Vegetarian guide to Zurich: how to spend a meat-free culinary weekend in the city
For first-class meat-free dining, look no further than Switzerland’s biggest city, where you’ll find everything from vegan street food to the world’s oldest vegetarian restaurant
Switzerland’s largest city might not spring to mind as an epicentre of vegetarian and vegan living. But amid Zurich’s lovingly preserved Old Town and creatively modernised industrial fringes is a thriving meat-free culinary scene. It’s perhaps only fitting in a country that regularly ranks as one of the best for social progress, and where one of Europe’s top universities, ETH Zurich, is home to groundbreaking startups innovating with plant-based ‘meats’.
While there are dedicated veggie dining spaces, the city’s food scene at large leans towards flexitarianism, with restaurants often putting vegetables at the fore, with optional dairy or meat elements added on request. So, whether it’s raclette, rosti or innovative meat alternatives, there’s plenty to sate your appetite in Zurich. Here’s how to spend two days in the city, including the city’s best veggie and vegan dining.
Day one: The Old Town and countryside
Start with a caffeine boost right in the city centre, at Roots, a plant-based coffee shop three minutes’ walk from Zurich HB station. You’ll need the energy for the 187-step walk up the Grossmünster (a Romanesque church) tower, in the medieval, cobbled Old Town. From the top, you can get the lay of the land — enjoying views all the way from Lake Zurich and across the city’s brown-tiled roofs to the tree-clad hills beyond.
For lunch, stop at the ‘plant-first’ Kreuterbar food truck, stationed on Europaalle, where regional and seasonal vegetables are cooked into unusually high-end street food snacks: think pan-fried fennel cloaked in plum chutney, or baked celeriac slathered in an earthy, walnut dressing. Produce is from local farms, including ingredients not normally grown in Switzerland, such as quinoa and ginger. Behind the stove is Bartosz Bogacz, who trained in the kitchen at Marktküche, one of Zurich’s first high-end vegetarian restaurants. Check the website in advance to see where the truck is that day, or if in doubt, try the veggie buffet at Tibits.
Spend the afternoon at Juckerhof, a farm that’s a short hop by bus from Zurich. Families flock here for peaceful walks around glasslike Lake Pfäffikersee, to pet the rabbits and goats that roam the grounds and to pick fruit (cherries and blueberries in summer, apples in autumn). But the real draw is the vast vegetarian buffet, with all the homemade comfort foods you’d expect from a rural farmhouse. Tangy ratatouille, vegan lasagne packed with lentils, saffron risotto or homemade falafel drenched in cool tzatziki. There’s a barbecue on the terrace cooking up meat skewers (from local farms) for flexitarians, but veggies can opt for a huge slab of breaded brie, made gooey and golden on the grill. Take them inside to enjoy in the cosy dining room.
Back in Zurich, pop into a branch of Berg und Tal, a gourmet grocery shop that stocks, among other things, locally made, plant-based sweet treats. Grab a slab of creamy bean-to-bar Taucherli vegan chocolate, made with hazelnuts or raspberries.
Day two: Zurich West and central
In the morning, take the tram to Zurich West, the city’s hippest neighbourhood, occupying the former ship-building district. Although the factories are gone, an industrial vibe remains, nowhere more so than with a tower made from 19 stacked shipping containers. Pop into ground-floor Freitag, a bag shop (where lorry tarps have been converted into sustainable totes), before exploring the street food stalls at Frau Gerolds Garten or working up an appetite on a stroll along the Im Viadukt, a stylish series of fashion boutiques, delis and galleries built beneath 36 railway arches, including a market hall of farm shops.
Stop for a late brunch at Dar, Zurich’s newest and classiest plant-based hotspot, from Chef Zizi — a vegan chef with icon status in the city. Zizi draws from her Spanish and Moroccan heritage to create sharing menus that change with the seasons. Dishes can range from corn tostada with herb yoghurt, merguez plant-based sausage sandwiches, and roasted beetroot and potato salad to pancakes with homemade chocolate and hazelnut spread and orange custard.
Stick around in Zurich West for the afternoon and join in with the surprising subculture of surfer dudes, who hang out each afternoon at Urbansurf a tiny pocket of Hawaii in landlocked Switzerland. The artificial wave pool generates an endless pipeline, where up to six people can surf at a time during 30-minute sessions. While surf lessons cost money, it’s free to sit on the sun-trap poolside terrace, where live bands play and the dreadlocked, bronzed clientele sip lagers and snack on padron peppers, giant olives and falafel. If the weather’s not playing ball, pick up some deli treats to take away at nearby Markthalle at Im Viadukt, which stocks everything from fresh pasta and pies to cheese and locally foraged truffles.
Saving Zurich’s most iconic establishment until last, dinner means a two-minute train ride back to the city centre. Haus Hiltl is the world’s oldest vegetarian restaurant, having been in business since 1898. On the menu are hearty, Swiss classics that replace pork and beef with equally comforting plant-based alternatives, including locally developed meat alternatives made with pea protein, from pulled ‘pork’ burgers to ‘bratwurst’ with potato rosti. But it’s the seasonal specials on the a-la-carte menu that shine, whether that’s delicately braised beetroot risotto or celery apple soup. Can’t decide? Try a little of everything at the buffet, where 80% of the dishes are vegan and the price is based on the weight of your plate.
How to do it
Travelling to Zurich by rail from London St Pancras takes from around 7h 25m, with one change in Paris. Swiss Air and British Airways fly from Heathrow to Zurich, while EasyJet flies from Gatwick.
The Zurich Card costs CHF 27 (£24) for 24 hours or CHF 53 (£47) for 72 hours. It gives unlimited public transport, as well as discounted or free entry to various museums, tours, boat cruises, restaurants and nightlife.
Where to stay
Marktgasse Hotel, in the Old Town, has doubles from CHF 200 (£182), including a veggie-friendly breakfast.
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