Finding corners of Zurich to love – The Bahnhofquai and beyond

Posted on May 11, 2010


Usually, whenever I want a taste of the old town of Zurich, I go to the heart of Niederdorf in the Eastern part of the city. Everything changed one day when, on my way to the main station after the Sechselauten festival, I was forced by the crowds to seek smaller and less used streets, and that’s how I discovered the Bahnhofquai, along the Western part of the Limmat. Of course, by this I don’t mean that the Bahnhofquai had somehow been hidden before or even inaccessible to me, but it had just been a (relatively) short line on a map I  had never explored and was completely ignorant about.

I have said many harsh words about Zurich in the past. I’ve called her ‘slow’ and ‘dull’. But the truth is at that time she spoke to me in a different language and was, for the most part, cold, wet and unfriendly. But on one of the first sunny spring days of the year, she was different, and I was smitten as I explored, starting from the main station, the Bahnhofquai.

Obsessed, as you know I am with taking photos, she was surprisingly relaxed and photogenic, and offered me small, but pleasing scenes. Right towards the beginning, I came across a souvenir shop which had a couple of turquoise chairs and a small round table with a vase full of yellow and red tulips in front of its window, for no other reason but to provide passersby with something beautiful to look at.  There was also a rack of postcards. Now, you have to know that before leaving my home country, I had promised one of my best friends, who is also a keen postcard collector, that I’d send her one with news each month. After 10 postcards sent already, it was becoming a little difficult to avoid buying ones depicting goats, Heidis and Peters, Swiss crosses, unbelievably badly-taken cityscapes and low-quality, cheesy cow pictures. In that respect, the postcards at this shop, featuring old advertisements of the city and prints of paintings of it, were a real find. As I was taking several of the postcards in my hands to inspect them more closely, Ferenc informed me that the woman in the shop was looking at me suspiciously from behind the window, and I didn’t blame her because, after all, I could have been about to run off with her precious, 1.5 CHF postcards. So I quickly made my choice, walked inside and discovered that the woman in question was a tiny, frail, middle-aged lady who bowed slightly (or was maybe naturally hunched) very much like a Japanese would, as she accepted my money and then handed me my postcards back. Somehow, her protruding front teeth also added to the Japanese cartoon impression of her I was building in my head. I exited a little bit perplexed.

The way soon turned into a gentle and narrow rise, lined by medieval buildings still used as (expensive) residences. One of them was covered in a burnt orange weathered stucco, decorated with a band filled with ornate foliage, and below it, the occasional white dove holding a sprouting twig in its beak. Another one was immaculately kept, with light purple shutters framing each window.

A right turn, a final push up and I was in Lindenhof, a large cobbled and tree-dotted space, rising high above the Limmat and, to my mind, presenting me with the best views over Zurich, from left to right revealing houses nestled among trees, unmistakably Swiss churches with their typical pointed sky blue steeples, and the Fraumunster and Grossmunster gazing at each other as if separated lovers. In the space itself, a small crowd, presumably tourists on a guided tour, looked around for a moment, then moved on. A man sat cross-legged on the thick walls and gazed at the view. Two old men chatted and smoked in front of a giant chess set under the shade of trees. Time to move on.

Making my way down to Bahnhofquai again, I found even more to keep me interested. A home design store was using a little courtyard along the river as a location to exhibit its wares. A covered passageway was so narrow that two people could not walk across it side by side. Then another open courtyard, a fountain, and a happy gathering of people under the sign ‘Hotel Hum Storchen’, and beyond, tables and chairs squeezed to the left side of the next narrow passageway, seating laid-back coffee drinkers. I walked this last stretch until the the passage along the river came to an end, and I found before me, as expected, Lake Zurich in all its glistening beauty. I knew that in the nearby streets there was more to discover; more unique shops, courtyards, fountains, and narrow lanes with something mundane placed along them – a bicycle, a no entry sign – which would make for the perfect picture. But that is, for now, another story.




– Text and Photography by Denise Pulis @

Posted in: Zurich