Hello everyone and welcome to the Meet the Locals series on Lost in Switzerland. In this first episode, I'm talking to Tobi, my best friend from university.
Tobi was born and raised in the wider area of Zurich. His love for this city used to drive me crazy. But over time, I started to understand what he sees in his hometown. Nowadays, whenever I need to know something about Zurich, I turn to him for advice. As I'm doing now...
Thanks so much for taking part in this series Tobi. I'm stoked to have you on board. First up, please tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do and what have you been up to lately?
Hey everyone, thanks for having me. I can’t wait to tell you about my city. I absolutely love the place and I spend as much time roaming its streets as I can. Most of my friends live and/or work here. However, I recently started my job as an urban planner in Lucerne, which is another beautiful place. A little touristy for my taste but still pretty.
That’s very true. Lucerne is definitely on the touristy side. But before you took your job there, you moved to Germany for two years to get your master's degree. What did you miss the most about Switzerland when you were away?
That would have been our mountains, the clean rivers, the lakes, Zurich and of course you.
Charming as always. No wonder we’re friends 🙂 Now, I know you're a little obsessed with Zurich. Why do you think people should visit your city?
Zurich is the biggest city in Switzerland and therefore has a lot to offer. Whether you’re after a cultural event or looking to party, you’ll find something. There’s a bar or party for every taste. Be that a fancy club, an underground event or even a party in an occupied building.
If you go to Langstrasse, you can find several free clubs - like for instance the Bagatelle. And since drinking in public is common and legal in Switzerland, Langstrasse often turns into a party street during summer. People buy their drinks at the convenience store and have a cheap night out on the town.
But of course, there’s more to Zurich than partying. For example, I love what they’ve done with the old train station at Letten. It’s a place that regularly hosts free cultural events. Anyone can participate in art and music projects, workshops and social gatherings. Or just hang out at their café. (Note Seraina: Their website is in German but if you’re curious, check it out to get an impression. Click News and then Aktuell to see photos.)
For those out there that take an interest in architecture and city planning, I highly recommend checking out the city model. It’s free to visit and it shows all existing and planned buildings within Zurich. You can find it in the basement of the Department of City Planning, which is situated at Lindenhofstrasse 19. It’s very impressive and well worth seeing.
A trip into the developing areas of Zürich-West (SBB station Zürich-Hardbrücke) and Zürich-Nord (SBB station Zürich-Oerlikon) is also very interesting. These places give a great example of how former industrial areas can turn into urban districts.
Zurich main station and its surroundings is another enticing place with lots of new shops, cafés and restaurants to check out.
That’s already a decent list of things to do. Let’s stick with this for a minute. What other places do you think every visitor should see when they’re in Zurich?
Apart from the obvious spots like Lake Zurich, the Old Town, Bahnhofstrasse and the view over the city from the University Polyterrasse, I recommend the following:
- the multi-cultural area around Langstrasse
- the urban districts 3, 4, 5 and 6, which are all trendy spots and well worth a visit
- the area around Oerlikon, the second city centre of Zurich
- Glattpark, which comes with tons of good restaurants and bars (I love the Kulturbar at Boulevard Lilienthal)
- the areas Richti and Zwicky in Wallisellen
If people get tired of walking around and seeing places, where's the best spot to hang out on a lazy afternoon and have a beer or two?
In summer, the Letten (an open-air bath by the River Limmat), as well as the many parks by the lakefront, Bäckeranlage, Josefwiese, Pfingstweidpark or Platzspitz, are awesome places to hang out.
If you’re after great views, there are several places you can go. The Prime Tower, Zurich’s tallest building, has a bar at the top level. Technically, you should buy a drink to get up there. But if you just sneak in, take a quick peek and leave again, you should be fine.
The Waid is another beautiful spot to take a shot of the city and relax a little. And finally, the Polyterrasse by the University of Zurich makes for a good place to hang out. Including the views. By the way, the BQM bar right below the Polyterrasse is a laid-back student bar with affordable prices.
Speaking of bars. Can you tell us where you like to party on the weekend?
My favourite bar in the Old Town is called Edi’s Weinstübli. They serve affordable wine before 10 pm. What I also like to do is buy some of their wine and have it at the shore of the River Limmat. I love the spot right next to the town hall.
Other locations I like are the Cabaret Voltaire (DaDaBar) in the Old Town, the Wohnzimmerbar right off the Zürich-Wiedikon station (which used to be a tram depot), the Marsbar at Neufrankengasse, the Gerold area and the Amboss Rampe at Zollstrasse.
If you fancy watching football and trying different beers from all corners of the world, go to Kaiser Franz at Rolandstrasse. And if you're into the Spanish football league, the Toro Bar at Schöneggstrasse is the place to go.
My favourite club for electric music, and still a bit of an insider tip, is the Sender.
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Another great place for going out is Langstrasse. It’s covered with numerous bars and clubs. Some of them are free, like the Bagatelle and the Memphisbar. Apart from all those, there are tons of other bars and clubs which I haven’t been to. Mostly because they’re too expensive or because I haven’t had the time to check them out yet.
I see. I’ve come to the right person here in terms of going out. 🙂 But tell us, when you feel like having dinner at a restaurant and only have a very limited budget, where do you go? Any flashbacks from your days as a penny-pinching student?
Unfortunately, restaurants in Zurich are expensive. But there’s this Italian restaurant chain called Molino that offers 20% off for students. I used to love going there.
Some bars and restaurants also offer special deals during happy hour. The D-Vino, a cosy wine bar, is a good example. They sell affordable wine even after happy hour.
(Note Seraina: While the Molino restaurant might be affordable for Swiss standards, having dinner there will still set you back between 20 and 30 CHF. Sorry folks, that’s the sad truth about having dinner in Switzerland. However, I remember going to this Italian place called Spiga with Tobi once. They offer free water and focaccia along with reasonably priced pizza. Meaning 15 CHF upwards. Another Italian restaurant I love, and Tobi hates because it’s self-service, is the Vapiano.)
Since this blog is about travelling on a budget, I need to ask this one. What are your money-saving tips for someone who's never been to Switzerland?
Take a stroll through supermarkets in the evenings and look for items with a discount. Especially on Saturdays. Supermarkets always try to get rid of food that expires on the same day by giving it away a lot cheaper.
And when you’re after alcohol, go to supermarkets like Coop and Denner. Not surprisingly, this will cost you a fraction of what you pay at bars and clubs. And since drinking in public is legal in Switzerland, you can enjoy a cheap drink in a nice spot without having to hide.
I love going grocery shopping before the shops close. You never know what you end up with. As long as it has an orange sticker on it, right? 🙂 And that’s us almost done here. Any last words before we wrap this up?
Yes. Don’t let the high prices put you off from visiting Switzerland. Come anyway and enjoy your time here.
Well, there's really nothing to add, is there? Tobi, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, tips and ideas with us. I’m sure your insights are going to be super helpful for people who want to dig a little deeper when they’re in Zurich. Thank you for playing my guinea pig in the Meet the Locals series. I owe you. 🙂
And to everyone else, I hope you enjoyed this little experiment and you got some inspiration of things to do when you come to Zurich.
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