What to See and Do in Zurich.
With its location between lake and snow-capped mountains, Zurich combines indoor and outdoor activities. You can explore the Old Town on foot, see modern landmarks like the Viadukt, and then cool off in one of the neighborhood’s favored “badis,” or outdoor bathing pools.
You can also take a train to a nearby mountain for great views, or check out Bahnhofstrasse, one of the most exclusive shopping avenues in the world. With a vibrant network of bars and clubs operating into the late hours, Zurich is also a place to have a good time.
This post will cover it all.
Let’s start our Zurich guide with a traveling tip. If you are flying to this city, you will need a Zurich airport taxi service. With luxurious taxis and efficient service, the people at AtoB specialize in airport transfer service (and have the best rates in town!).
What to do in Zurich
Limmat River Cruise
It’s a great way to orient yourself with Zurich while also appreciating its beauty. You’ll glide past guild houses, Zurich’s town hall, the Lindenhof fortress and the spires of the Grossmünster. The boats (which were designed to travel beneath the seven bridges spanning the river) hold about 50 passengers and have a restaurant/bar where you can relax while enjoying the views. Check the webpage ahead of time for departure times, book an AtoB airport taxi to get here, and arrive early because it can be busy at the Landesmuseum station (where the boat starts its one-hour round voyage).
Do you want to take a lake boat for dinner? Take a ride on one of ZSG’s Dreamboats, which leave from Bürkliplatz and provide fondue excursions and picnics.
Zurich’s Kunsthaus is the largest art museum in Switzerland. Fans of Swiss artist and sculptor Alberto Giacometti will find an entire series of rooms devoted to him, and on the top floor, there are also small but brilliant rooms where works by Van Gogh, Monet, and Chagall are on exhibit.
On Wednesdays, the permanent collection is open to the public without charge.
Exploring Zurich’s Old Town
Locals frequently refer to the old town, which stretches between Central and Bellevue, as the “Dörfli.” The historic buildings and winding alleyways are pleasant with a lot of restaurants, bars and souvenir shops. Don’t miss Grossmünster church – there you can climb the tower for the best views of the city. It is breathtaking. Visit St. Peter Church, see Fraumünster Church and have a look at the Giacometti Frescos at the Police Station. You should also visit Café duDA at Cabaret Voltaire, the birthplace of Dada (Dada was an avant-garde art movement in the early 1900’s. Zurich was at the center of it).
Zurich West, commonly known as “Kreis 5” or “Industriequartier,” was formerly a run-down neighborhood full of dilapidated warehouses. It is now the town’s alternate center. The Viadukt, a section of stores, eateries, and pubs tucked inside the arches of an old railroad viaduct between the bank of the Limmat River and Hardbrücke Station, is the area’s major draw. If you enjoy views, go to the Prime Tower – there’s a bar and restaurant on the 35th floor with outstanding views of Zurich.
Frau Gerolds Garten has great boutiques, an urban garden, and some seasonally appropriate diversions, such a Saturday market in the summer and a fondue tent in the winter. The Rosso, a neighborhood favorite with crispy pizzas and an industrial vibe, is only a few feet away.
A Zurich Bar crawl
You can take a group tour which is what many do…but you can also create your own itinerary. Start at El Lokal for a beer and snack and enjoy the skeleton hanging from the ceiling. From there, head to Rimini bar, a beautiful venue facing the Old Botanical Garden. Steps away is Moudi, another beautiful venue for beer and snacks. If you’re still thirsty, head over the Le Raymond, an upscale bar by the river.
From there you might want to call the AtoB airport taxi to get you home.
A swim in the Limmat River at Flussbad Oberer Letten Badi
It’s the cool, trendy thing to do these days – going to Flussbad Oberer Letten and swimming in the river, playing beach volleyball, lounging on the wooden panels they’ve set up, having a drink…
It’s of course best done in summer.
Bahnhofstrasse is one of the most exclusive shopping streets in the world. But the high prices don’t deter tourists who love coming here for all the big names (Louis Vuitton, Prada, Burberry, Chanel and Giorgio Armani). The majority of the luxury stores are located at the higher end, close to Bürkliplatz and the lake, while the lower half of it, beginning at the main station, is packed with more standard shopping options. If it’s chilly, try hot chocolate at Café Sprüngli’s outdoor tables on Paradeplatz, the hub of the Swiss banking industry. In December, you should wait until after dark to see ‘Lucy,’ the specially designed Christmas illumination on Bahnhofstrasse.
Mountain views at Uetliberg
The SZU (Zurich’s public transport network) takes you all the way up Zurich’s backyard mountain, the Uetliberg. At the top you can climb the observation tower and take in the 360-degree views. From there, you can hike to another peak called Felsenegg – it’s a spectacular route. Getting back downtown is easy: from Felsenegg take a cable car down to Adliswil. From there you can take the train back to Zurich. There are other hiking paths that go downhill if you would rather return immediately to town. If you’re fortunate, you might be able to sled down the Uetliberg during the winter.
Rent a bike
Zurich is very bike-friendly and you can rent a bike or use a public bike. Riding a bike is one of the top activities in the area. The bike can be used to go around town more quickly or to cycle down either side of the lake. Start at Bellevueplatz and take a peaceful ride with beautiful river views down the car-free Limmatquai promenade, then walk through the railway station, through Josefstrasse, and its eclectic collection of stores until you reach Josefswiese and the Viadukt.
Jules Verne Panorama Bar
Some people may consider the Jules Verne Panorama Bar to be a tourist trap, yet it might be the closest thing to the ideal date you can have in Zurich while sipping a cocktail and holding your significant other’s hand. The bar is accessible via the elevator at Brasserie Lipp and is located just beneath the Urania Sternwarte (an observatory where visitors can gaze at the stars through a telescope).
Although it may be busy, it’s worth the wait for a table by the window. Check the Urania Sternwarte website for public tours and events. Pack a warm sweater as it can become chilly when the dome is opened.
Take a tram ride
I love taking a public tram to take in the views. The #4 and #15 are best if you want to see views of the old town and the Limmat river. The #7 takes you down one side of the lake, – take the 2 or 4 take you down the other side.
Enjoy the views at Lindenhof
You’ll find this hill in the center of Historic Zurich. The former site of a Roman castle (you’ll still see some ruins), the main reason to come here are the great views.
Accommodation in Zurich
Zurich is quite expensive and you’ll be hard pressed to find a hotel for less than 200 Euros/night. A few recommendations: Hotel Adler Zürich, located in a 16th century building, this 3 star hotel is well located and is good value (for Switzerland). The Altstadt Hotel is located in the heart of the old town with nice views (in the same price range as the Hotel Adler Zürich). Budget: Oldtown Hostel Otter which has 6-bed dorms.