Although by no means a major tourist destination, Zürich is reputed to offer one of the highest standards of living in the world, and indeed I have appreciated nearly all of the urban pleasures that a resident or visitor could hope for. In addition, thanks to its fine setting, there are various easy opportunities to enjoy more natural surroundings, which have greatly enhanced my time in the region.
The easiest and perhaps also most obvious way to get away from things is to visit the neighbouring lake of the same name, around which the streets and buildings soon give way to lawns and trees. Whilst there are some diversions in the vicinity, such as a Chinese garden and several places to eat and drink, most people seem to go there simply to relax amidst the greenery, especially during the summer. On hot days the locals set a fine example, using the grassy shoreline as a replacement for a sandy beach, and even though sunbathing is not an activity that appeals to me, joining the swans by taking a cooling dip in the surprisingly mild and very clean water has often proved to be a tempting option.
Zürichberg, one of the hills overlooking the city is also a good spot to escape from the hustle and bustle that is found just a tram ride away. Most notably it is the location of an important and nicely spacious zoo, which is home to a couple of thousand species from all over the world. Meanwhile, less exotic creatures, for example small birds and squirrels, frequent the peaceful and shady confines of the neighbouring Fluntern cemetery, a trip to which is a must for admirers of James Joyce like myself. The Irish author lived locally, and now rests in a grave that is marked by a wonderfully representative statue of the great man sitting with a book and walking stick. Finally, lovely long walks through the woodland that stretches away from the two aforementioned sights are also a pleasant possibility.
An even more popular and higher elevated place for an excursion in Uetliberg, which in typical Swiss fashion has been made readily accessible by a railway line. On the summit there is a decent restaurant and a viewing tower from which the vistas of the surrounding area and the Alps to the south are certainly picturesque on a clear day. Many visitors spend time on the 3,000 feet tall peak either having a picnic or sledging, obviously depending on the season, whilst others follow the Planetary Path to Felsenegg, from where it is possible to take a cable car down and a train back to the centre. Following the route requires a couple of hours of leisurely walking, during which time a series of scale models representing the heavenly bodies of our solar system provide a mild distraction compared with the more picturesque scenes available from the ridge.
Finally, travelling slightly further to the Rhine Falls yields much more spectacular results. Although not very high, it is actually known as the biggest waterfall in Europe due to the sheer volume that the mighty Rhine pushes over the top every second, particularly after the mountain snows start to melt during springtime. Below the small but attractive castle that nowadays hosts a souvenir shop and a high quality eatery are the best static viewpoints, from where it is possible to appreciate the dramatic power of the scene at close quarters, which is a thrilling but soaking experience. Even more fun, but just as wet, is taking a trip on one of the boats that traverse the river, which stop at the rock that stands in the middle and get very close to the violently churning rapids in the process.