Zurich, the largest city in Switzerland, is a cosmopolitan metropolis packed with great culture, a significant art scene, superior food, and handsome architecture. The city is super easy to get around by either strolling the hilly streets or taking the efficient trams. Three to four days is ideal to fully explore Zurich.
Besides being surrounded by the luscious green hills of the Swiss Plateau, Zurich is blessed with two, sparkling waterways, Lake Zurich and the Limmat River, giving the city an added natural beauty.
Pro Tip: Swiss German, a specific German dialect, is the official language of Zurich, but English is spoken in almost all the shops, restaurants, and hotels.
Activities On Lake Zurich
Take advantage of vast, clear Lake Zurich, measuring 34 square miles, by partaking in some of the fun activities.
During the summer months, the city sections off parts of the lake for swimming along with bathhouses where you can get a locker and a towel for a small fee. If you are brave enough to bear the cold, take a swim in the winter months, where you can also warm up afterward in a sauna on the Enge area of the lake.
Close to the centrally located Zurich Opera House is Lago, a platform where you can rent a motorboat or paddleboat. You also have the option of hiring a skipper to navigate a private yacht rental.
Pro Tip: You don’t need to have a boating license to rent a motorboat.
Stand Up Paddle Boarding/SUP
If you are the more adventurous type, rent a paddle board from SUPSWISS, and glide away on the lake.
There’s a wide variety of cruises and cruise boats that cross Lake Zurich and the Limmat River. Tours last anywhere from 50 minutes to a full day. There are also specialty voyages such as a cheese fondue cruise, literary cruise, brunch cruise, and murder mystery cruise. Zurichsee is the main company that organizes cruises on Lake Zurich.
Cycling on the perimeter of Lake Zurich is another terrific way to see the highlights of Zurich as well as the luxurious mansions and villas lining the lake, and the Glarus Alps, and at the end of your journey, you can relax in the thermal baths. There’s a two-stage route covering 32 miles in total.
The Old Town
One of the unmissable highlights of Zurich is the Old Town. Put on your most comfortable and sturdiest rubber soled shoes or sneakers and explore the quaint, cobblestone streets, buildings, and homes with colored facades and towers dating back as far as the 13th century, ancient water basins and fountains, old-world cafes and restaurants, and small boutiques and individual shops. There are four sections of the Old Town: Lindenhaus, Rathaus, Hochschulen, and City which cover both sides of the Limmat River.
One of the oldest parts of Zurich is the Lindenhof, which is lined with linden trees and is traced back to Roman times of the 1st century B.C. Rathaus is the original city hall of Zurich from the 1300s, and the current structure was constructed in the 1700s, incorporating Baroque and Renaissance architecture.
Take a break during your walk and indulge in a sumptuous pastry at Schobert tea salon, café, and confection shop that’s been a local favorite since 1842. Specialties include its famous, sinfully rich hot chocolate topped with fresh whipped cream.
If you’d like to take a guided walking tour to see the best Old Town has to offer, this 2-hour tour is one of the most popular with tourists and locals alike.
Chocolate, Chocolate, And Even More Chocolate
Just the mere mention of Switzerland immediately conjures up the word chocolate. Swiss chocolate is famed the world over and on almost every corner of Zurich there’s a chocolate shop waiting for you to try.
Lindt Museum And Chocolate Factory
Even a die-hard chocoholic will be impressed with a visit to the Lindt Museum and chocolate factory. The Lindt Museum opened in 2020 and is the largest museum of its type in the world. The centerpiece of the vast, 65,000 square foot complex, is an astounding, 30-foot-high chocolate fountain in the white marble lobby of the museum, where 1500 liters of liquid chocolate flows off a giant gold whisk on to a truffle. A winding marble staircase takes you through the various levels of the museum where there are interactive displays. You will learn about the origins and the thousands year old history of the cacao bean, first developed in the South America and the Amazon, how chocolate made its way to Europe, how the chocolate industry in Switzerland was developed in the early 1800s, and how milk chocolate was invented in Switzerland in 1879. You also get to see the latest technology in how chocolate is produced, and the best part of your visit is the unlimited chocolate tasting during the tour. There’s a café and restaurant with chocolate treats and hot chocolate and an enormous store selling every variation of Lindt chocolate you can imagine.
Pro Tip: The Lindt Museum is about a 20-minute bus ride from the center of Zurich. Take the #165 bus from Bürkliplatz stop to the Lindt & Sprüngli stop. Buses run approximately every 30 minutes. You can pre-purchase your tickets here.
Sprungli is one of the top chocolate and confectionery brands in Zurich, and the flagship store on the Paradeplatz also includes a café and restaurant. Peruse the dozens of showcases featuring chocolate pralines, truffles, and milk, white, and dark chocolate bars with varying cacao percentages. A non-chocolate, signature specialty at Sprungli is Luxemburgerli, a bite size macaron in over a dozen flavors.
Located on a small street in the Old Town, Max Chocolatier produces super high quality, handmade chocolates in small batches.
The largest and most significant art museum in Switzerland, Kunsthaus Zürich houses centuries of artworks from the Middle Ages all the way to contemporary, 21st-century works. In 2021, the Kunsthaus Zürich expanded with a new wing dedicated to works from the 1960s and it also contains the Emil Bührle Collection, which is one of the most prized and important art collections in Switzerland. Together, the two structures now constitute the largest art museum in Switzerland.
Le Corbusier House
The Pavillon Le Corbusier is the last building designed by groundbreaking architect Le Corbusier. In 1960, Heidi Weber, a Swiss interior designer, art patron, and gallery owner, enlisted Le Corbusier to build a museum in Zurich, and she used her own money to finance the construction. Opened in 1967, over the next 50 years Weber ran the museum and funded its upkeep and exhibitions. The stunning steel and glass building with bright colored panels sits on a grassy knoll surrounded by tall trees.
Pro Tip: Stroll through the streets near the Le Corbusier House and discover beautiful Art Nouveau mansions and homes from the late 20th century.
Restaurants And Cafes
There’s an eclectic range of cuisine in Zurich’s restaurants and cafes including traditional Swiss, French, Thai, Japanese, and German.
Restaurant Zum Kropf
A 15th-century house with rich wood paneling, and hand-painted ceilings and murals, is the backdrop for Restaurant Zum Kropf, which serves traditional Swiss dishes such as leberknödelsuppe (liver dumpling soup), bratwurst sausages, boiled beef, wiener schnitzel, apple strudel, and an extensive beer menu.
A grand cinema from 1920 has been converted into an uber-cool, contemporary restaurant. Razzia serves a stylish menu of Asian fusion cuisine with Thai touches. Diners can peer into the open kitchen and enjoy a cocktail or glass of wine in the connecting chic bar and lounge.
Odeon is a legendary, Art Nouveau style coffee house from 1911 and is known for its roster of intellectual elite clientele of artists, writers, musicians, and poets including Somerset Maugham, Erich Maria Remarque, Toscanini, and Albert Einstein.
Ameron Bellerive Au Lac
The ideal location of Ameron Bellerive au Lac Hotel, facing Lake Zurich, is close to the opera house and downtown, and within walking distance to the Old Town. The rooms and public areas are a pleasant combination of Art Deco and contemporary design. Room amenities include a king size bed, free bottled water, heated bathroom floors, safe, Nespresso machine, and air conditioning.
La Reserve Eden Du Lac
In the super luxury, five-star hotel category, La Reserve Eden Du Lac
is at the very top. World renowned architect and designer Philippe Starck has converted a 100-year-old hotel directly on Lake Zurich into a stylish recreation of an exclusive yacht club. La Reserve Eden Du Lachas only 40 rooms, mostly with views of the lake, and amenities include a separate dressing room, Nespresso machine, a safe, and luxury toiletries. The Eden suite, measuring a spacious 850 square feet, has a king size bed, a living room, and four balconies that face the lake. The La Muna restaurant on the sixth floor with wood floors, beams, and walls has the feel of an intimate chalet and has 360 degree views of Lake Zurich and the city. In warmer weather, the restaurant extends outside with a tree-lined terrace.
Pro Tip: The current exchange rate of the Swiss franc to the U.S. dollar is $1.10, making Zurich on the expensive side, so be prudent when planning your trip.
Pro Tip: If you are short on time and want to see as much of Zurich as possible, this tour includes an educational bus ride through the city, a boat cruise on Lake Zurich, exploring the Lindt Museum And Chocolate Factory, and touring the Zürichberg district.
Check out these other destinations in Switzerland for a different experience: