Hidden Zurich See spots only known to Zurich insiders

Issue: 1/2020
You have lived in Switzerland long enough to be familiar with all the major tourist sites in Zurich, and now you'd like to experience some of the spots known to insiders.


Hidden Zurich, we'll call it, as these are venues behind an unmarked door or a gate or at the end of a narrow alley.

They are "on the beaten track" but tucked away out of sight.

We will take you on a tour and then tell you about some offbeat experiences that you would not expect in Zwingli's city.


1. Start at the Polybahn funicular

We'll start at the tram hub Central, where you will see two of the aforementioned unmarked doors with "Polybahn" written above them. Behind these doors is the little red funicular that makes a very short ascent up to the university and technological institute area. Short but fun!

Turn right after leaving the funicular and you will find a large terrace with a super view over the city and the Albis, the chain of hills on the west side of the city. It is underneath all those church spires that you'll be seeking out today's adventure spots.


2. Visit the Central Library at Zähringerplatz

Descend by Polybahn and walk through the Niederdorf to the "ZB" – the Central Library at Zähringerplatz 6. Behind the open rooms at the front is the lift, where you will descend to floors -3 and -4. Here are the large windowless rooms housing thousands of books, many of them in English. On floor -4 there is a corner given over to the North American Library. The good news is that you can browse the stacks and check out books at no charge if you are a resident of Switzerland: just register online at www.zb.uzh.ch and pick up your card at a registration desk on site.


3. A tiny, charming museum

Leaving the library, make your way along the open square to the Musée Visionaire at Predigerplatz 10, dedicated to "outsider art". A recent exhibition, for instance, featured realistic knit shapes that resembled food. You are sure to be amazed or amused by the offbeat items in this tiny, charming museum.


4. A hidden garden restaurant

Time for a coffee? Stroll along to the Neumarkt restaurant at Neumarkt 5. In summertime, turn left just before reaching it and follow the long narrow alleyway marked "Gartenwirtschaft" to the garden restaurant, completely enclosed and quiet.

Enjoy a rest, and then it's back to Niederdorfstrasse by way of Neumarkt and Leuengasse, the latter so narrow that you can touch the walls on each side. The little idyllic square between Neumarkt and Leuengasse has benches from which to contemplate the quiet beauty.


5. Schwarzenbach food shop

Back on Münstergasse, take the trek uphill to the food shop Schwarzenbach, where your mouth may already have watered at the sight of the selection of dried fruits and other goodies in the window, but have you seen the inside of the shop? You'll feel transported back more than 150 years to when the shop was built. A secular slice of old Zurich to contrast with the many churches.


6. Grossmünster crypt

You have certainly visited the Grossmünster, but have you been in the crypt, with its wall paintings dating from 1500? Standing in this small, ancient space, you are again back in a time long, long ago. There is a surprise statue in the crypt as well.

You will be glad to be out in the daylight again and a visit to the Kreuzgang, or cloister, is next, completely enclosed, and found behind a gate and a door that you will see if you look right as you exit the Grossmunster. Parts of the cloister date from the 12th century. The contrast with the milling tourists outside the Grossmünster makes this an ideal cool, silent place to sit and contemplate the historic plants in the four garden plots devoted to air, earth, water and fire. Next let your eyes wander over the sculpted figures on the wall, some droll, some absurd.


7. Wasserkirche

Now you will leave the Niederdorf, cross the Limmatquai and turn left to the Wasserkirche, tucked demurely between the river and the road. Even the entrance to this church is hidden, behind the Helmhaus. Around the back is a little glade of trees with a statue (nearly hidden!) of the famous Reformation pastor, Huldrych Zwingli


8. Roman baths

Crossing the river now, be sure to pause on the bridge to look back at the superb view of the churches and guild houses to the left. Once across the bridge you will seek out the small old Roman baths hidden away on the appropriately named Thermengasse. Cross the square directly in front of the Hotel Storchen and you will see the Thermengasse immediately ahead. You can imagine those Romans moving north and freezing, and thus building the welcome ancient version of today's spa. Only the supporting stone pilings below street level remain of the ancient structure, but explanatory posters in English on the walls present the baths as they once were. The Romans even had a system of under-floor heating!


9. Not your ordinary police station

Head back to the river and take the tiny walkway along the water until you come out on Uraniastrasse. Across the street and to the left is the most unexpected venue of our tour: a police station! The Amtshaus 1 headquarters at Bahnhofquai 3 is not your ordinary police location, as the front hall features an amazing zany painted ceiling in yellows and orange, the work of Swiss artist Augusto Giacometti.  After surrendering your ID, you can spend 10 minutes marveling at this contrast to the sober side of ZH. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take photos.

Need to rest your feet? Do so at the Jules Verne bar, hidden away atop the Basserie Lipp at Uraniastrasse 9 and offering a breathtaking view of the city.


10. Take in the view at Lindenhof

As a fitting point of reflection on your day, retrace your steps a bit and climb up to the isolated Lindenhof, with its quiet ambience of past elegance and graceful old houses. With its view of more old houses on the river, it is easy to imagine the Roman fort that was located here. A fitting end to our tour of some of the hidden, the tucked away, and the unexpected aspects of Zurich.


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Photo credits: © Switzerland Tourism

Author: Karen Rudin

Avid balcony gardener Karen Rudin has also enjoyed hiking and cross-country skiing in Switzerland. She was a chemistry teacher and is now a translator, while her passionate interest in the environment has found expression in many articles and presentations. Cooking, writing skits and painting are further enthusiasms.

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