An Easy to Do Literary Tour of Zurich
Many literary powerhouses have graced the streets of Zurich over the years. With its crisp air and breathtaking lake views, Zurich is a writer’s paradise. One of the writers endlessly inspired by Zurich was none other than Irish writer, James Joyce. It’s true that he spent most of his life in Dublin and Paris, but what many don’t know is that Joyce chose Zurich to spend his final years. After discovering this, I knew that I had to do my own literary tour of Zurich focusing on the places James Joyce frequented when he lived here.
I know that there are many other writers who have called Zurich home, but I wanted to pay special attention to Joyce. As an expat as well, I understand why he wanted to spend his days here. Zurich is the kind of place that demands relaxation. It’s the perfect place to spend the rest of your life. With that in mind, I wanted to create a simple walking literary tour of Zurich as an ode to Joyce and our mutual love of this place we both consider home
Note: Everything on this tour is within walking distance of each other. However, you may need to get the tram for some of the locations. Where possible, I’ll include tram routes. To make life easier on yourself, buy a ZVV zone 1 and 2-day pass, which is only 8 CHF for the day. Download the app here.
Here’s how you can walk the same path that Joyce walked and do your very own literary tour of Zurich in just a day:
Start off your Literary Tour of Zurich with Breakfast at Cafe Odeon
Closest tram or train station: Bahnhof Stadelhofen or trams 2, 5, 9 from Zurich HB to Bellevue
Cafe Odeon is one of the oldest and most culturally enriched cafes in Zurich. Nestled in Zuri’s city center, Cafe Odeon opened in 1911 and has since been host to Zurich’s most famous artists, scientists, writers, and political leaders.
Before Odeon opened its doors, champagne was only served by the bottle. Cafe Odeon was the first cafe in Switzerland to start serving champagne by the glass, making it more accessible to everyone and started a culture of having a glass of “Cüpli” with lunch. We can thank Cafe Odeon for the Aperó culture we have in Zurich today. James Joyce frequented this cafe often, along with Albert Einstein and Picasso.
Have a truffle omelet or a freshly baked croissant (Gipfeli in Swiss German) with the ghosts of some of history’s best literary minds. And why not have a glass of champagne to go along with it? It’s what James Joyce would’ve wanted.
Visit the James Joyce’s First Home in Zurich
Closest tram or train station: Trams 5, 7, 9, 8, 10, 15 to Haldenbach
After you’re full and a bit starry-eyed from that glass of champagne, get on the tram and head to Universitatstrasse to gaze up at James Joyce’s first home in Zurich in 1918. Joyce lived on the first floor and wrote several chapters of Ulysses (Proteus, Calypso, Lotuseaters, Hades, Aeolus, and Lestrygonian) here. There is a memorial plaque on the building. According to the James Joyce Foundation, this is also where Joyce met the man who would later write Joyce’s biography, James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses.
Visit the James Joyce Corner
Closest tram or train station: Zurich HB or trams 7, 9, 15, to Paradeplatz
In the center of Zurich Old Town, you can walk through the cobble-stoned streets and make your way to James Joyce square. You can find a memorial plaque that says his name and also has a few interesting historical facts about Joyce’s time in Zurich.
Stop By The James Joyce Memorial Foundation (only open on weekdays)
Closest tram or train station: right next to James Joyce circle, so the same.
If you are doing this tour on a weekday, you won’t want to miss dropping by the James Joyce Memorial Foundation. In 1985, the foundation was opened to keep the memories and works of James Joyce alive for the literary world, but also as a special ode to Zurich and Joyce’s undying love for the city.
The founder, Fritz Senn, who is one of the greatest Joyce historians, puts so much love into this foundation and it’s obvious. You’ll often find Fritz himself or his other Joyce-loving employees in the building. You can browse the entire first edition collection of Joycean and Fritz will probably tell you a few things you never knew about Joyce. It’s amazing.
Visit the website for more information.
Buy A Copy of Ulysses at Zurich’s Oldest Bookstore
Closest tram or train station: a five-minute walk from the Joyce foundation
If the Joyce foundation was closed on the day you decided to go on this literary tour of Zurich, don’t fret. Just a casual stroll from the memorial plaque and foundation is Buchhandlung Beer, Zurich’s oldest bookstore. Built-in the late 17th century, this gorgeous independent bookstore is filled with people who have a love for all things literary. The shop also doubles as an independent publishing house, so you can find books from many local Swiss writers.
There’s usually an exhibition highlighting some of the shop’s published works; they’re often in both English and German. Taking advantage of the peaceful silence of the bookseller’s location on a side street in Old Town. Anyone who visits, regardless of what language they speak, will be able to find the perfect book to read and have a cozy, quiet place to start reading.
Buy a copy of Ulysses here or, if they have it in stock, Joyce’s poem Bahnhofstrasse, which he wrote about Zurich.
Walk Down Bahnhofstrasse
Closest tram or train station: Zurich HB or any tram from Paradeplatz heading to HB
Speaking of Bahnhofstrasse, take a stroll down Zurich’s main shopping street and look at it through the eyes of Joyce. I always walk down Bahnhofstrasse to get where I need to go and it’s likely you’ll have to as well. After reading Joyce’s poem by the same name, I always take some time to recite the poem in my head and gaze up at the buildings and bustling streets, putting myself in the shoes of the generations of people who have walked here before me.
Bahnhofstrasse is a quick little ditty about the passing of time and how we never really take note of it because we’re all too busy getting where we need to go.
Which is fitting because I’m usually rushing down Bahnhofstrasse. Now, I try to take a moment and a breathe like Joyce would’ve wanted me to do.
Have A Mid-Day coffee at the St Gotthard Hotel
Closest tram or train station: Zurich HB. It’s on Bahnhofstrasse
After you’re finished leisurely walking through Bahnhofstrasse, make a quick pit stop to the St Gotthard Hotel, where Joyce lived as he was slowly going blind.
The 125-year-old hotel has played host to the Dalai Lama, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and of course, James Joyce. They’ve got a lovely cafe where you can have an Aperó or a cup of coffee before finishing your literary tour of Zurich.
Visit James Joyce’s Grave at the Fluntern Cemetery
Closest tram or train station: Take the 6 tram from Zurich HB to the Zoo and get off at the Zoo.
Now that you’ve celebrated the life that Joyce lived in Zurich, you can now celebrate his memory. Joyce passed away in Switzerland on January 13th, 1941, and because Switzerland was his home as much as Dublin was, he was buried here.
Make your way to Joyce’s final resting place at the Fluntern Cemetery. Just ten minutes outside of Zurich city center, you can pay your respects to Joyce at his grave.
Nestled all the way in the back, surrounded by a field of green, you can pay your respects to the Irish writer by viewing his grave. There, you’ll see a statue of Joyce as an old man, reading a book and judging the world with a kind of piqued curiosity that only Joyce could have. Remember to be quiet and respectful. There are other mourners in the cemetery paying their respects.
Note: Look around, there are other German writers buried near Joyce.
End your Literary Tour of Zurich at the James Joyce Pub
Closest tram or train station: Zurich HB or take the 6 tram from the Zoo to Rennweg
After a long day of touring Zurich’s best literary sites, make your final stop at the James Joyce Pub.
To honor Joyce, the James Joyce Foundation transported the entire bar from its original location on Dame Street in Dublin, where it was part of Jury’s Antique Bar, to Zurich’s Pelikanstrasse.
Antique Bar was allegedly one of Joyce’s favorite haunts and features in a number of his novels. The intricately detailed wood, mosaic tiles, and paintings behind the bar transport guests to 1940s Dublin. Any writer would feel inspired while having a pint of beer or a dram of whiskey here. Additionally, there’s a menu of mouth-watering Irish pub fare with a gourmet twist.
Whether you decide to just pop in for a drink or stay for an entire meal, James Joyce Pub offers a unique atmosphere and a piece of history that otherwise would have been lost to time.
Note: Closed on Sundays.
See a show at Schauspielhaus
Have lunch/a drink at Kronenhalle
Check out my literary tour of London
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