Things to do in Zurich: itinerary through the highlights of the city with travel tips including how to get to the city center from the airport, how to get around, where to park, where to eat and where to stay.
Chocolate. Watches. Chocolate. Banks. Chocolate. Knives. Chocolate.
This is the image of Switzerland that I have always had in my mind before going to Zurich.
And now that I’m back I’ll add one more: money. Lots of money!
As soon as you set foot in Zurich (after an amazing landing over the Alps and the huge lakes of Switzerland if you are arriving by plane) you realize how expensive this city is.
And Zurich is the first one to admit it. In fact if you translate “Zu-rich” from German you get “too-rich“.
So Zurich itself warns you like “look, I’m too rich, if you want you can come but don’t stay I didn’t tell you!”.
Well after this necessary and painful introduction, let’s get to the real topic of this post and find out about the things to do in Zurich.
THINGS TO DO IN ZURICH.
We can split our itinerary in two parts: the city highlights along the left side of Limmat river and the ones along the right side.
THINGS TO DO IN ZURICH ALONG THE LEFT SIDE OF LIMMAT RIVER.
HAUBTAHNHOF, THE CENTRAL STATION.
Let’s start our itinerary with Haubtbahnhof, the central station of Zurich.
This nice puffy and colorful lady that hangs from the ceiling of the central station is the Guardian Angel, the work of the sculptress Niki de St-Phalle.
From the station your itinerary can take different directions.
From here you can get a train to Uetliberg, a mountain that offers amazing views of Zurich and the Alps.
Or exit the station and visit Landesmuseum, the Swiss National Museum, and take a boat from the pier of the museum’s park to enjoy a nice cruise on the lake.
Or start your walk along Bahnhofstrasse, the main shopping street of Zurich.
My parents and I decided to start with a nice train ride to Uetliberg to have a look at this beautiful city from above.
After a short train ride we get to Uetliberg station at its altitude of 814 meters.
To get to the viewpoint follow the sign to Uto Kulm, an elegant hotel a 10-minute walk from the train station.
Here there is a panoramic terrace where you can enjoy stunning views of Zurich, the lake and the snowy peaks of the Alps.
In the same area there is also a panoramic tower but it’s a little bit of a tourist trap. Basically you go up to the middle of the tower to find an unexpected gate. If you want to keep going up you have to insert some coins, otherwise you go back down.
Oh come on Zurich! You are definitely not in the position of begging for alms from us!
We get back on the train and head down to the central station. We leave the station and we are now in front of Landesmuseum, the Swiss National Museum.
LANDESMUSEUM, THE SWISS NATIONAL MUSEUM.
The Swiss National Museum reminds me of those haunted castles of the amusement parks.
The architect Gustav Gull was in fact inspired by the French and English medieval castles when he designed the building of the museum in 1892.
The museum hosts a large collection of the history and culture of the country from prehistory to our day. Unfortunately we don’t have time to visit the museum but we will do it next time we are in Zurich.
Anyway, here is for you some information about opening hours and prices.
- Adults: CHF 10. Children under the age of 16: free.
- Included in Zurich Card.
Landesmuseum Opening Hours:
- Tuesday – Sunday 10:00 – 17:00; Thursday 10:00 – 19:00
- Closing days: All Mondays
- Special Openings: Click here for more information
BOAT CRUISE ON THE LAKE OF ZURICH.
From the pier of the museum’s park, in Bahnhofquai, you can hop on a boat and take a nice cruise on Limmat river and the lake of Zurich.
The other main boarding pier is Bürkliplatz, where the river flows into the lake.
We preferred Bahnhofquai also because when we got there was no one in line!
Departures change according to the time of the year so I recommend you have a look at the timetable of River Limmat Cruises website.
Boat Cruise Prices:
- Adults: CHF 8.80. Children (6-16): CHF 4.40. Children under the age of 6: free entry.
- Included in Zurich Card.
There are bathing establishments along the banks including one just for women. In the summertime the lake of Zurich becomes the Caribbean for locals and the establishments get really crowded. And all of a sudden it’s bathing suits, paddle boards and dogs with life jackets!
BAHNHOFSTRASSE, THE SHOPPING STREET.
As I mentioned earlier, from Haubtbahnhof you can start walking along the tree-lined avenue of Bahnhofstrasse, the main shopping street of Zurich.
I have noticed that the further you get from the train station the more expensive the shops are.
It starts in fact with the simple Mango, Zara and H&M to end with the majestic Louis Vuitton, Tiffany and Gucci. A relay shopping race!
I don’t know about you but I would stop at the “poor” part of the street (although I realize that using the name “poor” in Zurich sounds kind of ironic) and I would turn left by the Urania observatory to reach Schipfe.
Schipfe is a cute district along the river Limmat at the foot of the hill of Lindenhof.
This is the place where the boats loaded with goods used to dock in the Middle Age. “Schipfe” means indeed “push the boats to the riverbank”.
We really enjoyed walking around Schipfe, its workshops, the restaurants by the river and the old little houses.
From Schipfe we take the stairs to go up to Lindenhof, a nice panoramic hill.
Many historical events happened here in Lindenhof. Former site of a Celtic settlement and of a Roman fort later, Lindenhof is also the place where the grandson of Charlemagne built his Royal Palace. Also Lindenhof was the site where the oath sealing the Helvetic Constitution was taken in 1798 .
Today there are no remains so we can only let our imagination do the work and picture how this area could have looked like.
But what we can actually see without using our imagination (or drugs) is the amazing view of the river and the buildings of Zurich on the opposite side.
Let’s now get down from Lindenhof and keep following our itinerary along the left bank of the river Limmat.
We walk towards Augustinergasse, one of the alleys of the area full of colorful houses with bay windows and flags.
And of construction sites!
Fine I get it. I know that here the economy has to grow, and you build and do and change but ugh! Our poor explorers have to do an obstacle race through hatches and platforms without even winning a prize!
After a few slaloms we get to Augustinerkirche, a gothic church built in 1270 for a community of Augustinian Monks.
ST. PETER KIRCHE.
We are now in front of one of the symbols of Zurich: the clock tower of St. Peter Kirche, the oldest church of the city, built in 857.
The clock face is the largest one in Europe! Its diameter measures 8,7 meters and the minute hand is 4 meters long! Well in Zurich you definitely have no excuses for being late!
What stands out inside the church is the white color of the sumptuous decorations in stucco.
St. Peter Kirche Opening Hours:
- Monday – Friday 8:00 – 18:00
- Saturday 8:00 – 16:00
- Sunday 11:00 – 17:00
Fraumünster Kirche is another symbol of Zurich.
But to see the most important part of the church you have to go inside.
Fraumünster is in fact famous for its 5 Chagall windows of the presbytery. Each window has a dominant color (orange, blue, green, yellow, red) and represents biblical themes.
Unfortunately we are not allowed to take pictures and we obey the Swiss rules!
Fraumünster Opening Hours:
- November – February: Every day 10:00 – 17:00
- March – October: Every day 10:00 – 18:00
- Adults: CHF 5. Children under the age of 16: free.
- Not included in Zurich Card.
- Audio guide included.
Let’s walk now on one of the little streets that end in Bahnhofstrasse where the road opens onto Paradeplatz.
The name of the square comes from the military parades that used to take place in this area.
Probably it’s not easy for you to picture it that way but the square served once as a livestock market!
Today Paradeplatz is the main tram junction of the city and site of elegant buildings like the chocolate shop Sprüngli and the bank Crédit Suisse.
We walk Bahnhofstrasse to the end and get to Bürkliplatz.
If you haven’t taken a lake cruise yet you can do it here.
Or you can relax on a bench and enjoy the view of the lake and the Alps with the funny ducks and the elegant swans.
THINGS TO DO IN ZURICH ALONG THE RIGHT SIDE OF LIMMAT RIVER.
Our itinerary through the left side of Limmat started from the northernmost point. So this time we will start our walk on the right side of the river from the southernmost city attraction: Zürichhorn park.
ZÜRICHHORN PARK AND CHINESE GARDEN.
Zürichhorn park is a large green area with modern sculptures located beyond the nice walkway along the lake.
We walked around Zürichhorn on a lovely Sunday afternoon of summer and the park was so full of people.
We found so funny that most locals bring with them a mini portable barbecue to cook their meat. They’re genius!
In the park there is also a Chinese garden donated to the city by Kunming, Zurich’s Chinese partner town, but we unfortunately found it closed.
So we could just sneak a picture of the entrance through the gate.
Chinese Garden Opening Hours:
- March 16th – October 20th: Every day 11:00 – 19:00
- October 21st – March 15th: Closed
Chinese Garden Prices:
- Adults: CHF 4. Children (6-14): CHF 1. Children under the age of 6: free.
- Not included in Zurich Card.
After a nice walk along the lakefront we get in front of the elegant building of the Opera House.
The Opera House was built in neo-baroque style in 1891 and is used for internationally famous ballets and opera productions.
We leave now the lakefront and start our walk along the river on a street called “Limmatquai” that means “along the Limmat”.
The first point of interest that we see is the Wasserkirche.
WASSERKIRCHE, THE WATER CHURCH.
Wasserkirche, the water church, has this name because it used to be located on an island that at a later stage was connected with the right bank of Limmat together with the construction of Limmatquai in 1839.
The church was built in the 10th century on the exact spot where Felix and Regula, the patron saints of Zurich, were executed for their Christian faith during the Roman persecution.
Wasserkirche Opening Hours:
- Wednesday – Friday 12:00 – 15:00
- Saturday – Sunday: 12:00 – 17:00
Next to the church there is Helmhaus, a palace that hosts modern art exhibitions.
GROSSMÜNSTER, THE CATHEDRAL OF ZURICH.
Poor Felix and Regula, after being executed, headed towards the hill where today stands Grossmünster taking their heads under their arms.
When I read this information on a travel guide of Zurich I got quite confused. I read again. Felix and Regula. Dead. Walk. Their heads under their arms. That doesn’t sound right.
But this is what the legend says!
In the 9th century Charlemagne founded Grossmünster, the Great Church, on the site of the tombs of Felix and Regula.
Inside the crypt you can see the big statue of the emperor.
Before it was moved to the crypt, the statue used to be in the tower where today there is a copy.
Game: Find Charles (or Waldo if you like):
The interior of the church is pretty plain, just like all the churches that were emptied of decorations and sacred images with the Protestant Reformation.
But Grossmünster is basically popular for its twin towers that can be seen throughout the city and define the skyline of Zurich.
Grossmünster Opening Hours:
- November – February: Every day 10:00 – 17:00; Sunday: Opening after the Mess
- March – October: Every day 10:00 – 18:00; Sunday: Opening after the Mess
RATHAUS, THE TOWN HALL OF ZURICH.
Along our walk through Limmatquai we pass by the Rathaus, the town hall of Zurich. If you can’t find it look for the building with the golden sculptures of lions on the main door.
The town hall is built right over the water of the river and the facade is decorated with masks and busts.
Around the Rathaus you can admire beautiful buildings, porches, houses and restaurants.
RINDERMARKT AND NEUMARKT.
We take now a side street and walk along Rindermarkt and Neumarkt, two little streets with nice design stores and handicrafts shops.
The two streets join in a quaint little square where you can see Haus zum Rech, an ancient house that hosts the municipal archive.
Once you walked all the way through Neumarkt, you could take a little detour to the right to get to Kunsthaus, the Art Museum.
We didn’t go inside but if you have enough time you can visit the largest art gallery in Switzerland and see masterpieces of Dutch painters, some works by Chagall, Munch and Giacometti and a few paintings of impressionism and post-impressionism.
- Adults: CHF 16. Children under the age of 16: free.
- Wednesday: free.
- Included in Zurich Card.
Kunsthaus Opening Hours:
- Tuesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday: 10:00 – 18:00;
- Wednesday– Thursday 10:00 – 20:00
- Closing day: Monday
We go back towards Limmatquai and start walking on Niederdorfstrasse, the main street of Niederdorf, a lively district full of little cobbled alleyways.
In this area you can find a great choice of restaurants that offer traditional dishes, a few hotels and small local shops.
THE POLYBAHN FUNICULAR RAILWAY.
It’s now time for the last stop of our itinerary in Zurich: the Polybhan Funicular Railway.
We are somewhere near the central station which is located on the other side of the river.
We get on the cute funicular, in operation since 1889, to get to the terrace of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich in just a few minutes.
From the terrace you can enjoy the view of Zurich, the perfect spot to say goodbye to the beautiful “Too-Rich”.
SOME TRAVEL TIPS ABOUT ZURICH.
HOW TO GET TO THE CITY CENTER FROM THE AIRPORT.
The easiest and cheapest way to get to the city center (central station) from the airport is by tram number 10.
The journey takes around 30 minutes and the single ticket costs CHF 4.40.
Alternatively you can take the train that links the airport to the central station in 10 minutes for CHF 6.80.
HOW TO GET AROUND.
Zurich is served by a very efficient and punctual tram system. That doesn’t surprise you right?
You can travel for 60 minutes around 1 or 2 zones with a single ticket which costs CHF 4.40. The more zones you travel the higher the price gets.
Take a look at ZVV website for more details about the ticket fares and to download the map of the zones (the city center is in zone 110).
There is also a local zone ticket that costs CHF 2.70 for short distance trips of 30 minutes within one zone.
The daily pass around 1 or 2 zones costs CHF 8.80.
If you want to visit some museums, take the train to Uetliberg and a lake cruise, the Zurich Card is definitely convenient for you.
The Zurich Card costs CHF 27 for 24 hours or CHF 53 for 72 hours and includes the public transport and rail around many city zones (including the train from and to the airport), lake cruises, free entry to many museums and a few discounts.
Click here for more information on the Zurich Card.
WHERE TO PARK.
If you travel by car you would soon realize that parking is really expensive!
But don’t worry! I have the solution for you!
We found an amazing car park at a very good price.
The exact address is Uni Irchel Winterthurerstrasse 181 Zurich, ZH 8057 where you find an underground parking just a few steps from the tram stop Universität Irchel, served by tram number 9 and 10.
The first 15 minutes are free.
The first parking hour costs only CHF 2 and any additional hour CHF 1.50.
Besides, the parking is located right next to Irchelpark, a huge green area of 32 hectares full of cycling and running paths.
WHERE TO EAT IN ZURICH.
Niederdorf is for sure the main area of the city for dining as it offers a great selection of restaurants.
There are also many restaurants in Schipfe and along Limmatquai.
Among the traditional dishes are fondue and raclette. But keep in mind that these are mainly winter dishes and it could be not easy to find them in the summertime.
Some fondue restaurants are even closed for the whole spring and summer.
We didn’t try it but apparently the fondue of the restaurant Gmuetliberg in Uetliberg is one of the best and its location in a mountain chalet is very cute.
Raclette instead, despite being a winter dish too, is easier to find in Summer.
We had raclette in Raclette Factory in Niederdorf and we recommend it for sure.
What we liked most was that you can choose small portions (like some sort of tapas) and taste different types of raclette.
Besides, prices are quite fair unlike most restaurants of Zurich.
WHERE TO STAY IN ZURICH.
I’m sure this information won’t surprise you much but guess what? Hotels in Zurich are very expensive! Strange isn’t it?
We stayed in Winterthur as it was a very strategic location for our journeys in Switzerland.
But if you want to stay in Zurich here’s a map of available accommodations.
You can cross-check this map against the map of my itinerary in Zurich in order to find the accommodation closer to the points of interests.
So we come to the end of my article. I hope that you liked my itinerary through the things to do in Zurich.
Especially I hope that my travel tips help you to reduce the costs of your stay and to make “Zu-rich” a little less “rich”.