Zurich remains one of the best destinations in Switzerland for those who want a mix of culture, scenic landscapes, and access to modern amenities.
It’s a cosmopolitan city and financial centre of the Swiss Confederation with endless things to see and do. Long established as a world financial centre, it’s also emerged as one of Central Europe’s hippest destinations. The winding lanes and scattered church steeples belie the modern trendiness of the city, where you’ll find factories converted to cultural centres and a bustling artsy scene.
With just one day in Zurich, you’re not going to have time to see it all.
The streets of Zurich include numerous high-end shops, museums, and historic churches. You’ll find quiet residential areas and artsy hipster districts. It’s also got a vibrant nightlife.
Don’t know where to start? Begin planning your trip with this complete 1-day Zurich itinerary…
Looking for more ideas for your trip? Check out our other city itineraries and our Switzerland Travel Guide for more recommendations on when to visit, where to go & what to do!
What to do in Zurich in 24 hours: A complete one-day itinerary
As with most of our travel itineraries, this Zurich itinerary gives you a chance to see most of the city. It hits all the main highlights from the medieval churches to a shopping excursion on the main street.
You’ll also see the Swiss mountains in the background. While they’re only about an hour away, one day doesn’t give you time to trek the mountains.
Zurich covers a lot of ground but you’ll spend most of your one-day trip touring the city centre near the river. You’ll get to walk between destinations and appreciate the surrounding architecture.
Start your trip with a tour of Grossmünster and other historic churches
Zurich is known for its impressive variety of medieval churches and you’ll get to view a few of them at the start of your trip.
Grossmünster, Fraumünster, and the Church of St. Peter are located within several blocks of each other just south of the historic old town area.
The old churches top the list of things to do in Zurich. Start with Grossmünster (Great Minster) on the eastern side of the river.
Located about a block from the riverside, the Romanesque architecture stands out, mostly due to the twin towers standing above the other buildings in the area.
The twin towers are the most recognisable landmark in the city, featured on postcards and souvenirs. Wood carvings on the doors and strange sculptures lining the façade make it an interesting place to visit.
It only takes about an hour to tour Grossmünster. After a quick trip through the main hall, cross the street to Wasserkirche. The 13th-century church often gets overlooked but it’s on the way to the next historic site.
Cross the bridge next to Wasserkirche to reach the western side of the old town. Fraumünster is just on the other side while the Church of St. Peter is a three-minute walk to the north.
Get a sweeping view of the city from Lindenhof Hill
When you tire of looking at old churches, walk a couple of blocks north toe Lindenhof Hill to get a look at the city.
The hill is the historical centre of the city. During Roman and medieval times, the city grew around the public square in the middle of the hill.
If your Switzerland itinerary only includes time for a short half-day trip through Zurich, go straight to the hill. It gives you a chance to see a large portion of the city without needing to work your way through all the winding streets.
Interestingly, the hill is part of the remains of a glacier but it’s not mostly flat.
Besides a view of the city, you can also check out the attractions around the hill. You’ll find a public park, a historic Masonic lodge, and the famous Hedwig Fountain. Sculpted in 1688, the fountain depicts the siege of Zurich in 1292.
Explore the cobblestone streets of Historic Old Town
You should see part of the Historic Old Town from your spot at the top of the hill. A couple of blocks north of the hill, you’ll find yourself walking along the cobblestone streets of the oldest part of the city.
A trip around Zurich in one day should take you through the old town at least once as it’s in the centre of the city. The area includes many old buildings, charming little cafes, and high-end shops.
Just pay attention to the calendar. Most of the shops are closed on Sundays and close earlier on weekdays. Saturday is the best day to visit, but you’ll also find yourself dealing with crowds of tourists.
You’ll spend most of the day in the old town area covering both sides of the river. For now, spend an hour or two wandering the streets on the western side of the river.
Stop into one of the restaurants and enjoy some must-eat Swiss cuisine or browse the designer shops.
Enjoy scenic city views and far-off galaxies at Urania Sternwarte
From the streets of the Old Town, you’ll travel to the public observatory for another panoramic view of the city. It’s a short walk north of the hill. In fact, you should see the domed roof of Urania Sternwarte from Lindenhof.
The observatory gives you the chance to see the stars, depending on when you visit. As it’s near the centre of the city, light pollution keeps the refracting telescope from getting a clear view of the skies on most days.
If the weather isn’t bad, you can enjoy a guided tour of the moon and solar system. You’ll see star clusters and interstellar clouds.
Along with a view of the sky, you also get a view of the city. The location of the tower gives you the perfect vantage point for seeing Zurich’s skyline. You can even see the top of Grossmünster and the Swiss Alps.
Admire the Giacometti Murals at Police Headquarters
After a tour of the stars, travel the two blocks to the riverfront to tour the city’s police headquarters. The real reason for the visit is to check out the Giacometti Murals covering the entrance to the building.
The murals celebrate industrial workers and feature bright, colourful paints. The oranges and reds create an interesting atmosphere, especially considering the location.
As it’s an active police station, you can’t loiter. In fact, the police don’t enjoy tourists stopping by and clogging the entrance.
You’re only allowed into the entrance between 9 am to 11 am and 2 pm to 4 pm. Hopefully, you’ll reach the headquarters around 2 pm.
When you’re trying to see all of Zurich in 24 hours, you’re going to have to skip a few sites. If it’s already afternoon by the time you finish your trip to the observatory, skip the murals and walk directly to the Central Square.
Ride the Polybahn From Central Square to ETH Zurich
It’s a quick walk from the police headquarters to the Central Square and the Polybahn that takes you up the hillside to ETH Zurich.
The UBC Polybahn is a funicular railway car. The ride only takes about five minutes.
Each car holds about 50 people with one arriving every five to seven minutes. You shouldn’t need to wait long for a ride.
Before you jump into the funicular, spend a few minutes walking around the central square. If you’re hungry or need a short break, you can find a café or restaurant facing the square.
It’s also a great place to enjoy a short breather. Sit on one of the benches and watch tourists and locals as they hustle across the square.
View the archeological collection at the University of Zurich
There really isn’t much to do at the university but you can cross the street to view its archeological collection.
While the city has many museums, the best artwork is housed in a university building. The collection is open to the public and entrance is free.
If you’re visiting on the weekend, you may need to hurry. Doors close at 5 pm but remain open until 6 pm on weekdays.
Inside the building, you’ll see an extensive collection of ancient statues, casts, and sculptures. There’s also a small museum shop with overpriced souvenirs and a coffee corner.
Experience the local nightlife around Niederdorf
After you finish touring the ancient archeological finds, it’s time to experience the nightlife in the Niederdorf area. Located near the riverfront, Niederdorf is part of the old town but located on the eastern side of the river.
To close out of your 24 hours in Zurich, explore the bars and clubs that make the city one of the liveliest places in Switzerland. Start at the Niederdorf promenade and then branch out to the surrounding streets.
At this point, you’ve pretty much gone in a big circle around the centre of Zurich. If you’re not into the nightlife scene, the Niederdorf district also offers fine dining, fast food joints, and boutique shops.
By late afternoon, most of the shops are closed but the restaurants stay open late, especially on Saturdays.
If the Niederdorf district doesn’t excite you, take a bus to the hip Langstrasse district. It’s across town, northwest of the historic city centre.
During the day, Langstrasse is one of the fanciest streets in the city with designer stores and shops. At night, it’s the main red-light district. Just watch your wallet as it also has an above-average crime rate.
Where to stay: The best hotels for 24 hours in Zurich
Despite its status as Switzerland’s biggest city, choosing where to stay in Zurich is much easier than in other large Central European cities. The city is compact and has a great selection of high-quality accommodations.
For most travellers with a quick layover in Zurich, the best area to stay is Old Town, where many of the city’s top points of interest lie. Here are a few ideas to start your search…
- Hotel Adler: Located in a 16th-century building in Niederdorf, this hotel is one of the oldest in Zurich, oozing with a unique Swiss charm. Includes an on-site restaurant serving up classic Swiss cuisine with a modern twist.
- CitizenM Zurich: A lovely 4-star hotel perfectly located in the historic centre of Zurich. The hip & modern rooms are surprisingly spacious for Old town.
- Hotel Schweizerhof Zurich: An elegant hotel located directly across from the main train station and within a stone’s throw of many of Zurich’s top attractions. The soundproof rooms, fitted with adjustable beds, will ensure a peaceful sleep in the heart of the city.