Zurich is one of the few major cities with hundreds of top class ski resorts almost on the doorstep – 10 are within a 90 minutes radius, over 200 within three hours, and even more beyond that. All are accessible via the country’s legendary Swiss Transport System rail, bus and boat network, as well as by first class motorways and excellent mountain roads. In most cases the trains are the better option. Bronwen Gora has the lowdown ..
Zurich is also where Einstein went to uni, where the world’s first vegetarian restaurant opened and where Dadaism’s radical roots took hold and shookk the art world a century ago just a short distance away from the conservative financial district.
With such rich history and proximity to world class ski resorts combined, Zurich is an excellent option for a ski trip stop over.
Although the city is the largest in Switzerland it’s so compact many sights can be ticked off in a couple of days and mostly on foot with a tram or bus ride thrown in for efficiency.
Zurich is pedestrian-friendly, charming and the perfect place to readjust the body clock from wherever you’ve flown in the world.
Most people will want to stay in resorts for most of their snow trip, but staying in Zurich, or other historic towns and cities such as Thun, Interlaken and Luzern, is actually a great way to ski, see and do more in Switzerland.
It’s also ideal if one partner prefers to shop while the other just wants to ski every day.
Skiing from Zurich
There are numerous great Snow’n’Rail deals combining discount lift passes with the best available trains. These are all easily bookable and researchable using the excellent Swiss Travel Guide app – a free downoad either here from Apple App Store or Googleplay – and online on the SBB website under Leisure Offers here
For example one of the closer major mountain destinations is the spectacular alpine region of Mt Titlis and Engelberg. We searched deals on the app and found a day trip in February for CHF 99 including return trains from Zurich to Engelberg which takes just 1 hour 49 scenic minutes ..
Powderhounds can leave at 6:04 AM and be there 7:53, or sleep in a bit and arrive at 9:53 .. Whichever, you will get your fill and more in spectacular Engelberg-Titlis, have time for an aprés drink or two then be back in Zurich in time to shower and head out for dinner. Very civilised!
Or even closer there are 10 ski areas within 90 minutes of the city, like Flumserberg. While not as big or high as Engelberg-Titlis, there is still plenty of skiing here – 65km of marked pistes and plenty of off piste, up to 2232m. The lift network features an 8 seat and several 6 seat chairs, designed to cope with weekend crowds. Midweek they make for fast lapping.
Unteretzen station can be reached by urban railway (S-Bahn). At weekends and on public holidays, the S2 runs every hour from Zurich Airport to Unterterzen. The S4 circular route also stops every hour on its way from Uznach and Sargans. It’s an easy trip by the SeeJet gondola cable car from Unteretzen to Tannenboden where the main lift network to the alpine bowls fans out from.
Zurich’s Old Town
Love cobblestone streets, elaborate frescos, historic enclaves punctuated by church spires and bridges? Then Zurich Old Town is your kind of place. Energise your day with a morning stroll along the banks of the Limmat River, then dive into the laneways of adjoining Old Town. Make sure you’re wearing good walking shoes as you will want to explore the shops, eateries, and boutiques along main thoroughfares as well as side streets for a few hours.
At night neon signs beckon visitors into bars. Step inside Cabaret Voltaire on Spiegelgasse and enjoy a cocktail in the very same space that the rebellious art movement Dadaism was born in 1916, not far from the conservatism of Zurich’s major financial centre.
Nägelihof is one area recommended for lunch or dinner where at restaurants like the Mediterranean-style Mère Catherine you can try some of Switzerland’s delicious fresh water fish.
Staying in the Old Town is very doable too. The friendly boutique hotel Marktgasse is in the heart of the historic district and can be reached via tram No. 4 from Zurich’s train station to the Rathaus stop, from where it is a short walk up a cobblestoned street. Once one of Zurich’s oldest inns, Marktgasse has been renovated to resemble something from the pages of an architectural magazine, with spacious guest rooms, two restaurants and a popular bar.
Make sure to seek out Lindenhof, an elevated park (once a medieval fort) filled with Linden trees and giant chess sets with pieces that most people need two hands to move. Relax from hoofing it up there and take a seat on a bench overlooking Old Town, the Limmat River and greater Zurich. Bliss.
At lunchtime make a beeline for Haus Hilti on Sihlstrasse. This two-level, chandelier-bedecked restaurant is a vegetarian’s dream come true – everything from an enormous buffet of bain-marie’s filled with adventurous dishes to an a la carte section plus a patisserie, bar, and even meeting rooms and its own club.
For snacks and grabbing something tasty to take away don’t miss the markets at Zurich Station. Cheese to die for, cured meats, the freshest local produce and much more are on display.
Dial it up in the afternoon (or next day) by taking a tram to Zurich-West, the city’s former industrial district-turned-trendy-quarter. This part of Zurich is chock full of minimalist architecture, sleek buildings and even sleeker shops with clientele to match. There are art shops with full Harley Davidsons carved from wood, and the must-see tower of recycled shipping containers that is in fact the flagship store of Freitag, makers of recycled bags and other similar merchandise.
The arcades beneath the station have some fantastic value shopping – shoes, clothes, bags, whatever for a lot less than you will pay in the boutique strips above ground.
Check out nightclubs down laneways where umbrellas are strung above as works of art, fuel up at al fresco restaurants and wind down in leafy parks.
There are museums and galleries aplenty for the art and culture buffs, and one just for the humble football fan, FIFA World Football Museum in central Zurich. It has plenty of cool interactive exhibits and you can test your skills (or lack thereof). FIFA has been based in Zurich since 1932.
So discover more of Zurich beyond the excellent airport, which is Switzerland’s major international gateway, easily reached one stop from downunder. It’s so easy to scoot from plane to train to ski resort from there that a lot of people don’t even realise what they are missing out on. Which is a shame – as we have shown with this taster, there is plenty on offer and you don’t need to miss out on any ski time either. Next time you go to Switzerland make sure to add a few nights here too you won’t regret it.
Zurich more info/resources
The official Tourism website is a great start point
Swiss Tourism are a great source of info, follow the links here for the latest news.