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by Denise Pulis
Beautiful Zurich, Switzerland always ranks high in Mercer’s cost-of-living surveys, but does it really have to be one of Europe’s most expensive cities for the visitor? Not necessarily, if you follow my insider’s tips to Zurich on a budget.
Hotels that Are Always Good Deals
Finding inexpensive accommodations in Zurich is no easy feat, but it can be done. For rock-bottom prices, consider camping at Camping Seebucht (July to early October), just 2½ miles (4 km) from downtown, on the shore of Lake Zurich. If you’re looking for an inexpensive dorm bed, try City Backpacker (from 35 Swiss francs*), or see deals from about 25 CHF at HostelBookers.com. For more style and comfort, pick the business- and family-oriented Hotel Coronado (from 149 CHF, 10 minutes away from the city center by tram) or hip X Tra Hotel (from 150 CHF, by the main post office).
Public Transportation: Trains, Trams, and Boats
A Zurich Card (CHF 19 for one day, 38 for three) grants unlimited travel on trains, trams and boats in the city and to six surrounding zones, including the airport and Uetliberg, a hikingcenter with great views of the city; it’s a great deal if you plan on plenty of moving around. If you simply want to stay downtown (Zone 10), get a 24-hour pass for just 8 CHF. And that’s not all the Zurich Card gives you; keep reading.
Considering the compact size of downtown Zurich and the fact that it’s extremely bike-friendly, it’s icing on the cake to know that Velogate (next to the Landesmuseum) offers free bicycles (with a 20 CHF deposit) all year round during the day, and the possibility of keeping bikes overnight for just 10 CHF. Cycling to the major sites is a pleasure, and a spin along Lake Zurich’s banks is a special treat.
Take-out is one way to save money on meals in Zurich. Buy prepared snacks and meals from Migros orCoop, two of Zurich’s supermarket chains dotted around the city, and explore the underground level of the Hauptbahnhof (Main Train Station), with its many choices of tasty street food and snacks. Kebab stands are ubiquitous, and you can also make the humble bratwurst (try Sternen Grill, one of the most famous sausage stands, close to Bellevue on Theaterstrasse 22) your staple. You can eat in one of the little parks or in the larger Lindenhof, with its fine view above the river.
When you want to sit down for your meal, try the inexpensive, top-floor Migros Canteen on Löwenstrasse or Saigon (Sihlstrasse 97, photo at right) for Vietnamese food and Ah-Hua for Thai (Brauerstrasse 9), where plenty of dishes are under 20 CHF.
Plenty of this ancient city’s artistic and historical wonders are free. Start by ogling the imposing Nana angel sculpture by Niki de Saint Phalle in the Hauptbahnhof, then retire to the markedly quieter space of the Fraumünster church in the Old Town. Otherwise unadorned, it boasts five exquisite stained glass windows by 20th-century artist Marc Chagall. Also drop by the church’s cloister, decorated with frescoes by the Swiss Paul Bodmer depicting Zurich history and legends.
The University’s Archaeological Collection and Prints and Drawings Collection are free, as is the Toy Museum on Fortunagasse 15. Daros, a gallery hosting contemporary Latin American Art, is free for students, and the world-famous Kunsthaus, with its collection of old and modern Swiss art, is open to all on Wednesdays. The Migros Museum of Contemporary Art and the Kunsthalle which displays works by up-and-coming artists, are free on Thursdays after 5 p.m. Of course, these museums are free at any time if you have a Zurich Card, as are the Museum Rietberg, (art from Africa, Asia, and the Americas; photo, left), the Museum für Gestaltung (Museum of Design), and the Landesmuseum, for a trip through Swiss history.
A Walk on the Wild Side
The Zurich Card offers a 10-percent discount for the Zurich Zoo, with its magical Masoala enclosure, a Malagasy rainforest replete with giant ferns, frisky lemurs, and immense tortoises. If that doesn’t fully satisfy your wild side, stop by the Voliere aviary in the Arboretum (free admission), or venture a little bit beyond by train or bike to the Wildnis Park Langenberg (also free), where you can feast your eyes on wild boars, European bison, brown bears, moose, and if they’re not acting too shy, lynx.
You just cannot leave Zurich without having experienced the pleasure of river or lakeside relaxing and swimming, all for free. Head to Werdinsel (an island northwest of the Main Station), the Flussbad Oberer Letten, or, for stronger swimmers, the Flussbad Unterer Letten. The gents can enjoy the Mannerbad on the Schanzengraben and welcome their female companions after 5 p.m., when its Rimini Bar opens up to both sexes. And then of course, there is Lake Zurich itself, where you can take a dip while gazing at the towering Alps in the distance. Some of the swimming areas have changing rooms, although you do have to pay a small fee for them.
Nightspots in Zurich tend to charge between 15 and 30 CHF just to get in, and the drinks are overpriced. Beer remains surprisingly cheap though, so if you love your pint and want some music, head to the Big Ben Pub (Kreis 5, Hardstrasse) on Thursdays for Chris Black’s one-man rock ‘n’ roll show or to Trattoria and Soul (Eastern side of the Lake, Seefeldstrasse 5) Thursdays and Fridays for live jazz. Neither has a cover charge.
*At press time, the Swiss franc was US$1.27, CA$1.25, £.78, AU$1.18. For more current rates plus equivalents in other currencies, see Tripatini’s Currency Desk.
Photos: 1-2 Ed Wetschler; 3-4 Denise Pulis