A surprise escape to Zurich with SWISS Airlines
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When was the last time you were surprised by travel?
I mean truly surprised - and not the kind where your train ticket from the airport turns out to be far more expensive than you thought.
When was the last time you arrived at a destination without any expectations or knowledge of what was awaiting you, and spent days wrapt in the joy of discovering a brand new place just for yourself?
I’ll bet it probably hasn’t happened recently.
These days, we all have so much (too much?) knowledge right at our fingertips. Many of us book our flights months in advance, meticulously research the best places to eat, the coolest places to lay our heads, and the can’t-miss moments to enjoy in our destination, long before we’ve even left our houses.
Heck, we’ve probably also scrolled Instagram, bookmarked the best photography spots, Google Earthed them from every angle (just us?!) and we’re so keen to maximise our experiences that we don’t leave anything to chance, lest we miss something awesome.
This loss of the joy of discovery in travel has been something Mark and I have been lamenting a little lately, especially considering the very nature of our job means that generally we’re guiltier of over-researching our next destination than most too.
Unsurprisingly, lately we’ve found ourselves craving the kind of travel we did 10-15 years ago (are we showing our age now?!), back when we travelled with guidebooks not mobiles, and finding the nearest hostel meant wandering the streets until one popped up.
If all else failed, you’d head to the nearest internet cafe and search for one on the gammy keys of a worse-for-wear looking desktop PC.
Everything felt like a surprise, purely because you barely had any idea of what lay in store for you as you stepped through the sliding doors of the airport at your destination.
Then SWISS reached out to us with a simple mission:
Arrive at the airport with no details but a flight number, check in and discover where we were going, spend two nights discovering the best local gems that our destination had to offer, and submit two postcards that we felt represented the destination the best.
It sounded like the perfect remedy to our travel blues.
That was how we found ourselves pulling up at London Heathrow as the sun peeked over the horizon on a Wednesday morning, hauling backpacks full of confusing clothing options (packing when you don’t know your destination is actually really hard!), and discovering our next destination in the check in area.
We had both been to this pretty little Swiss city years ago (separately), but our trips were brief transit stops; just 24 hours each in the depths of winter, and we really couldn’t remember much about the city at all.
It was perfect.
As our flight climbed above the clouds, we busied ourselves with the beautiful inflight magazine, soaking up as much as we could about the city we were en route too. By the time the Swiss “schögelli” (mini chocolates!) were being handed out, we were at an all new level of excitement.
At Zurich airport we met the rest of our group, two fashion bloggers from Manchester (shout out to the lovely Alice Catherine and Sophia Rosemary), and set off for a traditional lunch in the cobblestoned old town.
Bellies full, it was time to get exploring and we set off through the quaint laneways and pretty pastel buildings of the old quarter of the city. With little knowledge of how each lane led to another, the city revealed itself to us with each step.
At certain points, old travel memories came back to us both. At the Lindenhof garden and lookout, I remembered trudging through the snow at the top with my family, the crisp pre-Christmas frost a totally foreign feeling to my Australian bones at the time.
By the green-blue glacial river, Mark recalled wintry strolls along the water’s edge, a burning hot heisse Schokolade between his hands.
With no itinerary or self-imposed pressure to see ‘the best’ of the city, we could actually slow down and appreciate the beauty of the city streets we were walking. We’d paused to admire the view from the Rathaus bridge as Zurich’s lights began to twinkle and darkness set in; timing perfectly with an ominously thick storm cloud rolling its way across the city’s sky.
Claps of thunder and lightning rang overhead while we ran back to our hotel, as heavy rain drops thundered down the street behind us. A cosy-looking restaurant near our hotel seemed the perfect escape from getting drenched on our way back, and we settled in for a bowl of pasta each before rolling through the soggy streets back to our hotel.
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Our promise to each other on day two of our trip was that we would continue to travel like ‘real’ tourists, rather than travel bloggers, and all we knew when we walked through the doors of our hotel that morning was that our day would start with a lazy stroll around Lake Zurich.
That lazy stroll turned into a spontaneous sightseeing boat ride on the lake; an hour and a half of chilled out ‘touristing’ as we glided along the pretty lake. At each stop, restaurants bustled with people enjoying a lazy lunch, kids ran along the lake’s edge, and fishing boats bobbed around piers.
For a major city, Zurich is insanely verdant and the city and its rolling hills are even more picturesque from the water. Being able to sit still (something we haven’t done in an eternity!) and enjoy an hour or so on the deck of a boat gently gliding along the water of Zurichsee also felt like the ultimate in travel relaxation!
Of course, no trip to Switzerland would be complete without sampling some of its finest export; chocolate. When we realised that our boat docking point was only a short walk to the historic Sprüngli cafe and store, our fate was sealed.
It’s no secret that I’m a bit of a chocolate fan; the type who’d probably agree to walk over a kilometre of hot coals for a single piece. Walking into that beautiful wood panelled store with its rich, sweet scent and glass displays full of the good stuff very much felt like entering the gates of heaven. Obviously, we left with a bag full of melt-in-your-mouth sweet treats (salted caramel truffles are my recommendation!), the perfect energy snack for exploring this magical little city.
As the sun began to drift lower in the sky, we decided it was time to find an epic spot to watch Mother Nature’s best show from. We’d put the call out on Instagram for suggestions, and the lovely Allie Taylor (follow her here!) recommended Käferberg hill and surrounds for some beautiful sunset shots over the meadows.
Off we went, via tram and bus to seek out the perfect vista - only to find ourselves a little lost amongst the trees of the forest, and the M Night Shyamalan-esque corn fields of the meadows nearby. Thick grey clouds might have hidden the sunset behind their folds, but being lost in green places (especially ones so close to a pretty city) is something we’ll never complain about!
Another brilliant recommendation from our Instagram fam was a true gourmet institution in Zürich: Haus Hiltl. The world’s first ever vegetarian restaurant, this is an experience that personally, we think every traveller should experience while in the city.
Normally a buffet restaurant is the furthest thing from appealing to our taste buds, but this was vegetarian food on a whole new level. We piled up our plates with glee, weighed it on their scales, laughed at how piggish we were, and then devoured every tasty last morsel.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and the next day as we settled into our beautiful new SWISS plane (seriously, guys, there was enough legroom on this thing for me to walk past Mark to go to the toilet, without having to awkwardly climb over his face) and Zürich faded away with the clouds below us, both of us agreed this trip had been a gamechanger.
Being able to explore a fairytale-like city without being over prepared for every second of it was magical, and a great lesson for our future travels. It’s something we recommend you guys do more regularly too; a little less planning, a lot more surprise, and all of the joy of discovering a new place on your own terms.
OUR FAVOURITE THINGS TO DO IN ZÜRICH
THE OLD TOWN
We could go on and on about which streets to wander down and which corners to peek around - but that would ruin the surprise for you! Instead, give yourself a few hours, leave the map at home, and lose yourself in the winding cobblestoned streets of Zürich’s medieval old town. This is living history at its best.
An old fortified Roman castle, today Lindenhof is a popular photography spot (especially for watching sunset over the city), recreational garden, and generally peaceful oasis. We’ve seen it in both summer and winter, and we can attest that it’s a really pretty little spot all year-round in the heart of the old town!
A calm blue oasis at the edge of the city, Lake Zurich is a popular spot for day trips from the city; restaurants line its shores, multi-million dollar mansions glisten along the banks, and especially in the warmer months, locals can be found swimming, boating, and paddleboarding along the calm waters. The views of Zürich and its surrounds are lovely from the sightseeing cruise too, and we definitely recommend setting aside some time for this.
Where | Lake Zurich
Sightseeing tour cost | Tours normally cost CHF 8, but you get them 1/2 price with a Zürich transport card.
The woods of the Käferberg area feel world’s away from the city centre nearby. Running and hiking trails criss cross the woods, beautiful city views can be found over the meadows, and if you’re looking for a great sunrise/sunset photography spot, this is it.
Swiss chocolate, and lots of it. What other encouragement does one need?! The Sprungli Cafe we visited on Bahnhofstrasse also has a shop where you can purchase all the chocolate your heart could possibly desire.
Where | Bahnhofstrasse 21, 8001 Zürich
Opening hours | Open till 18:30pm every day except Sunday (17:30pm)
120 years on, and Haus Hiltl is still a vegetarian restaurant wowing its customers with tasty meat-free food. Don’t be put off by the vegetarian label either; this is one even meat eaters will enjoy!
Where | Sihlstrasse 28, 8001 Zürich, Switzerland
Opening hours | 06:00am - 23:00pm Mon-Thurs
06:00am - 00:00 Fri + Sat
08:00am - 22:00 pm Sun
The double towers of Grossmünster, standing proudly over the city and river Limmat, are probably Zurich’s best-known landmark. It’s also where some of the best views over the riverfront can be found - if you can manage the 187 stairs to the top!
Where | Grossmünsterplatz, Zürich
Opening hours | 10:00am - 18:00 pm Mon - Sat (Mar-Oct)
10:00am - 17:00pm Mon - Sat (Nov - Feb)
Open Sundays after mass
Cost | CHF 5 per adult
want to win your own flights to zürich with swiss?
Remember those postcards for SWISS we mentioned earlier? To be in with a chance of winning two Business Class return flights to Zürich, simply head to this link and vote for your fave postcard image from Zürich and you could be on your way in no time!
The first 500 votes will also receive an exclusive discount code on SWISS flights to Zurich so you can explore this beautiful city yourself!
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Our trip to Zürich was sponsored by SWISS, but as always, all thoughts + opinions are very much our own!