48 Hours In: Zurich

Switzerland's most vibrant city is always a delight. Now all's set for a music and dance extravaganza.
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Switzerland's largest public festival, held every third year, takes place in the city centre and around the lower lake basin next weekend (6-8 July). Expect to share the biggest Swiss city with two million visitors, high-wire artists, a fairground, concerts from 60 stages (folk and hip-hop to rock and pop) and epic firework displays over the lake. At any time this summer, you will find Zurich is one of Europe's most dynamic and attractive cities. It has 50 museums, an opera house that has staged more premieres than any other, 18 sandy beaches on the river and lake, and the highest density of pavement cafés in the world.


By rail, you can travel from London Waterloo to Zurich's handsome main station (1) in around eight hours, with a change of train (and station) in Paris, between Gare du Nord and Gare de l'Est. The return fare from Rail Europe (08708 304862; www.raileurope.co.uk) is £134. The leading UK airport to Zurich is now London City, with flights on Swiss (0845 601 0956; www.swiss.com/uk), British Airways (0870 850 9 850; www.ba.com) and Air France (0870 142 4343; www.airfrance.com/uk). Swiss also flies from Heathrow, Birmingham and Manchester, and BA from Heathrow and Gatwick. The 12-minute rail transfer from the airport to Zurich's main station (1) costs Sfr6.60 (£2.70) - though this journey is included with the ZurichCARD, which you can buy at the airport: Sfr17 (£7) for 24 hours or Sfr34 (£14) for 72 hours. It confers free use of public transport and admission to 40 museums, as well as various discounts and free welcome drinks at 23 restaurants.


Zurich's main tourist information office (00 41 44 215 40 00; www.zuerich.com) is in the station (1); open 8.30am-8.30pm daily (8.30am-6.30pm on Sundays) through the summer. Zurich is attractively situated in the broad valley of the Sihl at the north end of the lake that shares the name of Switzerland's largest city. The city has a vibrancy that comes from an innate ability to reinvent itself. Whether it's transforming the former industrial area north of the station into the trendy area of galleries, clubs and cafés known as Zurich West, or taking old truck tarpaulins and turning them into Freitag cult bags, good design underpins much of Zurich life. You can enjoy free use of the city's cycle network and the well-signed bike trails into the country thanks to a Swiss city scheme (00 44 44 281 05 16; www.zuerirollt.ch) that provides a variety of free bikes daily between 7.30am-9.30pm from Velogate outside the main station (1). You just need a Sfr20 (£8) deposit and your passport.


All the rates quoted here include breakfast. You can leave the windows wide open and hear nothing but birdsong at Sorrell Hotel Zurichberg (2) at Orellistrasse 21 (00 41 44 268 35 35; www.zuerichberg.ch), a five-minute walk from Zoo station at the end of tram line 6. Overlooking fields and the lake with woodland walks on the doorstep, the style is modern in a Victorian carapace. Mountain bikes are provided free of charge. Doubles from Sfr270 (£110). If you prefer the city centre, try the Glockenhof (3) at Sihlstrasse 31 (00 41 44 225 91 91; www.glockenhof.ch). Doubles from Sfr290 (£118). Only a few minutes' walk from the main station is the Limmathof (4) (00 41 44 262 60 40; www.limmathof. com) at Limmatquai 142, with vegetarian and Swiss restaurants. Doubles from Sfr175 (£71). The rooms at St Georges (5) (00 41 44 241 11 44; www.hotel-st-georges.ch) at Weberstrasse 11 have been recently renovated. Doubles from Sfr159 (£65).


Suburban rail line S10 will take you in 20 minutes to Uetliberg (6), Zurich's "mountain". The viewing platform is mounted on a tripod threaded by 179 steps, and stands 900m above sea level. On a clear day it offers a spectacular panorama over the Alps and Lake Zurich. If you find it irresistible, come back later for a five-course candlelit dinner in adjacent if marginally lower Hotel Uto Kulm (00 41 44 457 66 66; www.utokulm.ch) for Sfr79 (£32). Ask for a window table.


Starting at the Central tram interchange (7) on the opposite side of the river from the station (1), take the winding pedestrianised Niederdorfstrasse, intersected by numerous equally narrow streets and passages. On the corner with Spiegelgasse stands Cabaret Voltaire (8), where the Dada art movement was born in 1916. Saved by protests from demolition, it reopened in 2004 as a café-bar and arts centre. Taking a more or less straight course brings you to the Romanesque Grossmünster (9), the city's largest church, where the Protestant reformer Zwingli preached. For refreshment continue east along Limmatquai to Café Odeon (10) at number 2 where Lenin, Joyce, Herman Hesse and Mata Hari were patrons. Return to cross the river by the Munsterbrücke to reach the Munsterhof, overlooked by the Fraumünster (11). Inset into the cobbles of the Munsterhof is a plaque commemorating the "Europe, Arise!" speech given by Winston Churchill in Zurich University on 19 September 1947. Walk gently upwards past the largest clock face in Europe on St Peter's Church and sit underneath the linden tree in St Peterhofstatt, gloriously fragrant when in flower.


Migros (12) is the Tesco of Switzerland, but its take-away branch on the corner of Niederdorfstrasse and Mühlegasse has excellent salads for Sfr5.30-6.30 (£2-2.60), baguettes at Sfr6.80 (£2.75) and tempting fresh fruit flans for Sfr3 (£1.20). Beside the takeaway counters is an area with stools and tables where you can eat what you've bought at no extra charge.


The permanent art collection at the Kunsthaus (13) at Heimplatz 1 (00 41 44 253 84 84; www.kunsthaus.ch) makes it outstanding among Zurich's museums, with many rooms of Old Masters, Impressionists, Dadaists and Surrealists. It also has what has been voted the country's most popular painting: the Gotthard Post, an evocative depiction of the horse-drawn mail coach hurtling over the Alpine pass. Open Tuesday to Thursday 10am-9pm and Friday to Sunday 10am-5pm; admission Sfr10-17 (£4-7).


Bahnhofstrasse must be one of the most civilised shopping streets in Europe: the street between the interesting 19th-century buildings is tree-shaded and pedestrianised but for tram lines, and the shops are a roll-call of famous brands. Between it and the river lies a warren of medieval lanes full of small, individual shops selling the uncommon – historic and hand-made toys or superb boat models – to more predictable antiques and fashion. For a wide range of Swiss-made crafts, visit Schweizer Heimatwerk (14) at Uraniastrasse 1 (00 41 44 222 19 55; www.heimatwerk.ch), a showcase for a range of widely priced products from pottery and glassto hand-woven fabrics and jewellery.


Barfussbar (15) at Stadthausquai (00 41 44 211 95 92; www.barfussbar.ch) is a women-only swimming-pool by day and bar (open to both genders) with programmes of concerts and dances by night. It's open Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday 8pm-midnight. The historic pool is discreetly screened by a wall with fretwork upper panels. More conventionally there are open tables beside the river outside Hotel zum Storchen (16) at Am Weinplatz 2 (00 41 227 27 27; www.storchen.ch) where Mozart once stayed in an earlier building.


Zunfthaus zur Zimmerleuten (17) at Limmatquai 40 (00 41 44 250 53 63; www.zunfthaus-zimmerleuten.ch) used to be the carpenters' guildhall. You dine al fresco beneath arches downstairs or in a more expensive elegant first-floor room with square carved-stone columns between the windows. A fish soup of perch and trout costs Sfr19.80 (£8), veal with mushrooms Sfr43 (£17.50), cider cream Sfr9 (£3.50).


The otherwise austere Fraumünster (11) on Munsterhof boasts startling modern stained glass. In the north transept is the intensely coloured Heavenly Paradise by Augusto Giacometti. Filling the choir are five windows by Marc Chagall that illustrate the ways man can find God.


Board one of the lake boats from the pier at Bürkliplatz (18), which you can reach by trams 2, 5, 8, 9 or 11. Departing between 10.40 and 11am, they offer a two-and-a-half-hour Summer Sunday Brunch Cruise (00 44 44 487 13 13; www.zsg.ch), until the end of September. The hot and cold buffet brunch costs Sfr34 (£14), plus the fare of Sfr31.60 (£13) in first class, Sfr19.20 (£8) in second.


The city centre has few large parks, but there is a delightful linear park beside the lake's eastern shore with plenty of trees and flower-beds. Traffic noise mars the first 10 minutes, but the main road veers away and the park broadens, ending near the delightful Chinese Garden (19), a thank-you to Zurich from the twinned city of Kunming for sorting out its water problems. Open daily 11am-7pm; admission Sfr4 (£1.60). For something more exotic, walk through Madagascan rainforest recreated in an Eden Project-style structure at the large Zoo (20) (0848 966 983; www.zoo.ch), reached by tram line 6 (and 5 on Sundays). It's open 9am-6pm; admission Sfr22 (£9).


To leave the city behind, take trams 3, 8 or 15 to Römerhof (direction Klusplatz) for the Dolderbahn cableway (21) into the woods of the Dolder recreational area. It has footpaths, inns and a hillside swimming pool complete with artificial-wave machine (follow the signs for Dolder Schwimmbad).


Find a bench in the peaceful, tree-shaded square known as the Lindenhof (22) where Charlemagne built a palace 1,200 years ago on the site of a Roman fort.