At the intersection of historic charm and modern luxury, Zurich is the world’s entry point to Switzerland. Most travelers will fly into Zurich before embarking on some adventures around the country, and especially to the Swiss Alps. But don’t be in too much of a hurry to move on from the city to the mountains! Zurich is a cultural gem, and you’ll love all the great things to see and do around this quaint medieval city. Here’s my Zurich City Guide with all of my suggestions to help you make the most of your stay!
Zurich City Guide
When To Go
Switzerland has two distinct tourism seasons, one being the summer when hiking is popular, and the other being winter when the mountains are alternatively used for skiing. This means the tourism industry is in full-swing most of the time, but during the short autumn and spring seasons between peak seasons, you’ll find it to be less crowded. For instance, I visited in September and it was entirely lovely. In September, I didn’t experience too many crowds, and it wasn’t yet too cold for exploring the city.
Given the abundance and spread of destinations to enjoy in Switzerland actually, you won’t find it too over-crowded anywhere just because the tourists get spread out. And that’s actually one of the things I loved most about Switzerland (more on that here!).
But basically, anytime of year is a great time to visit Zurich. Depending on what you want to experience on your trip to Switzerland, different seasons will suit you better.
How To Get There
As I mentioned, Zurich is pretty much the main entry point for Switzerland. Most international flights to this country will go through Zurich. And then from there, there are a few different train options to get downtown, depending on express or local service. It’s very easy to navigate from the airport, and everyone is super friendly and helpful so don’t be shy about asking for directions!
What To Do
There’s a lot to see and do in Zurich, and you can really tailor your trip to your particular interests. Aside from wandering about to take in all the historic charm of this medieval city, there are some sights and attractions to include on your itinerary.
If you enjoy the arts, check out the Kunsthaus Museum, which has an impressive collection of artwork with as far-reaching interests as Marc Chagall, Picasso, and Kadinsky. It’s one of the most important art collections in Switzerland, and definitely worth a few hours of your time while you’re in town.
If you want to see a show, you can enjoy an opera at the Opernhaus Zurich, which has been the home to the Zurich Opera since 1891. It’s also the most regal and impressive building, and I think that seeing an opera here would be such a special experience!
If you enjoy a bit of culture, visit the Schweizerisches Nationalmuseum (or the Swiss National Museum!), which happens to be the Federal Office of Culture! With a staggering quantity of impressive art exhibits, this is one of the most important art museums of cultural history in Europe, so if you only have time to see one museum in Zurich, this should be it.
If you want a good view of the city, take a walk up to the top spires of the Grossmunster church. There’s a nominal entry fee, but you get a beautiful view of the city and Lake Zurich from up there. I will warn you though that the stairs leading up there are quite narrow, steep, and winding.
If you want to go to the top of Zurich, take the train (or hike!) up to Uetliberg. On a clear day, you can see everything…the city, the lake, the mountains, the whole valley from up there!
If you want to go out on the town, check out the bars on the Langstrasse. Formerly the red light district of Zurich, the Langstrasse is now cleaned up and offers a selection of bars to enjoy some drinks or dancing as you like.
If you’d like to get out on the lake, take a boat ride with ZSG. They offer round-trip boat trips of differing lengths that will take you on a loop around Lake Zurich. It’s a fun way to see the city and the region from the water!
If you enjoy a hike, hit the trail up to Pfannenstiel or Lorenchopf. They’re both accessible from the city and can be done in a nice day trip! That way, even if you can’t get over to the Alps on your trip, at least you can get up into the mountains!
Where To Eat
You have a lot of options of where to eat in Zurich but I think it’s important that you try some Swiss specialties! They’re known for cheese fondue, sausages, and chocolate, above all else. Try these restaurants when you visit, my favorites!
Mohrenkopf: Enjoy the classic café culture of Europe at Mohrenkopf, where you can sip on a coffee and watch the world pass by.
Gran Cafe Motta: Chic and stylish, this café is a popular spot for the city’s upper echelon. Sip on a coffee, overlooking the Limat River.
Café Schober: You won’t believe your eyes or your tastebuds at Café Schober! This century-old baroque-style café serves up a really special menu of homemade sweets that are totally to die for.
Schwarzenbach Teecafe: Step into the confectionary wonderland of Schwarzenbach Teecafe. This classic old Swiss grocer sells sweets and treats by weight in one half, and café staples in the other.
Backerei-Konditorei Urs Vohdin: The smallest and oldest pastry shop in Zurich, this little spot is the absolute perfect spot to pick up your morning pastry before you head out to see the city!
Swiss Chuchi: There are a handful of classic Swiss restaurants around the old town in Zurich, but none serves up a cheese fondue like Swiss Chuchi! The warm and inviting energy of this restaurant makes it the perfect place to enjoy a classic fondue.
Zunfthaus zur Haue: Here the traditional Swiss dishes are served up in a historic building. It’s a delicious and cozy adventure, one of my favorite spots for dinner in Zurich.
Bindella: If you’re ready for a break from the heavy Swiss dinners, try Bindella for a delicious Italian dinner. Try the truffle risotto dish at this hidden gem!
Zeughauskeller: You’ll feel right at home in this 15th century historic building, and the cozy Swiss dishes will seal the deal. Try the Swiss sausages, potato salad, and tall beers! This was one of my absolute favorite restaurants in Zurich, and it’s real popular too!
Le Dezaley: For over 100 years, they’ve been serving up traditional Swiss far. From sausages to fondue, this is the place to go for a good Swiss dinner.
Sternen Grill: Sometimes in Zurich you’ll find yourself craving a cheap dinner because this city is so damn expensive! Sternen Grill fits the bill, it’s got real Swiss sausages, the menu is only in German, and it’s cheaper than any other restaurants in the area.
Where To Stay
All of Switzerland is pretty expensive, and Zurich is no exception. So you’ll probably have to pay more than you would expect for a hotel in Zurich. But if you’re really on a budget, you can stay in a hostel. I stayed at Otter Hostel which is right in the old town and a really nice hostel with free breakfast and luggage storage.
You know how much I love staying in an airbnb and pretending like I live in every city I visit. And there are a bunch of great airbnbs in Zurich, like this one, this one, & this one! (You can use this link to get a discount off of your first airbnb booking!)
But if you prefer a traditional hotel, there are plenty of those on offer as well. There’s the Storchen Zurich, which has classic elegance written all over it, and the sound of the piano bar sets the tone from the moment you walk in. For the ultimate luxury experience, stay at the Baur au Lac, which has been owned and operated by the Baur family since its inception in 1884. And if you want to get the experience of a posh Swiss chalet in the heart of the city, your best bet is Widder Hotel.
Need To Know
Switzerland is an entirely safe place to travel, you shouldn’t have any concerns about your safety there. And Zurich is no exception to that rule, especially in the old town which is where you’ll spend your time anyway. But you will spend a pretty penny when you’re there. It’s an expensive city to visit, so you’ll need to budget more than you would in other European countries. It gave me some peace of mind that I had scored a really cheap flight, which balanced the expenses when I was on the ground there. (Click here for my tips on finding a cheap flight!) That money you’ll be spending is Swiss Francs, and although many businesses will accept Euros, they will charge you a higher rate. The entry requirements for Switzerland are the same as the rest of the Schengen region, so you’ll only go through customs once upon entering this region.