Most people think of Zurich as a place of order and tradition. Don’t tell that to the artists, architects, and DJs who are turning it into one of Europe’s most avant-garde cities.
Swiss culture, despite its associations with neutrality, banking, chocolate, and watches, is far more innovative than it’s given credit for. That’s especially true of Zurich, which, though one of the most expensive cities in the world, supports a thriving population of students and creatives alongside its hedge-fund millionaires. For the young and enterprising in Switzerland, Zurich is the place to come and test one’s mettle. As a result, a robust underground music and art scene is flourishing in this picturesque, walkable city on the Limmat River. From old industrial quarters to the red-light district, here’s our guide to where to experience some of the city’s coolest spots.
Löwenbräu-Kunst: After this historic brewery in Zurich’s industrial area closed down in the mid 1980s, it was taken over by squatters and artists. Now renovated, it has become home to some of the city’s most prestigious art galleries, including Hauser & Wirth and Kunsthalle Zurich. lowenbraukunst.ch.
“Off-spaces”: In recent years, Zurich has witnessed an explosion of noncommercial galleries run by artists. According to Andreas Marti, coeditor of the indispensable Art Space Guide, there are now about 40 such “off-spaces” in the city. Marti runs Dienstgebäude, an excellent example of the genre housed in a former printingpress factory on the outskirts of the city. artspaceguide.com; dienstgebaeude.ch.
Im Viadukt: In most cities, shady corners under elevated train tracks tend to attract unsavory characters. But in the formerly industrial Zurich-West neighborhood, a 19th-century viaduct has been reinvented as a lively shopping area. You’ll find independent boutiques tucked under its arches alongside the excellent Restaurant Markthalle and a food hall with an oyster bar and cheesemongers. im-viadukt.ch.
Soeder: Ten years ago, you’d never have expected to see one of the city’s most stylish concept stores in Langstrasse, the redlight district. But when Soeder moved in, it was a sign that this once-gritty area had officially become cool. The boutique’s aim is to make European heritage goods, such as leather boots by Swedish brand Kavat, accessible to a younger crowd. soeder.ch.
Europaallee: You won’t find an H&M or even a Gucci at this new shopping complex, part of a major development near the Hauptbahnhof, the main train station. That’s because high rents for residential spaces balance out affordable rates for independent boutiques, including Opia, which specializes in brands from Japan and South Korea and stocks bags by Isaac Reina and men’s wear from local talent Julian Zigerli. europaallee.ch; opia.ch.
Saltz: Instead of turning to a design firm to create its new restaurant, the storied Dolder Grand hotel brought on the Swiss conceptual artist Rolf Sachs. The result is a dynamic 3,000-square-foot room that combines artworks in salt, neon light bulbs, and felt, along with furniture from Eero Saarinen and Jean Prouvé. The décor alone would make the trip to the hotel’s hillside location worthwhile—even without the inspired menu from chef Patrick Hetz. thedoldergrand.com; entrées $29–$102.
Kronenhalle: Diners of all generations adore this 92-year-old Zurich institution. The kitchen turns out perfect spaetzle and other classics, but what makes the place so remarkable is its museum-worthy art collection. Works by Picasso and Matisse hang beside pieces by Braque and Miró, both of whom were frequent guests. kronenhalle.ch; entrées $31–$71.
Maison Manesse: Located in the soon-to-be-happening Binz district, this 14-table restaurant is the vision of ambitious Australian chef Fabian Spiquel (spot him by the knife and fork tattooed on his arm). His experimental menu, a choice of six or seven dishes, might start with an edible Amazonian flower, followed by scallops served with a black-pudding purée. maisonmanesse.ch; tasting menus from $156.
Zum Goldenen Fass: Everyone from designers to DJs hangs out at this traditional, wood-paneled restaurant—and it has become even more popular since being taken over by a crew of clued-in young restaurateurs. The new team has upped the ante on the menu, introducing crowd-pleasing international dishes such as osso buco alla milanese. zumgoldenenfass.ch; entrées $26–$52.
Hiltl: This family-run place, listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s oldest vegetarian restaurant, just debuted a new location in a 1930s post office. The airy dining room still contains much of its original furniture, but now serves celebrated Hiltl recipes, such as a meatless tartare. hiltl.ch; buffet $21 per pound.
Frau Gerolds Garten: A complex of cabins made from repurposed shipping containers, this friendly beer garden feels like a piece of Berlin or Brooklyn transported to Zurich-West. fraugerold.ch.
Cabaret Voltaire: Legend has it that this performance space is where, one night in 1916, artists Jean Arp and Sophie Taeuber-Arp started yelling “Dada! Dada!” (da means “there” in German) as a way of protesting bourgeois attitudes through nonsensical art. Some say it was the birth of Dada, the anti- art movement that celebrates its centenary this year. For Manifesta 11, the European Biennial of Contemporary Art, the space has a calendar of special events running through September 18. cabaretvoltaire.ch.
Club Zukunft: Zukunft means “future,” and this cult nightclub in Langstrasse is known for discovering up-and-coming talent. It’s an intimate venue with clusters of disco balls hanging from the ceiling. If you arrive early (i.e., before midnight), grab a drink in the adjoining Bar 3000. zukunft.cl; bar3000.ch.
Longstreet Bar: Another late-night favorite, around the corner from Club Zukunft, this bordello turned lounge and dance club is managed by the überstylish female impresarios Loit Lim and Lhaga Koondhor. Hundreds of glowing, oversize light bulbs create a memorable scene at the bar, but the real action is upstairs, where, most nights, a great lineup of DJs plays hip-hop and electronica to a packed dance floor. longstreetbar.ch.
Marktgasse Hotel: Zurich has plenty of grande dame hotels, but until recently it lacked stylish boutique properties. Enter the Marktgasse, a clever reinvention of a historic building in the medieval Old Town. Many of its 39 rooms contain beguiling period details, such as a coal-burning stove or an uneven wooden floor. marktgassehotel.ch; doubles from $208.