Winterthur is a small city near Zurich in Switzerland and is about the 6th largest city in all of the country. With around 100,000 people, it is small enough to have a town- like feel where the locals affectionately call it Winti. Since Zurich is just about 30 km away, most people will stay out of that center to avoid the crowds.
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History and Geography
Winterthur has a strong Roman history that dates back to the 1st century. It wasn’t until five hundred years later that modern buildings went up which in turn became the old city of Winti. In 1,000 AD walls and a moat was built around the town with towers at the corners. The Habsburg family aka Hapsburg, and one of the most influential European dynasties, came into power after the Kyburg counts ancestral lines died out. By 1467 the Habsburgs, in need of cash, sold the entire city of Winterthur to Zurich. The country was ravaged by wars during the French Revolution but the tenacity of the Austrians meant that the French were defeated and kicked out.
In the 1930s, when the Great Depression really took hold, Winterthur suffered very badly since it had become an industrialized nation. As with most industrial nations, it was the Second World War that put things to rights as the armed forces needed machines etc to fight the war.
Winterthur is around 440 meters above sea level in a sort of basin south east of the River Töss. Another small river runs into the center of town which gives it its nickname ‘Eulach-City’. It is surrounded by glaciers and mountains with more rivers nearby.
Best time to go to Winterthur
May to September is quite warm in Winterthur with temperatures in July touching 25°C (77°F) or more. January and December are the coldest months in this part of the world with temperatures dropping to around 2°C (35°F). Wet days are quite likely, as it rains between twelve and fourteen days in each month throughout the year.
Getting Around in Winterthur
Getting around this city is very easy as the transport system is extremely well run. It is only 18 minutes by train to Zurich so the attractions of the great city are well within reach. The Swiss Rail Network carries more than 120,000 passengers per day so there are plenty of trains to access. The regional train service is also efficient and well run so tourists can visit Konstanz, Romanshorn and other interesting places. With 9 stations around the city, visitors don’t have to look far to access the trains. There are buses and trolley buses to choose from, including five regional bus lines.
Car hire is available but can be quite expensive plus, if the family is not going far, it is a much better deal to use public transport. Taxis are also quite pricey but bicycles are quite popular in this part of the world. Many companies around Winterthur will have them for hire.
Major Attractions and Sights in Winterthur
The Kunstmuseum – A great place for rainy days in the city, it houses a modern art collection that is renowned throughout Switzerland. Find examples of cubism, contemporary art and retrospectives along with themed exhibitions at different times of the year.
Eulach Tunnels – Try a visit to the Eulach through the many tunnels which carries the river through the center of the city. It is possible to travel through the city in the tunnels but those who are claustrophobic should avoid it for sure.
Rosengarten Park – A lovely place to just hang out for the day, it is full of roses and high above the city to give some wonderful views. The Red Tower in the city is clearly visible from here so this is great for photographers.
The Red Tower – The tallest building in Winterthur, obviously named for the color of its construction materials. There’s a restaurant at the top offering fabulous views.
Fotomuseum Winterthur – This is an interesting place to visit for enthusiastic amateur photographers. Try to get on the guided tour since this place is the center of excellence for Photography in Europe. Visitors drop in here from all over the world which gives some indication of its importance.
On the Water – For quite cheap excursions, try jumping on a river bus or lake steamer just for the fun of it. Although they are meant for commuters really, tourists can get a quick look at the waterfront along the Limmat River or out into the Zürichsee to Tiefenbrunnen. Tourists can stop off at several points along the route.
The Lake Promenade – Popular with locals and visitors alike, this is a wonderful place for a love walk or picnic in the summer months. There is a boardwalk which runs from three km towards Tiefenbrunnen. Halfway along this boardwalk, there is a beautiful valley and meadow where people gather to have fun.
Polybahn Rail – This is a lovely old funicular railway up the steep hill called the Polybahn. Start out from the tram station and go to ETH. Or, if this is winter, try going for a ski by buying a combination snow and rail ticket or skipass to Flumserberg which is the largest ski resort in this area.
Street Entertainers – Wandering around the streets is an absolute dream in Winterthur in summer as they have lots of street singers and entertainers. Look out for the Russians who can make more in one day here than they make in a whole month in their homeland.
Museum Pass – For museum addicts, there is a ticket which allows people to visit many museums on just one ticket. The special pass also allows the visitor to use the museum bus as well to make it easy to get around a selection of museums in one day or spread over a longer period if necessary. There is something for everyone in the museums of Winterthur and the different venues offer nature, art, technology and history in its wealth of exhibits. Art lovers will have a great time as will those who are into science and all its wonders. Indeed, the Winterthur Science Museum is the only one in Switzerland so it is very popular. Called the Technorama, people get to play and touch the exhibits and interact with whatever is going on. Also look for the Münzkabinett which houses a beautiful collection of coins and medals from through the ages.
Alpamare Water Park – For kids who need to let off steam, and adults as well if the fancy takes them, then a trip to this water park in Zurich is a must. Less than twenty minutes on the train will give the family a whole wealth of fun. There are pools, an almost five thousand feet slide and a rather breathtaking tubular ride called the Balla Balla. For the adults, find a sauna and spa where they can relax while the kids are having fun.
Zurich Zoo – A great place for a day out and it is open every single day of the year. There are many rare animals in the zoo and some of them are the only ones in Europe. Staff members here are only too willing to talk about the animals and give out information and this could make it more interesting for the children.
Rheinfalls – A 45 minute train ride will take visitors to the beautiful Rhine Falls, one of the largest waterfalls in all of Europe.
Shopping in Winterthur
Winterthur is not really a tourist like destination so whatever is on offer in the way of shops is more to serve the community than visitors but in the Old Town, you’ll find the largest pedestrian precinct in the entire country. There are many designer shops intermingled with small specialist style shops which makes just hanging around window shopping a delight.
It would seem a shame to come to Switzerland and pass up on an opportunity to shop in a city like Zurich. Not quite up to London or Paris standards, it is still a bustling city that has much to offer the visitor. Bahnhofstrasse is probably one of the most expensive streets to shop on in the entire world so those who want to splash the cash should come here. Jewelry and watches are always a good buy in Switzerland as are designer clothes and chocolate. Here too, find shops that sell tourist souvenirs and postcards to post home. Look in the Meng Cutlery store for Swiss army knives as souvenirs or Teddy’s Souvenirs for the ubiquitous cow bells, music boxes and clocks for something that is quintessentially Swiss.
Eating Out in Winterthur
There is a small restaurant behind the station which serves up a Sri Lankan buffer every night. During the day, find excellent value foods with ‘all you can eat’ offers available too. Called the Vegi zur Waage, it only opens Monday to Friday.
For something typically Swiss, try the Walliser Kanne on Steinberggasse 25. It has a lovely subdued style with classic furnishings and a cool atmosphere. This restaurant closes on Sundays.
Again for something typically Swiss, try the Widder in Old Town since it serves up huge portions for good prices. Décor is long tables with very loud music but it is a great place to meet the locals.
For a quick lunch, try the Obergass on the corner of Schulgasse. Here people gather to chill out and eat, drink or just sit in the quiet atmosphere to read a book. Vegetarians are catered for as well as meat eaters.
Take away food is available at Migros with cheap alternatives like noodles and salads etc. Pizzas, sandwiches and the famous Swiss Wahe (pie) is available here which has an unusual sweet and salty taste or spicy touch. There are other quick food joints like McDonalds etc here too so the kids will be well catered for.
Nightlife in Winterthur
There are plenty of places for eating and drinking in Winterthur. Even those who are on a tight budget will find somewhere to eat etc. Around the main railway station there are plenty of bars which open all through the night with live music being played at some. There are some less than savory bars too and these should be avoided if possible.
The Albani on Steinberggasse 16 is in the Old Town and has guest DJs with live music on occasions. Some of the headliners that have appeared here are Sheryl Crow and Pearl Jam so look out for the program.
Also try the Gotthard opposite the station for a 24 hour bar full of young and friendly people during the day and a much darker crowd at night! Although not typically the place for wild happenings it is a place to have fun with the locals.
Just five minutes from the station is Paddy O’Brien’s, a good Irish pub with a minimum of twelve different keg beers on offer. The Dubliners have appeared here so it is quite a lively place to spend the evening.
For those who like artists and all that come with them, try the Kraftfeld in the industrial section of the city. This is an artist’s kind of community that has good DJ nights with experimental music plus concerts, poetry readings and films etc.
Lastly, for some extremely tasty cocktails, try out Fahrenheit on Steinberggasse 65. They serve up food during the day, including veggie meals, but it does tend to get crowded at weekends.
Of local interest
In summer there is a chance to see various artists performing on the Summer Stage. There will be theater shows or, when there is nothing booked, a chance to buy fresh flowers and other knick knacks from this same venue.
One of the largest open air concerts playing techno style music in Europe happens with the Streetparade. Always on the second Saturday in August, trucks park up around the lake and line up their sound systems to have a blast. Expect to mingle with around 1 million people though as they come to dance and listen to the music festival of the year. Although the official event comes to an end, those who want to carry on go right through the night and on through the next day.