For a small city, Zurich packs a big cultural punch. Its town centre might be home to just 420,000 inhabitants, but literary giants, maverick artists, fashion designers, thinkers, revolutionaries and architects have always walked among them. Zurich is also the birthplace of the eccentric Dada movement and influential International Typographic Style. At the iconic Kronenhalle restaurant – its walls lined with priceless artwork – regular visitors numbered Coco Chanel, Albert Einstein and James Joyce, who wrote chapters of Ulysses while sipping a glass of local wine.
FREITAG TOWER ↑ Part retail experience, part observation tower, this stack of 19 shipping container units offers panoramic views of the city. Conceived by Zurich’s Spillmann Echsle Architekten, the recycled mini-cloudscraper is also home to a huge Freitag store, selling the brand’s cult bags made from recycled truck tarpaulins, bicycle inner tubes and car seat belts.
MUSEUM HAUS KONSTRUKTIV ↑ Set in a former electricity substation, this museum is dedicated to concrete, constructive and conceptual art. See works by Zürcher Konkrete exponents such as Max Bill and Camille Graesser, as well as Fritz Glarner’s stunning Rockefeller Dining Room. Pictured is a temporary exhibition with works by Katja Strunz and David Renggli.
LASALLE RESTAURANT ↑ Designed by German architect Peter Kern and set within the red-brick shell of the Schiffbau arts centre, in a former shipyard in Zurich West, this glamorous space comes alive at night, when a Venetian chandelier illuminates its glass walls and diners appear almost to be floating in space.
Today Switzerland’s first city and financial centre is a quietly thrilling low-rise agglomeration with a gem of an old town, dating back more than 2,000 years, and funky, revamped industrial areas. Architectural jewels such as the Pavillon Le Corbusier and Santiago Calatrava’s light-filled library for the Faculty of Law are a tram-hop away or from the boho playground of Zurich-West and its buzzing cafes, restaurants, galleries and boutiques housed in former factories and under railway arches. Stray from the world-class shopping on the super-smart Bahnhofstrasse to admire the cityscape from the leafy Lindenhof hilltop square, or visit the nearby St Peter’s church, which boasts the largest clock face in Europe, with a hand that jumps a record-breaking half-meter every minute
Zurich’s cultural agenda is packed all year round with a vibrant and varied programme of events – including the performing arts festivals Zürcher Theater Spektakel, marking its 40th anniversary this year, and Zürcher Festspiele, next up in 2020 – at leading institutions such as the Opera House, Kunsthaus and Schauspielhaus, and at a host of smaller independent venues.
PAVILION LE CORBUSIER ↑ A prefabricated concrete construction with bright panelled walls, this lakeside Gesamtkunstwerk is a total celebration of Le Corbusier’s architectural style. Housing a fascinating collection including the pioneering Swiss architect’s sketches, sculptures and furniture, it is the third location of the Museum of Design Zurich and opens 11 May.
MFO-PARK ↑ Created by local architects Burckhardt + Partners and landscape designers Raderschall, the steel-framed MFO-Park in Zurich’s Neu Oerlikon district is a vertical expression of modern garden design, with plants clinging to the exterior latticework to create the largest pergola in the world. A public park, the space is also used for events such as screenings and concerts.
HAUSER & WIRTH ↑ Hosting exhibitions on the likes of Dan Flavin and Alberto Giacometti, this leading gallery has set up its Zurich outpost in the old Löwenbräu brewery, elegantly reconfigured by Annabelle Selldorf. Its neighbours in Kreis 5, an industrial zone turned art hub, include LUMA Westbau, Kunsthalle Zürich and Migros Museum of Contemporary Art.
Quirky local traditions include swims in the Limmat River; the colourful costume parade and burning of the Winter effigy at the Sechseläuten spring festival; and the Boatmen’s Guild’s triennial Schifferstechen, which sees combatants standing up on unsteady flatboats on the river for a spot of medieval jousting.
For a more sedate riverside experience, follow the footsteps of Dada founders Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings along the Limmat, and head to the Kunsthaus Zürich’s archives, where you can admire the largest Dada collection in the world. Then repair to the historic Cabaret Voltaire café for coffee and lively conversation about Duchamp and absurdism. Gueti Reis!
CABARET VOLTAIRE ↑ The original Dadahaus first opened as a social club for Zurich’s outsider artist community in the back room of Holländische Meierei, Spiegelgasse, 1, in February 1916. Founders Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings encouraged avant garde performances to be raucous, chaotic and brutal. Kandinsky and Klee were in the audience. The dress code was provocative and bizarre. The club closed after a few months but over 100 years later lives again as a Niederdorf quarter café and art space with exhibitions and live shows that celebrate the absurdist spirit of the Dada movement’s birthplace.
KRONENHALLE ↑ Jaw dropping, masterpiece art and immaculately prepared Swiss comfort cuisine make this Zurich dining institution a must-visit. Works by Picasso, Miro, Rodin, Matisse, and Bonnard festoon the wood paneled walls. Stained glass is by Chagall, furniture pieces are designed by Giacometti. Since 1924 notable diners have included Coco Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein and James Joyce who wrote many chapters of Ulysees whilst seated at the bar. Order the rosti and a glass of chilled Riesling from one of the slick, white-coated waiters and begin your own lunchtime odyssey.
INFORMATION Click here for information about Zurich Card (free or reduced admission to 40 museums)