5 Things To Do On a Winter Date In Zürich Without Spending Loads of Money
When my family first moved to Zürich in the dead of winter, a few new friends warned that it would be difficult to go on a date in the city, heck anywhere in Switzerland, without spending a fortune. And while it’s true that there are plenty of ways to indulge in elaborate ski, sightseeing adventures and expensive meals; my husband and I have tried also to seek creative options to get out together without the kids, without spending a fortune. In the last two years, mostly we’ve enjoyed the adventure, exploration, and unique opportunities here — many of which don’t cost a load. Here are a handful of them:
- Go for a sunset bike ride by the Greifensee. I know, it’s already December, so you’re thinking what? But yesterday evening my husband and I bundled up and hit the trail before sunset to ride along the Greifensee. While chatting about politics and news we passed deep green fields scattered with content cows, the glassy reflection of a pink sunset running across the lake, and the distant peaks of partly snowy mountains. We stopped at various points to take in the cool air, and most of my stress from the week glided away with the ducks. Honestly, with a pair of gloves, a scarf and something over the ears, a winter bike ride is a spectacular way to enjoy one another and the Zürich area.
- Walk the Christmas Markets. Most date nights in December, we’ll walk at least one Christmas market to eat a casual dinner or just to visit before, during or after a meal. Among a backdrop of incredible holiday color, beside festive people from all over the world, we’ll buy a hot drink, and perhaps taste something delicious, but mostly we’re content meandering together. The other night we saw angels on stilts, ate vegi and shrimp dumplings from Wesley’s Kitchen for 12 francs a serving, we sat on a bale of hay and chatted before browsing the booths of leather products, ceramics, and jewelry while talking about our plans for the holidays.
- Have a cup of tea and dessert at one of the many cafes around Zürich. Enjoy people watching. There are countless quaint cafes in Zürich, including the art deco Odeon and my favorite, Felix with its marble tables, ironwork balcony, and chandeliers. But recently we discovered the unusual and artsy vibe of Café Zähringer tucked in an old town alley. It felt like a mix between a San Francisco street cafe and perhaps the Cabaret Voltaire at its inception. With Latin music, a crowd of diverse folks, and a variety of relatively low-priced food and drink, there was no pretension in the place. The bathrooms were covered in cause-related stickers, the wood floors well worn. At one table, there were several men enjoying a card game. At another section, I saw a young woman reading tarot cards. We munched on gluten free poppy cake and sipped on unique teas while feeling a little like we were back in our old laid-back California town.
- Window shop. With all its special cobblestone alleys strewn with dainty lights, the picturesque window displays of Zürich are dying for attention even after shops have closed. I love joining my husband venturing down the dimly lit alleys, rounding corners while sometimes sipping my trusty warm drink. We find a new spot in old town each time we adventure, it seems, on either side of the River Limmat. Through windows we peer in at sculptures, paintings, displays of hats, old comics, antique books, teas and spices. Some shops even stay open late. We laugh at a window full of stuffed bears and chat about skiing, plans for the holidays, about possibilities for the year to come…
- Visit a unique bar or pub. You don’t (necessarily!) have to spend a lot to have a drink at and absorb a new scene in Zürich. There’s the Cabaret Voltaire with its contemporary and sometimes controversial art, the renowned Old Crow with its rare liquors, the Kronenhalle with its Giacometti tables, lamps plus Chagall, Picasso and Mirò paintings lining the walls. One of our favorite and less known places to stop is the Aelpli-Bar in the Old Town. There, at times little hand instruments are distributed to visitors for shaking or tapping along to live music. A waitress dressed in a dirndl serves potato chips and Alplimilch, while guests listen to accordions and other instruments played by local musicians making Swiss folk music — it’s a cozy, friendly, community pub experience!
I’ve only skimmed the surface of Zürich here… There’s ice skating at several rinks including the Ice Rink Bellevue, and Dolder Sports until 10PM and a light festival, the Illuminarium, at the Swiss National Museum. On Wednesday evenings a great mid-week date can involve a visit to view the permanent art exhibitions at the Kunsthaus for free until 8PM. Down the way is the River Limmat just waiting for a romantic walk with a stop at cozy Hotel Storchen bar for even an outdoor drink on a fuzzy chair with a blanket. There’s live music in Hardbrücke at the un-fancy but super cool Helsinkiklub … and of course there’s much, much more that we’ve yet to discover.
Mostly, we feel a pull to look closer, to uncover Zürich beneath the surface — because we’ve found that it’s a city of secrets, rich not only in people and francs but in romance — with countless opportunities to explore history, culture, spectacular views and nature together.
Article by Amy Aves Challenger.
Amy Aves Challenger is an American expat and writer of essays, poetry, and and a novel forthcoming. She leads creative writing workshops in Zurich. Visit Amy’s website here.
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