It was our third visit to Switzerland and we finally made it to the largest city in the country, Zurich, Switzerland. Being the financial capital of Switzerland, Zurich is filled with chic restaurants, posh patrons, and a whole lot of money. Zurich is stylish and sophisticated, but it is also fun and laid back.
The people in Zurich know how to enjoy life by spending time on the waters of Lake Zurich and watching the sunset over the Limmat River in both summer and winter. From shopping along the world’s most expensive street to hiking in the nearby Swiss Alps there is never a dull moment in Zurich. When the lights go down, locals and tourists alike flock to the bars for its intoxicating nightlife scene. Fun fact, Zurich has more bars per capita than any other city in Europe!
There are plenty of things to do in Zurich and to really appreciate it, you must spend at least three days exploring the Altstadt (Old Town), West Zurich, and all the places in between. We’re here to help you decide what to see first!
Things to do in Zurich
There are so many amazing attractions in Zurich that three days is just barely enough time to scratch the surface, but Dave and I made a good go of it. Running on just a few hours of sleep each day, we were up at the crack of dawn to late into the night checking out the best of Zurich. Here’s what we found.
Note: Things are constantly changing as different countries come out of COVID protocols. Switzerland embraces the outdoors and most restaurants and activities have continued to remain open outdoors. Most museums and attractions are currently open with limited capacity indoors. Visit the My Switzerland website for more details.
How to Get Around Zurich
The best way to get around Zurich is to purchase a Zurich Card. It provides unlimited travel by bus, train, cableway, and tram plus you can take short boat trips and a Limmat River cruise.
The Zurich Card also lets you enter one of Zurich’s 43 museums for free or with reduced admission. Plus, you can also take a Zurich Old town walking tour at half price. This card is the best bang for your buck for getting around Zurich and seeing its top tourist attractions. .
Before boarding any public transport, make sure to validate your ticket and have it handy. Once it is validated, you can hop on any public transport in town for the duration of your ticket. You don’t have to validate it again once you’ve done it the first time.
So, now that you are armed with ways to get around Zurich and have your entry to many of its top attractions, let’s check out our favorite things to do in Zurich.
SUP on Lake Zurich
Hands down our favorite thing to do in Zurich was to go paddleboarding on Lake Zurich. Zurich is the land of public baths. From what we understand, there are six lake baths on Lake Zurich and five other river baths throughout the city where people enjoy basking in the sun while being able to take a dip in the clean waters.
We took things one step further when we made our way to Badi Enge where they rent paddleboards by the hour. It was so much fun to get on the water during the hot summer day. Being on a paddleboard let us see the city from a different view and we had the freedom to paddle into the Schanzenbraben Canal where we escaped the hustle and bustle as swans followed us through the calm and quiet waters.
Badi Ange was easily reached by walking from downtown and it’s a beautiful walkway along the lakefront with parks and views of the Alps and the city. Make sure to do this when visiting Zurich, it truly was our favorite morning in the city. There is a mixed and women-only only swimming area, swimming lanes, a restaurant, and wooden sun decks. In the winter Seebad Enge is turned into a sauna, so you can visit it year-round. It costs 8CHF (8.74 USD) to enter and paddleboard rentals start at 35 CHF (38 USD) for an hour. For more information Visit the Zurich Website at Seebad Enge
Lindt Home Chocolate – Factory Tour
It may sound cliche to visit the Lindt Chocolate Factory when looking for things to do in Zurich, but this isn’t your ordinary factory tour. Upon entering you come face to face with a giant chocolate fountain standing tall in the massive hall. It is then onto a tour to learn about the history of chocolate.
We picked up our audio guide and selected our chosen language (English) as we followed the displays to explore the evolution of chocolate. It was an interesting and entertaining tour, but the real treat comes near the end where you enter a room filled with chocolate fountains.
The fountains are pouring out the heavenly Lindt chocolate just waiting to be tasted. We grabbed a disposable spoon and tasted white, dark, and milk chocolate until our hearts were content. We didn’t realize that there was more, but as we walked on, we had another sample of chocolate bars to see if we could decipher the different flavors. We failed, but we were happy to keep trying. Our tour then ended in a room filled with vats of famous Lindor chocolates allowing us to eat as many as we wished. The Lindt Home of Chocolate is truly a chocolate lover’s paradise.
Visit the Lindt Home of Chocolate Website for tours and information. Tours start at 15 CHF per person, you can also book experiences like making your own chocolate.
Take the Train to Uetliberg
Our next huge surprise was making our way up to the best lookout over Zurich. Using our Zurich card, we boarded a bus and then a tram and finally a train up to the top of Zurich’s very own mountain, Uetliberg. When you reach the end of the line, it is about a 10-minute walk to the lookout tower for amazing views of Zurich, Lake Zurich, and the Swiss Alps.
After you have taken in the views of the rolling hills and the city below, you can have lunch at the restaurant or continue hiking for about 2 hours to the gondola that will take you back down. If you have some time, this makes for a great half-day tour in Zurich. To climb the tower it costs 2 CHF (credit cards accepted) and it is completely worth the cost.
Explore West Zurich
West Zurich is the hippest spot in town. (I think using the word hip, just made me look square). Once a warehouse and factory district, West Zurich has been transformed into a place with trendy bars, cool cafes, and plenty of shopping. There are great works of art scattered throughout West Zurich so it is worth exploring on foot.
Don’t miss shopping along the Viadukt. This 550-meter long railway viaduct is a beautiful display of arches filled with boutiques, restaurants, and galleries. Built-in 1894, it’s a place where locals meet up, have picnics in the park, and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere on a summer’s day.
While you are at the Viadukt, enjoy dinner at Restaurant Viadukt located directly under the train tracks looking towards the park. There is outdoor and indoor dining. It is recommended to make a reservation.
Have a Drink at Frau Gerolds Garten (Mrs. Gerold’s Garden)
West Zurich is filled with cool cafés but the busiest spot we encountered with Frau Gerolds Garten. This is where everyone whose anyone hangs out after work. This outdoor hot spot is a modular bar and dining area with outdoor food stalls and markets. Grab a beer and people watch as you feel like a local for the evening. Visit the website for details.
Right next to Frau Gerolds Garten is the cool Urban Surf. For a steep price, you can try some city surfing in their wave pool. If you are not up for getting wet, no worries, you can sit on one of the plush patio chairs and enjoy a cocktail as you watch people struggle in the waves. Whatever you decide, it’s a fun place to hang out. Visit Urban Surf for lessons and prices.
Take a Boat to Wollishofen
No trip to Zurich would be complete without hopping on a boat tour of Lake Zurich. We had a taste of that when transferring to the cool lakeside community of Wollishofen. The highlight of this location is the lovely walk along the Cassiopeia Boardwalk. We learned that Zurich has worked hard to make its precious waterfront available to the public and people are no longer allowed to purchase waterfront property. In front of the houses that were grandfathered in with waterfront property, the city built a boardwalk on the water to allow access to the public.
Lunch at Monchhof
While you are strolling through Monchohof, take your time to visit the community of artists. It is a funky neighborhood of Zurich that is not to be missed. This area also has plenty of waterfront restaurants where you can sit back and enjoy the scenery. We ate a Monchhof which we learned is owned by one of the top restauranteurs in the city. With delicious truffle fries, refreshing ginger shots and a fresh burrata and tomato salad, my mouth was filled with flavors. There is plenty of outdoor dining, you can make a reservation here.
Walking Tour of Altstadt (Zurich Old Town)
One of the best ways to get acquainted with Zurich is to take a walking tour. We loved our time with local guide Barbara who showed us all the little unseen gems that tourists miss. From the chewing gum art in front of Cabaret Voltaire, the Birthplace of Dadaism, to her favourite fountains where we could fill up our water bottles with fresh water.
We started our tour walking through the beautiful Rechberg gardens before making our way to the University for one of the best views of Zurich. Weaving our way through the old town, we saw the top Zurich attractions from Khunsthaus to Grossmünster, Zurich’s most famous landmark.
Grossmünster is an imposing landmark in Zurich with its two twin towers standing tall over the Limmat River. It is also one of the most important places in Zurich as it was the sight of reformation in Switzerland. You can walk up the towers to see beautiful views over Zurich and make sure to go into the crypt to see a magnificent statue of Charlemagne.
Another church to visit in Zurich is Fraumunster. People go into this church to see the beautiful stained glass windows by Marc Chagal, but Fraumunster is also a very important landmark. Founded in 853, this church was originally a convent inhabited by aristocratic females from Europe.
Get Lost in the Altstadt (Old Town)
When visiting any European city, the best thing to do is simply stroll through the Old Town, enjoy an aperitif and do some window shopping. The Cobbled Streets of Zurich’s Altstadt are lined with medieval buildings and bridges lining the Limmat River. There are countless galleries and shops where you can pick up some Swiss chocolate or delicious cheese. One of our favorite things to do in Zurich’s Old Town was to simply pull up a seat on one of the outdoor patios and people watch. Zurich is one of the most expensive cities in the world and watching the fashion and families walk by made for one of the most interesting people-watching afternoons of our lives.
Window Shop at Bahnhofstrass
Speaking of shopping, Zurich boasts the most expensive street in the world. Bahnhofstrasse is Zurich’s main downtown street spanning 1.4 km from the main train station. As you walk from the train station toward Lake Zurich, the shops become ever more exclusive with the likes of Gucci, Prada, Rolex and all the other big name brands. Zurich is the heart of the Swiss Bank system and once you reach Paradplatz, one can only wonder how much cash and jewels are sitting within their vaults.
Sunrise From Lindenhof
One of the top things to do in Zurich is to visit the quiet park overlooking Zurich from the Old City Walls. Lindenhof is the oldest part of Zurich where the remains of a Roman medieval city wall stands high on a hill overlooking the Limmat River. During the day it can get quite busy, but at sunrise, it is quiet and peaceful. Lindenhof is the best view of Zurich and the Limmat River.
Eat a Fondue at Swiss Cuchi
Dave and I had a goal when going back to Switzerland, and it was to eat as much fondue and raclette as possible. We managed to do so and one of our favorite places to eat Fondue in the entire country was at Swiss Chuchi in the Altstadt. Located in the heart of Niederdorf a pedestrian plaza leading to hidden alleyways around the Old Town, Swiss Chuchi is one of the best places in Zurich for Fondue. (we found that out after choosing to eat there, lucky us!) The delicious melted goodness came with a sack of potatoes and fresh bread.
Who cares that it was 30 degrees Celcius outside, we ordered a refreshing aperitivo and when we felt foolish ordering a hot dish in the middle of summer, our waiter said “It’s always a good time for fondue.” I believe he was correct because after we received our dish, several other tourists joined us on the terrace to order fondues of their own! Swiss Cuchi is located in the Hotel Adler, Zurich.
Fill up at the Many Fountains
One of the most fascinating things about visiting Zurich is to keep an eye out for the 1200 ornate fountains scattered throughout the city. These aren’t your average drinking fountains, the fountains of Zurich are works of art. You’ll see children playing in the fountains, runners stopping for a quick slurp, and many people filling up their water bottles. You’ll never go thirsty in Zurich, as the water running from the fountains is clean and fresh and just waiting for you to have a taste. Some Zurich fountains are simply beautiful so while you are filling your bottle, make sure to enjoy the details of the artist’s work.
Where to Stay in Zurich
When choosing where to stay in Zurich, we recommend the Old City which is within walking distance to everywhere making it easy to get around. We stayed at the Florhoff Hotel. This boutique hotel was refurbished in 2014 and has a historic character with modern rooms and amenities. A delicious breakfast is included, there is a popular restaurant on-site and while it is in the Old Town, it is far enough away from the hustle and bustle making it a quiet option.
There are plenty of hotels in West Zurich which is only 10 minutes to downtown by transit and is a more affordable option.
The Best Way to Get Around Switzerland
Switzerland has an efficient train system making it one of the best ways to travel around Switzerland. Plus it is sustainable travel. Travel by train produces less O2 than any other mode of transportation (other than bicycle or foot) including electric cars which produce 13 times more emissions.
When you purchase a Swiss Travel Pass it includes:
Unlimited travel by train, bus and boat
Public transportation in more than 90 cities and towns
Including mountain excursions: Rigi, Schilthorn, Stanserhorn and Stoos
Free admission to more than 500 museums throughout Switzerland
Two free informative apps to help plan your Switzerland journey are: Grand Train Tour of Switzerland app and Swiss Travel Guide app
Zurich is one of the most exciting cities to visit in Switzerland. With a balanced mix of old and new, adventure and dining, there is something for everyone. When planning your trip to Switzerland, make sure to put Zurich at the top of your list.
Our trip to Switzerland is in partnership with My Switzerland. Visit their website to start planning your trip today.