When I say ‘city break’ to you, I imagine Zurich isn’t the first destination that springs to mind. Or the second, third, or… well, you get the point. Despite constantly topping most liveable city lists, the Swiss city isn’t actually synonymous with culture, entertainment and the arts. Yes, it’s famed for stunning scenery, ambitious environmental policies and wealth. But it’s also famed for being a centre of commerce and this – along with tales of the city being practically dead at night – has somewhat stunted its development as a cultural European destination.
The reason for this is simple. Of Zurich’s inhabitants, a huge 31% do not hold Swiss citizenship. Whilst these visiting inhabitants reap the financial rewards of living in such a business hub, it also means there’s fewer people there who have the spare hours to enjoy and invest in culture, so it’s become something of an afterthought. You get the feeling that restaurants are there for long client lunches and little else. But with ever-cheapening short haul flights and the ease of hopping around Europe could it, perhaps, evolve into a new and exciting cultural destination?
The city itself boasts 50 museums and over 100 galleries, and Old Zurich on the east bank of River Limmat boasts charming period buildings and is steeped in history. Dadaism (which celebrates its hundredth anniversary this year) began there during World War One, when artists fled from all over Europe to neutral Swiss territory. It’s something the city is proud of, carefully protecting the heritage of the movement as one of the few cultural movements for which it can claim ownership. The Zurich opera house and Richard Wagner will also come up in conversation with Zurich-enthusiasts as a reason why you shouldn’t overlook their cultural prowess, as does the fact that the city boasts substantial film, literature and classical musical festivals.
But asides from these (albeit impressive) feats, there’s another appealing side to the city’s culture. In the old industrial centre of the town savvy businessmen have spotted a Shoreditch-shaped opportunity to tap into the popularity of hipster carpark culture – with the help of rooftop bars, old shipping containers and the usual ingredients of urban renewal. The result is surprisingly charming, if a little over-familiar.
And back across the city to the East of the river, thriving South African artist Conor McCreedy has set up shop – or his Atelier, as he refers it, but it feels more like a luxury boutique – with scented candles and art for sale alongside each other. You’ve got to admire anyone who comes to Zurich to sell art by turning their work into a Damien Hirst inspired luxury brand. After all, his clients are super rich businessmen, and the city is largely about money. When in Rome…
But the city is also rich in other ways. The stunning river that leads down to Lake Zurich is a beautiful spot for a stroll, and the cleanliness of the river and lake means you can swim in them – all year round if you want to. And the nearby forest areas of Adlisberg, Zürichberg, Käferberg, Hönggerberg and Üetliberg and neighbouring mountain Uetilberg are all great for exploring.
So while it’s unlikely that the largest city in Switzerland will compete with other more popular European destinations any time soon, next time you’re planning a business trip, take your girlfriend and stay for the weekend too. You could do a lot worse.
Where to stay: Kameha Grand Zurich offers double rooms from £136 per room per night on a room only basis. Their ambitious and creative offering defies every stereotype of a business hotel. Norman Fischer and his team at the You restaurant earned their first Michelin star within months of opening and the food and setting is exceptional. Designed by Michael Najjar, the restaurant and the rest of the hotel are truly something to behold. Boasting a luxury spa and an array of impressive suites, themed around all sorts of grown up fun – like Outer Space, James Bond and Burlesque – they’re proof that you most certainly can – and should – mix business with pleasure. If you want a truly mind-bending experience, the hotel also offers ‘The Exactly Like Nothing Else’ package.
Priced at £2,118 it includes:
- Transfer from/to the Zurich Airport or Zurich Main Station in a Maserati
- An overnight stay for two people for one night in one of the Themed Suites (according to choice and depending on availability), including breakfast
- A somewhat different dinner with mentalist Tobias Heinemann in the YOU Fine Dining Restaurant or exclusively in the personal suite (4-course menu including accompanying wines)
- Exclusive use of the Kameha Spa after 10pm
What to see: The world’s first Museum of Digital Art is in Zurich. It’s a remarkable space featuring work from three different artists a year that shows the magic that code can create when applied to the real world. Try and go when one of the founders is there.
Where to eat and drink: Head to the famous Café Shober for a once in a lifetime hot chocolate, up to the observatory bar for a cocktail and to Haus Hiltl for the best vegetarian buffet you’ve ever had (yes, really).
Switzerland Tourism: For more information on Switzerland visit www.MySwitzerland.com or call our Switzerland Travel Centre on the International freephone 00800 100 200 30 or e-mail, for information firstname.lastname@example.org; for packages, trains and air tickets email@example.com.