Travel: Zurich

Exploring the offbeat culture and surprisingly relaxed vibe in Switzerland’s largest city.


(Photo: Nicole Tung/The New York Times/Redux)

An international meeting place with four official languages—none of them English, though everyone speaks it—Zurich has always been a mix of cultures, cuisine and attitudes. And contrary to Switzerland’s stiff reputation, Zurich is actually quite relaxed and entertaining—especially in the spring, when the weather brightens and everybody heads outdoors.

Because this is a big business town, hotel prices actually go down at the weekend, perfect for your little layover in Zurich West, the city’s former industrial quarter. This century-old warehouse district enjoys a new life as home to trendy office space mixed with theatres, ­nightclubs, restaurants, shops and gourmet food markets. If you time your stay between June 15 and July 8, you can catch parts of the Zurich Festival, with its full schedule of opera, dance and theatre, right in the Zurich West quarter.

Where to stay: The business hotel of the moment is the elegant Renaissance Zurich Tower with a giant main-floor space perfect for lunch meetings. Large rooms are rich with dark wood floors and sumptuous colours. It’s also within walking distance of the Hardbrücke Station, so you can cancel that cab to the airport. From $250,

What to see: Within the ­Schiffbau centre, a former shipbuilding factory-cum-cultural-space, is the stylish Lasalle ­Restaurant and Bar, with its fusion fare, huge windows and even bigger selection of whiskies. ( And check out Löwenbräuareal, a multi-gallery space built into the old Löwenbräu brewery, for exhibits, performance art, ­lectures and films.

Where to shop: Im Viaduct is a string of stores built underneath unused tracks. It’s also home to food emporium Markthalle—perfect for a chocolate run before the flight home. And if you have teenagers at home, make sure to hit the flagship store of ­Freitag, purveyors of recycled-tarp messenger bags and wallets. The shop is built out of stacked-up boxcars.