The Perfect Guide to a Day in Zürich, Switzerland
Zürich is one of those cities that’s culturally vibrant yet still maintains its historic charm! Set on the edge of the Limmat River and Zürichsee, this walkable city has been recognized for its livability. It’s very easy to spend 24 hours in Zürich, Switzerland as much of its historic core remains intact with its winding lanes and beautiful cathedrals. The city is split on both sides of the river so you’ll need to pick a side to start on so you don’t waste your time crossing back and forth too often, but it’s extremely easy to get around even without transit.
Zürich’s history started when it was a Roman encampment called Turicum. Germanic tribes moved in around 400 AD and in the 14th century the town underwent a revolution as craftspeople and traders took power from the nobles and created the 13 Zünfte (guilds). In 1351, Zürich joined the Swiss Confederation and later became a key part in the Protestant Reformation.
Today, Zürich continues to appeal to tourists from around the world for its variety of offerings and exciting history. Whether you’re looking to see the lake, the Alps, go shopping at the designer stores on Bahnhofstrasse, or take part in the vibrant nightlife of Zürich West, the city has something for everyone!
What to Do in Zürich, Switzerland
Founded by Charlemagne in the 9th century, Zürich’s Grossmünster cathedral sits directly across the river from Fraumünster (see #2). The interior showcases stained-glass work by Augusto Giacometti. The church itself is historically significant as the preacher, Huldrych Zwingli, began speaking out against the Catholic Church here in the 16th century and brought the Reformation to Zürich.
For beautiful views of the city and the alps beyond the lake, climbing the 187 steps of the south tower, Karlsturm, is a must! Climbing church towers for city views has become one of my favourite things to do in cities. You get panoramic views and it generally isn’t too expensive either!
The Fraumünster was built on the remains of a former abbey for aristocratic women which was founded in 853. This 13th-century church is not the most impressive looking from the outside, but it’s renowned for its stunning stained-glass windows. They were designed by the Russian-Jewish master Marc Chagall. If you’re interested in seeing some of his other work, Stephanskirche in Mainz also features his stained-glass windows.
3. St. Peterskirche
St. Peterskirche may not be the biggest church in Zürich, but it’s one of the oldest and is known for having the largest church clock face in Europe. You can see this 13th-century tower and its prominent clock face almost anywhere in the city. The clock is 8.7m in diameter, and just below is the picturesque St. Peterhofstatt cobblestone square.
On the Limmat River’s east bank, the winding cobbled streets of Niederdorf are crammed with restaurants, bars, galleries, bookshops, and craft shops. Affectionately called Dörfli by locals, it’s fun just wandering and getting lost in these old town streets and exploring the shops in the area.
Spectacular views across the Limmat River are enjoyed from this idyllic hilltop park in the heart of the Old Town. Bring a picnic or just enjoy the postcard views of Zürich stretching from the Hauptbahnhof to the lake. The Lindenhof was the site of the first Roman settlement in 15 BC and since then has been the historical core of modern Zürich. This is the oldest area of the city, but it’s still enjoyed by many people today!
6. Lake Zürich Cruise
A necessary activity in Zürich on a sunny day is taking a cruise around Lake Zurich. ZSG runs lake cruises from Bürkliplatz between April and October. A small circular tour (kleine Rundfahrt) takes 1.5 hours and a longer tour (grosse Rundfahrt) lasts four hours.
The boats have a cafe on board to enjoy drinks and food so you can sit back and enjoy the views around the lake and of the Alps in the distance. On your way back to the city, keep your eye out for the Lindt Chocolate Factory overlooking the shores of the lake!
The UBS Polybahn is a funicular railway right in the city of Zürich. The line links the Central square with the terrace by the main building of ETH Zürich. It’s a short trip, but a fun way to get up to another viewpoint within the city. Take your time walking around the terrace before heading down through the old town streets.
8. Meinrad’s Puppen & Teddybären
Meinrad’s Puppen & Teddybären is an adorable shop that is the epitome of Old Town Zürich. This charming shop sells handmade Swiss dolls and teddy bears and also fixes old ones up. The shop is still run by the same man who started it and he has visitors from all around the world. Meinrad’s won’t be on any major tourist map, but you can’t miss it if you’re in the area. See the map at the top of the post for detailed directions. Thinking of this cute shop still makes me smile!
9. Zürich Opera House
The Zürich Opera House is located at Sechseläutenplatz and has been the home of the Zürich Opera since 1891. It also is home to the Zürich Ballet. Whether you have time to see a show or not, spend some time in the square outside and enjoy local musicians playing by the lake!
Other Things to See in Zürich, Switzerland
- Kunsthaus: Zürich’s art gallery holds a large collection of European art beginning from the Middle Ages. The countercultural Dada art movement that was born in Zürich in the wake of the horrors of WWI, is shown through many Dadaist works on display here.
- Schweizerisches Landesmuseum: Located right next to the Zürich Hauptbahnhof, this museum’s permanent collection offers an extensive look at Swiss history.
- Beyer Museum: This small watch piece museum chronicles the rise of timekeeping, from medieval candles to modern watches.
- FIFA World Football Museum: Soccer fans won’t want to miss out on the FIFA World Football Museum, which opened in 2017. It takes you through the history of FIFA and the World Cup in a series of hands-on displays.
Final Thoughts on Zürich, Switzerland
As I said with Geneva, Switzerland is very expensive so pick whether you want to splurge on a hotel, food, or excursions as it’s hard to do all. You will find foods of all sorts in Zürich and won’t have a lack of variety when looking for options. We opted for a nice place for dinner but saved money by buying some pastries for breakfast at a bakery the day before.
Zürich is extremely walkable, so much so that we didn’t even use transit once. If you need it they have quite an intricate tram system though. The airport and some attractions like the Zürich Zoo are quite far outside the city so it’s important to keep that in mind when planning your stay in Zürich. On the other hand, the main train station is very central so this is very easy to get to.
Zürich is a beautiful city that still maintains the charm of its old town and the elegance of Swiss culture. Whether it’s a weekend or only 24 hours in Zürich, Switzerland, you will love every minute of it!