Stretching along the shores of Lake Zurich and the Limmat River, Zurich is a cosmopolitan alpine metropolis brimming with art, culture, and entertainment. Significant art collections grace institutions like Kunsthaus and the Rietberg Museum, while Bahnhofstrasse and Niederdorf are shopaholics heaven. The picturesque lanes of the central Altstadt (Old Town) exude pre-medieval history, while hundreds of clubs and bars buzz until the early hours. Explore this fascinating Swiss city with this guide to the top things to do in Zurich, Switzerland!
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Old Town (Altstadt)
Experience Zurich’s rich history in the charming Old Town (Altstadt). Situated on the east bank of the Limmat River, this captivating historic district boasts narrow cobblestone streets, architectural treasures, and centuries-old charm.
Begin your journey at Grossmünster, an iconic twin-towered cathedral with a history dating back a thousand years. As you stroll down winding alleys, catch glimpses of the elegant silhouette of Fraumünster adorned with Chagall’s mesmerizing stained-glass windows.
Discover artisan boutiques and cozy cafés in Niederdorf, a lively part of Old Town famous for its vibrant atmosphere. It’s an ideal place to explore Zurich’s local scene and discover hidden gems. (Thanks to its proximity to the main station, Niederdorf is also one of the best areas to stay in Zurich for travelers.)
Old Town is a treasure trove of museums, galleries, and theaters. The Swiss National Museum, housed in a fairytale-like castle, takes you through Swiss cultural history. Admire the richly decorated façade of the late Gothic-style Rathaus (Town Hall).
Even if you’ve only got one day in Zurich, take a break at Lindenhof, a peaceful hilltop park overlooking the city. Relax on a bench beneath ancient trees and soak up panoramic views of the Old Town rooftops and the Limmat River.
INSIDER TIP: Discover the hidden courtyards within some of Altstadt’s guild halls. These secluded spaces offer a glimpse into Zurich’s medieval trade and craftsmanship history. They’re also an excellent place for a quiet break from the crowds.
For a peaceful retreat with beautiful views, head up to the historic hilltop park of Lindenhof. Resting atop Lindenhof Hill, this lovely green space offers a tranquil escape with panoramic views of the Limmat River, Old Town rooftops, and the distant Alps.
Dating back to Roman times, Lindenhof has long been a sanctuary for locals wanting a break from the city. Wander along the pathways bordered by centuries-old linden trees. Discover hidden benches perfectly placed to soak up the views.
Look for the remnants of a Roman castle that once graced the hill. Some of these stone blocks from the original Roman fortress were used when building Lindenhof’s northern terrace wall.
INSIDER TIP: Lindenhof is a haven for birdwatching enthusiasts. Bring a pair of binoculars, and you might spot various bird species among the trees, including woodpeckers and songbirds.
While standing on the banks of the Limmat River, you can’t miss this architectural masterpiece! Zurich’s iconic twin-towered cathedral, Grossmünster, has been a beacon on the skyline for centuries.
Built in the 15th century, Grossmünster’s Romanesque architecture is characterized by its twin towers. Legend has it that Charlemagne discovered the graves of Zurich’s patron saints, Felix and Regula, here in the 9th century. This led Grossmünster to become a significant pilgrimage site.
Take a guided tour of the crypt below the church to discover archaeological remnants dating back over a millennium. Check out the beautiful artworks, including the eccentric choir screen created by Giovanni Giacometti, father of the renowned artist Alberto Giacometti. Climb to the top of Grossmünster’s towers for a breathtaking panorama of Zurich and the Swiss Alps.
INSIDER TIP: For a truly exclusive experience, attend a musical or cultural event in Grossmünster. The incredible acoustics amplify the resonance of performances, creating a captivating ambiance.
Swiss National Museum
Spend a few hours exploring Swiss history, art, and culture at the Swiss National Museum. Located near the Zurich Hauptbahnhof, this unique museum takes you on a journey through the cultural history of Switzerland.
Spread across three interconnected buildings, the Swiss National Museum is an architectural masterpiece in itself. Fairytale castle meets modern design in this awe-inspiring building. Inside, you’ll find fascinating collections highlighting Switzerland’s cultural evolution.
Don’t miss the impressive collection of artifacts, including intricate craftsmanship, traditional costumes, and preserved historical interiors. Head to the courtyard for some fresh air and hidden stories. The ancient Linden tree at the center has silently witnessed historical events and gatherings. A few discreet plaques share intriguing tales.
INSIDER TIP: If you’re a photographer, visit during the ‘photography-friendly hours.’ The museum allows photography when you can capture the exhibits without restrictions.
Venture into the wild at Zoo Zürich. Positioned on a picturesque hillside in Zürichberg, this wildlife sanctuary features an array of diverse habitats that house over 400 animal species.
You’ll find immersive exhibits at Zoo Zürich that ensure a close-up experience with wildlife. Meet majestic giants at the Kaeng Krachan Elephant Park and brightly colored birds in the Masoala Rainforest Hall. Look for discreetly placed birdwatching spots where you can observe the diverse bird species in a quiet setting.
Explore the recently opened AquaTrail, a unique underwater viewing experience where you can observe penguins swimming and playing in their natural aquatic habitat. Plan your visit around feeding demonstrations and witness the animals in action!
Little ones can burn off energy at Zoolino, a dedicated play area within the zoo that offers a delightful space for children to engage in creative play.
INSIDER TIP: For a truly immersive experience, book a behind-the-scenes tour. You can watch how the daily lives of the animals play out and admire the efforts of the dedicated zookeepers.
One of the best places to unwind in Zurich is the serene lakeside haven of Zürichhorn. Stretching down the eastern shore of the Zürichsee, this long and leafy lakeside park offers the perfect blend of natural beauty and urban tranquility.
Once a marshy area, Zürichhorn was later transformed into a public park and is one of the city’s most beloved outdoor spaces. Leisurely strolls, lakeside picnics, and gentle boat rides are the order of the day.
Stroll along the picturesque promenade, framed by lush greenery and the glistening lake, and discover the iconic Chinese Garden. Explore its winding paths, cross ornate bridges, and admire the beautiful pavilions and pagodas.
Admire the elegant Villa Zürichhorn, a historic mansion from the late 19th century overlooking the lake. Keep an eye out for brightly colored benches crafted by local artists that add a vibrant touch to the park.
INSIDER TIP: Join the locals for midweek morning yoga sessions in Zürichhorn. A group of enthusiasts gathers near the lakeside for an energizing start to the day, blending exercise with the natural beauty of the surroundings.
If you enjoy admiring graceful secular architecture or simply love beautiful cathedrals, visiting Fraumünster Church is a must! Dating back to the 9th century, this church was built on the remains of a former abbey for aristocratic women and houses some extraordinary treasures.
Standing on the banks of the Limmat River, Fraumünster is one of Zurich’s iconic symbols. The name means ‘Women’s Minster,’ tracing back to its origins as a convent founded by King Louis the German.
Fraumünster is famous for its magnificent stained-glass windows that the renowned artist Marc Chagall enhanced in the 20th century. Marvel at Chagall’s vibrant stained-glass masterpieces, bathing the interior in a kaleidoscope of colors. Look closely at the windows in the southern transept where Chagall discreetly signed his work with a small self-portrait.
Time your visit for the afternoon organ recitals. The acoustics of Fraumünster are extraordinary, and the organ’s melodies resonate beautifully within the church.
INSIDER TIP: For a truly magical encounter, visit Fraumünster at dusk. The fading daylight accentuates the radiant glow of Chagall’s windows, creating a mesmerizing atmosphere.
Take a break from the city and head to the enchanting Arboretum Zürich. Set on the slopes of Zürichberg, this botanical haven is just a short tram ride away from the city center and is a horticultural treasure trove!
Established in the late 19th century, Arboretum Zürich boasts 65 acres filled with trees and plants from around the world. Wander through themed gardens, from the Asian Bamboo Garden to the tranquil Rhododendron Valley.
Look for the hidden gem known as the Healing Garden. Tucked away, it features medicinal plants traditionally used for healing purposes. Learn about the historical significance of plants in traditional medicine.
Enjoy a peaceful picnic at the historic Wolfsberg Villa, surrounded by breathtaking views of Lake Zurich and the Alps. Arboretum Zürich is a haven for birdwatchers, so watch out for feathered friends that inhabit the trees and shrubs.
INSIDER TIP: Join one of the guided moonlit tours offered during certain times of the year and experience the arboretum in a different light. Strolling through the garden under the moon’s glow promises a one-of-a-kind experience.
Spend an afternoon admiring world-renowned artworks at Kunsthaus Zürich. Situated on Heimplatz, this cultural gem boasts an extensive collection of European art spanning from the Middle Ages to contemporary masterpieces.
Originally founded in 1787, Kunsthaus Zürich has since evolved into a dynamic institution. The museum showcases work by iconic artists such as Giacometti, Monet, and Van Gogh. You’ll also find an exquisite collection of Swiss art. As you wander through the galleries, you’ll enjoy a captivating journey through painting, sculpture, and decorative arts.
Don’t miss the exceptional Monet painting called ‘Charing Cross Bridge, London.’ The artist painted this masterpiece while at the Savoy Hotel, overlooking the bridge.
Venture into the museum’s courtyard to discover hidden outdoor sculptures. When you’re done, head to the museum’s quiet coffee corner to reflect on the exhibits over a cup of coffee.
INSIDER TIP: Kunsthaus Zürich occasionally hosts special events, turning the museum into a dynamic and vibrant space. Enjoy live performances, themed parties, or unique installations at these extraordinary events.
Uetliberg Lookout Tower
Get a bird’s eye view of Zurich from the top of the Uetliberg Lookout Tower. Perched atop Uetliberg, this iconic tower offers unrivaled views of Zurich, Lake Zurich, and the Swiss Alps.
Before the modern tower, Uetliberg hosted an observatory. The remnants of this historical observatory, dating back to the late 19th century, can still be explored around the new lookout tower. It’s a hidden nod to the mountain’s scientific past.
If you’re feeling fit, enjoy a scenic hike up Uetliberg – the views on the way up are incredible! You can opt for the train for a quicker ascent. Once at the top, marvel at the 360-degree spectacle stretching from the cityscape to the distant Alps.
Before becoming an observation point, Uetliberg Lookout Tower hosted an observatory. The remnants of this historical observatory, dating back to the late 19th century, can still be explored around the new lookout tower.
INSIDER TIP: For an unforgettable experience, join one of the stargazing events at Uetliberg Lookout Tower. Explore the night sky with telescopes and get guided insights from local astronomers. It’s a fun night out!
Grande Café & Bar
Head to the elegant Grande Café & Bar when it’s time to refuel. Located in the heart of Bahnhofstrasse, this sophisticated café promises a quintessential Zurich dining experience.
Dating back to 1928, Grande Café & Bar was a social hub and favored meeting place for Swiss intellectuals, artists, and writers. Adorned with crystal chandeliers and mahogany furnishings, the Grande Café & Bar exudes a luxurious charm.
Take a table on the terrace overlooking the river for peaceful views. Sip on house-brewed coffee and sweet Swiss treats.
INSIDER TIP: Pop into the café during live piano evenings to catch talented local pianists live.
Love a great craft brew? Head to Bierwerk Züri in the vibrant Kreis 5 district for a laid-back and relaxed craft beer experience.
Founded by passionate brewers, Bierwerk Züri produces a range of craft beers, each meticulously brewed on-site. They often experiment with unique flavor profiles, creating seasonal specialties and limited editions.
Book a guided brewery tour led by the master brewers. Learn about the brewing process and enjoy a tasting session of exclusive brews. Become a brewmaster for a day at one of Bierwerk Züri’s exclusive brewing workshops and craft your own brew!
INSIDER TIP: Escape the crowds and head to the rooftop seating area to enjoy your brews with a view.