Historic, charming and even whimsical are words that slip from the tongue when describing a visit to Zurich. Painted in pastels, framed by moody skies, the traditional Swiss buildings cuddle together as if in preparation for their famed cold winters. Wandering the old town cobblestones sparks memories of childhood fairytales. Albeit a historic destination, Zurich is also modern and dynamic with plenty to offer through its art and dining scenes too. Due to its size and relatively high cost to visit most only spend 2 days in Zurich, which is enough to get a taste for what this quaint European city has to offer. Our Zurich city guide shares things to do in Zurich for the first time visitor including off the beaten path gems if you have 3 days in Zurich or more.
Anna Vagstad | Skye Gilkeson
Arriving in Zurich
- Grab a Zurich Card from the airport or train station, depending on how you are arriving in the city. The Zurich Card, will allow you to enter more than 40 museums, use public transport and access discounts on Zurich restaurants which will come in handy in this pricey city.
- In Zürich HB, Zurich’s main train station you will find plenty of cafes, shops, and restaurants. You will likely find yourself here a number of times during your visit as it is the key connector hub station for regional, international and local trains.
- Take the time to check out the artworks hanging in the main hall of the station by Niki de Saint Phalle and Mario Merz.
- Zurich is a very walkable city, which is one of the big attractions when visiting. However, make sure you are wearing comfortable, supportive shoes as the old streets are paved with cobblestone. Also, pack plenty of layers as the temperatures can become particularly cold with limited protection from the elements when walking between the gorgeous old buildings.
- You will find public fountains with clean drinking water all around Zurich centre. So, pack your travel water bottle to refill it here to save waste and money.
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The Best Time to Visit Zurich
Your Zurich itinerary may be affected by what time of year you are visiting the city. Temperatures can reach about 0° in January (32°F) at the peak of winter. While Christmas can be a charming time to see the city illuminated with lights and bursting with seasonal cheer, the summer months (June – September) are the best time to visit Zurich with temperatures sitting in the low 20s (68°C).
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Where to Stay in Zurich
You guessed it, Zurich hotels are not cheap with even the most budget Zurich Hotels sparking gasps when researching prices. The easiest way around this is to stay slightly outside of the city in an apartment or hotel and utilise the efficient train system to commute in and out of town. The only drawback to this is if you only have 2 days in Zurich, you will be spending some of that precious time on the train.
On our recent visit, we stayed at the ACASA Suites and we absolutely loved it. The luxury suite-hotel features modern design features, in-room kitchenettes and delicious food and drink offerings. There is also a supermarket within walking distance. Oerlikon Train Station is a few minutes walk away where trains will take you directly to the city with your Zurich Card. It is also just a few kilometres from the airport.
If you are able to splurge, there are several incredible hotels in Zurich city centre. Search all Zurich hotels here.
How to Spend 2 Days in Zurich
Luckily, 2 days in Zurich will be enough to cover quite a bit of ground; with plenty of things to do in Zurich city centre and surrounds, if you manage your time well.
Zurich Old Town
Walking Zurich Old Town is high on every visitor’s list of things to do in Zurich. It is a must-do for first-time visitors or those who only have a day in Zurich.
From Zurich HB, wander across the road from the station, grab a delicious take away coffee from ViCafe and walk up to bahnhofstrasse, Zurich’s famed shopping street. You’ll find big brand names, fast fashion, lovely architecture and those iconic clocks and watch boutiques for visitors with deeper pockets.
St. Peter Church
Peterskirche (or St. Peter Church) features Europe’s largest clock face. The oldest Parish church in Zurich, is just a short detour off Bahnhofstrasse and a landmark you won’t miss while wandering the old town.
Stop in at Giocometti Hall to see the stunning murals that make this the prettiest police station you’ve probably ever seen. Artist Augusto Giacometti spent two years transforming the space with a vibrant, warm palette of florals. He completed the work in 1925. You need your identification to get in as it’s a police station. Entry is from 9-11am and 2-4pm daily.
Get your camera ready, Lindenhof is one of the best photography spots in Zurich. Formerly the site of a fort in the 4th Century fort and palace in the 9th century, today it offers the perfect panorama of the old town, Limmat river and the Swiss mountains beyond.
The Fraumünster Church should be on your list, whether you are religious or not. Famous for its breathtaking Chagall stained glass windows and other treasured works by Giacometti and Bodmer. The church itself dates back to 853 and is one of the most iconic sites in Zurich.
Admission costs CHF 5 which gives you entry to the crypt museum. It also entitles you to a discount on admission to the Kunsthaus Zürich to see more of Chagall’s work. In winter (November to February), the church is open from 10am to 5pm. The rest of the day it is open until 6pm.
Once you’ve visited the church, you’ll find lots of cute cafes and restaurants and boutiques in the surrounding streets should you need a break from the weather or the walking, before heading to the nearby Kunsthaus Museum.
Nestled in the heart of Zurich’s old town, the Kunsthaus Museum is home to the largest Marc Chagall collection in Switzerland. It also features pieces by Picasso, Kandinsky and Monet, as well as local artists in its permanent collection and a dynamic schedule of temporary exhibitions worth looking up before your visit. If you go to the Fraumünster Church, your ticket will get you a CHF 5 discount to the museum. The museum is closed on Monday.
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A short walk across the famed Munsterbrucke bridge, you can’t miss the Grossmünster Church, one of Zurich’s most iconic landmarks. The towers of the Romanesque style church dominate the Zurich skyline. The church is said to have been built on the If you are fit, pay CHF 4 to climb the 187 steps to the tower and take in the panorama of the city. It will take your breath away.
One of Zurich’s best-kept secrets, strolling alongside the Schanzengraben canal is a peaceful contrast to the other busy tourist spots. In summer, you may find more crowds enjoying the canal and even locals taking a dip, but should you visit first thing in the morning you may just have it all to yourself.
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Go Swimming in the Limmat River
In summer, don’t miss swimming in the Limmat River. Oberer Letten and Unterer Letten are local favorite spots to jump in. Grab a snack at Dynamo near Oberer Letten or Am Damm für Dich near Unterer Letten. Oberer Letten is walking distance from Zurich
Explore Lake Zurich
Stroll along Lake Zurich between Operahaus and Zürihorn. It should take about 20 minutes. Or a little longer with photo and snack stops. Jump on a public boat for a ride on the lake from Burkliplatz. You can also rent a paddleboard (May to September), do an SUP Yoga class (on Friday morning) at Bade Enge, about 10 minutes walk further around the water.
Go Shopping in Kreis 5
Zurich’s trendy neighbourhood in Zurich West, Kreis 5 (District 5) should be top of your list if you are interested in fashion, art or architecture. The revamped industrial area is now a place to be seen, to shop and dine. Stop in at Viadukt for some shopping. The lovingly converted railway viaducts are home to and grab lunch at the market where the seafood is the pick.
Relax at Fraugerolds Garten
Within walking distance, is Fraugerolds Garten (Mrs Gerold’s Garden) and the ideal place to spend a summer afternoon. A converted urban garden space, open-air bars have been cleverly created using containers and sit nestled among the greenery. Grab a beer and sit alfresco or order some food from the kitchen garden. In winter, rug up and enjoy a traditional feast at the fondue hut.
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Where to Eat in Zurich
Neumarkt is in a lovely location in Zurich’s oldtown. A beautiful shaded patio in the back feels like a secret garden for diners. Splurge on fresh, local food for dinner or lunch or dinner.
Kreis 6 restaurant is a little off the beaten path. It is a real neighborhood gem with excellent food and service. The menu has a Mediterranean feel with fresh, delicious plates served up with wine from around the world. Kreis 6 is open for lunch and dinner during the week and Saturday night dinner.
Didi’s Frieden is another local favourite offering a daily menu from about CHF 27. They also offer an a la carte or a set menu of four or courses for dinner from CHF 98. The menu has a great offering across cuisines from traditional German to Asian-inspired dishes.
Hiltl is the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Switzerland, founded in 1898 with a strong reputation for serving up delicious vegetarian food in Insta-worthy surrounds. With multiple locations around Zurich. Go to Hiltl Roof Terrace on a clear day to feast on colourful, clean dishes in the sunshine.
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Old Crow is Anna’s pick for cocktails in Zurich. With a seemingly never-ending cocktail menu, featuring their own creations crafted from rare spirits. Old Crow has an old-world speakeasy feel and doesn’t take bookings. It is also conveniently only a ten-minute walk to Zurich Main Station.
You’ll find a few of the family-owned and run Gelateria Diberna stores or trucks around Zurich. Born from childhood memories of Italian holidays and refreshing gelati, the Amrein brothers learned the craft and now serve up the Italian delight around Zurich and other Swiss cities.
Sweets at Sprüngli
You can’t visit Zurich without indulging in some of their famous Swiss sweets. Sprüngli is the classic Swiss offering for chocolate but Anna recommends their Luxemburgeli (macaroons) instead,
For chocolate, Läderach is the pick. Founded in 1962, the Swiss chocolatier family is known, in particular, for their truffles. Their store is conveniently located at Zurich Main Station and you can also buy some at the airport, should you need last-minute gifts to take home to the family.
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Zurich Day Trips
If you have 3 days in Zurich or even a little longer, you will have time to venture a little off the beaten path to more Zurich activities out of the centre. You may even have time to plan a day trip from Zurich to explore or experience some of the many incredible Switzerland hiking routes.
Do a Scenic Loop to Küsnacht Tobel
A short tram or boat ride from Zurich centre you can hike the Küsnacht Tobel. Take the Forchbahn tram 18 to Zumikon and hike down to Küsnacht, then take a boat back to downtown Zürich. The hike is quite easy and only takes about 1.5 hours.
Hike to Uetliberg
Uetliberg, the local viewing point. You can get to the top with a 1.5-hour hike from Triemli (+400 m elevation). Otherwise, take the S10 train and then walk an additional 15 minutes to the top. In winter, when conditions are right, you can take a train to the top and sled down. From Uetliberg, you can walk along the ridgeline to Felsenegg which takes about two hours.
Visit Fisher’s Fritz
Spend the day at Fisher’s Fritz. The camping complex enjoys prime real estate on Lake Zurich. Book in for an early Bootcamp class or learn how to wakeboard and stick around for some fresh fish and time in the sun./
Go Hiking in Interlaken
Book a train ticket to Interlaken, wake up early and go hiking in Interlaken. The trails range from easy to difficult and as Andrew discovered, you can cover a lot of ground hiking to Harder Kulm, Roteflue or farther all in a day trip from Zurich.
This guide is with thanks to my dear friend Anna who generously shared some of her Zurich local tips with us.
Skye is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Fit Traveller. She is a journalist, writer, photographer, intrepid traveller and a former personal trainer with a passion for helping others reach optimal health. As a TV journalist and producer, Skye has worked for household names such as 60 Minutes, Sunrise, TODAY and Nine News. She has also written for Women’s Health, Fodor’s Travel and Yahoo7 Travel, among many others.
Skye created The Fit Traveller as a beautiful online space and community where people feel inspired to escape the desk to move and explore more.
Equally comfortable in a 5-star resort or hiking a far-off mountain, Skye loves the unexpected and enriching life experiences that each trip brings and can often be found in a backstreet chatting to locals with her camera in hand.
Skye is based in Sydney, working to master the balance between motherhood and her insatiable appetite for adventure.