Don't let the 'World's Eighth Most Expensive City' tag deter you: Zurich's restaurants and shops are affordable without a Swiss bank account—and some of its coolest cultural spots are free (if you know where to look).

Hannah Wallace
April 02, 2009

DESTINATION Zurich, Switzerland HIGH SEASON April to August AVERAGE FIVE-STAR HOTEL ROOM RATE $530 AVERAGE COST OF A COCKTAIL AT A HOTEL BAR $15 BARGAIN 10 truffles from Confiserie Sprüngli, $7 (21 Bahnhofstrasse; 41-44/224-4646) WORTH THE SPLURGE Tickets for two to the Zurich Opera House, $142 (www.opernhaus.ch) RESOURCE Zurich Tourism (www.zuerich.com)

9:30 A.M. I've booked a single room ($144) at the Rössli (7 Rössligasse; 41-44/256-7050; www.hotelroessli.ch), an immaculate hotel with firm beds, minimalist white-on-white décor, spacious bathrooms, and a generous breakfast buffet. I order a cappuccino and then sample a little of everything—a croissant smeared with Nutella, Appenzeller cheese on a fresh seven-grain roll, and a rich peach yogurt that comes in its own glass container. Another bonus: I get to check my e-mail free on the hotel's Wi-Fi–equipped laptop.

10:15 A.M. The Rössli's central location, on the cobblestoned Altstadt, makes it easy to navigate the city on foot, so I set out to explore. I round the corner and pop into the imposing 12th-century Grossmünster cathedral (free). The soaring nave is magnificent, and the interior is spare— aside from the jewel-toned chancel windows, designed in 1933 by Augusto Giacometti, Alberto's second cousin.

10:40 A.M. I cross the Rathaus Bridge and wander down the Bahnhofstrasse, peering into shopwindows along the way. Inside the department store Manor (75Bahnhofstrasse; 41-44/229-5699), there's a display of cool Swiss flag–branded tote bags, diaries, and other paraphernalia. I treat myself to a pair of coffee mugs ($14).

12:15 P.M. Back across the Limmat River in the Altstadt, I head south along the quai to Galerie Bruno Bischofberger (29 Utoquai; 41-44/250-7777; www.brunobischofberger.com). Bischofberger was Jean-Michel Basquiat's European dealer, so it's no surprise to find an exhibition (free) of the artist's collages and paintings.

1:40 P.M. In the basement of Globus am Bellevue (12 Theaterstrasse; 41-44/266-1616) is Zurich's answer to Dean & DeLuca—a specialty grocer with an excellent wine cellar, a vast gourmet deli, and artful displays of jams, honeys, and chocolates. I buy some Globus brand raspberry jam and wild forest honey ($9) for friends back home.

2:30 P.M. A few doors down, I join locals in the queue at the Vorderer Sternen stand (22 Theaterstrasse; Bellevue Platz) for the most flavorful sausage I've ever tasted: a grilled St. Galler bratwurst ($5), served with mustard on a fresh, golden Bürli roll. I wash it all down with a dark, rich Feldschlösschen beer ($5).

3:00 P.M. At multiculti emporium T.A.O. (10 Stadelhoferstrasse; 41-44/262-6656; www.tao.ch), owner Ursula Weber sells beaded necklaces, gold-threaded scarves, embroidered pillows, and other treasures from northern Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. A silk jacket from Vietnam ($220) is out of my price range, but I snap up a chic, chunky red glass bracelet ($6).

3:30 P.M. Strolling along Utoquai, a bucolic park that abuts the Zürichsee, past picnickers and couples stretched out on the grass, I come to Le Corbusier's last building (admission $10)—a glass-and-steel structure that looks like a Mondrian painting in 3-D. Completed after his death in 1965, it's now called the Heidi Weber Museum, after the patron who commissioned it (8 Hoeschgasse; 41-44/383-6470; www.centerlecorbusier.com; open weekends 2:30–5). It houses Le Corbusier's sketches, lithographs, and writings.

5:30 P.M. The legendary Restaurant Kronenhalle (dinner for two $120) would break the bank on this trip, so I satisfy myself with a peek into its elegant dining room before crossing the street to Rolfs (7 Rämistrasse; 41-43/268-5300), a convivial new wine bar that hosts frequent tastings and the occasional art show. I order a glass of Blauburgunder ($7)—what the Swiss call Pinot Noir—and settle in on a window banquette for some people-watching.

7:00 P.M. Gallery openings are a great way to catch up on Zurich's contemporary art scene. (See www.dzg.ch for listings.) I forgo a taxi in favor of a tram ride ($3) to the old Löwenbräu brewery, now a complex of art galleries and museums, in the edgy Damweg neighborhood. At Caratsch de Pury & Luxembourg (264 Limmatstrasse; 41- 44/276-8020), I admire Olivier Mosset's enormous, Pantone-hued canvases. Next, I check out Allan Kaprow's interactive "happenings" at Hauser & Wirth (270 Limmatstrasse; 41-44/446-8050; www.ghw.ch); this gallery, which has satellites in London and New York, represents everyone from sculptor Louise Bourgeois to Swiss video artist Pipilotti Rist. The Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst (41-44/277-2050; www.migrosmuseum.ch), a cutting-edge collection of photography, paintings, and design, is upstairs, but at this hour, it's closed.

9:00 P.M. The spinach-and-ricotta ravioli ($12.50) that chef Fabio Brandimarte turns out at Sento (19 Zürichbergstrasse; 41-44/251-1910; www.sento.ch) are as rich and buttery as any in his hometown of Turin—and you can order a generous half portion. I match them with a salad ($7) of greens, shredded beets, and carrots and a glass of Barbera d'Asti ($6) and then dig in, trying not to gloat over all of my reasonably priced good fortune.

TOTAL SPENT $234.50

MONEY-SAVING TIPS Use Zurich's efficient tram system—but don't get caught without a ticket; police check the cars and will fine offenders $60. • From May through October, you can "borrow" a bike by leaving a valid ID and a $15 refundable deposit at Theaterplatz or at the Hauptbahnhof. • The ZurichCARD ($11.50 per day) provides admission to more than 40 museums; unlimited use of trams, buses, and funiculars; and complimentary drinks at 20 restaurants. • Most of Zurich's churches are also free; www.kirche-zh.ch has a complete list.

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