The benefits of exploring a city, and remaining observant are topics of a recent post. The chances of finding the unexpected, hidden side of a destination is easier with the help of a local guide. Maggie, my friendly, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic guide to Zurich, certainly showed me the nooks, and crannies. It’s unlikely many of these would have been found exploring alone.
Guides can usually be sourced through the tourism board, they are normally well qualified, with plenty of local knowledge, and experience. Certified tourist guides, also usually have to study, and pass several examinations, possibly even needing first aid training before becoming qualified.
The difference between a group guide and personal ones however, cannot be emphasised enough. The benefit of the undivided attention of a guide is a tailored, personal itinerary. They can include the attractions that will appeal to their clients most. Time restrictions are also less likely to be a consideration, enabling the visitor to spend a little longer exploring, taking pictures, and enjoying the destination without feeling rushed.
I was fortunate enough to have the guiding services of Maggie for two days, which allowed her to plan a comprehensive tour. However, after some discussion, and as time allowed, she was able to adapt, including a few places that probably aren’t on the normal tour guides route. This flexibility isn’t possible with groups, the routes are fixed, changes to suit individual needs are unlikely.
As well as the obvious attractions such as a cruise on the lake, a trip up the Üetliberg, or soaking up views of the city from the Lindenhof we discovered dozens of hidden gems, well off the normal tourist trail. Climbing backstreet steps, taking hidden cogwheel railways, and ducking down little side streets. We found cool coffee shops, hidden fountains, and courtyards, as well as the shops that tourists rarely set foot in.
Making full use of the excellent public transport system, which when used with the ZurichCARD is excellent value, and a great way to get around the city. The trams run regularly, are reliable, and cover most of the city, but the card also allows visitors to travel on local trains, and buses. However, service information notices are seldom provided in English, so a basic knowledge of German is useful.
Maggie was a mine of information here too, not only knowing where to catch each tram, but usually the time they departed too. We never seemed to have to wait more than a minute or two for our next transportation.
The only complaint I have with Maggie, is she wouldn’t let me take her picture, and the few I sneaked, didn’t come out well!
In the evenings when she left me to make my way around, I relied on the My Zurich City Guide. This great little app is downloadable free to smartphones, and allows the user to find highlights, eateries or entertainment wherever they are. I used it extensively when searching for somewhere to eat or enjoy a good coffee. It searches the surrounding area, and provides a short, but useful review of restaurants in a variety of cuisines.
It also enables the user to find hotels to suit any budget, and even explains the benefits of the ZurichCARD, where to buy and how much it costs. The My Switzerland apps are also available for other Swiss cities, including Lucerne, Bern, Geneva, Basel, and Lausanne. Anybody visiting one of these cities should consider downloading the relevant guide.
I found the services of a local guide, combined with the Zurich app a great way to explore the city. Not being a great fan of organised tours, this provided a personalised, and insightful alternative, allowing me to discover the hidden side of Zurich. I found this much more appealing than the usual tourist attractions.
I was invited to explore Zurich at the invitation of the Switzerland, and Zurich Tourism Boards, however all opinions are my own.