I have a (not so) secret love of travel articles, especially travel articles for where I live. Some articles are good, some not so good, but today’s CNN article, Zurich in a hurry: Make the most of your stopover, made me wonder if the author had ever been to Zurich.
Love the premise of the article. A few hours layover can be a great way for a commitment-phobe to see a European city without dedicating several days and hotel room fees. Tim Hume’s article misses the mark in a few major ways.
Let’s start with getting to Zurich’s main train station (hauptbahnhof) from the airport. The CNN article suggests taking the Glattalbahn tram network. Ignoring the misuse of the term Glattalbahn, if you are only in Zürich for a few hours, do not take the tram. The number 10 tram might leave every 10 minutes or so but it takes a whopping 37 minutes to get to the main train station. Instead, take the longer distance trains that are easily accessible in the basement of the airport for a quick 10 minute ride to the main train station.
The Swiss are among the world’s biggest users of trains, second only to the Japanese, and insist on rail services that are reliably punctual. Zurich’s hyper-efficient Glattalbahn tram network is also invaluable for the time-pressed traveler. The number 10 service runs every seven to 15 minutes and connects Zurich Airport with the city’s centrally located main railway station.
The article moves on to the high cost of Zürich, a topic I wholeheartedly agree on. The ZURICHCard is a good deal with public transit and museums included, but I would be tempted to skip the Kunsthaus museum in favor of the Landesmuseum, also known as the Swiss National Museum. Unless you are a Dada fan, there are better art museums in the world and the Landesmuseum covers time before the Renaissance. Bonus: the Landesmuseum is directly behind the main train station in a 19th century building that is interesting in its own right.
Given that the return train fare from the airport to the city center is 12.80 CHF ($13.80), and the entry to the Kunsthaus, the city’s modern art museum, is 15 CHF ($16.20), even if you only have time for one activity, the card will more than likely pay for itself.
In reference to the bolded, the Kunsthaus is more than a modern art museum, although it does have a large display of modern art. It displays impressionist paintings and Swiss masters as well as contemporary art pieces. Although it is worth a viewing, if one must choose, the winner is the Swiss National Museum. Tip: The Kunsthaus is free on Wednesday.
Moving on to food.
But on a tight time frame, it might make more sense to grab something on the go. Follow the crowds to the Sternengrill — a mobile bratwurst vendor that is a city institution. Other Swiss specialties include soft, baguette-like pretzels loaded with savory fillings — available city-wide from pretzel chain Brezelkönig — and fresh-cooked crepes smeared in apple sauce, which you can pick up from countless roadside vendors.
Sternengrill is an excellent choice for a quick sausage and beer while touring town and is definitely a Zürich standard. It is located near Bellevue tram stop, at the top end of Lake Zürich. It is probably 10 to 15 minutes away from old town on foot, however the 2 or 4 tram will take you right there. It is slightly out of the way, unless you have a bit of extra time to head to the boats, but it does have good sausage.
Scratching my head a little over the roadside vendors selling crepes with applesauce. I have never seen crepes sold by a vendor in Zürich outside a fair or other celebration. If someone knows where to find them, fill me in. My big kid will forever love you.
What The Author Missed
Switzerland is known for its chocolate and Zürich has a number of chocolatieries around the city. Sprüngli is one of the famous high end chocolate shops but Merkur, on Bahnhofstrasse, has a small workspace in the back so visitors can stop and watch chocolate truffles being made.
Neiderdorfstrasse is a long, cobblestone pedestrian street that runs parallel to the Limmat River. Some of the buildings date from before the Reformation and there are plenty of cafes and bakeries to check out. One in particular, Cafe Schober, was recently remodeled but the interior still allows the details of the centuries old building to show through.
Water taxi. The article mentions boats but the majority of the boats are an hour long journey or more. Instead, take the water taxis on the Limmat. Best of all, they are free with a paid public transportation ticket. Check for the initials ZVV, or when in doubt, ask.
In the end, keep an eye on the time. Zürich is a bit bigger than most towns in Switzerland and it is easy to lose track of time. Stereotypes aside, Swiss trains are more punctual than most train systems but Murphy’s Law still rules.