ZURICH, Switzerland -- Despite its reputation as a staid banking,
insurance and finance capital, this historic, lakeside Swiss city
is prone to periodically loosening its necktie, laying down the
ledgers and enjoying some of life's less serious pursuits.
From the citywide dance madness each summer of the annual Street
Parade techno-music event to the Freestyle.ch extreme-sports competition this
fall that attracted international snowboarders, skateboarders and
mountain bikers, Zurich reinvents itself at least once each
Perhaps no time of the year is more chock-full of street fairs,
parties, theater and events than the monthlong, pre-Christmas
Advent season, when residents and visitors alike find themselves
transported to a holiday winter wonderland.
First come the lights. On Nov. 23 at 4 p.m., some 20,640 holiday
bulbs will illuminate Zurich's renowned Bahnhofstrasse commercial
street each night through New Year's Eve.
Five days later, Europe's largest indoor Christmas market opens
its 140 stalls at the Hauptbahnhof, or main railway station, for
the seventh year.
This year, the fair's 50-foot Christmas tree will sparkle with
as many as 6,000 Swarovski crystal ornaments; for more information
on the market, visit www.christkindlimarkt.ch on the Web.
Across the Limmat River, a more traditional outdoor Christmas
market -- common to nearly every northern European city- sets up
shop in the charming Niederdorf quarter, or "Lesser Old Town," from
Dec. 10 to 23.
As this reporter, a recent visitor, can testify, the Niederdorf
-- packed with ancient guild houses now home to first class
restaurants; elaborate, colorful fountains flowing with potable
water; and soaring churches, such as the austere but inspiring
Grossmunster -- is a spot to linger and explore in detail.
Helping potentially disoriented visitors find their way to top
sites, city tourist board Zurich Tourism will host two-hour, guided
Christmas strolls in both German and English through Niederdorf,
the Bahnhofstrasse and the Christmas markets to the Advent Calendar
House -- at the Schweizer Heimatwerk store on the Limmat -- from
Dec. 4 to 22.
The excursions depart the tourist office at the main rail
station on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 5.30 p.m., Saturdays at 3.30
p.m., and on two Sundays, Dec. 8 and Dec. 22, at 3.30 p.m.
No advance reservations are required, and prices run about $14
for adults, $10.50 for students and $7.00 for children ages 16 and
Private tours at any time also are available for groups of up to
20; for more information, call (011) 41-1 215-4088 or e-mail [email protected].
A tour option for those with children is the Marlitram Fairytale
Tram, driven by St. Nicholas himself as two angel assistants
entertain young riders with stories.
Tickets at available at the Jelmoli department store, located at
Seidengasse 1 off the Bahnhofstrasse.
Speaking of commerce, shoppers usually frustrated by European
hours of operation needn't fret this holiday season, as most local
shops extend their hours in December.
Stores will be open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to Friday; until 6
p.m. on Saturdays; from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Dec. 8 and 22; and 9
a.m. to 4 p.m. on Dec. 24 and 31.
Cognizant that the holidays are all about spectacle, Zurich
plays host to several theatrical events, circuses and concerts.
The Christmas show "Heaven and Earth" runs at the Oerlikon
exhibition center through Dec. 31; the Salto Natale circus debuts
the Cirque du Soleil-style "Chameleon" Nov. 29 to Jan. 5 under a
big top in the Allmend park, 30 minutes from the main train
station; and the classic Christmastime Conelli Dream Circus kicks
off for its 11th season in a tent on the Bauschanzli peninsula on
the Limmat from Nov. 11 to Jan. 2.
Classical music fans should head to the Tonhalle concert hall
Dec. 19 and 20 for a performance of Handel's "Messiah" and a Dec.
22 evening of vocal works by Bach.
On Dec. 24 and 25, the "Dominicusmass" by Mozart will be sung by
the Amadeus Choir at Sts. Peter and Paul Church.
All the holiday celebrations culminate in parties around the
Zurichsee lake and upper Limmat on New Year's Eve from 8 p.m. to 3
a.m.; the festivities peak with fireworks just after midnight.
To lure more holiday visitors, Zurich Tourism crafted a special
-- but noncommissionable -- two-for-one deal on accommodations at
44 area hotels, valid Fridays to Mondays from Nov. 29 to Jan.
Properties offering two nights for the price of one include the
five-star Arabella Sheraton Atlantis; the four-star Glockenhof and
Steigenberger Bellerive au Lac; the three-star Altstadt and Novotel
Zurich City Technopark; and the two-star Ibis Zurich
A more profitable option for agents is the "Old Zurich Weekend"
available Fridays to Sundays through Dec. 31 from the cozy Hotel
Adler (see Room Key, below), smack dab in heart of the Niederdorf.
The hotel pays agents 10%.
Priced at about $95 per person, per night -- with a $20 single
supplement -- the deal includes accommodations, breakfast, a
24-hour public transport pass, a fondue meal (without drinks) at
the hotel's Swiss Chuchi restaurant and a copy of an illustrated
book highlighting six walking routes to the 52 Old Town landmarks
that are painted on the hotel's guest room walls.
For more on Advent and holiday events -- or to book the hotel
special or walking tour -- call Zurich Tourism direct at (011) 41-1
215-4000 or visit www.zuerich.com on line.
Agents also can contact Switzerland Tourism at (877) 794-8037 or
www.myswitzerland.com on the Web.
Room key: Hotel Adler
Address: Rosengasse 10, Zurich, Switzerland
Phone: (011) 41-1 266-9696
Fax: (011) 41-1 266-9669
Reservations: Lexington Services at (800) 537-8483
or www.lexres.com; or Switzerland Destination Management,
Manager: Hans Peter Kaiser
Rates: From about $95 per night, single, on
weekends or $116, weeknights, to $224 to $252 for suites; packages
Built: 1580; renovated 1955, and again in 1997
Rooms: 52 (11 junior suites)
Facilities: Swiss restaurant
Noteworthy: Trendy, modern, decor; ideal base for
walking tours; no phone surcharges.
Not worthy: Rooms are small; strong daytime odor
in lobby of fondue cheese from the restaurant.