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!
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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!
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.
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!
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)!
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.
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!
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!
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?
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
Want to learn how to travel on a Budget? Check out our dedicated “Budget Conscious Travel Guide”
- Recommend budget tours in Zurich
- Swiss Alps Day Trip from Lucerne: Jungfraujoch and Bernese Oberland
- Private Tour: Zurich City Highlights
- Zurich City Highlights with Felsenegg Cable Car Ride
- Mount Rigi and Lucerne Summer Day Trip from Zurich
- WOW Zurich Tour: on shore, on water, in the air!
- Mount Pilatus Summer Day Trip from Zurich
- Mount Rigi Winter Day Trip from Zurich
- Rhine Falls and Stein am Rhein Half-Day Tour from Zurich
- Swiss Chocolate Walking Tour of Zurich
- The Best Taste of Zurich and Panoramic Views in a Small Group Walking Tour
- Swiss Alps Small Group Day Tour from Zurich
- Bern Day Trip from Zurich
- 4-Day Switzerland Tour from Zurich Including Mt. Titlis Cable Car
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