For the third installment of Mountains and more we are returning back to the city of Zurich to explore its Old Town: the Niederdorf or Niederdörfli.
When thinking about the premier shopping district of the city, most people think of the Bahnhofsstrasse where most of the illustrious and high-end fashion brands show off their products in fancy flagship stores. For another kind of retail and sightseeing experience, it is recommended to cross over the Limmat and explore the Niederdorf.
The Old Town’s charm lies in his unique blend of shops, bars, coffeehouses and nightclubs. Walking through the narrow alleys built from medieval cobblestone gives you a glimpse of medieval times. And always close-by is the sight of the river Limmat, always ensuring you’re not getting lost!
The Niederdorf boasts a few traditional attractions for tourists. The most prominent one is the Grossmünster (“Great minster”), a protestant church built between 1100 and 1220 AD. It is famous as the birthplace of the Swiss reformation under the tutelage of Ulrich Zwingli, who held the pastoral office in the sixteenth century. Architecturally the Grossmünster’s twin towers looking over the Niederdorf are an impressive sight and a major landmark.
The Zentralbibliothek (central library) in the middle of the Niederdorf is the fifth-largest library in Switzerland. On a normal day you’ll be able to get to know lovers of literature browsing through the books and magazines found in the countless shelves. In May, June, December and January however most visitors to the library are tired students clutching their textbooks and laptops, reading and highlighting at a frantic pace desperately longing for a break.
In the Niederdörfli you’ll also find a few of the “Zunfthäuser”, halls of the various medieval guilds such as the “Haus zur Schmiden” (House of the Blacksmiths). During the rise of the “Bürgertum” (bourgeoisie) artisans around Europe rose to prominence and they organized themselves in guilds. Many of these guildhalls today are restaurants serving traditional Swiss cuisine. The city of Zurich has a holiday dedicated to its guilds, the famous “Sächseläuten” which takes place every year in April. During the festival, the guilds participate in a parade around the city culminating in the burning of a giant snowman called Böögg at the Bellevue. As the legend states, the longer the snowman burns, the worse the summer will be. This year it took an astonishing 35 minutes (the third longest time ever) until the snowman’s head exploded. And his prediction has been proven true so far as temperatures have hovered around 10 degrees for the last few weeks.
The Niederdorf is also the place to be for coffee lovers as you’ll find inviting cafés almost everywhere along the way. The American chain with the green logo operates three shops in the vicinity of the Old Town, but the real treat are the small neighbourhood coffeeshops standing out through great service, excellent cakes or beautiful latte art. Personally, I’d take a look at Cafe Grande along the Limmat or at Henrici in the middle of the Niederdorf.
During the night, this part of the Old Town turns into a hub for the city’s nightlife which many of the pubs and clubs hidden in the alleys come alive. With a fair share of English pubs, Swiss inns and trendy scene bars to choose from, visitors are sure to find a cosy place to start their night out. Among my favorites is the Oliver Twist Pub which stands out through is familial atmosphere and fantastic pub food.
The Niederdörfli is located around five minutes on foot from the Central Station. Walking through the district without stopping at its sites should take you between 30 and 45 minutes at a leisurely pace. The Niederdörfli is a great place to capture a bit of the feel and vibe of the city and is must-see during any trip to Zurich.
Exam time is upon us at Swiss universities, so I’ll be pretty busy the next few weeks. I should still be able to reach my writing goals. As you might have noticed, I’ve also made some minor improvements to the website as you can see with the fancier twitter feed on the right hand side. More improvements will follow after finals! Please leave your feedback in the comments! If you’d like to support my writing, please click on follow on the right hand side.
I’m back on Wednesday with my obsession for this last week of May. Until then, I hope you enjoy the spring weather!