Zürich, 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 this Swiss city.
Besides being surrounded by the luscious green hills of the Swiss Plateau, Zürich is blessed with two, sparkling waterways, Lake Zürich and the Limmat River, giving the city an added natural beauty. Use our travel guide below to plot out how to best spend your time in the city of Zürich.
Pro Tip: Swiss German, a specific German dialect, is the official language of Zürich, but English is spoken in almost all the shops, restaurants, and hotels.
Activities On Lake Zürich
Take advantage of the vast, clear Lake Zürich, 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 around the Enge area of the lake.
2. Boat Rentals
Close to the centrally located Zürich 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.
3. 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 Zürich 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. The Lake Zürich Navigation Company is the main company that organizes cruises on Lake Zürich.
Cycling on the perimeter of Lake Zürich is another terrific way to see the highlights of Zürich as well as the luxurious mansions and villas lining the lake. You can also see the Glarus Alps. At the end of your journey, you can relax in the thermal baths. There’s a two-stage route covering 32 miles in total.
Pro Tip: If you have an afternoon to spare, hop on the tram to take the train to Uetliberg. The hour journey up the alpine mountain is worth it for panoramic views of the city and an idyllic view of Lake Zürich. In addition to a bird’s eye view, the mountain offers hiking, biking, and toboggan trails.
The Old Town
One of the unmissable highlights of Zürich is the Old Town, or Altstadt. 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 cafés 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 Zürich 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 Zürich from the 1300s, and the current structure was constructed in the 1700s, incorporating Baroque and Renaissance architecture.
7. Café & Conditorei 1842
Take a break during your walk and indulge in a sumptuous pastry at Café & Conditorei 1842. The tea salon, café, and confection shop have been a local favorite since — you guessed it — 1842. Specialties include its famous, sinfully rich hot chocolate topped with fresh whipped cream.
Here, you can see some of the most famous buildings and churches in Zürich, including the double towers Grossmunster and Peterskirche, which features the largest clockface in Europe. One of the most stunning places in Zürich, the Fraumünster (Minster of Our Lady) church is known for its green spire, enormous organ with 5,793 pipes, and stained glass windows designed by Marc Chagall.
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.
Pro Tip: A visit to Zürich’s Old Town wouldn’t be complete without checking out the haute-couture shops along Zürich’s world-famous Bahnhofstrasse. This pedestrian and tram-only street is a super-luxe shopping strip. For more affordable shopping, visit the Niederdorf area of Old Town.
A former industrial and red-light district, Zürich West has been transformed into an epicenter of shopping, dining, and arts. It is home to theaters, contemporary architecture, art galleries, residential living, and nightlife.
9. IM VIADUKT
Shop regional and imported foods at IM VIADUKT, a former railway viaduct that now houses unique shops, restaurants, and a Markthalle full of food vendors.
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 Zürich, there’s a chocolate shop waiting for you to try.
10. Lindt Home Of Chocolate
Even a die-hard chocoholic will be impressed with a visit to the Lindt Home of Chocolate museum and chocolate factory. Lindt Home of Chocolate 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 1,500 liters of liquid chocolate flows off a giant gold whisk onto 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 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, hot chocolate, and an enormous store selling every variation of Lindt chocolate you can imagine.
Pro Tip: The Lindt Home of Chocolate is about a 20-minute bus ride from the city center. Take the #165 bus from the 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 Zürich. The flagship store on the Paradeplatz 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.
12. Max Chocolatier
Located on a small street in the Old Town, Max Chocolatier produces super high-quality handmade chocolates in small batches.
Zürich is the birthplace of the Dada art movement. The “anti-aesthetic” movement is said to have received its funny name in 1916 when a group of war resisters and young artists randomly chose it from a dictionary at Hugo Ball’s Cabaret Voltaire, aka history’s wildest nightclub. It is no surprise then, that the city is home to some incredible museums.
13. Kunsthaus Zürich
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 addition to works by Swiss artists such as Alberto Giacometti, you can also see pieces by Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Wassily Kandinsky, and Marc Chagall.
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.
Pro Tip: Don’t leave without laying eyes on Andy Warhol’s Big Torn Campbell’s Soup Can (Vegetable Beef).
Editor’s Note: Due to a fire, the museum is only partially open as of November 2022.
14. 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 Zürich, 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.
15. Swiss National Museum
Learn about Swiss history and culture at the Swiss National Museum or Landesmuseum Zürich. With exhibits for all ages, it is conveniently located next to the Zürich Hauptbahnhof (train station).
16. FIFA Museum
Sports fans may want to check out the FIFA Museum, where three floors of exhibits are dedicated to the world’s most popular sport, fútbol (aka soccer), and its governing body. You can even see the FIFA World Cup Trophy!
Editor’s Note: The FIFA World Cup Trophy is currently at the FIFA World Cup competition in Qatar and will return to the museum after its completion in December 2022.
Restaurants And Cafés
There’s an eclectic range of cuisine in Zürich’s restaurants and cafés including traditional Swiss, French, Thai, Japanese, and German cuisines.
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.
Café Bar ODEON
Café Bar 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 Zürich Bellerive Au Lac
The ideal location of AMERON Zürich Bellerive au Lac, facing Lake Zürich, is close to the opera house and downtown. It is also 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, a safe, a Nespresso machine, and air conditioning.
La Réserve Eden Au Lac Zürich
In the super luxury, five-star hotel category, La Réserve Eden au Lac Zürich is at the very top. World-renowned architect and designer Philippe Starck converted a 100-year-old hotel directly on Lake Zürich into a stylish recreation of an exclusive yacht club. La Reserve Eden au Lac has only 40 rooms, mostly with views of the lake, and amenities include a separate dressing room, a 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 Zürich and the city. In warmer weather, the restaurant extends outside with a tree-lined terrace.
Bonus Tips For Visiting Zurich
Download the Zürich Card to your smartphone to enjoy unlimited “second class” travel for 24 or 72 hours. This includes travel by train, bus, tram, and cable car within Zürich and its surrounding region. It will even cover your train ride to the city center from Zürich Airport. The Zürich Card also offers discounts on admission to attractions such as museums and activities such as tours.
If you are short on time and want to see as much of Zürich as possible, this tour includes an educational bus ride through the city, a boat cruise on Lake Zürich, exploring the Lindt Home of Chocolate, and touring the Zürichberg district.
Check The Exchange Rate
The current exchange rate of the Swiss franc (CHF) to the U.S. dollar is $1.05, but be prudent when planning your trip as Zürich can be on the expensive side.