Last month my best friend and I, embarked on a five-day road trip around the wonderful country of Switzerland. As part of our trip we explored Basel, Lucerne and Zurich, over five days, by public transport. We spent two days in Basel, one in Lucerne and two days in Zurich. All three cities were amazing and had so much to offer, check out my blog posts on 48 Hour Guide to Basel, and 5 days in Switzerland Itinerary here. But for now, welcome to Zurich!
Top places to visit in Zurich
- Hike to the top of Uetliberg
- Eat lots of Fondue!
- Swim in one of the many badi in Zurich
- Go to one of Zurich’s many street parties
- Visit the Grossmunster Church
- Wander around Altstadt
- Live the luxury lifestyle on Lake Zurich
When to visit Zurich
I visited in summer and I would definitely recommend visit Zurich between June to August: The summer months are the best time to visit Zurich, thanks to the pleasant weather (temperature averages around 21°C). Enjoy the outdoors during sunny days and party away the cool breezy evenings. Being the peak tourist season, Zurich is a tad expensive during this time.
How to get to Zurich
Where to stay in Zurich
When we booked B2 Boutique Hotel + Spa I knew it was going to be good, but I just hadn’t realised how good. Located in the former Hürlimann brewery, B2 Boutique Hotel + Spa is a quirky hotel, in the city of Zurich, where beer was once brewed. The trendy city hotel has been boldly designed around the old brewery, retaining its history and architecture. And the hotel is perfectly located in the Enge area, making it a great stay for a weekend in Zurich, and is only a ten minute tram journey away the main streets and Lake Zurich.
The hotel is sprawled across three buildings, and four-storeys, with 60 rooms for guests to enjoy. In what was once the mash house is now a sprawling lobby with lush sofas, roaring fire and tables held up by hardcover books. And just behind is The Library where over 33,000 books are placed across three 36-foot tall walls. The style of the hotel is luxury, meets industrial, where small elements of what used to be, within the Hürlimann brewery is set against plush fabrics and clean surfaces.
The city of Zurich is globally known as the centre for banking and finance in Switzerland and is located on the north end of Lake Zurich. However, Zurich isn;t just about money and finance, it’s also about the food, the culture, the people and most importantly the lake. There are many places to visit in Zurich, some include a stop in the picturesque streets of the central Altstadt (Old Town), on either side of the Limmat River, which reflect its pre-medieval history, or the waterfront promenades like the Limmatquai, which follow the river toward the 17th-century Rathaus (town hall).
If it’s hot, like it was when we went (34 degrees) the lake will be your saviour, with hundreds of places to take a dip, including many ‘badi’ – which are open-air swimming pools beloved by locals. Zurich’s residents could never live without their beloved ‘badis’, where people come in the summer to sunbathe, spend a pleasant day with their children or after work to enjoy a chilled waterside drink.
The city is also set beside the alpine mountains, and because of it’s proximity to both the mountains and the lake, living outdoors is what the Swiss do best.
So here we go, here are my favourite 15 places to visit in Zürich
1. Lake Zurich
I couldn’t put it anywhere in the list, expect first. Because for our trip in the summer, it was our saving grace, offering us fresh, cold water, and places to strip off and sunbathe when the sun was at its hottest.
There are many ways to make the most of the lake, including taking a dip, sunbathing, grabbing friends for a BBQ, and enjoying the many watersports on offer. For ease from the city, the best section to go, is the scenic promenade along the east shore in the Seefeld quarter. Here you can pitch up your towel, grab an ice cream and then look across the lake at the many watersports taking place, yachts and behind you can look over to Uetliberg. The promenade starts at Bellevue and extends for three kilometres down to Tiefenbrunnen, so there’s lots of space to sit back and relax, and take a dip when you need to cool down. We spent a lot of time here, and one evening we came down to the lake, with some beers and some food, got chatting to some locals and stayed there late in to the night, finding out about the real Zurich.
2. Altstadt (Old Town)
Making up the entirety of Kreis 1 (District 1), Zürich’s historic centre is on both banks of the Limmat, and the medieval streets of the Altstadt are where much of the city’s culture, nightlife and shopping is concentrated. Here you can find squares, cafes, independent shops and historic monuments, including four medieval churches and the 17th-century Town Hall. On the right bank along the Limmatquai are beautiful medieval guild houses for associations representing carpentry, merchants, spice traders and more.
One of the most iconic landmark of Zurich, the Grossmunster is a Romanesque church, originally built as a monastic church at the start of the 12th century and was finished just over a century later. The church an iconic part of Zurich’s skyline and plays a large role in the cities history too, with the oldest part of the church, is also original and has faded frescoes by Hans Leu the Elder from the 1400s. In the 16th century Grossmünster was ground zero for the Reformation in Switzerland, initiated by Huldrych Zwingli, and the church broke from the papacy in 1523. If this kind of thing interests you, there’s also a museum about these events at the church.
4. Zürich Zoo
If you love animals, but also love animals being treated right in captivity, then you’re going to like Zurich Zoo, which meets the highest of ethical standards. Close attention has been paid to the design of the habitats, synthesising whole ecosystems and allowing animals as much space to roam as possible. This is most impressive at the Kaeng Krachan Elephant Park, where part of the habitat for Indian elephants is in modern biome; there are even underwater viewing areas so you can watch them take a dip. In all the zoo has 4,000 animals representing 340 species, from emperor penguins that you can follow as they walk through the park, to domestic animals at the petting zoo.
As mentioned before, Uetliberg can be seen from the lake, and possibly from all over Zurich. It has been possible to get a train up to the summit Uetliberg, from the city, since 1875, in only 25 minutes. All you need to do is take the S10 on the SZU from Hauptbahnhof, and once you’ve arrived at the station you’ll have a short walk to the peak and the observation tower. From the top of Uetliberg there are some amazing views, that are out of this world. You can look over the lake, from Zurich city to the yachts gliding up and down the water, and you can also see the rivers and snow-capped Alps in the background. There is also a hotel and restaurant at the top, if you want to make the most of your trip up the mountain and grab some food, or stay a night. You can also hike the route up to the peak, but I wouldn’t recommend doing it in winter or when the weather is too hot in the summer.
The Farumuster was founded by Charlemagne’s grandson Louis the German in the 9th century, although most of the architecture is from between the 12th and 15th centuries. Since 2016 it has been possible to view stonework from the 800s in the crypt after it had been sealed off for more than a hundred years. As with the Grossmünster, Giacometti also contributed a stained glass window for this church, which you can track down in the north transept.
7. FIFA World Football Museum
If you’re a football, or travelling with a big football fanatic then FIFA’s World Football Museum is the perfect way to spend the day if the weather isn’t great. Located in the Enge quarter and having opened in 2016,, it’s fairly new and not many visitors know that it’s here in Zurich. It occupies three floors of a mixed-use development and the museum is a must-do for lovers of the beautiful game. The museum takes you back to football’s earliest days and documents every World Cup since the first in 1930.
8. Outdoor Swimming
I mentioned before about Lake Zurich, but different to swimming in the lakes and rivers, there are also swimming baths called ‘badi’. There is a women’s only ‘badi’ called Frauenbad am Stadthausquai, while the male counterpart is the one at Schanzengraben. Both of these spots also open as stylish bars on summer evenings, in a nightlife ritual that you can’t find in other cities around the world. The two are centrally located and are ideal if you want to squeeze some exercise into your day, and cool down after a long day exploring.
9. Zürich Opera House
Also located near Lake Zurich is the resplendent Neoclassical Opera House at Sechseläutenplatz, which dates to the 1890s and was conceived by the prolific Viennese architects Fellner & Helmer. It’s a beautiful building, located on a square, where there are seats set around for passers by to admire the architecture. On the exterior of the building there are famous cultural figures on the facade, where Mozart, Wagner, Schiller, Goethe, Shakespeare and Weber all have pride of place. To best understand the magic of Zurich Opera House, you must book in for one of the 250 performances each year, by international opera stars and conductors.
If you love food as much as me, you’ll understand what is so great about fondue. HOWEVER, because it was 34 degrees when wew visited Zurich in June, the last thing we wanted to eat was hot, sticky cheese, above a roaring fire. However, if it hadn’t been so hot, we would have indulged. Fondue was invented as a way to use stale bread and aged cheese in the cold winter Swiss months when fresh produce was unavailable. It is now one of the most recognized Swiss dishes and the most delicious!
11. Soak in a Thermal Spa
B2 Boutique Hotel is also a spa, with two areas for guests to enjoy. Upstairs there is a rooftop hydrotherapy pool, with views across the city. The roof (my favourite bit) is a pool with a view, where we spent many hours watching the Zurich skyline! And then downstairs there is a low-lit network of basement-level caverns set with wood-panelled baths designed to look like barrels, a dark meditation pool, foot baths, heated loungers and an array of Roman-Irish baths, where you can spend a whole day if you follow their recommended treatment. This hotel really does offer up the best of Wellness in Zurich! The spa is owned by a separate company, but hotel guests get reduced rates and get private access before 9am in the morning. At times it got quite busy up on the roof, so it’s worth rising early for to really experience everything the spa has to offer.
12. Glass Biodomes at the Botanical Gardens
Zurich’s botanical garden is small and compact, but has an adequate array of over 9,000 different species. This is not so much a tourist attraction as a place where you can see the locals sunbathing on the grass, having a picnic or watching the frogs in the large pond. It was opened in 1977 and is located at Zollikerstrasse in the Weinegg quarter of the city. I usually love botanical gardens, but I wasn’t impressed with this one at all. I must prefer Kew Gardens in London or Amsterdam Botanical Gardens.
13. Rent a bike
In Zurich you will see a lot of people cycling, mostly because the city is quite compact and also because Switzerland is one of the environmentally friendly countries in the world. They also love being outside, and when you are visiting Zurich, one of my favourite places to visit in Zurich aren’t walkable, and some trams don’t go there. Therefore hire a bike! Leave a CHF 20 deposit at one of the Züri rollt containers and enjoy the city on two wheels.
14. Vegetarian food at Hilt
Forget about Züri Geschnetzeltes, the veal dish with a creamy sauce of which some people might tell you is Zurich’s iconic culinary offering. Zurich has had a vegetarian revolution over the past two years, with shops, restaurants and cafes all specialising in vegetarian and superfoods. And if you love vegetarian food, then you’ve got to check out Zurich’s most famous Hilt. Founded in 1898, the Hiltl is – according to the Guinness Book of Records – the world’s oldest vegetarian restaurant, with over 100 enticing dishes.
15. Party at Street Parade
The Street Parade is the most attended techno parade in the world, since the end of Love Parade 2010. It takes place in Zurich, Switzerland and is the largest annual event in Zurich. It sees a long stretch of decorated trucks – the Love Mobiles – make their way through a dancing crowd of about a million people. Officially a demonstration for freedom, love and tolerance attended by up to a one million people, it proceeds along the side of Lake Zurich on the second Saturday of August.
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