Switzerland’s largest and arguably most expensive city could be a tough stop for budget travelers. However, you don’t necessarily have to break the bank to enjoy several panoramic views of the cities from its various elevated parks and roof decks. For example, you can join the students at the terrace of the ETH library for breathtaking views of its spire-filled skyline, climb and chill at the Lindenhof park for a riverside view (totally free) or pay just a couple of bucks for 360 views from the Grossmunster Cathedral (not for the fainthearted though. One word: STAIRS). The view from the Jules Verne Panoramabar at the old observatory is also quite spectacular (on a good weather, of course, and yes, there’s an elevator!).
For a city of its stature, Zurich is expected to be really huge at least in terms of area. Apparently, it doesn’t seem to be the case. The historical center is quite walkable and not as large as that of other big cities, which is actually a good thing because you can save on tram tickets. There are also famous free city tours like Free Walk Zurich (kudos to creativity???) led by often fun volunteer guides who will bring you to most of the interesting corners of the historic quarters. These free tours are actually ubiquitous in European cities and a fun way to kill time especially when you have zero clue about the city’s history. It’s of course for free but in the end, they usually emphasize that they only earn from tips and so, since most of time, you do enjoy the walking trips, it just feels apt to shed a few euros for gratitude. They will definitely take you to some of the elevated places I have mentioned above as well as interesting places like the Fraumunster Church with dreamy stained glass art by Marc Chagall, which for a surrealist is just divine.
Zurich is also at the tip of the Lake Zurich surrounded by the Alpine mountain ranges. Depending on the weather, you can actually see spectacular views of the snowcapped mountains from the lake. Obviously from the photos below, we were cursed by the weather but it is not at all a terrible view. There are plenty of small towns dotting the lake perimeter which provide an escape from the busy city center. In summer, I can sense some activity in this part of the town – fishing, bathing. The thing about Swiss lakes is that they are incredibly clean… like potable-level clean as they are constantly being replenished by fresh run-offs from the mountains. If it weren’t cold I would’ve dived into it. The towns around the lake can be accessed by ferries at the Burkliplatz quays.
The city does not look expensive at once glance because it keeps an old world visage but yes, it does feel a bit too much if you are not accustomed to the cost of living in Switzerland. The Swiss are usually paid a lot so they definitely have a higher cap when it comes to how expensive things are but if you are a cheap traveler like me, it would shock you a little bit at the start. But then again, I reiterate that there are many ways of enjoying cities without breaking the bank. You don’t have to be super stingy but just take advantage of every chance you get.