It doesn’t take long to notice that Zurich is an incredibly picturesque and cosmopolitan city. Located on the sapphire banks of Lake Zurich and surrounded by mountains in the distance, this Swiss city is vibrant and inspiring. Despite not being the capital of Switzerland, Zurich is the most populous city in the country and therefore home to a plethora of museums, galleries, universities and cultural events.
Although the local language here is German, Zurich is an international hub, with many students and expats choosing this city as their new home. While you probably don’t want to make your trip that permanent, you may be interested in seeing what Zurich has to offer compared to other Swiss or European cities.
If you love classic architecture, diverse art, and hanging by the lake, you will undoubtedly fall in love with Zurich. Read on for 22 of the best Zurich attractions and activities.
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Swiss National Museum
To thoroughly learn about the history of Switzerland, the Swiss National Museum is the first place to go. The museum is located opposite the main train station inside a fairytale-like Renaissance building built in 1898. The permanent exhibitions display the country’s largest collection of artefacts, from prehistoric pottery and weaponry to Gothic artwork.
The History of Switzerland exhibition covers 550 years of the nation’s evolution and independence; Archaeology in Switzerland showcases 1,400 archaeological pieces once used by the Celts, the Alemanni and the lake dwellers; and Ideas of Switzerland shares the concepts, thoughts and individuals that helped shape modern Swiss culture.
Zurich is situated in the northwest corner of the banana-shaped Lake Zurich. The lakeside promenade, stretching all the way from Bellevue to Tiefenbrunnen, is known for attracting majestic white swans as well as ducks. Sit on one of the benches and watch the birds swim and play for a moment.
A cruise along Lake Zurich is a relaxing way to admire the landscape of the city. Go all out on a private speedboat day trip with champagne and snacks included, or take a one-to-four-hour-long group cruise. The possibilities really are endless. The mini lake cruises lasting 55 minutes depart hourly and are a perfect option for the more spontaneous travellers who don’t like to schedule too far in advance. Some cruises operate year-round, while others only run between April and October.
The main street in downtown Zurich is Bahnhofstrasse. This street also happens to be one of the most expensive and exclusive in the world for retail shopping, with many shopfronts displaying luxury brand names like Chanel, Gucci and Louis Vuitton. So, if you’re trying to avoid any big purchases, it might be wise to leave most of your cash in your hotel room!
Regardless, Bahnhofstrasse is a must for a stroll or some window-shopping. Although mostly a pedestrian zone, a number of tram routes also run through the street. During December, the pathways are embellished with festive Christmas decorations.
One of the largest churches in Zurich is Grossmünster. Built between 1100 and 1220, the former Romanesque monastery church is best recognised for its twin towers at the front. Keeping with the Romanesque architecture, beautiful medieval columns create a portal entrance with mythical figures carved at the top. The unique stained glass windows are another highlight. Installed in 2009 by Sigmar Polke, they add a modern touch to the historic church.
Grossmünster played a significant role in the 16th-century Protestant Reformation in Switzerland, and there is a small museum inside to teach you about these events. There is also a crypt that was in use during the 11th and 13th centuries.
Another of the four main churches in Zurich is Fraumünster, right by the Münsterbrücke bridge. Although the original Fraumünster was established in 853, the current structure dates back to 1250. You will easily spot the church by its high clock tower, which has an unusual light blue spire. You can climb up this tower for a gorgeous view across the city and the Limmat River.
Pay the small entrance fee to see the magnificent frescoes and the pipe organ, which is the largest in Zurich. There are audio guides available in at least eight different languages if you’re interested in learning a bit more.
Fifa World Football Museum
One of the most fun things to do in Zurich with kids is to take them to the Fifa World Football Museum. Opened in 2016, this modern museum utilises state-of-the-art design to create interactive multimedia exhibitions all about the history of FIFA and the sport of football (or soccer, depending on where you’re from).
The children can keep occupied playing games, while the adults can watch some of the videos and short films screening. There are regular hour-long tours in both German and English that highlight the top exhibits at the museum, as well as occasional special events for the kids.
Planet Football on Floor 0 takes you through FIFA’s timeline from an international perspective. The Lab on Floor 1 is an engaging learning space with hands-on activities and exercises, while the Fields of Play exhibition will give you an insight into the global impact the sport has had on society. On Floor 2, check out the museum shop for football-related books and merchandise.
The Botanical Garden of the University of Zurich is one of the city’s few free attractions, and easily one of the most peaceful places to visit in Zurich. Just a short walk from the Hegibachplatz transit stop is a natural oasis that offers a relaxing break from the noise of the city.
The three large dome-shaped greenhouses date back to the late 1970s and contain tropical and subtropical climates. Pay close attention to the lily pad pond and you might see a few frogs. Outside, wander around the gorgeous pond and arboretum or take a quiet walk through the spacious open meadow. There are more than 7,000 different plant species here, so you will always find flowers in bloom no matter the season.
Zurich Opera House
One of the most stunning architectural achievements in the city is the Neoclassical Zurich Opera House. After the former theatre in the same location burnt down in 1890, it took only 16 months to build the new opera house. On the top of the building are sculptured white stone figures of six famous composers and playwrights: Mozart, Shakespeare, Goethe, Weber, Wagner and Schiller. The Neo Rococo auditorium inside fits 1,100 seats.
As the home of the Zurich Opera and the Zurich Ballet, it’s the ultimate venue to see world-class shows, performances, concerts and recitals. In fact, it was named Best Opera Company of the Year in 2014. Check the online calendar (available in English) to see what’s on during your trip. Unfortunately, the regular guided tours are only available in German.
Since the Limmat River runs through the city and leads into Lake Zurich, a leisurely cruise is perfect for seeing the Old Town’s most breathtaking sights. The boats are low enough to pass underneath all of the city’s bridges and allow you to take in Zurich from a different perspective.
A Limmat River cruise can be done in under an hour, making it a great activity for travellers that are only in the city for one or two days. The one-way stretch to Zürichhorn takes 25 minutes, making the return journey about 50 minutes long. Tours depart every 30 to 35 minutes between April and October.
The avant-garde movement known as Dadaism was born in 1916 at the infamous Cabaret Voltaire. This unique form of art and self-expression saw bizarre performances, paintings and sculptures that spoke against materialism and modern society. In the following years, this movement spread to France, Italy and Germany.
Set to close down in the early 21st century, a group of ‘Neo-Dadaists’ occupied Cabaret Voltaire for three months, putting on performances, poetry evenings and parties in protest. After renovations, the venue reopened with the same spirit it had a century ago.
While its facade on the corner of Spiegelgasse is simple and unassuming, the vibe inside is one-of-a-kind. Stop by and chill out in the hip cafe and bar area, view the eclectic art exhibits, and listen to some live jazz music.
Fondue and Wine Tuk Tuk Tour
Anyone can walk into a restaurant and order cheese fondue, but how many can say they’ve eaten it while on a tuk tuk? On this unique tour through Zurich, board an environmentally-friendly, electric-powered tuk tuk and ride past some of the city’s best landmarks.
On this private 90-minute experience, you can dig into one of Switzerland’s national dishes while sharing a bottle of white wine. Even more, your friendly guide will personalise the tour for you and stop for photo opportunities whenever you like.
The UBS Polybahn is the city’s most iconic funicular railway. The bright-red cable car departs from the central square and makes its way to the upper station around the ETH Zurich university area. Although the ride is short, the superb views from the top make it well worth it. If you have a Zurich City Card, the cost is already covered too. If you’re walking along Zähringerstrasse or Seilergraben near the lower station, it’s also cool to see the cable car emerge from a hole in the wall.
If you need to cool down during the summertime, Seebad Enge is the place to be. This spot on Lake Zurich offers an enclosed 44-metre-long swimming pool surrounded by wooden planks. In summer, it’s usually pretty packed by the time the sun starts to go down, so make sure you arrive early before it gets too busy.
The bar and kiosk area allows you to stay all day if you want. There’s nothing like a few beers by the water while on holiday! Grab a light lunch or dig into a barbecue dinner in the evening.
While the pool is only open from mid-May until mid-September, there are sauna facilities available here during the winter.
Zurich Tram Museum
Public transport is a way of life in Zurich, with trams being the most popular choice for getting around the city. Horse-pulled trams were introduced in the 1880s, with an electrified system in operation by the late 1890s.
At the site of the former tram depot, you can admire 20 of the most colourful and eclectic tram cars used between 1897 and 1968. Children will absolutely adore the Tram Museum. There’s a kid-sized tram that they can steer back and forth, as well as a large toy train track set up. The opening hours are a little unusual, so check in advance before you go.
Put your strength and coordination skills to the test at Minimum, a boulder climbing hall with over 200 exciting challenges. Bouldering is similar to rock climbing, except it is done without a harness. You don’t need to be concerned about falling, however, as there are padded mats for your safety. All ages and abilities are welcome, as there are courses for both beginners and experts. After you’ve worked up an appetite, pop into the restaurant for a healthy and filling meal.
High Ropes Adventure Park
Head outdoors for a different kind of adrenaline rush at the Rope Park. There are a dozen rope courses here with five different levels of difficulty, so you can pick what you’re comfortable with. The staff will provide you with the proper climbing equipment and give you a few instructions for your safety. In summer, you can cool off in the outdoor pool afterwards.
Afraid of heights? There are special courses once a month to help people move past these fears in an encouraging, fun and safe environment. Activities like archery and mini golf are also offered throughout the winter.
Escape the city for a little while and unwind in the idyllic Chinese Garden. Located by the lake at Zurichhorn, this peaceful temple garden was a gift from Zurich’s sister city in China, Kunming. There is a central pond with elegant pavilions, a small palace, and even a rocky mountain feature with a tiny cave. You will immediately notice that the entire garden is maintained with pride. Relax on the grass with a book or simply stop by to take some beautiful photographs.
The garden is dedicated to the Three Friends of Winter: pine, bamboo and plum blossom. Ironically and unfortunately, it is closed for winter between mid-October and mid-March.
To reach one of the best lookout points in Zurich, catch another bright-red cable car up to Felsenegg. The cost of this trip is covered by the Zurich City Card. The summit is over 800 metres above sea level and offers unforgettable views across Lake Zurich and the Alps.
Walk five minutes from the upper station and you’ll reach a panoramic restaurant, where you can indulge in some mulled wine with your cheese and meat fondue.
If you want to explore the natural beauty of the area further, there’s a straightforward yet scenic loop trail that’s perfect for a 90-minute hike.
Migros Museum of Contemporary Art
Spend some time at the Migros Museum of Contemporary Art appreciating the mesmerising modern artwork on display. With newly curated exhibitions every year, each piece is colourful, inspiring and thought-provoking. Many of the creative installations tend to address contemporary social issues like consumerism and environmentalism.
Among the art education programs are hour-long guided tours, creative workshops and talks, and family afternoons on Sundays. If you can, stop by on a Thursday evening for free admission. The gift shop sells a range of books and souvenirs, including a ton of vibrant tote bags.
Chocolate and Sweets Old Town Walking Tour
Anyone with a sweet tooth won’t want to miss the Chocolate and Sweets Walking Tour of the Old Town. Over two and a half hours, you’ll learn how Swiss chocolate is made and sample a range of treats from local shops, including truffles, pralines, nougat, pastries and chocolate bars.
Meet some of the best confectioners in Zurich who are delighted to share their passions with you. Although this is a group tour, spots are limited to eight people to ensure personalised attention from your guide.
The largest landscaped park in Zurich is the centrally-located Rieterpark, taking up about 70,000 square metres of land. The park is full of statues and flower beds, and you can spot Lake Zurich in the distance.
A festival of music and literature is held here every summer towards the end of June. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting while it’s on, the programme typically includes classical music concerts, plus street food vendors and market stalls.
Within the grounds of the park, you will come across Museum Rietberg, set inside a gorgeous villa built in 1855. Whilst the tours and workshops at the museum are all in German, you can view the permanent and temporary collections displaying treasures from all around the world. The staff at the museum cafe can prepare you a picnic basket to take into the park during the summer, so be sure to take advantage of this generous offer.
Glacier Express Tour
The Glacier Express is without a doubt one of the best day trips from Zurich. Hop aboard this express train and travel through Ruinaulta, Switzerland’s Grand Canyon, as you pass the snow-capped Rhine Valley and picture-perfect villages like Andermatt and Brig. Whenever the train stops, your private guide will take you sightseeing and personally introduce you to another beautiful part of Switzerland. On the way back to Zurich, you’ll travel past the stunning Lake Thun. The mesmerising journey lasts 10 hours in total, plus hotel pick-up and drop-off.
Recommended tours in Zurich
- Mount Titlis and Lucerne Day Tour from Zurich
- Jungfraujoch: Top of Europe Day Trip from Zurich
- Zurich City Highlights Tour with Felsenegg Cable Car and Ferry Ride
- Zurich City Tour Experience
- Swiss Cheese, Chocolates and Mountains Small-Group Tour from Zurich
- Zurich Old Town Walking Tour
- Private Tour: Central Zurich and Surroundings Tour by Electric Tuk Tuk
- Mt First Top Adventure from Zurich
- Swiss Travel Pass – All in One Ticket for Switzerland
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