Don and I traveled to Israel recently. On the way from Newark to Tel Aviv, we worked in a 14 hour layover in Zurich, Switzerland. Over the past many years, we have toured a number of cities in Europe this way. We have found that this is an excellent way to tour a city without the expense and hassle of booking an overnight stay in a hotel.
We did some cursory research before traveling and discovered that Zurich would be a very easy city to navigate using public transportation. We checked the weather forecast in advance only to find that it would be raining the whole day, so we packed umbrellas and rain slickers. We discovered that there are lockers in the Zurich airport and museums for luggage. Our airline allowed us to check our bags all the way through to Israel so that we had only to deal with hand luggage on our layover.
We arrived in the early hours of the morning and easily took the train directly from/to the airport. In the span of our layover, we managed to walk Zurich’s City Center and Old Town, tour two museums, take a boat ride around Lake Zurich, enjoy a kosher meat dinner and return in plenty of time for our short flight from Zurich to Tel Aviv.
Although Zurich is one of the most expensive cities in Europe, we found that the transportation and entertainment costs were very affordable. The Swiss locals that we encountered were friendly and helpful. We discovered that we were able to easily communicate in Zurich using English.
Here are some tips and highlights from our day in Zurich:
1. Buy the ZurichCARD in the airport for savings on transportation and museums
We bought the ZurichCARD in the airport. The ZurichCARD cost around $20 per person for 24 hours of unlimited transportation by train, trolley and boat in and around Zurich. We activated the card right in the airport train station and took a train straight to the City Center, a mere 10-minute ride. From there, we walked to two excellent museums and used the ZurichCARD as museum admission. Public transportation in Zurich runs like clockwork, just as one would expect in Switzerland.
2. Bring your own snacks
Food is expensive in Zurich. We were delighted to find Starbucks in the airport and the Central Station and not at all surprised to pay $7.50 for a black coffee. We brought some chocolates and fruit with us, although there were many fruit stands in and around the city center with a beautiful assortment, though expensive price point.
3. Take a “free” boat ride around Zurich
Our ZurichCARD even entitled us to free travel by boat on Lake Zurich. Ninety minutes boat cruises depart from the Lake Zurich waterfront at Burkliplatz, a short walk from the Fraumunster. We enjoyed seeing the sights around Lake Zurich from our vantage on the boat.
4. Visit the museums compliments of ZurichCARD
We visited two museums, both included in our ZurichCARD: The Swiss National Museum (Landesmuseum) and the Museum of Art (Kunsthaus Zurich. The Landesmuseum was a short walk from the Central train station in Zurich and the Kunsthaus was a short trolley ride from Lake Zurich.
The Landesmuseum building is set in a vintage European castle and is adjacent to the Hauptbahnhof, the main train station. This popular museum covers the entire span of Swiss history and culture. The permanent collections of the Landesmuseum include the following: Swiss national history, Armoury Towers, Swiss Homes and Furnishings and the Collections Gallery. Here you can find a vast collection of Swiss history, medieval uniforms and weapons, Swiss Homes and Furnishings and items from the Middle Ages until the present.
The Kunsthaus was my personal favorite as it is a humble museum that houses an impressive collection of Swiss artists as well as artists like Pablo Picasso, Auguste Rodin and Marc Chagall. Not only did our ZurichCARD gain us entry to the museum, but it even allowed us free use of audio headsets with commentary on much of the artwork within this impressive museum. The upper floors of the Kunsthaus house iconic works like Vincent van Gogh’s “Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear” and Andy Warhol’s “Big Torn Campbell’s Soup Can.” We were entranced by this museum’s impressionist collection of art by Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, and Pierre Bonnard. It is an art museum not to be missed.
5. Splurge for a meat dinner at Olive Garden
This kosher meat restaurant is located at Lavaterstrasse 33, right near the Enge train station. Since this restaurant is located in the Zurich Jewish Community Center, we were screened for security and our passports were scrutinized. The restaurant is open in the evening only usually staring at 6 PM. The night that we visited, Olive Garden opened at 7 PM.
The food is gourmet and delicious with medium size portions and expensive prices. We ordered arugula soup and wiener (veal) sausage as appetizers as well as wiener schnitzel and steak as entrees. The kitchen was helpful in offering side dishes that conformed to our low-carb diets and offered us a delicious medley of colorful beets and root vegetables. Although the arugula soup, wiener schnitzel and steak were outstanding, the sausage was served with a very salty sauce. The meat dishes were expensive since Switzerland forbids shechita (ritual slaughter) and, therefore, kosher meat must be imported. All in all, we found the meal to be very satisfying, though an expensive splurge.
6. Walk around the city, meander and take in the sights
Although our day in Zurich was rainy and gray, we still enjoyed meandering around Altstadt, Old Town, with our umbrellas and rain slickers. The winding cobblestone streets were filled with lovely flower shops, retail and consignment boutiques, outdoor cafes and friendly shopkeepers. We enjoyed the outdoor fountains, plazas, buildings and clocks and really took in the sights and sounds of this historic and charming part of Zurich.
Over the hours that we spent in Zurich on our layover to Tel Aviv, we felt that we had really gotten a flavor of this charming city. Though the weather was bleak and rainy, we had been introduced to the sights, artifacts and people of Zurich in the short time that we toured this city. Through the ZurichCARD, we had spent our time wisely touring Zurich by boat, train, trolley and foot. Here are some of our favorite memories of this productive day in Zurich: