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The medieval alleys of Altstadt

Altstadt is one of Zürich’s most charming neighbourhoods. Once abandoned and run down, the old city’s twisting medieval alleys on both sides of the Rathausbrücke have been completely revitalised. The monumental residences now house trendy shops, delicious restaurants, sophisticated lounge bars and elegant boutique hotels. Getting lost is part of the charm of the Altstadt and you may stumble upon a hidden alley or square.

Climb one of the twin towers of Grossmünster and see how the Limmat River runs right through the old city. On the left bank lies the Mindere Stadt with the slender spire of Fraumünster, and St. Peter Church, the tower of which boasts the largest church clock face of Europe. On the right bank lies Niederdorf – which locals affectionately refer to as 'Dörfli'– with its popular Niederdorfstrasse shopping street. Connected by the monumental Rathausbrücke, both halves of the old town offer plenty of entertainment for a wonderful weekend in Zürich.

The Limmat divides the city into two
The Limmat divides the city into two


Altstadt: from Rembrandt to the barefoot bar

Many visitors to Zürich never explore beyond the old city. And with good reason: there is more than enough to see and do here. Climb the 187 steps of the Grossmünster tower for a spectacular view of the city, admire the stained glass windows by Marc Chagall in Fraumünster, and drink an espresso at the Rathaus Café while looking out over the river. Scramble through the winding alleys, or ‘Gassen’, to the Kunsthaus and view artwork by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Rothko and Warhol.
Stroll across the many small squares with their fountains around the Sankt Peter to the small Lindenhof park. A Roman fort once stood on this hill above the river, the oldest part of Zürich. Cross the Rathausbrücke and settle on a patio in the Limmatquai district for a serving of raclette, while taking in the view of the photogenic houseboats in the Schipfe district. And on a sultry summer night kick off your shoes at the Barfussbar (‘barefoot bar’) at the 125-year-old Frauenbad lido, and dance barefoot on the wooden pier over the Limmat as the soft pink sun quietly disappears behind the Grossmünster twin towers.

“Dance barefoot on the wooden pier over the Limmat at sunset”

The best spots: 3 tips

Hip café Cakefriends sells the best espresso in town as well as home-made cakes and delicious ice cream. The flagship store of the youthful clothing brand Alprausch is packed with fun T-shirts. The designs carry names such as Alpaufzug, Bügelmeier or Bergbähnli and depict images of Swiss symbols such as a cowbell, mountain goat or cable car – albeit a rather hip interpretation of these. The sophisticated lounge bar Wings has been furnished with property from now defunct Swissair which went bankrupt in 2002. A row of business class seats stands in the corner, the windows came from an MD-11 (the beer has also been named after this aircraft) and cocktails include Takeoff, Turbulence and Jetlag. Another fun fact: the owner is a former captain and one of the bartenders was a flight attendant.
A sultry evening in Frauenbad