What to do in West Zurich, Switzerland
Hey, y’all. I’m writing this from my wallowy king-sized bed, wrapped in a white towelling robe with a shot of iced melon smoothie on my bedside table (some kind soul at our hotel left it here as a treat after our city tour). I’m in that kind of surreal place where I can’t quite believe that this is my life; where I’ve just come to check out a cool new city and stay in a glamorous hotel for the weekend and call it work.
This weekend I’m working with the Zurich tourist board and have come on a two-night trip to the city, staying at the Kameha Grand Zurich. There are five of us altogether; four journalists and the PR lady and they are all absolutely lovely. We met at Heathrow at 6.30am yesterday morning- I was woken at 3.30am by my kids needing general middle-of-the-night attention, so I was up and about anyway (bitter laugh).
Our PR had, like the holy angel of breakfast, got us passes to the Plaza Premium lounge at Heathrow, which was a total dream. We descended on the buffet like wild locusts and thumbed through some high-end mags, comparing properties we will never be able to afford, bodies that will never be ours and holidays that we will never go on, because we’re women and we like to do that kind of masochistic thing over tea and scrambled eggs.
Our Swiss Air flight to Zurich was peaceful; a calm two hours punctuated by complimentary drinks and delicious Swiss chocolate. Our hotel was just six minute’s drive from the airport so we hopped into the sleek black Mercedes that awaited us and arrived at the Kameha Grand Zurich (I’ll do a separate post about this hotel; it completely deserves it).
After being shown to our stunning suites and enjoying a fresh pasta lunch at L’Unico restaurant on the terrace, we met our tour guide for the day. We headed into West Zurich, the once-industrial area of the city that is now where the locals go when they want some fun. Hopping onto one of the super-efficient trams (everything, and I do mean everything, is punctual in Switzerland), we headed through the outskirts of the city until we arrived at our station.
The first impression of West Zurich was what I had expected; a fairly stiff and clinic area featuring the glass ‘Prime’ tower, the city’s tallest building. This is the fairly boring ex-banking area and one that still has a few large company offices in; heading around the corner, however, and the mood soon changed.
A narrow tower (the ‘Freitag Building‘) made entirely of shipping containers was, we were told, a shop for handbags and other products made from recycled canvas. We climbed the steps to the top of the tower and I happily walked up with the one person in the world less fit than myself, which always does wonders for one’s self esteem. At the top was a clear view of half of the city, which to be honest wasn’t stunning, but was rather fascinating.
The industrial area seemed to be now a hub of new energy; one of the office buildings is dedicated to purely start-up companies, of which there are over 300 under the one roof. Vegan clothes shops and bespoke wooden furniture stalls lined the streets and bizarrely someone had decided to install a surfing simulator in the centre of all the commercial buildings, so we were able to watch young spritely things don wetsuits and attempt to surf on artificially produced waves. It was rather entertaining and as we headed towards it we discovered why the surrounding area was so popular.
Frau Gerold’s Garten, a bohemian food lovers’ paradise, overlooked the surf arena. A cross between a secret garden, a middle-class decking area and an outdoor market, this quirky social space proved extremely popular with the local cool crowd. Londoners- think Boxpark but spread around a fairy-lit garden, with several seating areas and plants overhanging fences and growing in pretty pots about the place.
We didn’t stop for a drink although if I was in Zurich with kids or if I was lucky enough to visit Zurich again even on my own, I would certainly make this a priority. We pressed onwards, stopping to snap some pictures of the street art and gorgeous individual clothes and homeware shops (design-y people, West Zurich is for you!).
There is also a lovely undercover food market, Markthalle Im Viadukt near the viaducts of the city; there’s nothing quite like a chocolatier chasing you down the aisle, shouting “Munch! Munch!” and insisting that you sample delicious Swiss truffles. The market is involved in a community project that engages disabled people in training and employment; it seems like a lovely place to work and wasn’t crowded at all for a Saturday.
Coming to the river I was amazed at how the cleanliness of the water, especially considering that it’s in the middle of the city. The crystal clear stream, pebbles underneath visible, carried teenagers and twenty-somethings down the river on lilos and in dinghies. It was the epitome of the high quality of life that the Swiss are renowned for enjoying; simply stopping to cool off in the local river, not a care in the world. The only reason I could see myself going near the Thames would be if a medical company decided to offer hefty payment to anyone willing to undertake treatment for cholera or discover an unknown water-borne disease. Shudder. Anyone visiting Zurich with kids should definitely check out the river as well as the Lower Letten river pool, which has separate areas for non-swimmer. The water from the Zurich city fountains is so clean that you can drink it; pretty good stuff when you are used to seeking out questionable bottled water on your travels.
After watching everyone in their swimsuits for longer than was probably appropriate or legal, we strolled through a neat and quiet square in Zurich West that led to a couple of old converted factories. One, the ‘Schiffbau in Zurich‘, has been turned into a theatre and high-end restaurant, with a rooftop bar and huge sparkling chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. The other is more of a quiet shopping mall and still retains the original internal structure of the factory, complete with steel framework and a the old industrial lift.
We were hot and tired from a lot of walking, which had turned into more of a trudge. The tour guide wisely shepherded us around the corner to a unassuming-looking front door and ushered us inside. It turned out to be an uber trendy eclectic bar named Les Halles, and we soaked in the bohemian vibe while sipping home-made iced tea.
We returned to the Kameha at a more leisurely pace, where it was happily time for dinner at L’Unico restaurant again. We had worked up an appetite and had no problem putting away three delicious courses (see my post on what I ate in Zurich for the lowdown on Zurich food, which was outstanding). After that it was time to retire to our suites, where I had a bath in what looked like half a dragon’s egg. After almost 21 hours of being awake I was extremely happy to sink down into the depths of the bed, which featured pillows stuffed with cherry pits (don’t ask, I have no idea) as well as more traditional pillow offerings.
We had a fantastic day exploring trendy West Zurich and I would recommend anyone visiting Zurich with kids to go there; eat, drink, shop, play and simply soak up the atmosphere of this underrated Swiss gem.
Travel journalists, home educating our lovely brood of 3 girls. Planning a year-long RTW trip late Summer 2017.