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The Niederdorf – or Niederdörfli, as it is affectionately referred to – is a section of the Zurich Altstadt (Old Town) on the right bank of the Limmat River, and it is just about my favorite part of Zurich.
It’s easy to access, since it’s at walking distance from the Zurich Main Station, but to enter it you need to leave the Limmatquai, which runs right alongside the river, and enter the small cobblestone alleys that are typical of this area of Zurich.
Most of the people who visit Zurich for the first time only enter it to get to the Grossmünster church, but quickly realize it’s worth exploring a bit more.
The Niederdorf was the part of medieval Zurich that was closest to the Northern city walls, which is why walking through it you’ll be able to see several of the old watchtowers that were part of the city ramparts.
But much of its charm actually lies in the mix of old and new: restaurants and specialty shops nestled within historical buildings and old courtyards , antique fountains and statues standing proud right in front of newly-opened cafés, antique booksellers right across the street from a juice bar, the curiosity market trapped in a small square between two alleys behind Rosenhof.
The kooky boutiques and specialty shops are surprisingly popular despite their prices – their merchandise is often strikingly modern compared to their location, in buildings that still shows their medieval roots; but that contrast perhaps works to the shop owner’s advantage, for the articles seem even more interesting, so oddly out of place.
When you first visit, you’ll probably choose to simply walk along the Niederdorfstrasse up to to the Grossmünster church, and then continue along what is now Oberdorfstrasse to the end, just up the hill from Bellevue.
That is the most popular route, because after all it’s a no-brainer: walking one street (though it has three different names) you see old guild buildings and fountains, come to the Grossmünster and enjoy views of the Fraumünster and St. Peter’s on the other side of the river, and come out in Bellevue, a great public transportation hub with gorgeous views of the lake and up the river.
But if you are feeling adventurous, turn into one of the tiny, narrow alleys going up the hill, and get ready to browse through a lot more than the tourist route.
What’s here? More of the same, in a way: small boutiques and lovely little shops, antique fountains and watchtowers, and more cobblestone streets unpolluted by the crowds; and who knows, maybe a little treasure or two.
Don’t be afraid of getting lost in the winding alleys: the Altstadt is not that big, and if you follow a tiny street to the end you will get to a main road, one you can easily locate on your map. But walking through the street of the Old Town without hurry will give you a much better feel for the place, and you’ll get to take some photos of Zurich without a crowd in the background 😉
If you are coming to Zurich, feel free to drop me a line: I’d be happy to walk with you through the Niederdorf and Oberdorf – there are also two Starbucks coffee shops nestled against the old shops, if you need a taste of the familiar!