Welcome back to Ask a Local, a series of posts in which I interview locals all over the world about what to see, where to go, what to eat, and how to fit in in their city or town.
Today, Manu and Nina from Zurich are here to tell you about their hometown:
About Manu & Nina
We both grew up in the countryside not far from Zürich, moved into town to study, and stayed for work. These days, one of us works as a journalist, the other in corporate communications. We love to stroll around the city keeping our eyes peeled for new, exciting things. We also love cotton candy, flea markets, and jumping into lake Zürich.
What to Do In Zürich (The Basics)
First, stroll through the city center. Don’t look at your map; just choose a direction and follow it. There is no dangerous spot in Zürich and it’s small enough that you can’t really get lost. While you’re wandering, make sure to walk along the lake, by the Limmat River, and through the old town. Take tram 11 or 15 or bus 32 up to Bucheggplatz and walk up to the forest from there to enjoy the most terrific view over the town. Then spend as much time as possible in the most relaxed and trendy neighborhoods: Kreis 3, 4, and 5.
If it’s rainy when you arrive, we suggest cozying up with a good book in one of Zürich’s coffee shops (we like Casablanca, Kafi Dihei, and Dini Mueter) or visiting one of the museums in town (we like Rietberg, Bellerive, and the Museum of Design).
Hidden Gems for Seasoned Travelers
If you want to feel local, eat chocolate (grab a bar at any grocery store or, for something special, head to the Sprüngli chocolate shop) and go shopping at the Freitag Tower (where you’ll find bags, wallets, laptop cases, and more—all made out of used truck canvas; almost every Zürich local owns something from this shop). Then jump into Lake Zürich or bargain at a flea market (the two largest are held every Saturday at 7 a.m. at Kanzlei and Bürkliplatz and in summer there is another starting at 9 a.m. at Frau Gerolds Garten).
In wintertime, we recommend a visit to one of our top three saunas: Seebad Enge, City Hallenbad, or Stadtbad Zürich.
For the nature-lovers, the old botanical garden, the garden at Villa Tobler, and the park at Museum Rietberg are lovely.
Finally, for something quirky, have dinner at Blindekuh Zürich (at Mühlebachstrasse 148), the world’s first dining-in-the-dark restaurant, take a ghost walk tour (ghostwalk.ch), or visit James Joyce’s grave at Fluntern Cemetery.
Where to Stay
For a real taste of Zürich, we highly recommend Kreis 3, 4, and 5 (where we live). They are the most vibrant, young, artsy, relaxed, interesting, and colorful areas. Most of our favorite shops, restaurants, streets, and clubs are there.
Take a boat trip to Rapperswil. The trip itself offers nice views over Zürich and Lake Zürich and Rapperswil is a contemplative little city. Have lunch or dinner there and then take the train back to Zürich.
Other good options include the ski towns of Hoch-Ybrig, Davos, Engelberg-Titlis, or Flims Laax Falera. They all open in Novem-ber/December and close in March/April (depending on the snow).
Where to Hike
Start with Üetliberg. From Triemli, it takes about an hour to reach the summit. From the summit, the two-hour walk to Fel-senegg is very nice. If you still feel like hiking after that, continue to Sihlbrugg Dorf via the Albisgrat (Albis Ridge). From there, walk down through the Sihlwald and take the train back to Zürich. The whole trek should take about six hours.
Be sure though to stay on the marked trails and have a map and compass with you for orientation; rumor has it that a Dutch hiking group got lost in the Üetliberg woods and had to be rescued recently.
If you have more time, the areas around Walensee or Glarus County are beautiful and you can do day hikes in the real mountains there. (Compared to those, our mountain is a hill.)
What & Where to Eat & Drink
An absolute must is the Zürich gschnetzeltes veal dish, which normally comes with rösti. For the best of traditional Swiss fare, head to Helvetia (at Stauffacherquai 1; phone: +41 44 297 9999), Volkshaus (at Stauffacherstrasse 60; phone: +41 44 242 1155), and Bauernschänke (at Rindermarkt 24; phone: +41 44 262 4130).
The most popular drinks in Zürich are Aperol spritz, lillet (a French aperitif wine from the Bordeaux region), hugo (a German cocktail with elderflower and mint), or the classic gin and tonic. You can also try one of the local beers. We recommend Turbinenbräu, Amboss, or Bier Paul.
For cocktails, Dante (at Zwinglistrasse 22) can’t be topped. Restaurant Volkshaus (mentioned above) is our pick for a great dinner and nice atmosphere. Chez Nhan (at Kehlhofstrasse 4; phone: +41 044 450 3262) offers reasonably priced Vietnamese food (and the best rice-noodle salad in town!). And Kronen-halle (at Rämistrasse 4; phone: +41 44 262 9900) is a classic (though very expensive).
Finally, for excellent coffee, we like Kafi Dihei (at Zurlinden-strasse 231), Babu’s (at Löwenstrasse 1), Sprüngli (at Parade-platz), Dini Mueter (at Langstrasse 10), Markthalle im Viaduct (at Limmatstrasse 231), or Kafi Schoffel (at Schoffelgasse 7).
You can save on public transportation by buying a day pass (for 8.40 francs you can use buses, trams, trains, and even the ship), taking the train (instead of a cab) from the airport, or, if you want to explore the whole canton of Zürich, buying a “9 o’clock pass,” which gives you unlimited canton access for the day for 25 francs.
As far as activities go, dancing at the Cool Monday party at Mascotte only costs you what you drink. Tuesday is concert night at La Catrina and there’s no entrance fee (just make a small donation to the local band). On Wednesday afternoons, admission at the Kunsthaus art museum is free. And you can borrow one of the free bikes at the züri rollt stands and discover Zürich on two wheels.
If you understand German, check the city’s department of cultural heritage preservation; they offer free tours.
How to Fit In
If you are polite and sensible, you will be fine in Switzerland and if you say grüezi (hello), you’ll be really popular.
How to Meet Locals & Make Friends
The Swiss are known for being a little shy. But if you’re patient with us, we’ll open up. Don’t worry if you don’t speak German. In the cities and amongst the young people, everybody speaks English pretty well.
Best Places to Take a Photo
Get off the beaten track and stroll the not-so-touristy neighbor-hoods of Kreis 3, 4, or 5. Not only will you meet the real Zürich, but you’ll also find good photo opportunities. And don’t miss the view from the sunny rooftop platform at Freitag Tower.
Find Manu & Nina at myfriendfromzürich.com.
Love the interview? Get 99 more in Switzerland: 100 Locals Tell You Where to Go, What to Hike, & How to Fit In: