Switzerland is one of those places people know from photos or postcards, but have rarely had the chance to visit.
With the allure of the Swiss Alps, towns like Lucerne and Zermatt, as well as the chocolate and the cheese, there is so much to visit in this country, it is often hard to choose!
No matter where you decide to spend your time in Switzerland, one place you will often end up is Zurich. And although most people are in a rush to leave this bustling financial metropolis, there is actually a lot to see and do. And often you can do it all in one day. The city is so compact and easy to navigate on foot.
So, if you decide to spend a day or two in Zurich…
Here are some of the highlights you absolutely should not miss in Zurich:
ETH & The Polybahn
The ETH is not only one of the best universities in Switzerland but it is also an amazing place to get a great view over the city of Zurich. So, I recommend you come here straight away to get a fantastic overview of the city before you start exploring things further.
The ETH is reached either by foot about 10-15 minutes uphill from the Central tram station, or via the famous Polybahn cog railway from next door to Starbucks. That means you can also stop off for a coffee before you head up on the train.
The cog railway is part of the Zurich train network, so if you buy a day card for public transport, this will also be included.
Once you arrive at the top, it is just a short walk to the ETH Polyterrasse where you can see the whole of Zurich spread out before you. This means it is also a great spot for sunset, and the great news is you can grab a drink from the student bar just below the terrace to make that susnet all the better!
Niederdorfstrasse is the main street running through the old town of Zurich and as luck would have it, it starts right next to the Polybahn train station. As such, it is a great follow on from your ride up to the ETH.
The street winds its way through the East side of the old town, connecting to another street further own after the Grossmunster church. This actually takes you all the way to Bellevue and the Lake of Zurich, so it might take you a few hours to explore.
There are cozy side streets, small shops, cafes and bars, as well as a huge range of restaurants along here. One of which is popular with tourists as it allows you to have a Swiss cheese fondue while soaking up the atmosphere of the street. Great on a balmy summer’s night, or even on a cool winter evening when cheese fondue is really at its best!
No visit to the old town of Zurich is complete without popping in to the Grossmunster. Not only is it the most iconic, and standout building along the river running through Zurich. But the stain glass windows inside are said to be some of the best in Switzerland, if not Europe.
There is also the opportunity to climb one of the towers and get yet another stunning view of Zurich, only this time from a different perspective. If you missed the ETH and Polyterrace, then this is an absolute must! And at only 5 Swiss francs, it is one of the cheapest attractions you will find in Switzerland!
Once you reach the end of the old town of Zurich, you arrive at the grandiose and scenic shores of Lake Zurich. Here you have a few options, depending on the weather and amount of time you have available.
You can take a stroll along the shores in either direction. Zurich has kept quite a lot of the cityside lakeshore available to the public. This includes walkways, public parks and benches where you can take 15 minutes to soak up the lake views, which stretch all the way to the Alps in the distance.
There is also the opportunity to go for a swim in the lake in summer. You can jump in from the park itself around Bade Enge, or you can pay to enter the swimming baths themselves. They also become a bar at night, and sometimes have entertainment.
On both sides there are also paddle boats available for rent, so if swimming is not your thing, or it’s not warm enough, you can still enjoy the water directly! And for the more adventurous, there are also stand up paddle board rentals at various points along the lake which is a once in a lifetime experience.
Zurich is famous for the boatloads of money that are stashed in the vaults of the many banks that call this city home. And Bahnhofstrasse is where all the bankers who work there come to shop and hang out.
So, if you want to get a feeling of how it is to be rich, and even a little famous, this is the street to stroll along. Starting at the lake end of the street, you will pass the likes of Bulgari, Dolce & Gabbana, Jimmy Choo, Cartier, Omega watches, and a whole lot more.
As you reach the midway point along the street, the price of the goods in the shops starts to enter the “normal” realm. It is here that you may want to pop into some of the more run of the mill stores like H&M, Zara, WE and other brands you might already be familiar with.
Another great thing about Bahnhofstrasse is that one side of it is also the second half of the old town of Zurich. So, if you head off the main street a little you will also find even more alleyways and hidden treasures to explore.
Some of my favorite spots include:
Lindenplatz which is a spot high above the Limmat River where you can come to relax, or take one of the best photos in Zurich. It includes a view over the city and of the iconic Grossmunster you hopefully visited earlier!
St Peter’s Church is tucked away in this area, right along the river, and has the largest clockface in Europe. If you are lucky enough to hear the bells ring, you will see how impressive they are too.
Of course you came to Switzerland to sample the chocolate, so let me give you a few tips and how to find the “good stuff” while exploring Zurich.
My absolute favorite is Laderach, and they are very easy to find these days. They seem to have more and more shops around Zurich, so you certainly can’t miss them. From their main shop on the Bahnhofstrasse, to their smaller shop under the train station.
Sprungli is another absolute treasure and also scattered in various corners of Zurich. One of the biggest shops is on Paradeplatz, halfway along Bahnhofstrasse, where they also have a cafe. They are well known for their chocolates and cakes, but their most renowned item is the Luxemburgerli, which is actually a macaroon. Grab a small box of mixed Luxemburgerli, you won’t regret it.
If you want to sample some more niche chocolatiers instead, then you also have a few options. There is the Max Chocolatier near the Frauenmuster church, the Confiserie Teuscher also near the St Peter’s church and last but not least – Say Chocolate in the Europaallee, not far from the Sihlpost near the main train station.
It may seem like Zurich is all about shopping, eating and relaxing, but there are actually a huge range of outdoor activities to do here. The forest is only a stone’s throw away from the city, on almost all sides, and there is a lake right in the middle of the city. And on top of that, Switzerland is definitely not flat!
The home mountain of Zurich is the Uetliberg, which is a 15 minute train ride from downtown. You can ride the train to the top and go for a walk along the ridge trail, as well as take in the stunning lake views while you are there. Or, you can hike all the way to the top from Triemli tram stop, which is again around 15-20 minutes from downtown.
The same goes on the other side of the lake where you have both the Zuriberg and Pfannensteil, great places to lose yourself in the forest for hours. Of course, you can never really get lost in Switzerland because the next town, road, train or bus is usually just around the corner.
And for those wanting to get in a little skiing while in town, that is also very easy to do. The closest resorts are either Flumserberg and Hoch-Ybrig, both around 45 minutes train ride from downtown. So, if you are here in the winter months of January or February, there is sure to be some great skiing to be had, even if you only have a few days in Zurich!
Of course, there are far more outdoor activities to enjoy if you venture even further afield, but that is for another time.