Commentary

Zurich

Updated: May 15, 2008, 7:12 PM ET
By Nick Bidwell | Special to ESPN SportsTravel


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It's easy to look at Zurich as the center of world finance and pigeonhole it as a venue for wealthy, sharp-suited business types and decidedly low on excitement.

Well, there's no denying the importance of the city's Stock Exchange or the designer boutiques crammed into Bahnhofstrasse, the principal boulevard that links the railway station with Zurich's beautiful lake. Yet the whole story is certainly not one of "early to bed, early to rise" and "let's make more money"; you just need to know where to look.

On the east bank of the Limmat river, the extremely lively Niederdorf district – the oldest in Zurich – is home to a plethora of good bars, clubs and restaurants; the hottest spots are on Niederdorfstrasse, Munstergase and Limmatquai. Check out X-Tra-Palais – a club, restaurant, lounge and hotel all in one on Limmatquai.

In recent times the former industrial area of Zurich West has become a hip locale for nightowls, fueling the city's reputation as one of the European capitals of electronic music.

Akt on Heinrichstrasse is incredibly popular, as is the Acapulco Bar on Neugasse. A great place to sit down for a meal in these parts is Besame Mucho, an eatery specializing in Mediterranean fare. Although Zurich's most prominent brewery, Hurlimann, was swallowed up by corporate sharks in the late 1990s, the independent Turbinen has kept up the tradition of fine ales.

Fans without tickets should head for the Public Viewing areas, the main one sited at Bellevueplatz, a square close to where the lake meets the river. Three video walls are to be set up on the shoreline, and there will be space for up to 60,000 fans.

Arguably no city in the world boasts such outstanding public transport as Zurich. Composed of S Bahn (suburban trains), trams, buses and boats around the lake, the system is eminently efficient, safe, clean and reasonably priced. No wonder everyone uses it, from chief executive to humble shop worker. A ticket for a short ride costs 3.90 Swiss francs, but a better deal is the all-day option, which will only set you back 7.80 francs. You can buy them from the machines at the various stops.

A train service connects Zurich's airport at Kloten north of town (it has its own station under Terminal B) to the central railway station. The trip takes just 10 minutes and costs 6 Swiss francs. The main tourist office is at the station.

The site of Zurich's stadium for Euro 2008 was long a matter of debate. Initially, plans were for a new arena to be built on the site of the Hardturm, the home of the Grasshopper club, only for objections from local residents to scupper the project. At one point it seemed Zurich might have to give up on the championships altogether, but city planners turned to the Letzigrund, famous for its annual athletics meeting.

This time there was little public opposition. And after razing the old edifice in 2006, a magnificent, new 30,000-capacity bowl arose in its place. At night it makes for a spectacular sight, lit up by its 31 paper-thin floodlights, so it's little wonder the Letzigrund is known as the "Birthday Cake." From central Zurich, take tram 2 (direction Farbhof) to Letzigrund to take in its splendor.

Restaurants are seemingly on every corner in Zurich; indeed, there apparently is one eatery for every 180 inhabitants. More or less every ethnic and regional Swiss cuisine is represented, but be warned that many places exist only for the jet set and its limitless funds.

Zeughauskeller, a cavernous hall on Bahnhofstrasse near Paradeplatz whose original purpose was a 15th century arsenal, serves up excellent Swiss staples, such as fondue, rosti (a potato and onion gratin) and sausages. The Rheinfelder Bierhaus on Marktgasse is another winner, especially with its beef stew. Coffee and cake in the afternoon is a Zurich tradition. Try Sprungli on Paradeplatz or Cafe Schober on Napfgasse in the Old Town. Death by chocolate? You better believe it.

Much-needed relaxation can be had at one of the city's bathing areas that line the shores of the lake. By night many of them transform themselves into bars, such as the Rimini Bar at the Schanzengraben Lido. Take tram 8 to Bahnhof Seinau and find out for yourself.

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