heart of the sophisticated shopping district, Bahnhofstrasse, and specifically within the showroom of Beyer Chronometrie.     An extremely insightful place if you are a fan of horology, this museum takes you on a journey of time-keeping… Through time! From 1400 BC to the present, precisely. There are over 250 time pieces representing the private collection of Theodor Beyer. This includes rare and exquisite hourglasses, sundials, pendulum clocks, pocket watches, wrist watches, and even wall clocks.  Dating back to 1971, the museum is being further enhanced by Rene Beyer, son of Theodor Beyer, and now has an exclusive display of Renaissance clocks.  

Trams in Zurich.

Trams are quite literally the lifeline of the public transport system in Zurich. No visit to the city is complete without your share of tram-hopping. The Zurich Tram Museum traces the fascinating development of trams and the story of economic development and industrialization in the city.  Located in the tram depot of Burgwies, the museum has several vintage trams and tram engines on display, as well as old time-tables, tickets, ticket punching machines, driver uniforms, bags, helmets, station sign boards, tram maps, and the like. Particularly compelling displays include the wooden cars of age-old trams, as well as the interior components of a tram engine.  The museum also has several activities for children, like jigsaw puzzles, working tram models that can be operated by kids, as well as a souvenir shop that stocks up on interesting books, toys, caps, t-shirts and more. 

Take a lap in nature

While the picturesque Zurich Lake is undoubtedly the natural heart of the city, the urban landscape is also dotted with as many as 70 parks, gardens, and green spaces. But if you are looking for a quick detour from the city, take a train up to the city’s mountain, Uetliberg.  Accessible in just about half an hour, the peak of a little over 2800 feet offers stunning vistas and a panoramic view of Zurich.  There are also several walking and hiking trails. There is nothing more rejuvenating than taking a stroll up this plateau amidst the crisp mountain air.  With restaurants and other recreational activities, it is an ideal break from the cityscape.

Off-the-beaten-path Zurich.

Another unconventional adventure you can embark upon from the city is taking a ride up the Dolderbahnn track railway. This 1.3-kilometre track has an incline of almost 20 percent in some parts and dates back to 1895. This train offers an exhilarating trip, to say the least. It transports you to the forested area of Adlisberg within minutes.  Surrounded by surreal beauty and some magnificent scenery, the summit on top houses the Dolder Grand Hotel and the Dolder recreation area where you can indulge in some rest and relaxation. 

Varied flora and fauna

birds fly over zurichIf you are a lover of plants and succulents in particular, then the Sukkulenten-Sammlung Zürich, or Zurich Succulent Plant Collection, must be on your list.  A sanctuary of sorts for nature lovers, this place has free entry and has a mind boggling 6000+ varieties of succulents, all the way from Mexico, Africa, and America.  There are several rare species, many of them with exceptional flowers and fruits that are unusual for succulents. Each section is complemented with detailed information boards and placards about the succulent species.  From the difference between spikes and thorns or spurge and cacti, to the nuances of pollination and fruit dispersal, it is all here!

The Zurich Aviary and Bird Sanctuary, located on the banks of the Zurich Lake, is another place for nature lovers. With close to 40 species of birds, this centre on native and exotic avian species is a haven for ornithologists and bird lovers alike.  Apart from species like black birds, parakeets, and toucans, an important aspect of the sanctuary is that it doubles as a bird care centre. Here, sick and injured birds are nursed back to health. There are special enclosures where the birds are provided a habitat that is close to their natural one and are looked after before some of them are released back into the wild.  

Food, drink, and more 

There is no denying that Zurich is one of the cleanest and most beautiful cities in the world.  Apart from the upmarket streets that host high-profile banks and luxurious shopping stores, a quirky attraction of the city are the water fountains that dot the entire urban landscape. These fountains are ubiquitous with the city, and are found at roundabouts, shopping areas, bus stops, and train stations.  There are close to 1,200 fountains — most of them are elaborate works of art with ornate designs, sculptures, and intricate carvings.  Some of the notable fountains in the city include the magnificent one at the HB station; the Hedwig, or Lindenhof, fountain, which is an ode to Zurich women; as well as the Amazon fountain at Rennweg.  The best part about these fountains is that all of them supply clean mountain water that is totally suitable for thirsty locals as well as tourists.  

Train station Zurich: an off-the-beaten-path guide.

While in Zurich, there is no shortage of exotic experiences for the palate. This includes, of course, delectable chocolates.  From the signature macaroons called “Luxemburgerli,” available at the Confiserie Sprüngli store, to gourmet and artisanal varieties, Zurich has it all. While the Chocolate Revolutionmanufactures chocolates via a patented cold extraction process, visit Max Chocolatier for some unique flavours that are rotated by the season.

If vegetarian food is your cup of tea then do not miss savouring a meal at Haus Hiltl, which dates back to 1898 and is the oldest vegetarian restaurant in the world.  The restaurant is known to serve a 100-dish buffet replete with vegetarian and vegan dishes from across the globe. 

Have you ever been to Zurich? Let us know your favorite hidden gems on Twitter!

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