- Switzerland’s largest city
- International hub for the finance industry
- Rated as the most expensive city in the world
Metro Population: 1.1 million (#1 in Switzerland)
When To Visit: March-October
Climate: Warm in summer, cool in spring and fall, cold with some rain and a small amount of snow in winter
Zurich is Switzerland’s only large city, and it seamlessly combines historic landmarks with modern delights in a very lively and walkable setting. Situated on the edge of giant Lake Zurich, Zurich’s Old City is divided into two sections by the Limmat River, and there are plenty of nearby vantage points to catch a panoramic view of it all. There’s no shortage of things to see and do, and it’s hard to go wrong in a city that’s consistently rated as having one of the best standards of living in the world.
Photo: Munsterhof Plaza
Where To Go in Zurich
Zurich Old City
Paradeplatz: One of Zurich’s most famous squares that’s home to many luxury stores and is a hub for transportation. Free. 8001 Zürich.
Minister of Our Lady Church (Kirche Fraumunster): This large chapel has a typical, grey, quite nice European-style interior, a set of five lovely stained glass windows, and a cool crypt in the basement that you can explore. 4 franc (free for students). Münsterhof 2, 8001 Zürich. +41 44 211 41 00
Augustinergasse: A super charming pedestrian block dating back to medieval times. It is lined with Swiss flags and has some of the cutest historic buildings you’ll find in Zurich. Free.
Lindenhof: A park situated on the hill overlooking the River Limmat and the eastern side of the city. It’s an amazing photo op and there’s tons of people around, so it’s a lively place to relax and hang out. Free.
Bahnhofstrasse: Zurich’s most luxurious street. It’s lined with luxury brand shops, upscale restaurants, and tons of people – you definitely feel like you’re in the most expensive city in the world (which Zurich has been rated!). Free.
Giacometti Murals: Ceiling and wall murals located in the lobby of Zurich’s central police station which are super colorful and depict historic families. Renowned artist Augustus Giacometti created them when the building used to be an orphanage. Free (ID required). Bahnhofquai 3, 8001 Zürich.
Niederdorfstrasse: One of Zurich’s most famous and lovely historic cobblestone streets that runs for miles on the east side of the River Limmat. It’s lined with quaint buildings, some of which have markings indicating what the building used to be during various years of its existence dating back hundreds and hundreds of years. Free.
ETH University Terrace: Easily the best view of the city, this open to the public portion of the ETH University has a food court and sweeping views of the Old City, the River Limmat, and Lake Zurich. It’s a steep but quick walk up from Niederdorfstrasse. Free.
Grossmunster: A Romanesque-style cathedral with twin grey towers that’s the only major church on the east side of the river and was an important hub of the Protestant Revolution. Free admission, 4 franc for tower access.
Burkliplatz: A pleasant park on the edge of Lake Zurich. This is where many boat tours depart from and also a great place to relax, people-watch, and lake-watch. Free.
Gerold Cuchi Restaurant: This eatery is famous for its ceiling-level display of dozens of umbrellas over its outdoor seating. There’s no need to stay for a meal – you can just stop by and admire this work of art. It’s a very unique and must-see spot. Free. Geroldstrasse 5, 8005 Zürich. +41 79 282 55 85
River Sihl: Take a stroll along this tranquil river that flows along the west side of Zurich’s Old City. Free.
Quaianlagen: You can’t leave Zurich without admiring Lake Zurich and this miles-long lakeside path and park is a great place to do so. Free.
Le Corbusier: An art museum with strikingly modern architecture and tranquil gardens with a pond. The grounds (the most important part to see) are free.
Zurichhorn: A lovely park with ponds, an upscale restaurant, and far-sweeping views onto the lake. Free.
Viaduct: A long series of shops built underneath a train track. It’s a great use of space and there’s some restaurants with patio seating as well so it is a fun area to walk through. Free.
Dolder Grand: An upscale castle-like hotel perched on a hill overlooking the city that will make you feel like you’re on top of Zurich. Free. Kurhausstrasse 65, 8032 Zürich. +41 44 456 60 00
What To Eat in Zurich
You’ll find Switzerland’s food to be exorbitantly expensive ($30+ for a meal that would be $10 in the U.S.), but it is possible to nourish yourself without breaking the bank. It may seem strange to eat ethnic food rather than local dishes, but it tends to be significantly cheaper. Here are a few of the most affordable yet still high quality eats in Zurich.
Hiltl: The oldest vegetarian restaurant in the world, Hiltl was founded in 1898! It’s fast casual and has a variety of sandwiches, salads, and main dishes. Best of all? It’s open ’til midnight every day. Sihlstrasse 28, 8001 Zürich. +41 44 227 70 00
Zum Guten Gluck: A homey pub with large and very affordable breakfast and lunch menus. Stationsstrasse 7, 8003 Zürich. +41 43 540 72 99
Swiss Chuchi: Probably the cheapest place to get Swiss food in Zurich, Chuchi is located inside the Hotel Adler and serves great versions of Swiss favorites like fondue, raclette, and rosti. Rosengasse 10, 8001 Zürich. +41 44 266 96 66
Mohrenkopf: Located right on Zurich’s charming cobblestone Niederdorfstrasse street, this homestyle restaurant has great Swiss food and breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus. They’re open ’til 11pm (except Sundays). Niederdorfstrasse 31, 8001 Zürich. +41 44 262 05 45
Sprungli Chocolate: Zurich’s premier chocolate shop founded in 1836 and located right in the famous Paradeplatz square. There’s every sweet you can imagine, as well as a lunch counter. Ask kindly for a free chocolate sample of your choice. Bahnhofstrasse 21, 8001 Zürich. +41 44 224 46 46
Frau Gerolds Garten: A large outdoor bar set in an urban garden and art exhibit next to some train tracks. There are raised garden beds, colorful pillows, sculptures, and tons of space in which to chill out! It’s a very hipster, post-modern, and one-of-a-kind spot. Geroldstrasse 23, 8005 Zürich. +41 43 960 37 07
Les Garcons: One of the largest gay bars in Zurich with a dancefloor and multiple rooms. It’s 1920s themed but is a lively, happening place. Kernstrasse 60, 8004 Zürich. +41 44 577 67 67
Jules Verne Panoramabar: An observatory turned rooftop bar located right off Bahnhofstrasse (Zurich’s main street) that offers 360 degree views of the Old City and much of central Zurich. Uraniastrasse 9, 8001 Zürich. +41 43 317 16 40
Click here to read my blog from my day exploring Zurich’s churches, plazas, parks, and more.
Nearby Side Trips from Zurich
Lucerne: This mid-sized city only a half-hour away has incredibly well-preserved history, including a 700-year-old wall with several towers, covered bridges with centuries-old murals, and a small but charming Old City. Read more.
Interlaken and the Jungfrau Region: A resort town sandwiched between two large lakes and just below a gorgeous portion of the Swiss Alps, Interlaken (1.5 hours away) is perfectly positioned to allow exploration of quaint towns and stunning mountain peaks. Read more.
Bern: Switzerland’s capital city 1.5 hours to the west is one of the only cities in the world to maintain its central street plan since medieval times and is surrounded on three sides by the River Aare. Read more.