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Switzerland

The Ultimate Guide to Zurich

Zurich, Switzerland - Rooftops view on Zurich city center, Switzerland. Seen from Lindenhof hill

We all might have heard the jokes about Swiss trains being more precise than the Swiss watches, and the chocolate more expensive than gold, but also worth its price! From the outside, Switzerland may seem like a slow, dreamy country for the wealthy (and retired), but we are here to bust that myth. When you go to Zurich, prepare yourself for rich cultural life, an impressive number of art galleries, great food and cute boutiques, not forgetting the fun attractions for football fans! And don’t worry, the chocolate is waiting too!

Plan your trip to Switzerland

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How to get to Zurich

Zurich has an international airport, easy to reach with the majority of international airlines like Finnair, KLM or Lufthansa. Cheap tickets from other destinations in Europe can be purchases with EasyJet, and if you book well in advance and plan your trip outside of major holiday seasons like Christmas, you can pay as little as 30 USD – a great option if you are on a budget.
It is also easy and very convenient to reach Zurich by train!

There are direct connections between Zurich and Paris, and the trains are comfortable, fast and… always on time! Taking the railway might be even nicer than reaching Zurich by plane since the Central Train Station is very impressive (actually, it is the biggest railway station in Switzerland!) so your Zurich sightseeing can start the very minute you step off the train!

ZURICH - Planes preparing for take off at Terminal A of Zurich Airport in Zurich, Switzerland. Zurich airport is home port for Swiss Air and one of european hubs.

What to expect in Zurich

Going to Zurich, prepare yourself and prepare your wallet – the city is expensive! Do not try to cut costs by eg. bringing your own bottle of water to a restaurant hoping to cut the drink off your bill, even the informal eateries are quite strict when it comes to bringing in food or drinks from outside – it’s a deliberate no. You might be relieved knowing that there are usually no hidden charges in Zurich, service fees are mostly included in the price already, and tipping is not a must in Switzerland.

Speaking of money! Do remember that Switzerland, even though it’s a country in Europe, is not a part of the European Union, which means that you cannot pay with Euros. Switzerland has its own currency, the Swiss Franc, which has approx. 1:1 conversion with US dollar.

One thing you do not have to worry about is the language! The majority of people in Zurich speak German, but you will surely be able to communicate in both French and English too! Especially around tourist spots or cultural sites, multi-lingual guides and assistance will be available.

How to get around Zurich

Zurich is very walkable! And you will enjoy the walks for sure, so remember to bring your most comfortable shoes and prepare to get around the city on foot! If you aren’t much of a walker, do not think twice, buy the so-called Zürich Card. It allows unlimited travel during either 24 (27 CHF) or 72 (53 CHF) hours throughout the entire city of Zürich, with both busses, trams and trains! The cost of the card is 27 CHF for 24 and 53 CHF for 72 hours respectively, and it can be purchased on Zurich Railway Station, in the airport or online prior to your arrival.

Zurich, Switzerland - the building of the Zurich main railway station, traffic in front of it. Zurich main railway station is the largest railway station in Switzerland and one of the busiest railway stations in the world.

The best time to visit Zurich

Summer in Zurich is magical! You can swim in Lake Zurich, and the area around the lake becomes the perfect spot for outdoor meetings and hangouts. The temperature is pleasant (around 19 – 210C) and all the Zurich attractions look beautiful, brightened up by the sun rays.

Ski and winter sports enthusiasts would want to visit the city in the winter time, as Zurich is located quite close to Swiss Alps’ ski slopes. Even if you aren’t fond of skiing, visiting Switzerland in the winter isn’t a bad idea, since many agencies organize winter sightseeing tours and let you enjoy the serene Swiss scenery covered in snow! In December, the city also becomes home to cosy Christmas Markets, so in Zurich, cold weather means warm and homey atmosphere!

Panoramic view of historic Zurich city center with famous Fraumunster and Grossmunster Churches and river Limmat at Lake Zurich on a sunny day with clouds in summer Canton of Zurich Switzerland

Things to do in Zurich

A walk around (and if you aren’t intimidated, also a swim in!) Lake Zurich is one of the top things to do in Zurich. You can enjoy the beautiful scenery or relax with a book by the waterside. The shore of Lake Zurich often becomes a spot for cultural activities, like movie screenings during the annual ZFF – Zurich Film Festival, which takes place every year in late September.
You should also explore the old town, and you can either do it on foot or… by boat! A leisurely cruise on Limmat River is a great way to experience the old part of the city, and if you already have the Zurich Card, you can hop on the boat for free (otherwise the price is 4ish CHF)!

Zurich, Switzerland - view along the Limmat river, buildings of the historic part of the city. Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland and the capital of the Swiss canton o Zurich.

Are you interested in popular culture and history and wondering what to do in Zurich? Visit museums! Swiss National Museum is a museum complex worth checking out if you wish to learn more about the cultural history of the country. With carefully curated permanent and temporary exhibitions, it offers a very comprehensive cultural program! For the sports-oriented explorer, we recommend the fun and very interactive FIFA World Football Museum.

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - Cityscape with view of Swiss National museum (Landesmuseum) in Zurich, Switzerland

The FIFA Museum focuses a lot on engaging viewers and creating an immersive experience for everybody, so it’s a great activity for families too! Rietberg Museum, on the other hand, is a treasure on the inside (comprehensive exhibitions presenting arts and cultural artefacts from the all around the world!), and on the outside! The new museum extension was designed by architects Alfred Grazioli and Adolf Krischanitz and has become an icon of architectural balance and elegance. A must-see not only for art lovers but also fans of modern architecture!

Zurich, Switzerland - at the exposition of FIFA official museum

Places to visit in Zurich

Whether you’re looking for a nice place to eat, a cute boutique to buy souvenirs from or simply want to have a stroll in a cool neighbourhood, do visit Zurich West! This now up-and-coming area is a former industrial district where building spaces and old venues have been repurposed and have now become homes to chic eateries and shops. Looking for things to do in Zurich at night? Western district is the place to go – both for local and visiting night owls, also great if you are a solo traveller and looking for open-open-minded locals to chat to!

ZURICH SWITZERLAND - : Industrial and urban buildings in the modern town part district 5 of Zurich at evening. Zurich is the biggest city in Switzerland.

Not a night owl? Not a problem! At 7 am the Botanical Garden opens, and it’s a great place for a relaxed morning stroll with a cup of freshly brewed coffee. Admire the variety of botanical species or simply enjoy the quiet atmosphere. And if you are on the lookout for free things to do in Zurich, you will be happy to know that there is no fee to enter the Botanical Gardens!
Looking for more free things to do in Zurich?

The greenhouse of the botanical garden in Zurich

We recommend visiting the commercial art galleries on Limmatstrasse. Hauser and Wirth or the slightly smaller Galerie Bob Van Orsouw will for sure have stunning art exhibitions on view, completely free of charge! In the same building you will be able to find the Migros Museum, which charges an entry fee every day except Thursday between 5 – 8 PM! Note that down and head out for an artsy Thursday afternoon!

Zurich, Switzerland - buildings on the Limmatstrasse street. Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland and the capital of the canton of Zurich.

Another worthy (but pricey!) mention is the Zurich Opera House! With an abundant repertoire of ballet and opera shows, but also performances for children and recitals, the Opera House attracts big local crowds. If you travel itinerary allows it, we recommend booking a ticket to one of the shows, but if you cannot find the time (or space in your budget), we recommend you to visit the site to experience the grandeur of the building itself and walk around the adjacent square.

Zurich, Switzerland - upper part of the Zurich Opera House building. Zurich Opera House (German: Opernhaus Zurich) is an opera house in the Swiss city of Zurich, located at Sechselautenplatz square.

What to eat in Zurich

You are in Switzerland – the land of cheese and chocolate, and you should not thank no to any of these! Try a traditional cheese fondue or order rösti at dinner, instead of potatoes! The omnivores would probably like to try “Zurchergeschnetzeltes” which literally translates as “cut meat Zurich style”, and if that doesn’t sound local, we do not know what does! It’s a dish where thin strips of veal meat and veal liver are served in a creamy sauce with mushrooms.

For everyone with a sweet tooth, Switzerland is a place to be. Except for the divine Swiss chocolate that we keep mentioning, you should also try the famous Zuger Kirschtorte – Zug Cherry Cake. This baked treat combines almond meringue layers and fruity cherry filling, which creates an interesting (by that, we mean addictive) flavour contrast! The rumour has it, this cherry pastry is one of Audrey Hepburn’s favourite desserts!

Swiss cuisine is heavy on dairy and meats, but there is hope for vegetarians and vegans as well! Zurich is embracing the plant-based diet and lifestyle, and many vegan eateries (like Roots and Friends) open up around the city. All your meals, from breakfast through dinner, and all the snacking in between can easily be “veganized”, so if you are planning to visit Zurich with dietary restrictions, your needs will be met for sure!

Zuger Kirschtorte is a layer cake from the city of Zug in Switzerland flavoured with cherry brandy.

Where to stay in Zurich

For many travellers the best place or area to stay in Zurich is determined by their budget. Cheap hostels can be found around Langstrasse, Zurich’s former Red-Light-District. Do not worry though, the neighbourhood has shed its past and is now blooming with small eateries and gives opportunities for a multi-cultural shopping experience. Langstrasse is situated outside of the city centre, but the street / the area is easy to reach by both bus and tram.

If money is not the problem, the area around Lake Zurich is home to some of the most luxurious hotels in the world. “Kreis 1” which is the area also referred to as the Altstadt or Old City offers boutique accommodation with the perfect view of the Limmat River flowing out to Lake Zurich. The moment you wake up, you feel like a part of a fairy tale admiring the magical Swiss scenery, but remember – this kind of magic doesn’t come cheap!

Zurich, Switzerland - embankment of Lake Zurich in the city of Zurich, venue of the Circus Knie, building of the Zurich Opera House. Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland and the capital of the Swiss canton of Zurich.

Tours to do in Zurich

When in Zurich, you should not miss the Uetliberg Mountain! Half-day excursions starting in the Old Town, and taking you to the Uetliberg Mountain can be easily arranged. Prepare yourself for a fun ride on the cable car (included in the price and arranged by your tour provider!) and stunning sights while hiking on the Planet Trail!

Zurich, Switzerland - view on the city of Zurich and Lake Zurich from Mt. Uetliberg. Mt.Uetliberg is a mountain of the Swiss plateau rising to 869 m it offers a panoramic view on the entire city of Zurich and the Lake Zurich.

If you prefer staying in the city, there are interesting tours to join as well! How about a moving culinary experience where you get to see some of the most beautiful sites of the city while dining? An eTuk Tuk fondue and wine tour is probably the most fun (and the most Swiss) way to do sightseeing! Cross some of Zürich’s most popular tourist spots off your list while enjoying cheese fondue and wine. We love this combination, and we are sure you will too!

Day trips from Zurich

Zurich offers plenty of things to do, but its incredible natural surroundings are very tempting too. The city is the perfect hub for excursions to the Swiss Alps. Day trips to the mountains are a perfect add-on to your Zurich itinerary, especially if you are longing for a getaway from the city. The mountain region called “Jungfrau” is a magnificent site in close proximity to Zurich, and the Jungfraujoch Mountain is actually on the UNESCO World Heritage-list! Breathtaking sights, serene atmosphere and fresh, uplifting breeze of the cleanest mountain air guaranteed!

Alpine peaks of Grindelwald and Jungfrau. Landskape background of Bernese highland. Alps, tourism, journey, hiking concept.

Your explorations of the Swiss Alps should not stop there though. We recommend booking a day excursion to Mount Rigi – one of the key things to do in Zurich in Winter! The trip includes a visit to Lucerne and gives you time to explore the old part of town on your own too. It’s a perfect mix of a guided and more independent way of exploring and getting to know the Swiss nature and culture!

Beautiful mountain Zinalrothorn with Swiss flag - Swiss Alps

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The Ultimate Guide to Zurich

The Ultimate Guide to Zurich

The Ultimate Guide to Zurich

Article written by:

Hi, my name is Samantha, Finance Managing Guru by day, Travel Blogging Enthusiast by... well... day too! Haha! Travelling King is the destination hotspot for the wannabe traveller! Showcasing affordable, luxurious getaways for the budget conscious!With the combination of my financial knowledge and travelling experiences I aim to show you, with a little planning, the right budget and a realistic goal you can fulfil your travel fantasies and explore the world whatever your budget or desires may be!