City Guide: Zurich - The Little Big City on the Shores of Lake Zurich

Zurich is rapidly earning a reputation as one of Europe’s hippest destinations. The largest city in Switzerland with about 400,000 inhabitants, it is perfectly positioned on the Lake of Zurich with the well preserved medieval ‘old town’ aligned along the Limmat river. One of my favourite views is down the river towards the lake where you can spot the mountains on the horizon. Early summer is the best time to visit as the city kicks off it’s shoes and relaxes with an urban beach vibe along its river-side bars and cafes.

Zurich Old Town, River and Lake © Zurich Tourism 

Zurich Old Town, River and Lake © Zurich Tourism 

Though a relatively small city, it is an ideal weekend destination for design-lovers offering an array of new and old museums, galleries, shops and restaurants all easily accessible on foot or via a super efficient train network.

One area of the city that has been completely transformed and rejuvenated in the last few years is a former industrial area in the western part of the city; “Zuri West”. Originally the home of Zurich’s ship-building past it had a rather salubrious reputation but now the empty factories have been taken over as a creative quarter and the area is full of quirky independent shops, boutique hotels and the newly opened design museum and art school. It is also home to the highest sky scraper in Switzerland: the “Prime Tower” designer by Gigon/Guyer Architects.

Prime Tower © Nikki Kreis

Prime Tower © Nikki Kreis

VISIT
A must for all design aficionados, the newly relocated Design Museum (Museum für Gestaltung), is Switzerland's leading design and visual communications museum. A former dairy factory, located in “Zuri West” it has been converted into a centre for design and education, called “Toni-Areal”, named after the dairy products produced here once. The collection is devoted to the design of twentieth-century massproduced objects, and the philosophy they reflect. The focus is on a broad representation of Swiss design, juxtaposed with reference objects of international provenance. They also have a great little shop to pick up some design classics!

Edition Populaire 

Edition Populaire 

SHOP
If you want cool, cutting edge design shops then head to the area around Geroldstrasse, again in “Zuri West”. Here you will find the beautifully curated design shop Edition Populaire run by Aleli Leal. It is full of the kind of small but perfectly designed home accessories that I can’t resist including stationery and fashion accessories all from independent manufacturers.

Just down the road, you will find the flagship store of the Freitag bags created by brothers Markus and Daniel Freitag in 1993. The now classic bags and wallets are made from recycled lorry tarpaulins. The store is housed in rusty, recycled freight-containers with Zurich’s first “bonsai-skyscraper’ made of 8 stacked containers that you can climb up for a great view.

Freitag shop © Nikki Kreis

Freitag shop © Nikki Kreis

A fabulous place for an atmospheric stroll and further exploration of Zurich’s gritty post-industrial scene is the Viadukt area, just a 10 minute walk from the Freitag shop. The area consists of more than 30 shops and a market hall nestled under the arches of a railway viaduct built in the 19th century. The emphasis is on small and trendy fashion labels rather than the big luxury brands, as well as design studios and concept stores.

© Zürich Tourism / Martin Rütschi

© Zürich Tourism / Martin Rütschi

EAT & DRINK
Currently a favourite of mine is the recently opened AuGust Restaurant in the old part of the city on a cobblestone street in the financial centre of the city. It has a bistro interior designed by Swiss architect Tilla Theus, who also designed the adjoining Widder hotel. They serve traditional Swiss fare with a strong focus on meat: a large selection of typical Swiss sausages, terrines, carpaccio, cold cuts are on offer.

AuGust Restaurant  ©Luca Zanier

AuGust Restaurant  ©Luca Zanier

A place for a drink at any time of the day and night and to get a taste of traditional Zurich is the classic Odeon bar in the centre of the city. Dating back to 1911, it has an Art Nouveau interior with marble clad walls and counts among its patrons: James Joyce, Albert Einstein, Lenin, Trotsky and many more. The colourful history of the Café ODEON reveals all the political and economic turmoil of the last nine decades. Here, politics were discussed and artistic movements founded, people from all different nationalities, cultures and religions sought refuge or distraction from every day life.

© Zürich Tourism / Bruno Macor 

© Zürich Tourism / Bruno Macor 

SLEEP
For friends who visit Zurich I recommend the 25 hours hotel, which is just next to the newly opened Design Museum within “Zuri West”. The hotel is very much in touch with its surroundings and combines works by the Zurich-based designer Alfredo Häberli. It has a lively mixture of vibrant colours, contemporary design and a homely atmosphere and is reasonably priced!

RELAX
A fabulous space to relax after a day walking the city is the Thermalbad Spa housed in a converted beer brewery. The original 100 year old vaulted ceilings which were part of an irish-roman bath, house various pools filed with hot thermal water. The best part though is the roof-top pool from where you have a great view over Zurich’s skyline.

Thermalbad Spa, Zurich

Thermalbad Spa, Zurich

Zurich is a city with a dual-personality, it’s traditional old town and banking district contrasting vividly with the gritty and alternative industrial western parts of the city. Perhaps it is no surprise then that this city of contradictions is also home to Europe’s largest techno-parade - the Summer Parade is in August when the city becomes a magnet for all those supporting freedom of expression, it is the one day when the city really lets off steam.

About the author.

Nikki Kreis is a London-based product designer and founder of Kreisdesign. Originally from Switzerland, she trained as an interior architect at the Ecole d’Architecture Athenaeum Lausanne and has since worked as an architect and furniture designer all over the world.  In 2012 she set up her own design studio in London and launched her range of Plywood home accessories at Design Junction in 2014 and her new range of Plywood Peg-it-all pegboards came out this year. Her range can be viewed at: www.kreisdesign.com