Of the great cities of Europe, Zurich perhaps comes closest to matching the romantic vision of the continent many travellers hold. Zurich is a blend of luxury and history, surrounded by hills and graced with a languid, beautiful lake around which the city curls.
The Dolder Grand Hotel
To get the most of a quintessential experience in the city, visitors will need to splurge. You might think $550 a night for a hotel would seem obscene and in no way live up to your expectations of it. But the Dolder Grand, the magnificent hotel that has enthralled travellers since 1899, is one of the few five-star properties in the world that scream out for a sixth level of ranking. It is opulence at its finest, with a spectacular lobby that gives way to lavish suites that are elaborately appointed and make you immediately sink in and wonder how you could wriggle your way into a position where you will never have to leave.
Add in a luxury spa with the famous treatments and collagens of Switzerland, scrumptious cuisine and the highest-quality service standards you can find, and your stay will indeed be worth the price tag.
Dating to 1860, Lindenhof-keller offers the best tastes and cooking techniques of today -- including the local flavours of Switzerland like Geschnetzeltes (a veal dish) -- and serves them in the ambience of the 18th and 19th centuries. In fact, the building itself dates 1357. Lindenhof-keller's elegant cuisine has been a long-time favourite of visitors and the people of Zurich, and it keeps up with the times thanks to manager Rene Hofer. You will find Asian flavours, as well as traditional Alsatian delicacies and French-influced fare such as foie gras. Along with the excellent entrees and desserts, diners will enjoy one of Zurich's finest wine lists. More than 600 bottles grace Lindenhof-keller, with many vintages coming from some of the world's finest wine-growing regions in neighbouring countries like France, Italy and Germany. One thing you will want to do when you visit is peruse the wine labels that are placed along the shelves. The dates alone will make your eyes bulge, and so will the names on the bottles and the price tags that go with them.
Swiss National Museum
The Swiss National Museum is actually a combination of multiple facilities, including the main property in Zurich. It features an array of art pieces, such as paintings from Renaissance masters, a valuable coin collection, antique furniture and textiles, and even a historic toy collection. The Swiss National Museum is celebrating its 115th year in 2013 and visitors will also want to consider venturing to the Castle of Prangins, a building created in 1730 that is also part of the museum collection. It is located 20 kilometres outside of Zurich. The Forum of Swiss History Schwyz is the other museum in the complex. It is 60 kilometres away from the city.
If you want to focus on fine art, then the Kunsthaus is the place to go. The museum houses one of the finest art collections on the continent, including numerous pieces of religious art that have been restored from the Middle Ages. More recent masterpieces include works by Impressionists Claude Monet and Paul Gauguin, as well as pieces from Vincent van Gogh. There are numerous pieces from Italian masters as well as Gothic paintings and even a Modernist collection that features Picasso and Matisse. This year, Marc Chagall's work receives a special exhibition that visitors can enjoy. Swiss landscapes will also intrigue guests who will become acquainted with how artists have viewed the countryside through the years.
Not all of Zurich is pricey. The city has an edge to it, which may surprise travellers. Its former red-light district is called Langstrasse and there are several places to enjoy nightlife and the emerging gastropub culture. Try Bagatelle 93 for live music, and Acapulco Bar to meet locals and take part in karaoke sessions. With more than 4,000 foreign-born residents in an area of roughly one square kilometre, the cultural diversity is fascinating and entertaining. Langstrasse is even home to the largest Latin Festival in Europe. Called Caliente, the celebration attracts more than 130,000 people each year, with street parties and lively music invigorating the quarter.
Whether it's a healthy offering of the local version of muesli, or a large serving of something sweet, Confiserie Sprungli will delight you, as it has delighted patrons with its cafe treats for nearly 180 years. Renowned for its chocolate creations, visitors will not be able to leave without dipping into some of the handmade truffles and pralines made fresh each day. Once you're satiated, the allure of Confiserie Sprungli lingers. Travellers will find they can strike up conversations with intelligent residents who are often happy to give advice and tips. And, if you're lucky, share a bit of something sweet to eat.
Stroll by the Lake
Perhaps the best experience in Zurich comes from an activity that doesn't require any money at all: A stroll around beautiful and peaceful Lake Zurich, where you can breathe in the fresh air and enjoy the mountain views in this most sophisticated of big cities. The lake is the biggest draw for the 1.8 million residents of Zurich's metropolitan area and for visitors. Running 40 kilometres in length, the body of water fills the eyes with its calming colours and active aquatic culture that includes boating experiences for tourists. When you're not mesmerized by the lake, you can venture through the old city and its notable symbols: Swiss watches, chocolate shops and those famous cozy restaurants.