WHAT TO DO AND SEE IN ZURICH ?
The financial center of Switzerland and largest city in the country, Zurich is best known for its banks, but also to be regularly in the lead in the ranking of the cities with the best quality of life in the world: it is true that the streets are clean, the city is pleasant to explore on foot or by bike and the public transport system is efficient. The city is very well served by trains and buses that connect it to the whole country. Zurich has the busiest airport and train station in Switzerland, so for many travelers it is the gateway to the country.
Located in the north of Switzerland, Zurich is on the edge of a beautiful lake to which it gave its name and is crossed by the river Limmat. The setting is beautiful to say the least, against the backdrop of the snowy peaks of the Alps.
On the cultural side, Zurich has many art galleries, renowned museums, beautiful buildings with medieval architecture and festivals and other events are organized regularly. For those who are not passionate about art, Zurich is an ideal base for excursions in the surrounding area. It is also one of the best European destinations for nightlife, with the highest density of nightclubs in the country.
HOW TO VISIT ZURICH ON A BUDGET
Zurich is one of the most expensive cities in the world. Here are some tips for visiting Zurich on a small budget:
- Book your hotel as soon as possible on Booking.com. You can also check hostels on Hostelworld.com, which are less expensive than hotel rooms but you will be in dormitory. The good thing is that you will be able to meet people from all around the world.
- To make real savings on housing, you can also try Couchsurfing.
- If you have a car, parking will also be a big expense in Zurich: choose hotels or hostels with parking, and do the same thing I did: take a folding bike. It really is the tool that has served me most during my road trip in Switzerland, to explore the cities in a minimum of time.
- To get around Zurich, it is possible to rent a bike for free in some places. You just have to leave a deposit of 20 Swiss francs and an identity document.
- The Zürich Card: a great deal, including transfer to the airport and public transport in Zurich, and access to 41 museums and discounts for 24 hours (27 Francs) or 72 hours (53 Francs) . More info here.
- Cook! It’s really sad but the prices are so high in Switzerland that if you have a small budget it will be necessary to overlook the nice restaurants … if you come from France, remember to refuel and use the kitchen from your hostel to make you eat. However, you will find very good cheeses and deli meats in Swiss supermarkets like COOP or Migros.
- Finally, many activities on this list are free and it is not necessarily the least interesting!
Here are 10 things to do and see in Zurich:
1. WALK AROUND THE LAKE
The crescent-shaped Zurich Lake extends from Zurich to many other small towns. A 3km walk starts in Bellevue and goes to Tiefenbrunnen. With its many parks and gardens it’s a nice place to spend an afternoon, have a picnic and swim when it’s hot. It is also a favorite place for Zurichers to go jogging. To enjoy a good view of Zurich and the Alps, take a boat cruise on the lake. One-and-a-half hour boat trips are feasible all year round and are free for Zürich Card holders. You can also take a ferry to other cities around the lake, like Rapperswil for example.
2. EXPLORE THE OLD TOWN
The medieval old town of Zurich (or Altstadt in German) is on both banks of the Limmat and concentrates the major attractions of the city. Along the ancient cobbled streets one can find squares, cafes, original shops and many historical and cultural sites. This is also where most of the city’s nightclubs are located.
3. THE LINDENHOF
A pedestrian esplanade in old Zurich, located high on the Lindenhof hill and overlooking the Limmat river. From here you can admire a nice view of the old town and the cathedral. It is a nice place to rest after exploring the city.
4. THE GROSSMÜNSTER
With its twin towers, it is the most recognizable landmark of Zürich. It was founded by Charlemagne after his horse stopped on the graves of Christian martyrs. As in the Fraumünster, you can admire the Augusto Giacommetti stained glass windows dating back to 1932, the more recent ones by the German artist Sigmar polke (2010) and the carved bronze doors by Otto Munch in 1950.
The view from the top offers a superb view of the surroundings to those who will have the courage to climb the 190 steps of the stairs. Entrance to the church is free, access to the towers is paid (4 Francs).
5. THE FRAUMÜNSTER CHURCH
Easily recognizable with its large blue arrow, it is one of the oldest monuments in Zurich, founded in 853. There are beautiful stained glass windows created by artists Marc Chagall and Augusto Giacometti. Pay entry (5 Francs).
For photographers, the bridge to the church (Münsterbrücke) is a good spot, especially at sunset.
6. ENJOY THE VIEW FROM THE SUMMIT OF UETLIBERG
Ütliberg is an 870 meter high hill located to the west of the city that directly overlooks the city and on clear days you can enjoy an impressive view of Zurich, its lake and the Alps on the horizon. Access by car is prohibited. To get there, take a train that goes directly from Hauptbahnhof station (the S-Bahn line S 102 – half an hour ride), served every 30 minutes. Holders of the Zürich Card do not need to buy tickets. From the train station to the summit, there is a ten minute walk. Once at the top, there are several hiking trails and mountain bike trails. It is also a paragliding spot. At the top there are toilets, a restaurant and a hotel, as well as an observation tower 72m high (3 Francs).
7. KUNSTHAUS – THE MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS
Inaugurated in 1910, this art museum is considered one of the most important in Switzerland (after the Kunstmuseum Bern). It houses a truly impressive art collection. You can admire works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, Munch, Warhol … but also many Swiss artists. Temporary exhibitions are organized regularly. Holders of the Zürich Card receive a 30% discount and children under 16 can enter for free. Admission is free on Wednesdays.
8. THE SWISS NATIONAL MUSEUM (LANDESMUSEUM)
Housed in an impressive 1898 architecture palace that alone is worth a visit, the Swiss National Museum takes visitors on a comprehensive overview of Swiss history, from prehistory to the present day. Free admission for all Zürich Card holders and children under 16 years old. For more information, visit the museum’s website.
9. THE BAHNHOFSTRASSE
The main shopping street of Zürich, one of the most expensive streets in Europe and the world per square meter, lined with luxury international shops and boutiques and high-end restaurants. You can always go there to go shopping and see the people of Zurich in their daily life. In December, the street is particularly beautiful with Christmas decorations.
10. THE RIETBERG MUSEUM
A very interesting ethnology museum, dedicated to non-European civilizations and exhibiting various objects of art and antiques from China, Peru, India, Cambodia … The setting is beautiful, located in two beautiful villas in the middle of a pretty park.
MORE THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN ZURICH AND THE SURROUNDINGS
If you have some time in Zurich, here are other places to visit that are worth a look:
- Zurich Opera: one of the world’s great operas (with Sydney Opera House and Vienna Opera House). The building itself deserves a look. Free entry during the day when there is no show.
- Zurich West: an old industrial area once filled with factories and warehouses transformed into a trendy district with urban gardens, designer boutiques, restaurants, trendy bars and cafes. To see: Zurich’s tallest building and Switzerland’s second highest skyscraper, the Prime Tower (126 meters high).
- FIFA World Football Museum
- The zoo: well landscaped, it is one of the most beautiful in Europe (380 animal species from around the world.
- The Hürlimann Areal thermal baths: the ideal place to relax in the hot water while enjoying the superb view of Zurich. More info here.
- Jules Verne Panorama Bar: a bar with a 360 ° view of the city.
- The old botanical garden: founded in 1837, it is one of the most pleasant places in Zurich. Free admission.
- Take a boat trip on the Limmat: nice to have a different point of view on the city and go under its 7 bridges. One-hour round trip from April to October, departure to the Swiss National Museum (Landesmuseum). More info here.
- The Street Parade: The second Saturday of August, it is one of the biggest electronic music festivals in the world, taking place in the streets of the city.
- Take the cable car to go to the Felsenegg lookout: great views, hiking trails.
- Visit the Wildnispark Zurich: a cheaper alternative to the zoo. You can see bison, bears and other animals from the Swiss forests. Price: 6 Francs.
- Focus Terra Geology Museum (free).
- Augusto Giacometti’s mural frescoes: beautiful, they adorn the vaulted ceiling and walls of the lobby of the city’s police headquarters. Open from 9:00 to 11:00, from 14:00 to 16:00. Free admission, ID required.
THE ESSENTIALS OF ZURICH ON GOOGLE MAP
Feat. picture by Pierluigi Macor / © Zürich Tourism