With so many stunning attractions to visit in Switzerland, most people skip some of the lesser-known gems – like Zurich. However, I am here to convince you why you should spend at least a day or two there as there are many things to do in Zurich.
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Perched on the scenic Lake Zurich, you will find it hard pressed to find a more stunning location or a more sustainable city. Zurich was voted number 1 amongst the most sustainable cities in 2016 and was still ranked at number six in 2018.
Add to that a long and intriguing history, oodles of culture and more restaurants than you can hope to visit in a lifetime, and you have a city you will be dying to visit.
So, now that I have whetted your appetite and Zurich is pencilled in on your bucket list, let’s dive into the details.
Best Time to Visit Zurich
Zurich is a city with well-defined seasons, so you will want to pick your best time to visit with care.
If you absolutely love the sun and warmth, then July and August are your best times of the year in Zurich. This time of year also provides you with lots of outdoor activities and things to do in Zurich. However, just keep in mind that this is also peak season, so high prices and crowds come with it.
For me, the best time to visit is in the shoulder season – which is either May/June or September/October. June and September are generally a touch warmer.
Should you want a taste of winter, snow and romance, then December through February are great options. Just come prepared with a nice down jacket, and keep in mind the days are shorter. If you come over the Christmas period, you also get a chance to enjoy the fabulous Christmas markets that are only open at this time of year.
Top Things to do in Zurich
Zurich is an absolute paradise for visitors who love moving about under their own steam. You can walk to almost every attraction, and if your feet start hurting, there will be a train, tram or bus just around the corner. The public transport in Switzerland is second to none!
Most of the main attractions are centred around Zurich’s old town, which actually straddles the picturesque Limmat River, right in the heart of town. This means that your visit here won’t require a huge amount of transport if any at all.
There is such a wide variety of things to do in Zurich for all travelers. It can be difficult to decide which activity to choose from. Having said that, my personal recommendations include:
Take a walk down Niederdorfstrasse in the old town, exploring all the side alleys. Head up the Polybahn train to the ETH Polyterrasse, just before Niederdorfstrasse, to get a great view.
Enjoy the Lakeside Views
Take in the views from the lake, either walking along the shoreline, picnicking in the parks there or out on a paddle boat or SUP board (more on that later).
Discover the History of Zurich
Head back down the other side of the river, but stay in the area between Bahnhofstrasse and the river. In this area, you will discover some of the best landmarks and things to do in Zurich. This includes the old Gemusebrucke, a bridge that was formerly used to sell vegetables, Europe’s biggest clock face at St Peter’s church, and last but not least, the city park at Lindenhof, where you can get some great views of Zurich with the iconic Grossmunster in the background.
There are other highlights to take in while doing such a walking tour including the Grossmunster Church (climb to the top), Lindenhof park for a view of the river, or something more obscure if that suits your taste.
If you are here in summer, I can wholeheartedly recommend indulging in a swim at any of the lake or river swimming baths in town. Some are just for swimming, while others become a bar once the sun goes down. My favourites are Seebade Enge, right on the lake, or the Letten, which is right on the Limmat River, downstream from the old town.
Another option is to take a paddle boat out on the lake, or hire a stand-up paddleboard and enjoy life on the water, a big part of any Swiss citizen’s summer.
If you have a little more time to spare, there are some other great activities to do that require a few more hours out of your day.
My favourite is a hike (or train if you are less gung-ho) up Zurich’s home mountain – the Uetliberg. Not only is it a great walk through the forests that surround Zurich, but you will also get a stunning view of the whole city, lake and distant alps from the top. So, be sure to do it on a clear day.
Another great option is to catch a ferry along Lake Zurich to not only enjoy the fresh air and views but also arrive in one of the most stunning lakeside towns – Rapperswil. This is a historic town located almost at the other end of the lake, with great views, a historic center and a historic castle on a hill. How much more “European” can you get!
Where to Stay in Zurich
Because Zurich is so small, at least by international standards, and has such excellent public transport, you can stay almost anywhere in town really. Below are my personal preferences to help you pick the best location to stay.
Right in the heart of the old town on the shores of the Limmat river is a luxury hotel Storchen that also delivers on sustainability. Nothing is better than waking up in the center of a city, but the views from here are second to none. Not only that, but they are ISO14001 certified and also have a specific policy called Living Circle, which sources all their food direct from Swiss farms.
Although it usually sounds great to be in the city center, in most cases it is just too difficult or expensive in Zurich. The one exception I have found is the new 25 Hours Hotel, right down the road from the main station. It is an up and coming area of Zurich, so there are lots of bars, restaurants and things to do in Zurich near here. And, although they are not the most sustainable hotel in the city, they are at least doing some projects in that area like their “Stop the water while using me” cosmetics.
Just behind Bahnhofstrasse in the center of Zurich is another hotel worth considering. Like the Storchen I mentioned above, this is a great location, but Hotel Seidenhof is a little more affordable. Sorell Hotel Zuerichberg which means it’s a “green” hotel that is both ISO14001 compliant and does their utmost to be sustainable. Not only that, but they are almost next door to Hiltl, Zurich’s premier vegetarian restaurant!
Just outside of Zurich center is an area called Oerlikon, which is a popular place to stay while in town. It is a lot cheaper than downtown, but only 5 minutes train ride away. Hotel Sternen is a well-situated hotel in this area with lots going for it. It’s very affordable, modern, and takes sustainability seriously. If you are on a budget then this would be one of my top picks.
Because Zurich is so expensive, one of the better options for most people is Airbnb. You usually get way more choice, at far more affordable prices, and get to support someone local, instead of a corporation in most cases.
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Last year, I put together a list of some of the better places I have found, in some of the best locations, which should help you find something good or at least give you some ideas.
Where to Eat & Drink in Zurich
With plenty of things to do in Zurich, you are sure to work up quite an appetite. You will be hard-pressed not to trip over restaurants in Zurich because there are just so many. However, until more recently, vegetarian and vegan options were a little bit thin on the ground.
One of the longest standing staples of the Zurich culinary scene though is Hiltl. It is a vegetarian & vegan restaurant founded back in the early 1900s by a man who became a vegetarian to solve his health problems. The company has recently been expanding and there are now seven locations around Zurich. It operates on more of a buffet style system, where you pay by weight, but they have a huge range of food, including a lot of vegan options.
A more recent addition to the food scene is the Beetnut restaurant in the modern Europe Allee area of Zurich. I have eaten here a number of times and the food is always fresh, great quality and reasonably priced. For Zurich that is.
And the great thing about this place is that it covers all aspects of vegetarian and vegan food including allergy-free (gluten, lactose) and raw food options.
Roots and Friends
Another recent addition to Zurich is Roots and Friends. They are more focused on smoothies and “bowl” style food, so I would definitely give it a shot for breakfast or a lazy Sunday brunch.
In another up and coming part of Zurich, Lochergut is a Middle Eastern inspired restaurant that just screams style. Bebek, although not 100% vegetarian, is somewhere I would definitely reserve ahead as it’s super popular.
Scrap that – everywhere in Zurich is (almost) always booked out, so be sure to book ahead no matter what day or time you go. Trust me, I have been disappointed on many an occasion!
How Much Time do you Need in Zurich
Honestly, you can do most of the “must sees” things to do in Zurich in one full day. So, if you are pressed for time, 24 hours is enough. I would stick to the old town – Niederdorfstrasse, Bahnhofstrasse and the lake, to enjoy all that Zurich has to offer. You can do it all on foot, so you won’t even need a tram ticket.
If you have a little more time, say an extra day, I would venture further afield and head up the Uetliberg, even if it’s by train. You can go for a walk along the ridge up there and take in the view from the lookout tower.
If you are here in summer, schedule in some chill time at one of the swimming areas, including a cocktail or a beer. There is nothing better than Zurich in summer on the water.
And if you are here in Winter, the Christmas market on Bellevue, right by the lake is stunning. And they have great food too. Line up for the Momo’s, yes they are Tibetan, but they are mind-blowing. Oh, and check out the market in the main station too, the Christmas tree with the Swarovski crystals is a sight to behold.
But overall, 48 hours is more than enough – because you will want to head to the other stunning destinations like Lucerne, Zermatt and Interlaken ASAP!
Have you been to Zurich, tell us below what was your favourite part of the city?
About the Author
Anna was born to travel the world having studied languages all her life. Although she has traveled the world, she now calls Switzerland home and spends her time writing about her experiences on her travel blog with her husband. You can follow Anna on Twitter, Pinterest and her Instagram accounts.
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