As the largest city in Switzerland, Zurich is rich in history, architecture, natural beauty, and just about everything else (after all, it’s also the country’s financial capital). It has world-class museums and art galleries, convenient access to two breathtaking bodies of water in Lake Zurich and the Limmat River, and numerous Michelin-starred restaurants.
For travelers, the issue isn’t deciding whether or not to visit Zurich -- it’s deciding what to do when you get there. The gorgeous places on this list will give you a head start.
1. Old Town
Walk down the busy streets of Zurich’s Old Town, and you’ll feel like you’re taking a tour of the city’s history. The area is full of restaurants and features a world-famous shopping mile with medieval houses and Renaissance town halls set along narrow cobblestone streets.
Some of the city’s most famous churches and buildings can be found here, including Grossmunster and Peterskirche, which features the largest clockface in Europe. The streets of the Old Town are split by the beautiful Limmat River, so as you stroll through the area, you’ll have a perfect view of the city. Consider booking a guided tour, which will help you understand the historical significance of the Old Town’s many landmarks.
2. Lake Zurich
After you’ve finished exploring the Old Town, follow the Limmat River to Lake Zurich. Once a major transit avenue, the lake is now a serene destination that’s perfect for boating, swimming, or a shoreline picnic.
Take a quick boat ride to get the full experience of the lake and its surrounding environment -- there are regularly scheduled boat tours and cruises to choose from -- or hike the Lake Zurich Trail for an up-close-and-personal experience. The trail follows the east side of the lake and passes near a large playground, so if you’re traveling with children, it offers a great opportunity to get some light exercise.
This ninth-century church is one of the most-visited landmarks in Zurich. With its unmistakable green steeple, you can’t miss this gorgeous building set along the west bank of the Limmat. Fraumunster literally means “women’s church,” and the structure was originally used as a convent for European women of the aristocracy.
Now visitors flock to this stunning house of worship to view its impressive stained glass windows (created by artists Augusto Giacometti and Marc Chagall) and the enormous organ with its 5,793 pipes.
Zurich’s own “mountain,” Uetliberg, boasts some of the absolute best views of the city, Lake Zurich, and even the neighboring Alps. While Uetliberg is more of a hill than an actual mountain, the peak, Uto Kulm, sits 2,850 feet above sea level, and the hike up is fairly easy.
During the summer months, this peak offers clear panoramic views of the surrounding area. While hiking in the fall, you’ll experience a vantage point above the blanket of fog that often hovers over the city.
5. Thermal Baths & Spa
At the Zurich Thermal Baths & Spa, you can pamper yourself while also enjoying a beautiful rooftop view of the city. This brewery-turned-spa offers a variety of soaking experiences within century-old stone vaulted rooms.
Choose from an assortment of water treatments featuring fresh thermal water from Zurich’s Aqui spring. The main attraction is a year-round open-air bath that allows you to soak on the rooftop.
The Great Church was built in the early 12th century, and during the 16th century it played a major role in the Swiss-German Reformation led by Huldrych Zwingli and Heinrich Bullinger. If you’re interested in the history of the Protestant Reformation, this is a must-visit location.
Though the church was stripped of most of its elaborate ornamentation during the Reformation, there are still notable stained glass windows, a Romanesque crypt, and Romanesque capitals to check out. Grossmunster also has two beautiful neo-Gothic towers that were completed in the late 18th century; they are some of the most prominent features of the church.
In the heart of the city sits a park oasis. The Lindenhof town square has a rich history: It was the site of historical battles as far back as ancient Roman times. Speaking of Romans, Lindenhof in Zurich’s Old Town was once home to a Roman castle.
Today, Lindenhof is making up for that history of violence. The beautiful pedestrian-only park is full of lime trees and quite peaceful. Lindenhof also offers an amazing vantage point with incredible views of the city and the Limmat; no barbarian invasions guaranteed.
Any visit to Zurich is bound to be a memorable event. But if you can make it to all seven of these attractions, your trip to Zurich will be one for the history books.