I am always taken aback when I see the Limmat River, which runs from Lake Zurich through the center of Switzerland’s most populous city. It’s crystal clear and looks clean enough to drink. According to Zurich’s detractors, the city’s cleanliness can verge on sterility, but I never fail to enjoy myself there. The surprisingly friendly town — despite its population of nearly 1.5 million, it often feels more like a large town than a city — has a hilly medieval center of winding lanes, a thriving restaurant scene and a picturesque lakeside setting backdropped by snowy Alpine peaks.
Pleasurable though Zurich may be for me, my accountant is never happy to see it appear in an itinerary. Zurich is an undeniably expensive city. A local shop replaced my watch battery while I was there, for example, and it charged precisely double what the shop in my home city does. As both a world banking center and a tourist destination, Zurich can command high prices. What visitors gain in return is some time in one of Europe’s prettiest and most relaxed signature cities, and one that has thus far escaped the curse of overtourism.
In fact, some of Zurich’s greatest pleasures are free, including exploring the old city’s rambling lanes and cozy squares and strolling along the Limmatquai. Another favorite Zurich activity of mine, a scenic cruise of the Limmat and lake, costs less than $5 per person.