Zurich

Basics

© Juan Rubiano, www.juanrubiano.com

Basics

Basic information on the lay of the land, its history and local peculiarities - so you can act like a local during your stay in Zurich.

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Drinking

The drinking age in Switzerland is 16 for wine and beer and 18 for spirits and alcopops. The standard sizes for beer are the 0.3 litre Stange (pronounce: shtang-eh) and the 0.5 litre Grosses (gro-sus). The long-standing medium-scale brewers (in Zurich you‘ll usually find Feldschlösschen and Hürlimann, which both belong to the Danish Carlsberg breweries) are increasingly getting competition from innovative local brewers. Check out Sprint, Paul or Appenzeller for instance.
Swiss wines are also not to be underestimated. While the best may come from further south, you‘ll find some very good Blauburgunders (red) and Riesling Sylvaners (white) from the Zurich region. Traditional Swiss spirits are fruit brandies, cherry (Kirsch) and pear (Williams) being the most common.

Electricity

Electricity in Switzerland is 230 V, 50 Hz AC. Plug sockets are round and take three round pins - they can take Europlugs with two pins. If you are coming from the US, UK or Ireland you definitely need an adaptor - as well as from many other countries. In modern hotels you might find multi-use sockets. Otherwise ask for an adaptor at the reception or buy one in a traveller's or electronics shop (main station).

Emergency

Emergency telephone numbers (operators usually speak basic English):

Ambulance: 144
Police: 117
Firebrigade: 118


If you need medical attention, there are two medical centres for emergency consultations, one is Permanence at the main railway station just next to the taxi stand towards Bahnhofstrasse, where you just pull a ticket and wait your turn (+41 44 215 44 44, Bahnhofplatz 15 ,open 07:00 – 22:00), the other mediX, just across the road from the tram stop Stauffacher (+41 44 298 50 50, Badenerstrasse 41, open 07:00 – 21:00, Sun 08:00 – 18:00). Zurich has three public hospitals with emergency units which are open 24 hours a day for urgent matters. You can just walk in, service is good, but expect to wait:

Pharmacies

Pharmacies (Apotheke in German) on night duty are open 24 hours, a sign on every pharmacy’s door will tell you where the next pharmacy on duty is. You can also call +41 (0)900 55 35 55 (1.50 Sfr/min from a Swiss landline, from mobiles additional costs may apply) which will connect you to the next pharmacy on duty. The pharmacy at the main station is always open until midnight, the one at Bellevue square always 24 / 7:

Internet / Wi-fi

In the era of laptops and smartphones internet cafés are not as necessary as they were 10 years ago. What you really need are hotspots. Here comes the good news: many cafés in Zurich have free Wi-fi. There is even a free outdoor Wi-fi at Limmatquai, between Central and Rudolf-Brun Brücke - simply start your laptop/smartphone, connect and follow the instructions.

You will also find the commercial Wi-fi providers Monzoon and Swisscom all over the city. You can subscribe to their services on the start page you get on your browser once you connect to their hotspot - all you need is a credit card. Prices are rather high (around 5Sfr for 30min or 25Sfr for 24hrs).
 

Language

Switzerland has four official languages: German (spoken by 64%), French (20%), Italian (6.5%) and Romansh (0.5%). Zurich lies in the German speaking part of the country, where people speak a German dialect, so called Swiss German or Schwyzerdütsch, which differs from region to region. Be it among friends, at work or when dealing with the authorities, people speak dialect. For anyone who speaks or - even worse - is learning to speak German, this can be tiring because at first it‘s very hard to understand even for people with a German mother tongue.

However, Swiss people use standard German, so-called Hochdeutsch, when writing and speaking at school and so do the presenters on TV. When Swiss realise you are a foreigner they will usually switch to standard German. Keep in mind that a lot of Swiss aren't practised in standard German - it‘s like a foreign language to them too. Occasionally German speakers from outside Switzerland claim they have no trouble understanding the dialect – but most of the time the Swiss they were speaking to were actually trying their best to speak standard German.

A lot of Swiss speak English fairly well, especially the younger generation. So generally getting by in English is no problem. Often the first foreign language at school is still French, so if you happen to speak some you can try to use it, especially with elderly people who don‘t speak English. As Italian is the country‘s third language, people with a higher education usually speak some Italian as well.

Here are a few German phrases and some typical Swiss German words - it will be always appreciated if you use a few Swiss words. The 'r‘ in Swiss German is rolled, the ‘ch’ is pronounced like in the Scottish loch. Mind your throat.

Swiss German
Grüezi  (groo-e-tsi)  Hello (formal)
Adieu  (as in French)  Goodbye (formal)
Merci  (mersi) or Danke  Thank you

Entschuldigung!  (en-chooldi-gung) Sorry!
Exgüsi   (ex-gewsi)  Excuse me!
D‘Schwyz  (chviiits)  Switzerland
Zum Wohl!  (tsoom vol)  Cheers!
Zürcher  (tsoor-her)  Inhabitant of Zurich
Züri  (tsoori)  Zurich

Mail & Phone

Post
Swiss post is generally reliable and fast, and usually it shouldn’t be a problem to find a clerk who speaks English. Swiss post also offers banking services: all your financial transactions can be taken care of here - even for sending cash with Western Union the post office is the right place. Just pick a ticket at the machine and wait until your number lights up and the screen tells you on which counter you will be served at. The post accepts euros. There are post offices all over the city - the Sihlpost close to main station is the one with longest opening hours.



Public Phones & Dialling
Despite the boom of mobile phones there are still lots of public phones in Zurich. They all take coins, most of them both francs and euros. Most of them will accept your credit card as well. There are phone cards too: Ask for a taxcard (5, 10 and 20Sfr available) at newsstands or railway stations. Switzerland's calling code is +41, Zurich's code is (0)44 or (0)43.

We list the country code before all telephone numbers. Of course you only have to use it if you are dialling from abroad. If you are already in Switzerland, just ignore the +41 prefix, dial 0 an then the nine-digit number.
 

Money

The currency and legal tender of Switzerland is the Swiss franc (Sfr), which is divided in 100 rappen. There are banknotes of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 1000 francs. The coins in use are 1,2 and 5 francs as well as 5,10, 20 and 50 rappen.

Lots of shops and restaurants will be happy to take euros as well, but the exchange rate you usually get is bad. You will be better off changing your euros or any other currency at a bank or at the main railway station. Banks usually charge a fee if you are not one of their customers.

In Zurich the nearest ATM is never more than a couple of hundred metres away and these days you can even find one of these machines in the smallest Swiss villages. Credit cards are widely accepted - both in shops and restaurants. If you are only drinking, it's usually appreciated if you pay in cash.


National holidays

January 1 New Year
January 2 Berchtold Day (local)
March 25, 2016 Good Friday
March 28, 2016 Easter Monday
April 18, 2016 Sechseläuten (Zurich only)
May 1 Labour Day (Zurich only)
May 5, 2016 Ascension
May 16, 2015 Whit Monday
August 1 National Holiday
September 14, 2016 Knabenschiessen (Zurich only)
December 25 Christmas

Opening hours

In the last decade opening hours in Zurich have been liberalised. Shops are now allowed to be open Mon to Sat from 06:00 - 23:00, though only few are open that long. On Sundays only shops in railway and petrol stations are allowed to be open.

Here is a rough guide to opening hours in Zurich: Shops in the city centre i.e. around Bahnhofstrasse are usually open Mon to Fri 09:00 - 20:00. Smaller shops including jewellers and shops outside the centre might already close at 18:30 or 19:00. On Saturdays you can expect shops in the centre to be open from 09:00 - 17:00, though some will be open until 18:00 and the big department stores like Jelmoli or Globus even until 20:00.

Shopping centres like Sihlcity or Letzipark are open Mon-Sat 09:00 -20:00 (see shopping section). Your best option on a Sunday in the city centre is Rail City, the shops in the underground of the main railway station (09:00 - 21:00) and Stadelhofen Passage at Stadelhofen station next to Bellevue Square (10:00 - 18:00).

Some small grocery stores are open until 23:00, e.g. Coop Pronto stores. The big Coop supermarket on the Bahnhofbrücke bridge next to the main railway station is open daily 07:00 - 22:00, except on Sundays. On Langstrasse there are two family-run 24-hour shops.

Banking hours are Mon-Fri 8:30 – 16:30.

 

Politics

The Swiss like to consider their country the home of direct democracy and citizens here are regularly asked to take a stand on national issues. The two chambers of parliament are (mainly) elected in a proportional voting system and the seven-member government appointed by parliament always includes representatives of all of the four or five major parties. Switzerland is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, once sovereign states which retain some independence and have their own constitutions, parliaments and governments. Bern is the capital and the seat of the parliament and the federal authorities. Due to the understanding of political independence many locals favour, Switzerland is not a member of the EU and joined the UN only as late as 2002. Switzerland does, however, cooperate with the EU in many areas, such as on the Schengen visa and border agreement.

Religion

The Swiss are traditionally either Roman Catholic (42%) or Protestant (35%). The largest (and quite new) minority religious community are Muslims (4%). Zurich is traditionally Protestant, due to the ardent reformator Zwingli who put an end to partying here in the 16th century. But his grip has loosened somewhat in recent decades.

Safety

Zurich is a safe city, and in fact there is no no-go area, even for women at night. As a visitor you are unlikely to face any problems if you simply use common sense. Of course some petty crime does exist. Be on guard against pickpockets just as in any European city: in a bar keep your wallet in your trousers not in a jacket casually left lying around, and always watch your bags.

Smoking

The legal age for smoking is 16. Smoking in public buildings and transport as well as in restaurants and bars became illegal on 1 May, 2010. However, in the canton of Zurich, restaurants and bars are allowed to have a separate and served smoking room (fumoir). But only a few venues have installed one - we have marked them with the smoking sign in our restaurant and nightlife sections. So if you are a smoker, do as the others do and step outside for a puff - the perfect occasion to get in touch with complete strangers. Note that the law is different in every canton.

Tipping

Tipping is not a must in Switzerland as service is always included in the price. However if you were pleased with the service you got, tips are appreciated and many leave 5-10 percent of the bill. In bars with self service it‘s very common to round up the bill to the next franc.

Tourist service

Zurich’s Tourism’s Tourist service is conveniently located in the main hall of the main train station. This is a onestop solution for all the information you might be missing - and much more. For personal advice at the counter, take a ticket and wait your turn. There are some iPads for you to browse and check out the many off ers like tours and venues and you can pick up leafl ets and a city map. But they don’t just have advice, they also off er the following services.

They...
  • will book city tours and excursions
  • sell tickets for public transport, incl. the Swiss Travel Pass
  • sell the ZürichCARD
  • can make hotel reservations
  • also sell tickets for events and museums, souvenirs and gift vouchers
Last but not least you can always pick up the latest copy of Zurich In Your Pocket here - for free, of course.

-> Located in the main hall of the main train station. Open 08:00 - 20:30, Sun 08:30 - 18:30.

Customs

Switzerland is not a member of the European customs union. On the one hand that gives you the opportunity to buy real tax-free goods at airports when you are travelling from and to Switzerland. On the other hand there are tight restrictions on the goods you can take free of customs duty from Switzerland to your country. For EU-countries the following customs and tax allowances apply (for other countries check with the according customs authorities):

Tobacco: 200 (40 to some countries) cigarettes or 100 (20) cigarillos or 50 (10) cigars or 250 gr (50) of smoking tobacco.
Alcohol: 1 litre of spirits over 22% vol or 2 litres of spirits with less than 22% vol, 4 litres of still wine, 16 litres of beer.
Other goods: Max value of all goods: 430 euros for air travellers and 300 euros for other travellers.

Goods over these limits must be declared when entering a EU-country, additional taxes and VAT may apply.

In Switzerland there is duty free shopping for arriving passengers as well.

Visas

For a stay of up to three months, many foreigners simply need a passport or an ID card to enter Switzerland. Even though not a member of the European Union, Switzerland is a member of the Schengen Agreement. As a result a Schengen visa is valid for Switzerland as well. If you have a visa for Switzerland you can travel freely between the Schengen-agreement countries for a limited amount of time, usually 90 days. Always check these details with a Swiss embassy or consulate. Further information can be found at www.bfm.admin.ch under the title 'Free movement‘.

Water

While not all of Switzerland‘s water comes directly from a mountain spring (in fact 70% of Zurich‘s tap water is taken out of the lake), the water quality is generally excellent. Normal tap water is always drinking water, as is water from public fountains of any kind, except in the rare cases when a sign (reading Kein Trinkwasser/ Eau non potable/ Non potabile) states otherwise. Tip: carry an empty plastic bottle with you and fill it up at one of the many fountains or the brass drinking-fountains throughout the city. The exception to the rule is tap water in trains: don‘t drink it. If you‘re thirsty on a train journey, you‘ll just have to hope the minibar service arrives soon.

Basic data

Area
Switzerland: 41285 sq km
Zurich (Canton): 1729 sq km
Zurich (City): 92 sq km

Population
Switzerland: 8 million
Zurich (city): 405,000

Official languages
Switzerland: German, French, Italian, Romansh
Zurich: German

Local time
Central European (GMT+1h)

Rivers
Limmat 36 km (flows through Zurich)
Rhine 375 km (in Switzerland)

Borders
France (572 km), Germany (373 km), Austria (165 km), Principality of Liechtenstein (41 km), Italy (741 km)
 

Market values

Loaf of bread 2-5Sfr (€1.85 - 4.70)

Cup of coffee 4-7Sfr (€3.70 - 6.55)

0.3 litre of beer (bar) 4-7Sfr (€3.70 - 6.55)

Public transport ticket, valid 1 hr 4.30Sfr (€4)

Packet of cigarettes 8Sfr (€7.50)

McDonald‘s Big Mac 6.50Sfr (€6.05)

The Swiss national bank has abandoned its policy of tying the Swiss Franc to the Euro. In the beginning of May 2015 the exchange rate is quite stable at around 1.06Sfr to the Euro.

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