When walking through Zurich one might think they are in Heaven. The blue river Limmat combined with the blue sky and a skyline dominated by goth style cathedrals make you never want to leave.
I heard someone say once, Switzerland is a country where there are no poor people. And indeed, that is the case as you will learn more in this article.
- Travel To and Around Zurich
- Where to Stay in Zurich
- Top things to do in Zurich
- 1. Learn about Swiss History at Landesmuseum (Swiss National Museum)
- 2. Gaze at Zürich’s Town Hall
- 3. Immerse Yourself in the World of Chocolate at Lindt Home of Chocolate
- 4. Learn about Money at the Swiss Finance Museum
- 5. Walk in Quaianlagen Park
- 6. Have a Coffee at Sechseläutenplatz
- 7. Visit the Grossmünster and go up the Tower
- 8. Check out St. Peter Church
- 9. Get lost in Niederdorfstrasse
- 10. Go on a Cruise on Lake Zurich
- Other activities
- Food and Drinks Highlights
- Closing Remarks
Zurich, pronounced [ˈtsyːrɪç], is the capital city of the Zurich Canton. It’s often believed it also serves as a second capital due to its role in the past hosting the Confederal Diet in two-year rotations however, believe it or not Switzerland doesn’t have an official capital. Yep, you read that right.
It’s generally accepted that Bern is the capital city as it hosts the seat of government.
Zurich has been permanently settled for the last 2000 years since Roman days. Nowadays, less than 450 000 souls call it home.
The official language of Zurich is German, but the main spoken language is Zurich German, the local variant of the Alemannic Swiss German dialect.
In speaking with some German acquaintances they’ve mentioned Swiss German in general is very hard to understand as the Swiss do have a specific accent and use different words depending on the context.
You could probably say the same for Scottish English vs. English.
Although Switzerland is part of Schengen, they have not joined the E.U. hence they don’t use Euros. Hence, within Switzerland, you will also need Swiss francs.
To get the most out of Zurich I would say to visit it between March through to September similar to Stockholm. Remember, this is a mountainous city and temperatures can go below -10°C during the colder months. Most recently we visited Zurich in August and it was 32°C, even we were surprised!
In a 2009 survey by CityMayors.com, Zürich was ranked 9th among the “World’s 10 Most Powerful Cities”. In the 2017 Global Financial Centres Index, Zürich was ranked as having the 11th most competitive financial centre in the world, and second most competitive in Europe after London.
Travel To and Around Zurich
As a landlocked country Switzerland is mostly accessible by air or land transport. However, it might come as a surprise that from London flights are fairly cheap. Find out how to find cheap flights here.
The main airport in Zurich is Zurich Airport (ZRH). Once you land there are plenty of transfer options anything from taxis to trains. As part of our rail trip around Europe in 2023, we went to Zurich by train.
Talking of trains, that is one thing you will notice as the de facto way of moving not only around the country or canton but also in the main cities themselves. The rail network is fairly impressive and tickets are easy to procure.
Whilst many countries perceive a train ticket as a price per kilometre to the destination, here, in addition they have options based on how many minutes you want to travel within a certain zone. Got me confused the first time, I must admit!
To get around Zurich, you can use a variety of transport options but the most popular ones are the trams, buses and boats/cruises.
We got the Zurich Card which included different modes of transport as well as access to museums and attractions. For us, this was definitely worth it and saved us a lot of money, similar to our experience in Lisbon.
Where to Stay in Zurich
In terms of accommodation, we stood at Crowne Plaza Zurich and would definitely recommend this hotel. Breakfast was amazing and the hotel has a great gym and spa you can use.
During my first visit to the city, I stood outside of Zurich at ibis Baden Neuenhof, so this could also be an option if this works for you.
Top things to do in Zurich
For this trip a weekend is perfectly fine from Friday night till Sunday or 2-3 days. You will notice that most of the attractions are within walking distance depending on where your hotel may be.
To make the most of your visit, we would strongly recommend purchasing the Zurich Card. You get unlimited travel on public transportation, short boat trip on Lake Zurich, free or reduced admission to over 20 museums and more.
If you have limited time in the city, you might want to consider this 2-Hour Sightseeing Bus Tour of Zurich.
1. Learn about Swiss History at Landesmuseum (Swiss National Museum)
To get to know a country, I’d say it’s always best to start with the national museum. They offer a good impression of the heritage and history behind its people.
And the Landesmuseum doesn’t let down. It offers a good perspective of Switzerland as a whole, from history to culture the expositions tell the stories of the Swiss.
You might think Switzerland was well off since forever, but that’d be a wrong assumption. The Swiss were the “Poor man of Europe” for many years in the past. It wasn’t till WWII that the Swiss emerged as a prosperous nation.
This is known as the “Swiss miracle”, having supplied during the war all the neighbouring countries with weapons. I guess neutrality has its benefits.
2. Gaze at Zürich’s Town Hall
The city local government occupies this stately riverfront building dating from the late 17th century. The building is fairly unique in architecture with two golden lions guarding the main entrance and ornate grilled first floor windows.
3. Immerse Yourself in the World of Chocolate at Lindt Home of Chocolate
As self proclaimed
connoisseur chocoholic, we couldn’t have missed this experience. And what better to have it than in Zurich, in the land of chocolate. We decided to explore the world of Lindt chocolate everything from their history to sampling their various assortments.
We chose the self guided tour with the audio guide however, guided tours are also available. We suggest you book your Lindt Home of Chocolate visit well ahead of time as slots are issued in batches and go very fast.
On the day you will be able to learn more about Swiss chocolate and what makes it different but also so notorious. Funny enough, we learned that it’s the Swiss that realised the power of marketing their product. It turns out that most Swiss chocolatiers started printing on their chocolate labels wonderful scenic views of Switzerland.
As tourists bought these and took them to their home countries, people started associating Switzerland as a chocolate hotspot in Europe, hence our perception till this day.
On the tour you will also be able to sample multiple chocolates, flavours but also understand more about Lindt and their vision of chocolate. As you may know, Swiss chocolate tends to be fairly soft and melts even kept in your hand. Lindt believe they want to offer a chocolate which melts in the mouth but delights the senses.
By contrast, when going through the museum you will learn that chocolate was referred to by the Mayans as the bitter drink. Which is completely different to our modern day sweetened versions.
4. Learn about Money at the Swiss Finance Museum
The Swiss Finance Museum is a good opportunity to learn more about the Finance Industry. As you would imagine, Switzerland is one of Europe’s safe heavens and many people choose Zurich in particular to deposit their wealth.
It mostly came as a result of their neutrality and the fact that throughout the world wars both sides decided to trade with the Swiss. After the war, several wealthy individuals decided to move their wealth to Switzerland given the turmoil the continent was going through.
Here you will also learn more about how the finance system works, everything from points of service to simple bank transactions which we take for granted but have a series of complicated steps in the background.
Overall, the museum is a bit out of the way but in all fairness it is worth exploring if you have the Zurich Card like we did. If you don’t, you can get your ticket from here:
5. Walk in Quaianlagen Park
From Quaibrücke bridge head over in the narrow park of Quaianlagen. It offers ample places to sit and observe street performers with a spectacular background of the city itself mirrored by the lake Zurich.
I found it quite relaxing to sit down on a bench and just watch pedestrians walk by whilst I enjoyed some swiss chocolate snacks.
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6. Have a Coffee at Sechseläutenplatz
Benches and heritage architecture around a pedestrian square by Lake Zurich, hosting seasonal markets. It offers a good place for photos as from there you can even see the Zurich Opera House which opened in 1891, for classic and contemporary opera & ballet.
On a sunny day the square burst with white so, sun glasses will be very much welcomed.
7. Visit the Grossmünster and go up the Tower
This is an iconic twin-towered Romanesque cathedral, where 1500s religious reformer Huldrych Zwingli preached. Huldrych Zwingli is known for leading the Swiss reformed movement in Switzerland.
The cathedral is very imposing and can be seen from all sides of the river Limmat. It’s also very close to the old city centre.
Go up Karlsturm at Grossmünster
For an addon fee you can also go up one of the towers which offers an amazing perspective over the city and Limmat river. Must be said however, that the balcony is safeguarded with metal grills so we can’t get too close to take those perfect shots.
Similar to the Duomo in Milan rooftop experience, the climb to the top is steep so a good fitness level is required.
8. Check out St. Peter Church
St. Peter is one of the four main churches of the old town of Zürich. An interesting thing is that the church clock of St. Peter is the largest tower clock face in Europe.
For centuries, the clock tower of St. Peter was Zürich’s ‘official local time’ and as such, all public city clocks had to conform to it.
9. Get lost in Niederdorfstrasse
Niederdorfstrasse is the main street that runs through Zurich’s Niederdorf district. It lies on the east bank of the Limmat.
It leads into the old city centre squares starting from the statue of the Swiss Soldier. It’s a good opportunity to buy souvenirs or that all important fridge magnet!
10. Go on a Cruise on Lake Zurich
Another thing to consider is taking a cruise on Lake Zurich. As we had the Zurich Card, the cruise was already included. The cruise begins and ends at the boat stop Bürkliplatz not far from „Landesmuseum“.
The journey is what’s known as the long cruise. It goes all the way to the Horn of Zurich and then comes back doing a circular trip of both banks of the lake.
We really enjoyed the trip and noticed many people also choose to go and enjoy a drink or even a light dinner watching people on either sides swim in the lake. When we went there we had a heatwave during our trip in 2023 and the whole lake became a public swimming bath.
Another think we really enjoyed was seeing the scenic views of the nearby towns and villages on either banks. There is something serene about Swiss settlements, they almost look like taken from a painting.
Food and Drinks Highlights
Enjoy a Fondue at Swiss Chuchi Restaurant
Any Zürcher will tell you that a good place to go and eat is a restaurant that serves traditional Swiss food. I found an interesting one, highly recommended in the old city centre.
At Swiss Chuchi Restaurant they serve all things Swiss. An interesting thing I found was that there are several types of fondue, not only cheese one.
Although we chose the classic cheese fondue, could be worth exploring the other ones also as they involve a form of live self cooking. Careful however, prices tend to be a bit on the higher end. We also shared a great version of mac and cheese with bacon on top – delicious!
Another interesting thing with their food is that cheese and white sauces are predominant in their cuisine as well as cured meats. One such food was a stuffed cabbage sarma style food drenched in white cheese sauce.
It wasn’t amazing but not bad either – I suspect the magic was more in the sauce 😉 .
In terms of drinks, as this is a beer drinking country much like Czechia, I would suggest to start from that. They have plenty of choices from wheat beers to blonde beers.
Try a Raclette dish at Raclette Factory
Raclette Factory is a great opportunity to try a raclette dish in the heart of the old city centre. The menu contains everything raclette but also offers a few addons such as salamis and local brews worth exploring.
We tried a variety of dishes and all were pretty good. Melted cheese on carbs – what’s not to like?
Overall, we would suggest you go for the Raclette cheese on boiled potatoes paired with their local cider. Particularly tasty on a hot summer’s day. We liked this place so much that we went 2nd time during our unexpected return to Zurich.
Indulge in Ice-cream Made with Alpine Milk
Moevenpick Ice Cream Gallery is a great place to enjoy an ice-cream on a hot day. This one is made from Alpine milk – cows are mostly kept in open stalls with regular access to lawns, fed primarily on grass, flowers and herbs.
Try proper Swiss Chocolate
One thing I am going to say is, one does not simply go to Switzerland without getting themselves a few chocolates. They use pure Alpine cow milk, and high-quality cocoa beans to produce award-winning chocolates.
Switzerland is renowned for milk chocolate which contains cocoa butter that melts quickly at body temperature.
I found Zurich a very elegant and attractive place to visit. Although prices tend to be a bit on the higher end, making it a bit more expensive for tourists, Zurich has many things to offer.
Everything from picturesque lake scenery to beautiful Baroque and Romanesque architecture. It’s a perfect destination for solo/family travellers wishing to explore this superb Swiss gem.
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