Heading to the land of gooey cheese, elegant watches, decadent chocolate, and Roger Federer? Here is a 48-hour guide of things to do in Zurich.
Grüezi! That’s the first word I learned when I arrived at Zurich airport’s passport control. After asking the officer to repeat himself slowly so I could hear each syllable, he started explaining that it means ‘hello’ in the Zurich dialect adding that it changes slightly in pronunciation as you head towards Bern. Lesson number one. Tick!
The lady at the information desk added a few more tidbits of linguistic insights. She explained that to say ‘thank you’ they use the French Merci, but, as she put it “to sound more german” they add on vilmal ‘very much’. So, after fifteen minutes of landing in Zurich, I knew how to correctly greet and thank someone. Later on, I’ll shall some more useful travel phrases.
During my weekend in Zurich, I used these two phrases during every interaction; instantly making each conversation more personal. Pro tip: If you want to break the ice with someone in a foreign country, ask them about their language. Their eyes will light up!
Already from these brief encounters with the airport staff, I had a feeling that I was going to enjoy Zurich a lot. Things got even better once I actually saw the charming city itself.
Getting to Zurich
With only a ninety minute flight time from London, getting to Zurich is easy and a great destination for a weekend getaway.
Having snapped up super cheap flights using Skyscanner’s travel planner tool, making the decision to visit Zurich was a no-brainer. (I recommend setting up Skyscanner price alerts to keep track of when prices drop on your bucket list destinations).
Get Yourself a ZürichCARD
The best way to see any city is with a city pass in tow. They are both convenient and great money savers. When in France’s capital; you’ll get free entrance to the Louvre with Paris Pass, or fast track entry into the Tower of London with London Pass. With ZürichCARD you get unlimited travel (including to/from the airport) which practically pays for itself, not to mentioned the free or reduced admission you get on Zurich’s museums and river cruises.
The Zurich tourism board were kind enough to provide me with a ZürichCARD, but regardless of which I would’ve bought anyway as it’s such great value for money.
Available for either 24 hours or 72 hours, the card is only CHF 24 (USD 25 / GBP 17.50) or CHF 48 (USD 50 / GBP 35) respectively. Considering that alone, the entrance fee to the Swiss National Museum is CHF 10, and a one 24-hour transport pass is CHF 5.20. You can see how it quickly adds up.
Top Things to do in Zurich
If your time is limited, then these top things to do in Zurich will ensure you see and experience the best of the best. Zurich is very manageable on foot so you’ll be able to knock off most of these places in a morning. Only a couple of places require a short tram ride to reach.
1. See Chagall’s famous stained glass windows at Fraumünster Church
Located in Zurich’s Old Town are the famous Chagall windows inside Fraumünster Church.
The Russian-French artist, Marc Chagall, created five beautiful stained glass windows that bathe the chapel in a rainbow of light. Installed in 1970, each of the five strikingly modern windows features a dominant colour and depicts a Christian story in a very typical Chagall style.
Fraumünster was founded in 853 by King Louis the German, and this church with its convent was inhabited by the female members of the aristocracy of Europe.
Also, see the cloister where you’ll find a series of frescos by Paul Bodmer.
Entrance: CHF 4
2. Peek inside Stadthaus
Some places just have to be seen for no other reason than for their beauty. Stadthaus, or Town Hall, is one of them.
Located next to Fraumünster, the neo-Gothic Stadthaus was built at the end of the 19th century when the city’s inhabitants exceeded 100,000. Zurich suddenly became a large city following incorporation of other local areas and therefore required a suitable Stadthaus.
But the real drawcard is its elegant multi-level hall in Italian Renaissance style. Head to the top floor for the frescos of old Zurich.
It’s closed on Sundays and closes at noon on Saturdays. So be sure to visit first thing.
3. See Ganymed’s Sculpture
Since 1952, the impressive sculpture by Hermann Hubacher of Ganymed has adorned the Bürkliterrasse overlooking Lake Zurich.
In Greek mythology, the young boy of Zeus is abducted and taken to Mount Olympus. Ganymed, the handsome king’s son, was abducted by Zeus and taken up to the top of Mount Olympus.
However, the statue does not depict this abduction, instead, it symbolises man’s desire to ascend Mount Olympus. With an outstretched hand, Ganymed pleads with Zeus, the father of the gods (appearing as an eagle), to take him there.
This work of art is inspired by ancient mythology but artist Hubacher emphasised that his sculpture was “not a Greek Ganymed but rather a Swiss one”.
4. Step Back in Time on Lindenhof Hill
Lindenhof Hill will leave you with some of the most picturesque photos of your trip. Being the highest point in Zurich, you’ll get a bird’s eye view of the entire city including Old Town, Grossmünster Church, and the Limmat river.
In the summer, there are plenty of concerts and festivals, and year-round you’ll most likely see a group of people playing chess.
Lindenhof was also the spot of numerous historical events. In the 4th-century, a Roman fort stood on Lindenhof – and in the 9th century, the grandson of Charlemagne built a regal palace here as a place of residence.
5. Get a Panoramic View over Zurich from Grossmünster
Without a doubt, the view from Karlsturm (Charles Tower) at Grossmünster is unlike any other view in the city centre.
Climbing up the 187 stairs from the nave you’ll be rewarded with splendid views from the panorama platform over Zurich’s old town and the lake.
Grossmünster Church is a former monastery built on the graves of the city’s patron saints, Felix and Regula, and is the site of the first secondary school, which according to legend, was founded by Charlemagne. You can see his statue on top of the south tower, the Karlsturm.
Tower Entrance: CHF 4
6. Take a Trip around the World at Museum Rietberg
The Museum Rietberg is the only art museum of non-European cultures in Switzerland and is the third-largest museum in Zürich.
Here you’ll find a range from enchanting sculptures from Africa to Buddhist art from Asia and cult objects from the South Sea and America.
In addition, a collection of intricately carved Swiss masks can also be seen.
Entrance: CHF 14 or CHF 4 with ZürichCARD
7. Be Charmed by Rennweg and Augustinergasse Street
The pedestrian-only area of Niederdorfstrasse is full of charming streets such as flag-lined Rennweg.
The name Rennweg was likely derived from “Rain”, meaning hillside, referring to its location running below Lindenhof.
In the Middle Ages, Rennweg was the widest street in Zurich and was especially distinguished from other streets and alleyways in Zurich due to its straightness. The Rennwegtor gate stood at its lower end as part of the city fortifications.
Today, Rennweg is the second most exclusive shopping area in Zurich after the Bahnhofstrasse.
8. Admire Rathaus on Lake Limmat
Rathaus, or City Hall, is another great photo op.
A city hall has stood on this site for over 700 years ago. The third and present building replaced the previous wooden building in the late 17th century.
From the Münsterbrücke (bridge) you get a beautiful view of the south side of the city hall and can see that it is actually built right over the water.
Largely still in its original condition, Rathaus has Baroque elements with some features in the Renaissance style. A mix of these styles can also be seen inside the building, where historical objects and works of art are exhibited telling the story of Zurich’s political history.
9. Head up to Polyterrasse
Hungry for another perspective of Zurich? Then head up to to the panorama terrace in front of the main building of the Federal Institute of Technology. Here you can enjoy even more superb views of the city.
10. End the Day with a Rooftop Spa
Located in Zurich’s B2 Boutique Hotel + Spa is a spa experience you won’t forget.
Located in the century-old stone vaults of the former Hürlimann brewery is the fresh thermal water bubbling straight from Zurich’s «Aqui» source. My muscles literally dissolved in its 35ºC+ (95ºF) water after a long day of walking.
Choose from either the thermal baths, Irish-Roman spa, or for spectacular views, head up to the 4th floor for the rooftop spa.
Thermal bath CHF 36
Irish-Roman spa ritual CHF 60
10% off with ZürichCARD
11. Dig in at the World’s Oldest Vegetarian Restaurant at Haus Hiltl
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Hiltl is the world’s oldest vegetarian restaurant. Naturally, as a veggie going once was not enough. I dined there twice!
Hiltl was founded in 1898 and has been serving the best vegetarian buffet in Zurich ever since. The restaurant is massive and can easily accommodate the crowds it continually draws, even after 100+ years of business.
There are over 500 mouth-watering dishes on offer as well as the a la carte restaurant. But it’s their famous buffet that most people come here for.
Every gram counts in determining the cost of your meal, so choose wisely.
Get a “Culinary Surprise with Zurich Card”.
12. See the Masterpieces at Kunsthaus
Get your dose of art with the most important art collection in Switzerland.
Kunsthaus was my favourite art museum in Zurich due to its awesome and varied collection of works, especially on the impressionists.
All the big names are here with the largest Edvard Munch collection outside of Norway. Key works by Picasso, Monet and Chagall and the expressionists Kokoschka, Beckmann and Corinth are all here.
Pop art is also featured alongside works by Rothko, Merz, Twombly, Beuys, Bacon and Baselitz.
In addition to works by Alberto Giacometti, the Kunsthaus Zurich contains medieval sculptures and panels, paintings from the Dutch and Italian Baroque and highlights of the Swiss 19th and 20th-century era.
Also here are some of Zurich’s own artists and contemporary Swiss painters such as Pipilotti Rist, Peter Fischli and David Weiss.
Entrance: CHF 23 or CHF 18 with ZürichCARD
13. Ascend Uetliberg, Zurich’s Very Own Mountain
So, I have this thing with wanting to ascend the high points wherever I am. Mostly for the killer views but also to orient myself with the surroundings and get a fresh perspective on things.
As Zurich’s very own “mountain” sitting 2,850 feet above sea level, I wanted to save Uetliberg til last. And more precisely, to watch the sunset.
It had been a wonderful sunny day, but by 7 pm it was raining and windy. Stubbornly, I decided to push on. Getting to the top by train and a 10-minute walk to the summit was the easy part.
Already the views were spectacular but there was still the tower to climb. Drenched, windswept, one broken umbrella, and CHF 2 later, I was at the top of the tower clenching onto the railing as I took photos of the beautiful storm clouds and two rainbows which appeared.
There’s more to Uetliberg that the lookout point. There’ also a restaurant, hotel and in the summer you can go on the well-marked hiking routes, a mountain bike route. There is also a Planet Trail, a two-hour walk from Uetliberg to Felsenegg (Adliswil) which takes you on a fascinating tour through a model of our solar system.
14. Cruise down Limmat River
Take a leisurely boat ride along the River Limmat and drink in the gorgeous views of Zurich’s Old Town.
Entrance: CHF 9.40 or CHF 4.70 with ZürichCARD
15. Get the fact on a Free Walking Tour
Got a spare 90 minutes? Running each day from Paradeplatz at 11 am, get to know the city by taking a free walking tour with freewalk.ch. It covers the key spot in the city including Paradeplatz, Fraumünster, Lindenhof, Grossmünster, Niederdorf plus other hidden places.
16. Get your Swiss Souvenirs
Directly below Grossmünster at Teddy’s Souvenir Shop you will find a large selection of souvenirs and gift ideas. This place has a wonderful wooden clock collection.
Flash your ZurichCard for a 10% discount.
17. Learn About Switzerland’s History at the Swiss National Museum
As one of the most important art museums of cultural history in Europe, the Swiss National Museum showcases the most significant events of the last twenty centuries, all the way from prehistory to ancient times and the Middle Ages.
The museum itself is a magnificent work of art, with dozens of towers and courts and incredible multimedia and interactive displays. Make sure go out the back to Platzspitz Park for a stroll in the gardens.
Allow at least two hours to properly explore the Swiss National Museum.
Entrance: CHF 10 or Free with ZürichCARD
18. Get closer to Nature at the Botanical Gardens
Covering more than 53,000 square meters, the Botanical Gardens has over 9,000 plant and flower species. This is a must see for any age, and great for the family.
This is not so much a tourist attraction as a place where you can see the locals sunbathing on the grass, having a picnic or watching the frogs in the large pond.
Don’t miss the glass biodomes that house a variety of exotic tropical plants.
19. See the Edgy Side of Zurich at Viadukt
More than just a trendy neighbourhood, Viadukt is an ode to creativity and architecture seeing as its shops and restaurants are housed inside the arches of the disused, 550-feet long railway viaduct.
Factories have been transformed into theatres, shipyards are now art galleries, mills currently house pop-up shops. The art, design, food, culture, shopping and architecture are the centre of attention in this former industrial zone.
20. Eat Fondue
Fondue was invented as a way to use stale bread and aged cheese in the cold winter Swiss months when fresh produce was unavailable. It is now one of the most recognisable Swiss dishes.
Get your fondue fix at Swiss Chuchi, Raclette Stube or Le Dezaley. Or, for a unique experience take a cheese fondue cruise along the lake.
21. Have a drink at Clouds Bar
Want a drink to go with that view? Head up to Cloud Bar where you’ll have a magnificent view of Zurich’s city centre and lake. The bar also has an adjacent restaurant if you get hungry!
22. Relax on the Patio of Frau Gerolds Garten
Located next to the train tracks near Viadukt, Frau Gerolds Garten is a trendy meeting place for locals and visitors alike. The grounds house a garden, small shops, a cafe and beer bar.
The bar is made of shipping cargo boxes, plus you can lounge at picnic tables, on large cushioned stairs or at a bistro set near the fresh garden. It is the perfect setting to enjoy a beer on a warmer Swiss night.
23. See the Gerold Cuchi Umbrellas
Head over to the Kreis 5 district to photograph the artsy umbrellas hanging over the patio at Gerold Cuchi restaurant. The colourful canopy consists of over fifty umbrellas each with a unique design: polka dots, stripes, plaids and vibrant florals.
24. See Europes Largest Clock Dial at St. Peter’s Church
That’s right! Prague may have its famous astronomical clock, but Zurich is home to Europe’s largest timepiece – for now!
Located in the heart of the Old Town, St Peter’s Church stands adjoined to a medieval watchtower built for the local fire brigade. A clock face was put on the tower in 1366, and for centuries the marvellous façade served as the standard for local Zurich time. With a diameter of 8.64m, the dials of this Zurich landmark hold the record for Europe’s largest church timepiece — for now.
The clock tower of St. Peter had been for centuries Zürich’s ‘official local time’, and all public city clocks had to conform to it. The church clock of St. Peter has the largest tower clock face in Europe, the outer diameter of each of the four church clocks measures 8.64 meters (28.3 ft), the minute hand 5.73 meters (18.8 ft), the hour hand 5.07 meters (16.6 ft), and the minute crack of the large pointer measures 0.455 meters (1.5 ft).
So, that’s it! The only question now is, what will you see visit first?
Staying Longer? Take a Day Trip from Zurich
- Eiger – Jungfrau Glacier
- Interlaken – Grindelwald in the Bernese Oberland
- Black Forest and Rhine Falls
- Heidiland and Liechtenstein Tour
- Swiss Alps: Jungfraujoch and Bernese Oberland
- Switzerland Countryside and Traditions Tour
- Bern Day Trip
- Mount Titlis
- Lucerne and Stanserhorn Including Funicular Railway, Aerial Cable Car and Train Ride
Where to Stay: Accommodation in Zurich
Whether you’re on a budget or want to splash out, there are loads of great accommodation loads in Zurich. Airbnb has numerous options from as low as US$18. Get it even cheaper by getting $20 off your first stay using my referral link.
For an experience like no other, I can’t recommend B2 Boutique Hotel + Spa enough. Their staff were friendly and professional, the breakfast was wonderful, and the spa facilities are unmatched especially the rooftop infinity spa.
Speaking the Lingo: Essential Swiss-German Travel Phrase Guide
I’m a firm believer that learning the language of a place is just as important as learning its history. We can’t all be polyglots, but knowing a few choice phrases makes a load of difference when interacting with locals. Suddenly, their smiles become warmer and their eyes light up when they see you’ve made the effort to learn their language. Plus, it’s so rewarding to be able to converse in another language.
In Switzerland, they speak Swiss German, and that’s something completely different from the German spoken in Germany. Swiss German has its own pronunciation, different words, its own grammar, and most Germans have difficulty understanding it.
While the German-speaking Swiss write standard German, there is no official Swiss German language. The Swiss can speak standard German very well, but to them, it’s a foreign language which they learn in school.
With that in mind, here are 10 useful Swiss German travel phrases.
- Hello – Grüezi
- My name is … (formal) – I heisse …
My name is … (informal) Mi name isch …
- How are you? (informal) – Wie goots Ihne?
How are you? (formal) – Wie goots?
- Good, thanks and you? (informal) – Dangge, guet, und dir?
Good, thanks and you? (formal) – Dangge, guet, und Ihne?
- Goodbye – (Uf) Widerluege / Tschüss
- See you later – Bis spöter
- Thank you – Merci
- Thank you very much – Merci vilmal
- Enjoy your meal! – En guete
- Yes – Ja / No – Nein
Over to you!
Have you visited Zurich? What other things would you recommend doing in Zurich?
Let me know using the comments section below or join me on social media to start a conversation.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post.
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