Whilst Zürich is almost too small to be considered a city by any other country’s standards, don’t be fooled – there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. In fact, this is the case for most Swiss cities and in many ways adds to their charm.
This complete travel guide to Zürich will take you from one end of the city to the other, highlighting some of the most popular spots and also a few of my own personal favorites. The first piece of advice I could give anyone going to Zürich is simple: don’t be afraid to go off the beaten track!
Sights to see in Zürich
1. The main event: Grossmünster*
No postcard or picture of Zürich would be complete without the Grossmünster towers standing proudly in the background. The inside of this church is somewhat understated, but climb to the top of the towers and you won’t be disappointed by the spectacular views.
A smaller church with a rich history and an ancient crypt museum, set on the edge of the lively Münsterhof square.
3. Lake Zürich
It wouldn’t be a Swiss city without a lake. And with boat trips, a Chinese garden and plenty of cafés to choose from, Lake Zürich has a lot to offer at any time of year.
4. Lindenhof Hill
The perfect place to escape from city life and get some quiet time, Lindenhof hill is my favourite spot in Zürich. It also offers you some prime photo opportunities (you guessed it, of those lovely Grossmünster towers) or the chance to simply watch the world go by.
Cross over the Limmat river on your way down from Lindenhof and you’ll find yourself in the heart of the old town – Niederdorf. Lined with eateries, bars and shops, Niederdorf is a lovely place to wander through and take in the atmosphere.
Tip: some eateries and bars open on Sundays but not all. Check location for opening hours.
6. Bellevue / Zürich Opera House
Once you reach the end of Niederdorf, you’ll be met with a sea of people and traffic. Bellevueplatz is home to many businesses, cafés and the best part: the Opera House. If the magnificent façade of the Opera House sparks your interest, you can book a behind the scenes tour to see where the magic happens.
A short train journey from the main train station (around 25 minutes) will take you on an adventure to Zürich’s very own mountain. Although it’s nowhere near as impressive as the other mountains Switzerland has to offer, you won’t be disappointed by the views from the top Üetliberg.
Best Cafés in Zurich
There aren’t too many places to grab a coffee – Zürich definitely has more bars than cafés. But the cafés that they do have are well worth a visit.
My all time favorite café (a big claim, I know). But after your first visit, you’ll see why. Babu’s caters for your on-the-go working breakfast to your after work apéro – and everything in between. The place itself is always packed, so if you do have your heart set on trying it out, make a reservation!
2. Café des Amis*
A little piece of Paris in the heart of Zürich. Café des Amis is only a short tram journey from the main station. They are particularly famous for their weekend brunch, which ranges from traditional French pastries, bread and Swiss cheese to a lighter birchermüesli.
3. Conditorei Schober*
Set in the heart of Niederdorf, Conditorei Schober is about as idyllic as a café can be. Stepping into the café for the first time is like being transported back in time; velvet curtains, a grand piano and the most delicious cakes make for a very grand afternoon.
Best Restaurants in Zürich
Formally a storage place for weapons – legend has it the crossbow of national hero William Tell was once stored here -, Zeughauskeller is a must-visit for any tourist visiting Zürich (and for many locals). The restaurant offers traditional Swiss food and dining here is more of an experience than just a meal out!
A bit of a claim to fame for the city, Hiltl is credited as the world’s oldest vegetarian restaurant. Service is a ‘help yourself’ affair and you can enjoy rooftop views from the Dachterrasse branch!
If you fancy something a bit more exotic than traditional Swiss delicacies, Saigon is the place to be. The restaurant itself is small and minimalist and the selection of Vietnamese food on offer is delicious –it does fill up quickly so time your visit well!
Best Bars in Zürich
Potentially the most hipster bar to ever exist. There is something captivating about the atmosphere in Raygrodski, even if you can’t really hear yourself think. The extensive cocktail list strays from the classics in favor of creative mixes and presentation. If you have your heart set on visiting this bar at the weekend, reserve a table – it WILL be busy!
2. Jules Verne Panorama Bar*
This bar really is something special. Boasting a panoramic view of the city and almost too many drinks to choose from, this is the perfect place to go for celebratory drinks and a must-see for tourists. As a result of its reputation, it is a bit pricey… but well worth it.
3. Frau Gerolds
At first glance, you might mistake Frau Gerolds for a scrap yard that someone has tried to dress up with fairy lights. In theory, you wouldn’t be completely wrong. But once you step through the gate you’ll be fascinated by the wonderland that awaits you. From the pop up stores and outdoor bars to the quirky terrace with views over Hardbrücke, this place is certainly something special.
Museums in Zürich
A visit to one of Zürich’s many museums could just turn that boring rainy day around. Here are my top 3:
The Swiss National Museum where you can learn all about Swiss history and traditions. The museum is closed on Mondays.
2. FIFA museum*
One for the football fans – includes a detailed history of football as well as classic memorabilia. The museum is closed on Mondays.
3. Kunsthaus Zürich*
This art museum plays host to one of the most important art collections in Zürich. With a little bit of everything, it’s sure to please every art enthusiast. The museum is closed on Mondays.
Shopping in Zürich
Zürich might not be the first place you think of for a shopping spree, but it is home to ones of the world’s most expensive shopping streets: Bahnhofstrasse. The street is a designer-lover’s dream; lined with shops including Cartier, Tiffany’s and Chanel, but also with more affordable shops including Zara and H&M.
Practical tips for visiting Zürich
The Zuri Pass gives you free travel on buses and trams in central Zürich. For those of you who fancy exploring the rest of Switzerland, pick up a Swiss Pass (available for various lengths of time) and enjoy unlimited travel around the country. The only thing you may have to add is a supplement for cable cars to explore the mountaintops.
Money money money
The rumors are true: Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries in the world. Don’t come here expecting a cheap city break to Zurich – that’s not what this part of the world is about. It’s all about the experience.
Sundays in Zurich
Like in a lot of European countries, Sunday is a family day in Switzerland. In Zürich (and in most other cities/towns in Switzerland) almost everything is closed on Sunday. But shops and restaurants in train stations and airports as well as the places marked above with an * will remain open.
Brushing up the German you learned in school/uni will only get you so far in Switzerland. The famous Schwiizerdütsch (Swiss German) is far from easy to learn or understand and also varies between Cantons. Luckily, most locals also speak High German and English, so there shouldn’t be too much pointing and miming!
Enjoy your trip to Zürich!
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