Talk me into a trip to Zurich in Jan/Feb
December 9, 2016 10:43 AM   Subscribe

I'm likely to join my dad for a skiing vacation in Austria in early February, and I'm considering adding on 3-6 days traveling in the area by myself either before or after. Flying in/out of Zurich. The problem is, I don't know how to vacation in Europe in winter. Halp?

I'm a very experienced world traveler (6-week solo trips through Southeast Asia, to take one example, are my jam). But the vast majority of my adventures have been in warm temperatures and in non-European places. Usually I just walk until I see something interesting - a market, a temple, street food, street performers, a sign for hiking trails/caves/waterfalls/elephant rides/whatever. I spend a lot of time eating and peoplewatching and exploring "off the beaten path," and I try not to spend a lot of money.

How would this work in Zurich or the surrounding area in the winter? My imagination is failing me here. Walking all day may be annoying and possibly treacherous if there's snow/ice/slush on the ground; it sounds like food is rather expensive; I'm not really interested in museums (beyond one afternoon perhaps). Are these assumptions at all accurate? Am I missing some obvious attraction like a famous food market or a great art/music scene somewhere nearby? Maybe it would make sense to go to a smaller place like Bern or Interlaken or (really tiny) Gimmelwald? Or maybe I should try a nearby country like Slovenia or Italy? (I have a U.S. passport, if that's relevant.)

My dream would be something like: go to a big city for a few days (eat tasty things and look at the beautiful architecture and see some ice sculpting or a trendy arts performance perhaps), then go to a tiny village on a lake for a few days (sit in cozy cafes and walk around/on the lake and do something outdoorsy but not ski-related like maybe try icefishing or a glacier walk if these are remotely affordable). Does anything like this exist?

(Sorry if this is completely unrealistic; I have only started to research this question and don't know that much about what Zurich or the area is like yet, and most guides talk about either the warm seasons or the holidays, neither of which will be relevant here.)
posted by Questolicious to Travel & Transportation around Switzerland (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
"I try not to spend a lot of money.

How would this work in Zurich?"

To put it bluntly, not well.

I don't want to give the impression that there's nothing to do in Zurich. I liked it well enough. But zu reich, zu ruhig. It doesn't sound like your kind of place.

Bern is a little more your style. But what you really want, especially if you can time it around Mardi Gras/Shrove Tuesday, is Luzern. It is one of the most charming, well-preserved cities anywhere (my wife said it reminded her of Florence), there is a ton of cultural stuff (check out the Sammlung Rosengart, a private gallery owned by a personal friend of Pablo Picasso), and it allows you to combine your big city and small town desires in the same place. Plus they throw the greatest Mardi Gras carnival in Europe. It's about a half hour by train from the Zurich airport. Nothing in Switzerland is cheap, but Luzern will give you your money's worth.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:05 PM on December 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yes, it doesn't sound like Zurich will be your thing (though I personally loved the Fraumunster, with its Chagall stained glass and modern frescoes -- plus the crypt was finally opened this summer after being sealed for 116 years, so who knows what you'll be able to see that was denied to the rest of us). But if you're willing to go as far afield as Slovenia, why not go to Venice instead? It's a fantastic city to walk around in, and it's unlikely that snow will be a problem. Another good walking-around town closer than Slovenia is Prague, though if there's snow in Zurich there will probably also be snow in Prague.
posted by ubiquity at 12:19 PM on December 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'd be happy to help you plan a trip. please send me a memail.
posted by jazh at 1:10 PM on December 9, 2016

Where in Austria will you go skiing and how will you get there from Zurich? Depending on your route there could be things to see or do along the way.
posted by 15L06 at 1:16 PM on December 9, 2016

Response by poster: Skiing will be in two places - first in Schruns, and then in Mayrhofen (both in Austria). Neither are close to Vienna, or that would be the obvious choice.
posted by Questolicious at 1:24 PM on December 9, 2016

I would not assume walking will be treacherous or even that Zürich is very snowy - it hasn't been the last 4 years I've been here. Assuming footwear with a bit of tread (think winter boot not hiking boot levels) you'll find at least somewhat cleared footpaths all over Austria, Switzerland and southern Germany and public transport set up to cope in winter weather. A lot of snow is not a given. But yes, not spending money is not compatible with Switzerland. May I suggest Munich and other places in southern Germany as well? Zürich has the most city like feel of any city in Switzerland but it is quite small and compact. You can get to somewhere like Munich with good train connections from Austria and Zurich. It is much larger, cheaper and more conducive to seeing street performers etc.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:24 PM on December 9, 2016

Bern (The Old City) is one of the single coolest places I've ever been. It's like Italo Calvino and M.C. Esher got together to design a city. It's a great place for a few days' visit. There's a Paul Klee museum there too.
posted by Cranialtorque at 2:33 PM on December 9, 2016

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