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).
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.