Zurich has an undeniable attraction to tourists. Not just because it is the gateway of Switzerland, but because this city has what it takes to capture the hearts of adventurers.
From the unique gastronomy and swanky clubs to artsy theaters and excellent museums, Zurich has the features, which are key to the growth of tourism.
A Brief History
The city’s Latin name, Turicum, was used for a Roman customs station at the Limmat, which has some remnants today. The Alemanni, a Germanic tribe, settled in the 5th century.
While the Church used to rule early Medieval Zurich, the Guilds (Zünfte) took power in 1336, establishing Zurich as an autonomous republic. The Guilds have survived until today, though their role today is mostly ceremonial.
Zurich became the fifth canton of the Swiss Confederacy in 1351, and has been its capital at times. However, Switzerland’s famous neutrality and stability is a modern thing, as many battles have been fought in and around Zurich.
Ulrich Zwingli led the Protestant Reformation in Switzerland during the early 16th century. As the Thirty Years War ended in 1648, the Holy Roman Empire lost its grip on Switzerland, which has mostly been independent since then.
Things To Do In Zurich
Zurich is a wonderland of old European style buildings and churches. Its location around Lake Zurich gives it a stunning waterfront.
There are beautifully constructed fountains that shoot clear and clean water. If you are thirsty while strolling along the streets, you can wait and gulp the fountain water.
This gorgeous city has lots of fun activities to do. Below we will highlight the must-see/must-do:
A SHOW AT ZURICH OPERA HOUSE
On the fringes of Lake Zurich, you can see the intimidating but splendidly done Opera house. A visit here will be memorable. Not only will you enjoy the appearance of the building.
You can learn about its history. In the time here you can also watch a production. You can head here with your kids and spend an enjoyable time watching a brilliantly directed Opera.
STROLL AT BAHNHOFSTRASSE
Do you want to have an idea about what money smells like? Walk to Bahnhofstrasse. Here in front of your eyes, there will be swanky bungalows, luxurious buildings screaming class.
The upscale neighborhood of Zurich is nothing less than posh. The shopping outlets here are the elegant and perfect preference of the rich. A walk here can make you feel dizzy with the amount of extravagant living at this end of the city.
HAVE A GO AT WATER SPORTS
Lake Zurich spans inside the city, to accompany it we have Sihl and Limmat rivers winding their way across the city. It provides incredible opportunities for water-lovers to jump in, and have an adventure. They can do rafting here, in the flowing water.
If you are much of a quiet tourist, take a cruise on Lake. You can even go trekking along the beautiful trails along the Lake. That sounds exciting.
RUINS OF OLD TOWN
An ancient part of the city is extremely famous for its history and architecture. That is the same with Old Town here. It stretches over a mile and is home to centuries of history. You can visit the old Roman baths or go shopping for handicrafts in the local market.
The old town vibe is something you will not find in the rest of the city. Beside the Old Town flows the serene water of Limmat. The fantastic landscape of medieval houses with the river on the background is spellbinding.
QUIRKY GOURMET RESTAURANTS
Swiss cuisine is not only about the decadent Swiss chocolate. This city has many over the top restaurants that demand a visit. Blindekuh is a place which is run by the visually impaired. Hence the atmosphere is dark.
You will taste and experience with your tastebuds only. Doesn’t that sound strange yet inviting? Hiltl Restaurant is known to the history of the gourmet industry. It was the first vegetarian restaurant that was ever inaugurated. If you love your beans and greens, do taste the lip-smacking food at Hiltl.
Sights of the City
You might think there is only Lake Zurich here. However, gorgeous scenery and meadows surround the beautiful Lake Promenade.
Groosmünster is not a gross monster! It is a Romanesque cathedral that offers a spectacular view of the city from the church tower.
After visiting a religious place, then move on to a place of sin. Langstrasse region sports glitzy bars and sexy strip clubs. Why not have a night out with friends and get naughty?
Shopaholics can visit Bahnhofstrasse. Here you can search through the trendy shops to buy items of your choice. Zurich West has grown to become a tourist attraction because of the great activities it offers.
A Climb to Freitag tower, a food tour of Viadukt and shopping under the complex architecture of the city, the choice is yours. Hiking in Üetliberg has a major perk. During your hike, visit the Planetenweg, and walk along a model of the solar system which adorns the hill. Plus, if you can are looking to ski you can take a quick train ride to the popular Flumserberg resort.
When you are looking for silent time alone, you can take a walk to Lindenhof. The view of the Roman fort opening up across the scene of the city is breath-taking. Museums like Jacob Coffee Museum, Rietberg Museum, and Kunsthaus are examples of the diverse cultural heritage of Zurich.
Getting around the city is comfortable and easy. The public transportation network is efficient with fast trams and bus services across the cities. To move across Lake Zurich, you can take a boat. However, the roads are always busy, which can be a nightmare for visitors.
Some interesting destinations nearby:
- Baden — this town is known for its castle ruin and the thermal baths. It takes 15 minutes by train to get there from Zurich
- Greifensee — a lake and a village next to the nearby town of Uster. The village of Greifensee is within a conservation area and very untouched
- Lucerne — probably Switzerland’s most popular destination. Go there to see the famous chapel bridge or the impressive transport museum
- Rapperswil — located at the opposite end of Lake Zurich. A small, picturesque town, good for a stroll. It is possible to go there by boat from Zurich
- Rhine Falls — located near Schaffhausen, it’s Europe’s largest waterfall. Plus it has a nice old town in the Renaissance style
- Winterthur — around 25 minutes from Zurich, this town is worth a visit on a rainy day to visit some of its many museums. Technorama is the most popular one, and it has an interactive science center
Worthy Day Trips
- Appenzell — as close to the stereotypical image of Switzerlands with wooden farmhouses and traditional clothes as it gets. An interesting visit is the cheese factory, where the Appenzell cheese is made
- Augusta Raurica — close to Basel, this is one of the best-preserved Roman sites north of the Alps
- Bellinzona — since the opening of the new Gotthard tunnel in 2016, the Italian speaking part of Switzerland is less than two hours away by train. Go to Bellinzona to see its three castles, which is inscribed as a UNESCO world heritage site
- Biel — a traditional watchmaking town. Visit the Omega factory to learn more about the watch industry
- Chur — not only a nice town but a good hub for hiking or skiing in the mountainous Graubünden region
- Fribourg — home town to the famous Swiss fondue. A good choice if you want to make a short trip into the French part of Switzerland
Best Time to Visit
Zurich has a four-season climate typical to central Europe. The temperature in winter is usually around zero degrees, which means that snow can linger or melt away.
Summers are warm with temperatures in the 20s (C) and occasionally in the 30s.
The nearby mountains are significantly colder than in the valley, with snow remaining well into spring.
How To Get Here
Inside, the Zurich Airport terminal is everything you’d expect – clean, efficient, elegant and quite expensive.
Zurich Airport (ZRH IATA) is Switzerland’s largest and busiest airport, handling roughly 30 million passengers a year.
It is actually in the community of Kloten and it is 10 minutes by train from the main station. The trains depart about every 10-15 minutes, during the day, but less frequently at earlier or later hours.
A single ticket to the Hauptbahnhof (Main station, a.k.a. “Zürich HB”) costs Fr. 6.80. Several bus lines connect to the airport and provide access to the Winterthur region near it. There is also tram 10 from Zurich terminating at the airport, a rather slow option, but it might be the faster door to door for some destinations in Zurich.
Bahnhof Zurich Flughafen, the airport’s own train station, is right beneath the terminal – and actually very busy
Most major airlines fly to Zurich but flag-carrier Swiss is still the biggest player at ZRH and offers the widest range of connections. Almost every large hotel in Zurich provides shuttle buses from the airport to your hotel. The stops for these buses are a short walk to the right from Terminal 1 arrivals.
Zurich Airport has high passenger costs due to several noise reduction and approach restrictions. Most no-frill airlines fly to Basel which is 1 hour away by train. EasyJet offers several flights to Germany, the UK, and Southern Europe.
Schengen Visa Tourists
If you are traveling without a Schengen Visa to another destination in Europe (via Zurich airport) and if you are not a European citizen, you must not stay in Europe for longer than 90 days — even if your final destination would allow citizens of your country to stay for more than 90 days. Failure to do so will lead to very high fines (around €8100) should you try to leave Europe via Zurich airport.
Zurich Airport offers free WiFi for all guests for a maximum of two hours. A mobile phone capable of receiving texts in Switzerland is required. Travelers have to connect to the “ZurichAirport” network and register their cell phone number. The user will receive the access code via text message. After the free hour, there is a five-hour waiting period before you can access the next free hour.
Regular trains to and from other Swiss and European cities leave from and arrive at Hauptbahnhof, the main train station, located in the city center at the end of Bahnhofstrasse, with easy access to mass transit. The Zurich Hauptbahnhof (HB) is served by the local S-Bahn commuter trains, InterCity (IC and ICN) connections throughout Switzerland, Italy, Germany’s IC and ICE, France’s TGV Lyria, and Austria’s Railjet with some direct connections reaching destinations as far in Eastern Europe as Budapest.
While Switzerland itself does not have many high-speed lines, Zurich is connected to the high-speed rail networks of neighboring countries. The once extensive sleeper train network has been cut down a lot in the 21st century, but there are still some ÖBB Nightjets connecting Austria and Germany with Zurich.
Domestic train tickets within Switzerland are available through the SBB Website though there are few early bird discounts. International tickets can sometimes be bought through the SBB as well, but often you can get better offers through the DB website (German) the SNCF website (France) or the websites of ÖBB and Trenitalia for Austria and Italy respectively.
All adjacent railways have (sometimes significant) discounts for early booking on international trains, so if you know your plans far in advance, by all means, book early.
The train station and the connecting underground mall has shops, restaurants, and a grocery store which locals use when they need to do Sunday shopping, as it is not subject to the closing hours’ laws otherwise in force in the city. It also hosts a Christmas market and other events in the big entrance hall.
There are some 24-hour lockers in level B1 available for Fr. 6-9 per 24 hr (maximum 3 days).
Just to the east of the train station on the Bahnhofbrücke bridge, there is a large Coop supermarket open Monday to Saturday till 22:00.
The region around Zurich has probably the highest density of highways in the country, which makes it very convenient to access. A1 goes past Zurich just north of the city, with two feeders into the city center. A3 and A4 end just south of the city. The regional highways A51, A52, and A53 all also lead to Zurich.
While this makes it that there are many ways to drive into the city from every direction, it also means that there is a lot of congestions, especially during morning and evening hours. Parking is also hard to get by at affordable rates, so it might nevertheless be faster and more convenient to travel by public transport.
Bus station at Sihlquai. The bus station is next to the main train station, near the confluence of the Sihl and Limmat. While the domestic Swiss intercity bus market is tightly regulated and dominated by state-run Postauto that is intended to supplement the train network rather than compete with it. That said, on international routes the likes of Flixbus (a German company) do offer some routes. There are also some routes to destinations farther away (updated Jul 2017 | edit)
It is possible to reach Zurich by boat on the lake from Rapperswil (2 hours) or Horgen (45 minutes). However, this is more of a leisure boat and only offers a couple of trips each day.
Zurich is famous for its highly efficient, clean, and safe public transport system, managed by the Zürcher Verkehrsverbund (ZVV) which covers the entire canton of Zurich as well as Rapperswil-Jona in the canton of St. Gallen and Pfäffikon SZ in the canton of Schwyz. The network includes trams, buses, S-Bahn (suburban trains), cable cars, and boats.
The size and complexity of the network may be daunting at first, but you will soon realize that there are dozens of ways to get from one place to another and following any of them will still be efficient.
Timetable information for Switzerland is available on sbb.ch or can be obtained using the SBB Mobile iPhone or Android App (requires a working internet connection). Or simply use ZVV’s own timetable app; its advantage is that it also informs you about local disturbances or delays! You can also purchase ticket on ZVV-Tickets app. The free Wemlin App on iPhone and on Android gives you offline access to timetable information and network maps for the canton of Zurich area without internet connection and is therefore ideally for on the go usage in case you don’t want to use data roaming.
The system is divided into numerous fare zones, with the city centre and innermost suburbs being in zone 110 and the outer suburbs located in other zones (Winterthur is in zone 120, for example), and the more zones you pass through, the more you’ll have to pay for your journey. There are single tickets, day cards, monthly cards and annual cards. The monthly and annual cards are collectively referred to as ZVV NetzPass.
Tickets must be purchased from a ticket vending machine before boarding or from one of the ticket selling kiosks. The ticket vending machines are in German, English, French and Italian and offer almost all regular tickets available (not personal tickets though). You select the zones you wish to pass through upon buying the ticket, with a zone map on every machine as well as clear instructions coming to your aid, so feel free to choose! Once you’ve got your ticket it gives you access to all modes of transport.
If you’re staying for a longer period, consider a monthly ZVV NetzPass, because even though there are no regular tickets valid for something between 1 day and a month, it takes only 10 “zone 110” day cards for a “zone 110” monthly card to be cheaper. When traveling in all zones, it takes only 8-day cards for the monthly card to be cheaper. A 24-hour ticket for zone 110 costs just the same as two single rides.
If you don’t mind starting your travels after 09:00, the “ZVV-9-UhrPass” is the best option. It is available as daily, monthly, and annual cards, and will save you a lot of money compared to regular similarities, especially given that the 09:00 rule does not apply on weekends.
There are also so-called Z-passes, which can be used not only in Zurich, but also in one of the neighboring cantons (Aargau, Schaffhausen, Schwyz, Zug, St. Gallen or Thurgau); however, only one additional canton is possible, so if you’re not going to one neighboring canton more often than the others you are probably better off with just a normal all zones Zurich monthly card and buying a single ticket from the last valid station to your final destination. The Z-pass system also has its zones, even in the neighboring cantons. It is only available as monthly and annual cards and can not be bought from ticket vending machines.
For all details regarding fares, see the ZVV home page linked to above.
The Swiss Travel Pass (not to be confused with the SwissPass) is valid on all public transport in Zurich and, if you are a tourist visiting most of Switzerland, this may be your best way to saving money and time spent trying to figure out zones, routes, and fare options. Eurail passes are valid only on the S-Bahn and boats. Interrail passes are valid on the S-Bahn (although the ZVV website claims a “reduction” for other routes for Interrail holders). Nevertheless, you may find you don’t need the trams and buses if you don’t mind walking around a little.
By tram and bus
Several tram lines, trolleybuses and buses cover the city at street level. Like all other public transport in Zurich, you must purchase and validate tickets before boarding, or risk a fine if they decide to spot check. You can find a timetable at every stop which is usually accurate to the minute, however delays do occur due to heavy traffic, rerouting, or other factors.
The ‘S-Bahn’ is Zurich’s convenient and fast suburban rail system which covers nearly all suburbs of Zurich and beyond. Zurich’s S-Bahn system provides convenient and fast service throughout the region. All lines except the rural ones pass through the Hauptbahnhof. The ZVV offers directions for a series of excursions on the S-Bahn.
You must have a validated ticket before you board. If you do not have a ticket you will be liable for an on-the-spot fine of Fr. 100.
There are two types of boat-based public transport operated in Zurich: river buses and lake boats. The river boats operate in the summer months only and the lake boats operate on a much-reduced schedule during the winter.
The river buses operate between the Landesmuseum (near the Hauptbahnhof) along the river Limmat and out in the Zürichsee (Lake Zürich) to Tiefenbrunnen. There are several stops along the Limmat.
The Zürichsee Schifffahrtsgesellschaft (ZSG) operates lake boats (including two historic restored steam ships) which leave from Burkliplatz (at the end of Bahnhofstrasse). The ZSG’s website provides information on destinations and ships. The ZSG offers a variety of tourist-oriented trips (including Jazz Brunch), and a popular trip is to Rapperswil at the south end of the Zürichsee. The town has a beautiful castle overlooking the lake surrounded by a medieval town.
The main train station, old town and the lake promenade and all nearby tourist attractions are easily walkable. You may find that you don’t need transport for most of your tourist needs once you get into the city.
Zurich is generally easy to get around by bicycle. There are bike lanes marked out in most parts of the city and if you don’t mind the hills, a bike might be a fast and cheap alternative to public transport. The city has an online map service, which can calculate routes for biking and also shows locations of bike parking and pumps. Many of the major intersections don’t have bike lanes due to space constraints, but it is generally possible to avoid those. Note that cycling on the pavement is not allowed. Cyclist are commonly fined for cycling against the traffic or ignoring traffic lights.
Züri rollt offers free bike “rental” around the city. To get a free bike, you have to register with your I.D. or passport and pay a refundable deposit of Fr. 20. There are seven stations. Two of them are located at the main station (3 North bike gate and 4 south bike gate) and are operated year round. The rest are operated only from April to October. Two of them are near the old town at 5 Globus City and at 6 Bellevue. The opening hours vary by station, but most of them are operated daily from 09:00-21:30.
O-Bike is a Chinese start-up bike sharing service that is new in town. It’s a free floating system with its bikes parked randomly all over the city. To unlock you need their app and a deposit of Fr. 130. After it lets you rent bikes for Fr. 1.50 per half hour.
Driving in Zurich is possible but it is painful as the city centre is not easy to navigate by car. It’s cheaper and more convenient to park outside the city and take a train.
The taxis in Zurich are very expensive compared to New York, London and other major cities. Most of the taxi drivers are unfriendly and uncommunicative. Better travel by tram, bus or S-bahn. Uber have stopped their UberX service and now offer only the regular and UberBlack service.
For formal speech and writing, German-speaking Swiss use Swiss Standard German (Schweizer Hochdeutsch), which is very similar to standard German. The Zurich dialect (Züritüütsch) is dominant among the Swiss German (Schweizerdeutsch) dialects, and is difficult to understand for non-Swiss.
English is widely spoken, at least among the young and businesspeople.
The quintessential Zürich dish is Zürcher Geschnetzeltes (Swiss-German: Zürigschnätzlets), sliced veal in a cream and wine sauce. Various kinds of grilled wurst (sausages) are also popular.
These are most often accompanied by boiled potatoes, rösti, a Swiss potato pancake (grated potato, formed into a pancake then pan fried until crisp in butter or oil similar to hash browns) or chnöpfli, in German sometimes called Spätzle (small noodle dumplings).
Veal is still very popular, though the use of turkey and other meats as a substitute is growing.
While fondue (melted cheese in a central pot, dip bread into it) and Raclette (cheese melted in small portions, served with potatoes and pickles) are not really local to Zürich (they come from Western Switzerland) they are commonly available at restaurants aimed at tourists. Swiss people usually eat those dishes at home and only during winter.
The bread available in Zürich is generally delicious. There are many varieties, and your best bet is to go to a bakery or a supermarket in the morning or just after work hours when most people are doing their shopping and bread is coming out fresh.
Try grilled bratwurst from street stands, served with a large crusty roll of sourdough bread and mustard, or sandwiches made with fresh-baked bretzeln (large, soft pretzels).
A typically Swiss bread is the zopf, a braided soft bread that is commonly served on Sundays (the other name for it is Sonntagszopf).
For breakfast, try a bowl of müesli, which was invented as a health food in Switzerland. The Sprüngli confectionery store tea rooms serve a deluxe version of this fiber-filled cereal with whole milk, crushed berries, and cream.
There are a huge variety of cheeses available at the supermarkets, specialty stores and markets, as well as all kinds of hams and dried sausages. Dairy products are generally delicious, especially butter.
Do not miss the supermarkets! You should take a thorough look through Migros or Coop and maybe even assemble your own lunch or dinner some time. Even the cheap, budget prepackaged desserts in the supermarket exceed the quality of what you may be used to.
For those with a sweet tooth, there’s a huge variety of chocolates to enjoy, from the cheapest chocolate bar to individually handmade truffles. (See the Shopping section above). The chocolate bar displays at the supermarkets will overwhelm you!
Also, enjoy pastries and cakes from the various Konditorei scattered around town. In pastry shops, you can also find special pastry from Zurich: The most famous of them probably is Tirggel, a rather hard pastry made of flour and honey. Although traditionally made and eaten during the winter holidays, many pastry shops (including larger supermarkets) sell them throughout the year. Often, they’ve got sights of Zurich printed on the top, can be stored for months and thus make up a pretty good and cheap souvenir.
Another famous type of pastry are Luxemburgerli exclusively sold by the confectionery chain of Sprüngli (part of the famous chocolatier Lindt & Sprüngli). A typical cake is the Mandelfisch, an almond cake shaped like a fish.
Like most European cities, Zürich abounds with cafés where you can enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee, a glass of wine, or other beverage, and watch the world go by.
There are many international dining options available too. The current hot trend seems to be a pan-Asian noodle, rice, and sushi place. However, due to the far distance to the sea and the lack of original, well-trained Chinese and Japanese cooks, the quality cannot live up to that of the original countries.
Instead, Italian cuisine holds the highest popularity among foreign restaurants. They can be found throughout the city and are relatively cheap. Turkish fast-food restaurants are also a delicious, cheap option.
Vegetarian food is easy to find throughout the city. Vegans may have a little trouble because cheese is used generously in most food, but should be fine living off supermarkets at the very least.
Hiltl, the first vegetarian-only restaurant in Europe, is also worth a visit. You choose from the buffet, where your meal is priced by weight or from a variety of à la carte menus, which are a bit more pricey but include vegetarian/vegan versions of popular Swiss meals like Züri-Gschnätzlets or Beef Stroganoff amongst Indian food and classic vegetarian plates.
Another vegan-friendly restaurant is “Bona Dea”, which is located directly at Zurich Main station.
Zürich, like all cities in Switzerland, is relatively safe. Nevertheless, be on guard for thieves and pickpockets. Carry your wallet or purse in a secure way, not in your hip pocket or a backpack outer pocket. In particular, thieves are known to operate around the Zurich main train station. Do not let your bags out of sight for even a moment.
Certain areas along the lakefront are frequented by young people who sometimes try to pick a fight when they are drunk. Do not let them provoke you, as they are likely to be there in numbers and will use any excuse to go at you. You may also notice many of said young people smoking something that isn’t a cigarette. Switzerland is surprisingly lenient about such things but it is hardly a cause for alarm.
Public transport is very safe. You can use it without any special precautions.
If you decide to bicycle in the city, understand that Zurich is a city of public transport. Beware of tram tracks which can get your wheel stuck and send you flying into traffic, of the trams themselves which travel these tracks frequently (and may scare you into getting stuck into the track), and the buses, which make frequent stops in the rightmost lane. In short, bicycling downtown should be only done by those experienced with cycling with such traffic.
Being Switzerland’s most liberal city (the socialist and green parties now fare extremely well here), Zurich is the favorite place to live for Switzerland’s (German-speaking) gays and lesbians.
The Canton of Zurich was the second canton, after Geneva, to allow registered partnerships for same-sex partners for example. The city of Zurich is probably the place in Switzerland that offers the most open environment for gays and lesbians.
Gays and lesbians need not take special precautions for their safety on the streets. It is always possible for random homophobic behavior to happen, though.
The bigger railway stations around the city (including the main station and Stadelhofen) offer one hour of free wireless internet per station per 3 hours. You will need to be able to receive a text message for a one-off registration.
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