Have you booked a flight to Switzerland's financial capital? Well done! This corner of the Swiss Confederation is home to medieval buildings, large banks, historic chocolate shops and lush nature.
Read on and discover what to see and do in Zurich, Switzerland's most surprising city - you won't regret it!
1. Start the route in Altstadt
The medieval heart of the city is called Altstadt and is located in a privileged place: it accompanies the last stretch of the Limago River until it flows into Lake Zurich. The most famous areas and monuments are concentrated in this area:
See the exhibitions at Cabaret Voltaire
Did you know that Dadaism was born in Zurich? In 1916, when World War I was in full swing, intellectuals and artists found refuge in the Swiss city.
Their meeting point was the Cabaret Voltaire, which inspired the birth of this movement that abhorred war and bourgeois society and exalted chaos, spontaneity and the irrational.
Today it is an exhibition space with attached bar. On the official website you can find all the information you need to know what it offers at all times.
Stroll through Lindenhof
The oldest part of the city. It was founded as a Celtic settlement, housed a fortress during Roman times and later became the official residence of Louis the Germanic, the grandson of the most famous Charlemagne. It is located on an elevated site and from its streets you can see the Limago river and the old town.
Here you will find the town hall, two important churches - Peterskirche and Fraumünster, known for Chagall's stained glass windows - and the pedestrian area of Augustinergasse.
If you are looking for accommodation, this area is highly recommended and is also home to a large number of restaurants for you to relax during your Zurich tours.
Above the rooftops of the center, an austere church juts into the sky. It is recognizable by the two parallel neo-Gothic towers that were added to the structure in the 18th century. It played a key role in both the construction of the Swiss national identity and the Protestant Reformation.
If you want to visit it, you will have to pay about 5 Swiss francs (just over 5 euros) and you can do it every day from 10:00 to 18:00 (except on Sundays when the schedule goes from 12:30 to 18:00). Its main points of interest are the Romanesque crypt, the stained glass windows and the bronze doors of Otto Münch.
2. Take a leisurely stroll along Bahnhofstrasse
It is the most important street of the city and houses the stores of the most prestigious brands. It starts in front of the central station (Hauptbahnhof), crosses the beautiful Paradeplatz and ends at the shore of the lake. I advise you to dedicate some time to window shopping and buy some souvenirs of your vacation.
If you are traveling to Zurich with children (or want to buy them a gift), I recommend a stop at Franz Carl Weber, one of the oldest toy shops in the world. Here you will find tin soldiers, wooden horses, trains and also more modern toys.
3. Climb to the Uetliberg summit
If the day is clear, you can admire the best view of Zurich from the top of the Uetliberg. The mountain overlooks the city from a height of 871 meters and is easily accessible by train.
The S10 line connects the central station with the Uetliberg station. Once there, it is only a few minutes' walk to the lookout point.
Once in the area, there is a path worth taking: the path of the planets. It can be done in about two hours, is suitable for the whole family and each stage is dedicated to a planet of the solar system. If you stay 3 days in Zurich, I recommend you dedicate one to this activity.
4. Visit the Landesmuseum
It is the national museum of Switzerland and documents the cultural history of the country from prehistoric times to the present. It is easily recognizable, as it is housed in two very different buildings: a fairytale palace and a futuristic concrete structure.
The permanent exhibition, located on the second floor, illustrates the history of Zurich and can be visited free of charge.
To access the rest of the collection, you have to pay about 10 Swiss francs (about 10 €). As for the opening hours, it is open from 10:00 to 17:00 except on Thursdays, which closes at 19:00.
If you are interested, you can see all the necessary information on the official website of the museum.
5. Enjoy the lake
Zurich would not be the same without its water mirror. While in the past it was crucial for trade with other Swiss regions, today it is a popular destination for outdoor activities, visiting the villages on its banks or simply sunbathing - there are a thousand ways to experience it!
Rent a bike
For more experienced cyclists, there is a 90-kilometer route that starts in Zurich and ends in Rapperswil, a beautiful village in the canton of St. Gallen. It is called Herzroute and is signposted Route 99. To rent a bike, I recommend Rent a Bike and Bcyclet.
Lying on the beaches
Switzerland is landlocked, but that doesn't mean it has given up beaches - far from it! In summer, the lake is full of bathers who refresh themselves while gazing at the Alps. In Zurich, it's worth visiting Mythenquai, the only lakeside with a paddleboard vending machine.
In addition to sand and grass, you will find trampolines of various heights, ping-pong tables and a restaurant. This area is mostly frequented by families and can be reached by streetcar number 7 (to the Brunaustrasse stop). This is only one of more than 20 beaches in the city.
Taste the local wines
Although many people don't know it, Zurich is surrounded by wine estates. On the shores of the lake, grapes grow lushly and excellent bottles of Riesling, Pinot Noir and Räuschling are produced.
For a different kind of day in nature, I recommend a visit to the Bachmann or Höcklistein wineries. Another great option is to take a tuk tuk tour that teaches you how to pair wine with Swiss chocolate.
Fly over the water in a hot air balloon
A unique way to admire the lake and surrounding landscapes is a hot air balloon ride. The flights do not depart from Zurich, but from nearby, easily accessible locations, and the tour lasts approximately two hours.
Although from the air, this is perhaps the most entertaining type of excursion to discover Switzerland from Zurich. For more information on fares and details, you can have a look at the official website of the Swissraft agency.
6. Taste the local food
It's certainly not the most famous cuisine of the old continent, but that doesn't mean it's not worth trying. In addition to excellent cheeses and chocolate, Swiss gastronomy has a lot to offer:
- Birchermüesli, a rich yet healthy breakfast. It is a mixture of oat flakes, milk, yoghurt, almonds and fresh fruit. It was invented in this same city by nutritionist Max Oskar Bircher-Benner
- Tirggel, a typical honey cookie with ginger, anise, coriander and rose water. They are recognized by their decorations, which often reproduce elements of Swiss culture or the city of Zurich
- Malakoffs, a puff pastry-shaped cheese from the canton of Vaud. According to legend, they were first prepared for Swiss mercenary soldiers returning from the siege of Sevastopol in the 19th century
- Röschti, a savory omelet with coarsely grated potatoes browned in butter with bacon and onions. It is the classic Swiss breakfast, perfect for coping with winter temperatures. In Zurich, I recommend you try it at Johanniter (Niederdorfstrasse 70) and Zeughauskeller (Bahnhofstrasse 28A)
- Älplermagronen, macaroni au gratin with potatoes, cream, cheese and onions. Usually served with a garnish of stewed apples, bacon and fried onions
- Raclette, Melted cheese served with "Gschwellti" (boiled potatoes), pickled gherkins and mustard. The main cheeses used for this recipe are Appenzeller, Gruyere and Emmentaler
- Wiedikerli, the local long sausages. If you are staying in a rental house, I recommend buying it at the historic butcher's shop Keller (Manessestrasse 88)
- Zopf, probably the most famous Swiss bread. It has a typical braid shape and a soft texture due to the butter and milk mixture
- Zürcher Geschnetzeltes, Zurich-style stew. Veal cut into strips and dusted with flour is cooked together with mushrooms, cream and white wine. The result is very tasty. Among the city's best restaurants are Kronenhalle (Rämistrasse 4) and Rosaly's (Freieckgasse 7)
7. Explore Zurich-West
The economic capital of the country hides a trendy and alternative soul. From an unattractive industrial area, Zürich-West has become a magnet for designer boutiques, murals, urban gardens, original restaurants and even a container tower: the Freitag Tower.
Other points of interest include the Viadukt - a railway viaduct housing numerous stores - and the Markthalle, a covered market where farmers and livestock breeders offer their produce. Getting there from the center is very easy, just take streetcar line 4 and get off at the Schiffbau stop.
8. Taste the best chocolate
Switzerland and chocolate form an inseparable duo. But if the country owes part of its fame to cocoa production, much of the credit goes to Zurich. The famous Lindt brand was born in Zurich in 1899, when entrepreneurs Rudolf Sprüngli-Amman and Rodolphe Lindt joined forces to create the Lindt & Sprüngli company.
By the way, a few kilometers from the city, in the village of Kilchberg, is Lindt Home of Chocolate, a large museum dedicated to the Swiss brand. Without leaving Zurich, you can find the best chocolate in:
- Teuscher, famous for pralines and Champagne Truffes, a heart of whipped cream and Dom Pérignon wrapped in a dark chocolate ganache (Bahnhofstrasse 46)
- Vollenweider, known for its traditional recipes made according to a precise artisanal method (Theaterstrasse 1)
- Confiserie Honold, here you can not only taste truffles and chocolates, but you can accompany them with something hot in the attached cafeteria. I also recommend you try the almond candy Pain de Gênes (Rennweg 53).
9. Visit the Pavillon Le Corbusier
The latest work of the Swiss-French architect is located on the shores of Lake Zurich. This glass and steel structure was created as an ideal exhibition space and vaguely resembles a boat. Work began in 1964 and was completed in 1967, three years after Le Corbusier's death.
It can be visited every day of the week from 12:00 to 18:00 (except Thursdays, when it is open from 12:00 to 20:00). The ticket costs approximately 12 Swiss francs. To find out what exhibitions are housed inside, I recommend you consult the official website.
10. Admire the Alps from the train
In addition to a beautiful lake, the economic capital of Switzerland is surrounded by mountains. An organized excursion to the Alps from Zurich is the best way to enjoy the Alpine panoramas without giving up the comfort of a train ride.
From Zurich, the most popular tours take you to these destinations:
- Jungfraujoch, a mountain pass where Europe's highest railroad station is located (3,454 meters altitude). Here there is also a viewing terrace with views of the nearby mountain range and the Aletsch glacier
- Bernese villages, picture-postcard scenery with green meadows, cows grazing peacefully and stone and wooden cottages in the shade of high peaks. You will take the famous cog railway from Wengernalp
Most of these routes also include a bus ride. For more information, I recommend reading the post about the best scenic trains from Zurich.
11. Take an excursion to the Rhine Falls
Besides the famous Alps, another amazing place you should also visit on your trip to Zurich is the Rhine Falls, the largest in Europe. With more than 23 meters high and 150 meters wide, this treasure of nature is a real spectacle for the senses and is located just 50 kilometers from the Swiss capital.
The most advisable is undoubtedly to take an organized tour, some of which combine the route with a visit to the Black Forest or the medieval town of Schaffhausen. In any case, if you are interested in learning more about a getaway to this place I leave you our post on how to visit Rhine Falls from Zurich.
When is the best time to visit Zurich?
Zurich's climate is continental-alpine: it is characterized by cold winters and mild summers, while the intermediate seasons tend to be quite unstable. If you are looking for good weather and are interested in outdoor activities, I recommend visiting Zurich in summer.
Not only will you be able to enjoy the beaches and explore the city more freely, but you will also be able to attend major events. In June there is the Blues 'n Jazz festival while in August the Street Parade, the world's biggest techno party, takes place.
Is it worth going to Zurich in winter?
It depends on your tastes and hobbies but one thing is certain: during Christmas the weather is unbeatable. The snow covers the city with a thin white layer and the locals gather in the cafes to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate (heisse schoggi in Swiss German). Nor can you miss the classic Christmas markets with mulled wine, handicrafts and regional food. You will find them at the main station (Christkindlimarkt), at Sechseläutenplatz right in front of the Opera House (Wienachtsdorf) and in the old town (Münsterhof, Dörfli and Werdmühleplatz).
Are you a winter sports enthusiast? Then Zurich is the ideal destination for you. The following ski resorts are less than two hours away by public transport:
- Flumserberg, 65 kilometers of slopes with extraordinary panoramic views of the Churfirsten and Spitzmeilen mountain ranges. From Zurich, simply take the S2 train and get off at Unterterzen. Once there, simply take the cable car
- Mythen, the destination for all tastes. In addition to alpine and cross-country skiing, here you can rent a sled, go snowshoeing or simply sunbathe on a sun lounger. To get there, take the IR46 to Schwyz and then take the 503 bus from Schwyz Bahnhof (a two-minute walk from the station) to Rickenbachstrasse 163, where the funicular
- Sattel-Hochstuckli, the family-friendly ski resort, is located. In this case, it is advisable to arrive with a rental car. The ride takes about 45 minutes
For more ideas, I recommend reading the post that lists the 10 things to do in Zurich in winter.