Travel tips for Switzerland- Zurich, Chur, and Vienna
May 10, 2012 1:36 PM   Subscribe

Going on a trip to Switzerland for about 10 days at the end of September. We're flying into Zurich and then going to visit the tiny village near Chur where my family emigrated to the states from, and flying home from Vienna. Looking for travel tips for Zurich, east Switzerland, day trips from Chur or Zurich, and Vienna.

I am a twentysomething traveling with my sixtysomething father. It has been one of his life dreams to go to Switzerland to see the town that his family originally came from.

Zurich and Vienna look really awesome, any suggestions for fun things to do or great places to eat? Anything off the beaten track or that would appeal to a twentysomething? Any great day trips to take from Zurich or Vienna?

We are from New Mexico, so less interested in seeing natural wonders and mountains as that is something we have ready access to at home, but we love food and art and music. I am particularly interested in looking into things like brewery or winery tours. Also, my dad is a huge opera buff, so any insights on seeing opera in Zurich or Vienna.

For some reason the idea of touring a monastery seems neat to me (perhaps thoughts of Trappist beer). My dad has arthritis, so hiking and other vigorous activities are probably out.
posted by forkisbetter to Travel & Transportation around Switzerland (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: A cool place to stay in Zürich:

It's a small designer hotel, with pretty reasonable prices, above a cool bar/cafe. It's not in the centre of town, but Zürich is pretty small and it's close to good transport option. It's also one of the better breakfasts in Zürich. Book in advance, since they don't have many rooms.

Good coffee:

It's an italian-style coffee bar, with one of the best cups of coffee in Zürich. Zürich doesn't do good coffee in general.

Good food:

It's a tiny restaurant in the "interesting" (but totally safe) part of town. Modern Swiss cuisine (not the tourist stuff), and AMAZING soups. I never knew brussels sprouts could taste good! Make sure you book well in advance, as they only have around 20 chairs.

A cool bar:

If you feel like going out. There are many other cool bars in Zürich too... Helsinki is a small concrete box with a very laid-back feeling.

Zürich has a good opera house (to which I unfortunately have never been) -- the tickets are expensive and if they have surtitles they will likely be in German. I would have thought that you might want to save your classical music needs for Vienna...

The kunsthaus Zürich (main art gallery) is pretty good given Zürich's size, especially if you like Picasso! (They have many).

Luzern is a definite must for a day-trip from Zürich. Go in the morning and catch the paddle-wheel ferry on the lake, which is stunning. The modern art gallery in Luzern isn't too bad either.

Have fun! And feel free to ask me for more details if you like.
posted by FrereKhan at 2:14 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'll be in Zurich for a few days in a couple of weeks, and The Blind Cow sounds like a really interesting place to eat. The whole staff is blind, and patrons eat in total pitch blackness to get a sense of what it's like.
posted by tully_monster at 2:24 PM on May 10, 2012

Best answer: Are you going to be hiring a car or using public transport? We enjoyed the drive along the GrossGlockner 'High Alpine' road and this will be along the way if you are driving from Zurich to Vienna.
posted by biffa at 2:28 PM on May 10, 2012

Zurich is AWESOME! But it is expensive. Anyway, The Blind Cow is indeed fun to eat at, and I really enjoyed the experience. The food is nothing special, but it's good. MAKE A RESERVATION! I cannot emphasize that enough. I didn't have any other knock-out dining experiences there; the sticker-shock is such that I ate at the grocery store most of the time.
posted by whatzit at 3:03 PM on May 10, 2012

If you take the train from Zurich across Austria to Vienna, definitely, definitely stop in Salzburg and go visit the schloss and ice caves!!!
posted by floweredfish at 3:13 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also - stop in Bregenz - there's a floating opera house on Lake Constance. Beautiful!
posted by floweredfish at 3:14 PM on May 10, 2012

I know you're less inclined toward natural wonders, but my heart stopped a beat when I saw you mention Chur, because that's where you can catch The Bernina Express, a UNESCO World Heritage site, across the Alps to Italy (and back) in a four-hour trip that's described as one of the, if not the, most beautiful train rides in the world. I just had to mention it! (Note: you can bring beer/wine on board)
posted by argonauta at 3:41 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Day trip from Vienna: Salzburg. It's a beautiful, compact little town. It's Mozart's birthplace, so there's plenty of Mozarty/Opera stuff for your dad. There's a quite impressive castle at the top of a hill right in the middle of town, which is certainly nothing like you'd see in New Mexico. It's reached by cable car, so your dad will be fine. And you can end the day with food and drink at Augustinerbräu Kloster Mülln, which is a brewery, monastery, beer hall, and underground food market all in one. As the link says, "Let's make something clear right from the start: this is the best example of a large beerhall I've seen anywhere in the world. In fact I would go so far as to say it's the best large pub I've ever been in." I agree, and I live in Munich, so I've seen some beerhalls.

Salzburg on the way from Zurich to Vienna, so if you're driving then just break your journey there. Otherwise it's a 3h train ride from Vienna, so it would be an early start but totally worth it. Munich is also on the way from Zurich to Vienna, but that's a major city rather than a day trip.
posted by caek at 3:46 PM on May 10, 2012

See what's left of the! Aletsch Glacier.
posted by brujita at 3:55 PM on May 10, 2012

My mom worked in Zurich or a while and I had a ton of fun visiting her. Some highlights for me were the Lindt Chocolate factory (yes yes I know, but really... ) It's fun, informative and smells heavenly! and the free sample box you get is ridiculously awesome - at least it was 10 years ago. They had a great gallery of "ancient visions of the future" at the time, all kinds of Victorian sci-fi including cities suspended by hot air balloons, very steam punk in a good way. Say what you will about industrial chocolate, but man I loved this tour which is an easy quick train

I also really enjoyed Maienfeld, which is touristly known as "Heidi town" but honestly the drive to get there and the site itself is amazing. The architecture is remarkable (I am really into rustic barns and other folk-buildings) and there were some very interesting goat breeds running around. Its a lot more fun if you read the Heidi book right before going, and no it is not just for kids.

Bellinzona is also a great day trip. On the border, it has awesome swiss-italian food, lots of stunning buildings, all kinds of stuff.

I also enjoyed quick jaunts to Austria, Germany, and accidentally drove through Lichtenstein, which looked like a millitary academy. The young men with machine guns were very pleasant and even laughed with me when I realized I had left my passport at home!
posted by mantid at 5:07 PM on May 10, 2012

I did this part of Europe last summer, Zurich was nice, we had a nice place to stay Olympia Hotel. If you are driving, Neuschanstein Castle is on the way to Vienna (we stayed at a guesthouse in Fussen). It is quite a hill, but if you pay for the horse-carriage ride up your dad should be fine.

Salzburg is very nice, I would recommend that too. We did the salt-mines, which was most excellent (all flat mines too, and mini-train/escalator to get out, so very easy to do. You cross the border to Germany while underground).

All on the road to Vienna. Driving in that part of Europe is fantastic.
posted by lundman at 12:51 AM on May 11, 2012

Response by poster: Just got back from my trip and had a lovely time! I followed several of the suggestions posted by helpful MeFites, so I just wanted to post those up in case anyone else happens to find this thread useful.

West Zurich was really awesome, had a hip vibe much like Seattle or Portland at least to me, and really enjoyed walking along all of the adorable shops on the Viaduct (an elevated train structure with shops built into the arches).

Also loved the Yonex badminton hall/Dolly Parton themed bar.

Stayed at a fantastic hotel in the old part of Zurich- Hotel Otter. The rooms are well sized and each room has a different theme. The Arabian Nights room was awesome. There are shared bathrooms, but they were large and extremely clean. The downtown location could not be beat.

Loved the art museum in Zurich.

As was previously mentioned, Zurich was extremely expensive so we enjoyed getting Turkish food or kebobs for lunch, which was often around half of what a sandwich at a comparable cafe cost. Also, highly recommend just popping into a Migros or a Coop for any food souvenirs. They had enormous displays of chocolates and cookies and since it's more of a grocery store they have great prices and great selection.

We ended up renting a car, since for four people with bags it was much easier/cheaper to travel around that way. Fantastic views of the mountains and the lake while driving from Zurich to Chur.

I really enjoyed Chur, the historic downtown is gorgeous. Did not make it to this, but HR Giger is from Chur and there is a bar that he designed that looked amazing. Did make it to Tom's Beer Box, which was also fantastic. Lots of British beers, ska music, and a very lively atmosphere.

As per MeFi suggestion went to the Augustinerbrau beer hall and it was fantastic. Had great food and enjoyed chatting with several of the people sitting around us.

1514 was another MeFi suggestion for a place to eat that worked out great. It is right downtown near the House of Music, good food and nice big patio to eat outside.

Adolf Loos' American Bar (been a bar since 1902) is an important architectural work that is fantastic (wrote a paper about if for college), and that is right downtown near St. Stephenplatz. Just a bar, no food service.

Obviously, the Kunsthistorisches Museum is amazing if you are even remotely interested in art but I really enjoyed some of the "smaller" museums around Vienna. Loved the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna collection mainly because of their amazing Hieronymous Bosch altarpiece.
Also really enjoyed the Belvedere and the antiquities museum.

Cafe Diglas was also a great place near all of the historic church sites downtown to get some coffee and cake.
posted by forkisbetter at 8:29 AM on October 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Glad you had a good time! We only had a few days this summer in Zurich, but I managed to get out to visit James Joyce's grave and the zoo (which has a wonderful Madagascar rainforest where you can get up close and personal with LEMURS (!!!). And we had dinner and drinks at the Cafe Odeon, where all the great thinkers and writers and artists and revolutionaries of the 20th century had hung out at one time or another. But holy crap, Zurich is expensive. Dr. TM was visiting the physics department at ETH Zurich, so we stayed nearby at the Hotel Coronado--very clean and minimalist and comfortable, and the staff are very friendly and helpful; the rates were reasonable for Zurich, and there's a wonderful park just across the tramway.

And Salzburg is a great day trip, in our case two hours by train from Munich. It was cold and rainy, but even in the rain Salzburg is a magical place. We had Sacher torte at the Hotel Sacher and went up the incline to the Festung Hohensalzburg and wandered around the castle for a lot of the day--lots of medieval and military artifacts and beautiful, beautiful rooms.
posted by tully_monster at 12:43 AM on October 13, 2012

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