Known for banks, neutrality and cheese fondue, Zurich may surprise you as a city worth visiting in your motorhome. The city of gnomes (bankers) is Switzerland's largest city, but that’s not to say it’s without culture. It was the birthplace of the Dada art movement, a skinny-dipping haven and has more than 25 public baths!
Plus, in a country the size of a postage stamp with four languages – Swiss German, Swiss French, Italian and Romansch – and bordering five countries (France, Germany, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein), it makes for a great base to see the best of Europe in a short amount of time. Switzerland is one of the world’s most scenic and romantic destinations, and getting around by camper makes this expensive country more accessible.
Parking up and camping in Zurich
Next to the terrific lake of Greifensee is Camping Maurholz, surrounded by meadows and forests. The historic town has a beautiful castle and the Gothic church was built in 1330. This is close enough for day trips into Zurich.
Camping Zürich is the only camping ground in the city and is right on the lake. With spectacular views of the mountains, you’ll have direct access to the lake in the quiet urban district of Wollishofen. You’re also only minutes away from Bahnhofstraße where you can shop your heart out.
30km from Zurich is Campingplatz Saland. Situated close by the river Toss, on a sunny and quiet location it’s relaxing and far away from the traffic.
A postcard-perfect Swiss house built into a cave is always going to make for a magical experience. An hour-and-a-half from Zurich is Wasserauen. You take the cable car from there to the top and it’s a 15-minute ramble through the caves to Aescher Wildkirchli. You don’t have to stay the night, and with a campervan it’s unlikely you’ll want to, but the views across the Appenzell landscape are breathless and the panoramas are worth the trip.
Trams, museums, churches and culture
The Swiss are strait-laced and that’s a good thing. The trains are always on time, the streets free from litter and graffiti is celebrated.
First up, buy a ZurichCARD to make use of the extensive tram system and gain entry to museums and galleries. You won’t be using your camper to get around, so find a nice parking spot and do as the locals do and use public transport. Zurich is a city on the water. The beautiful mirror of a lake makes for a perfect way to spend an afternoon and it’s free on your ZurichCARD. Pass striking waterside homes, Tiefenbrunnen and shopping districts as you people watch from the water.
The Swiss National Museum exhibits one of the heaviest gold bowls ever found in Europe, a Christ figure on a wooden donkey from a 1000-year-old Palm Sunday procession and an insight into the financial system. The fabulous Dolder Grand is out of a fairy-tale and is an idyllic place for breakfast or lunch. Ask for a table overlooking the lake.
The 2000-year-old narrow and winding alleys and cobbled streets that make up Old Town are as picturesque as it comes. There are medieval towers, ruins of Roman baths and much more to see. Take a wander. Grossmünster and Fraumünster Churches stand tall on the Limmat River. The Christmas stained-glass window in Grossmünster is another must-see.
The Kunsthaus Zürich (Museum of Fine Arts) houses one of the most important collections of modern art in Zürich and is renowned for both its permanent art collection and temporary exhibitions. This is also free on your ZurichCARD.
If you look up to the wooded mountains from pretty much anywhere in Zurich. you can see two towers high up on the horizon. These mark the location of 'The top of Zurich' and the best place for photographic opportunities. Parties in Zurich don’t really get going until after 11pm and then continue into the wee hours of the morning. There are no official closing times and in summer they are not confined to indoor settings. The clubs in Zurich-West rival any in Europe.
Take your motorhome and explore the Swiss National park located near the Italian border. For wildlife junkies, this place is amazing, especially when traversed on foot. It offers Golden eagles, vultures and many more exotic creatures.
It’s not all Fondue
Although fondue is likely to be on most menus, Zurich’s culinary culture is unsurprisingly elegant and sophisticated. Restaurant Spice is one of numerous Michelin starred-establishments. It’s a stylish and trendy restaurant, encompassing a fusion of global cuisines and light flavours.
For a little lakeside luxury, dine at The Restaurant at The Dolder Grand. With panoramic views stretching across Zurich, the lake and the Alps, and a modern menu with classic undertones, this is a graceful way to enjoy an evening. A little different is Blindekuh, or Blind Cow. It’s a novelty dining experience that takes place in pitch darkness. Smell, taste, touch and sound are heightened in the absence of sight and the majority of the restaurant staff are partially sighted or blind.
Tao is set in a Chinese garden and is blissfully calming. The menu blends together global cuisines to form fusion food, including the well-loved Tao burger and many Dim Sum.
Everything is expensive in Switzerland, in particular food. If you’re looking for meals on a budget, head to Migros (supermarket) and try their bakery goods. Or Zum Guten Glück does delicious home cooking and for only a few francs you can dine on Swiss-styled hasbrowns – Rosti.
The top five must eats in Zurich:
Fondue. Don’t fight it it’s delicious. Fribourger Fondue Stübli is one of the best places to indulge.
Chocolate. Lindt & Sprüngli has an outlet shop. Or if that’s just too much temptation, Sprungli Café is heaven for any sweet tooth.
Geschnetzeltes are small pieces of veal cooked in a creamy mushroom and white wine sauce and usually eaten with noodles. It’s a mouthful to say and more so to imbibe.
Raclette is a traditional Swiss dish. Cheese is placed on a raclette grill and eaten with boiled potatoes, gherkins and baby corn. Raclette Stube is the perfect restaurant to experience this.
Breakfast. Muesli was invented in Switzerland, so it’s a staple part of every diet and you can find it at almost every cafe.
Be sure to wrap up warm
In winter, Zurich can reach -15 Celsius degrees easily, therefore warm clothing is advisable. Summer means warmer temperatures and bankers swapping suits for swimsuits, but if you’re taking a trip to the mountains you can still face bleak temperatures.