Coffee culture is a big part of Swiss city life and you don’t have to look far to find a coffee shop, coffee house, tea room or café – Zurich has them all. However, they can vary in function, with some proving good for a breakfast gipfeli (the Swiss-German word for croissant) and others like Sprungli or Kafi Dihei serving excellent milchkafi (milky coffee) and cake.
Then there are venues like Grande Café (perfect for posing with a laptop) or Café des Amis, which is ideal for a hip Sunday brunch – in fact, a few cafés provide shining examples of great food in Zurich, making café-hopping one of the most enjoyable things to do in the city.
Whatever you’re after, you’ll probably find it in a Zurich café, so here’s our pick of the very best spots around.
Nestled in the heart of the Nierderdorf area, this neighborhood café is very cosy, with staff that are both professional and child-friendly; there are activity/colouring books and coloured pencils available for the little ones upon request. The coffee is consistently good, with innovative – albeit trendy – nitrogen cold-brewed coffee also available, which is worth a try during the warmer months.
This café would be just as at home in the 4th arrondissement in Paris as it is here on the banks of the Limmat. This little slice of Paris serves serviceable cappuccinos, but the stand-outs are the humble café au lait and espresso. Those that worry that the coffee may come with a free side of attitude can rest assured, as service is friendly and far from snooty. The tarte tatin, limited in supply, is worth a trip tothis little café.
Simplicity is the key to this small café, wedged amongst the storefronts dotting Limmatquai. The service is attentive, the setting uncomplicated and the coffee served is great. The two banquettes by the windows are the most comfortable seats in the house and afford the most leg-room once the place gets crowded. At time of writing (March 2018), Grande Café does not accept credit cards.
Stepping into La Stanza feels as though you’ve travelled to Milan, steps away from the Italian city’s famous La Scala opera house. It also serves a great traditional Italian-style coffee; the milk in their cappuccinos isn’t overheated, lending to a creamier and more satisfying coffee. However, like many cafés in the Scala-Duomo area, the ambiance is overshadowed by the oh-so fashionable patrons occupying the very limited space around the bar. The sfogliatelle (shell-shaped crispy pastry filled with vanilla-flavoured cream) are a must when having a coffee here, though their location at the far end of the bar counter combined with a self-service policy means that you have to wade through the glitterati to get to them.
A great place to go when you’re looking forward to a well-thought-out and thorough exploration of the humble coffee bean, its roasting and the proper method needed to extract its subtle flavors. Emi and Mathieu (both Swiss-Barista Champions) are very knowledgeable and helpful when it comes to selecting your coffee and how best to brew it.
This café in a secluded courtyard off of Paradeplatz offers a very nice respite from the hustle and bustle of Bahnhofstrasse. Though the indoor seating is limited (and divided in two by an outdoor passageway), they have a large covered outdoor seating area, which is very inviting, particularly with the addition of faux fur seat covers in the winter. That being said, the best place to sit if you’re in a rush is in the indoor section housing the coffee machines, as there’s always someone there that can help with your order. The almond croissants (mandelgipfel) are not to be missed. They may not look like much, but the buttery, almondy richness more than makes up for the rather flattened appearance.
One of the nicest terraces to enjoy a coffee in the heart of Zurich, Rio Bar is only a stone’s through from Löwenplatz and is perched on the side of the Sihl river with a large tree-covered terrace. The coffee is flavourful, hot and not overly bitter. It is, in essence, self-service, so you’ll need to go to the bar to order food or beverages. There’s a wonderful selection of soups, salads and savoury pastries that hit the spot for anyone looking for a light lunch.
Great Italian-style coffee, severed by friendly staff, can be had at this chic but unpretentious café on a side street off Bahnhofstrasse. In the morning to mid-afternoon, the music can be a bit loud. However this ambience works well with the after-work crowd. Bovelli does tend to get busy in the mornings and after lunch. The best way to get a coffee during this time is to pick a seat and order from the bar.
It can't get much more historic than this legendary bar, which opened its doors in 1911. Somerset Maugham wrote here, Lenin thought about a revolution and Einstein contemplated relativity. Dadaism was born inside these walls, it was the first place to serve 'Cüpli' (champagne by the glass) and it has been a meeting point for Zurich's gay community for decades. Everybody is welcome and though it might look a bit posh from the outside, you can never be too quirky to fit in here.
Opened at the height of the wave of openings of the now so typical Zurich cafés with mismatched furniture, retro elements and that slight amateur feel, Kafi für Dich is of course not just a café. It offers free concerts twice a month, some wall space for local artists and a corner where you can let your offspring play all afternoon. Maybe not the most exciting café in town, but definitely a good option if you have small kids and want to meet your friends on a rainy afternoon. And as soon as the sun comes out you can just cross the road and let the kids run free at Bäckeranlage.
With its oh so French feel, cute interiors and lovely outdoor space, this café found the speedway straight into the hearts of Zurich's hip and cool when it opened in 2011. It's a place to chat, to relax, to read - and most of all to have breakfast. But beware, its Sunday brunch is one of the most popular in town and you will have to book a table well in advance.
This bright room with its black and white tiles might have originally been a butcher's shop, but meat is not that much of a concern anymore in a café bar that is famous for its vegan muffins. Not all is lost for the carnivores though, and there is something for everyone on the menu. Try their 'Ufklappti', an unfolded sandwich, and the 'Ofenei', a kind of oven-baked fried egg. It's a popular place for brunch on a Saturday and Sunday, so get there early or book a table.
One of Zurich's most popular establishments, Sprüngli has been selling its famous chocolates and sweets to locals and tourists alike for over 150 years. The café upstairs is equally popular with visitors as it is with the upper class ladies in town, but any rumours you might have heard about it being a place for ageing cougars to pick up young men are pure nonsense. Come here if you are looking for a fair amount of tradition and the best hot chocolate in town, but be patient as service can be slow.
Zurich lost a legend when café El Greco closed in 2011. Many of the locals around Limmatplatz were more than worried that the new tenants of the property might not re-establish that Viennese flair, so that this small piece of outdoor life (at least during the warmer months) would never be revived. But here it is, the new and shiny Café Lang, just as fancy, just as charming, a little bit more edgy and youthful than its predecessor, and certainly a lot more contemporary - a new legend could be in the making.
Not technically a café in the traditional sense, this branch is little more than a takeaway window. However, what it lack in seats, it more than makes up for in the quality of coffee. The beans are roasted at the company’s own facilities, 30km from Zurich in Eglisau, with an eye for sustainability and fair trade beans. ViCafe is truly the place to go for no-frills, good coffee, proven by the fact that it won the ‘best coffee’ category in the 2017 Swiss Gastro Awards. But even for those that take awards with a pinch of salt, there’s no denying ViCafe’s popularity with the long (albeit fast-moving) queues at this hole in the wall throughout the day.
An alternative address for those seeking a good cup of java in a non-traditional café setting. Co Chin Chin serves traditional hot or iced Vietnamese coffee; for those that have yet to try it, Vietnamese coffee caters to people looking for a maximum infusion of caffeine per cup. The décor is warm and inviting, with tropical plants hanging from the ceilings and large bay windows surrounding the dining area.
A very cosy neighborhood café; think a hipster version of Central Perk from ’90s sitcom ‘Friends’. The staff are very pleasant and welcoming, and they serve great coffee, too, with many homemade cakes to accompany. The best seat in the house is the corner couch facing the bar; the ideal place to read a book, catch up with work or simply enjoy a slice of cake with your cappuccino.