Best Sightseeing in Zurich
Traveling across Europe is such an amazing adventure. Today, we will be making our way to Zurich, one of Switzerland’s most popular places to visit. Known as the banking epicenter of Europe, Zurich is home to many world-class museums, restaurants, and historic churches. Zurich is also known to be the most efficient city with an equally high quality of life.
Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland, divided by the Limmat River that separates the old town from the shopping and banking district. It’s a destination that has a mix of modern sophistication and historical European charm.
You will find the streets are impeccably clean, lined with luxury shops and prices that will make you take a “double-take” at the price tag. But don’t let those things deter you from visiting Zurich as we are not big spenders and found plenty of things to explore in this great cosmopolitan city.
It is believed that Zurich was inhabited over 5,000 years ago. The Roman settlers gave Zurich its name when they established a customs station on Lindenhof in 15BC.
Zurich joined the Old Swiss Confederacy in 1351 and fought for territorial expansion around Lake Zurich to the Rhine River. As a result, Zurich and the region surrounding it became the Helvetic Confederation under the arrival of Napoleon.
Huldrych Zwingli, a priest at the Grossmünster, opposed the mercenary service and initiated the Reformation in 1520. When the Peace Treaty of Westphalia was signed in 1648, Zurich was granted independence from the German Nation’s Holy Roman Empire.
During the 18th and 19th centuries; the industrialization period, Zurich became the capital city of machinery. Following World War II, the machinery industry disappeared while restaurants, bars, galleries, and shops overtook former factory sites, making it a thriving workforce in the service sector.
Old Town (Altstadt)
Old Town (also called Altstadt) is a charming neighborhood to explore. Lined with medieval facades and cobblestone streets is a beautifully preserved old town. The old town is divided into two parts, separated by the Limmat River-and each side offering attractive history and beauty! Here you will find quaint and unique shops and restaurants all tucked away, just waiting to be discovered.
Grossmünster Church dates back to the 12th century and created the Switzerland we love today! The Grossmünster Church is a Romanesque-style Protestant church and one of Zurich’s most iconic landmarks.
The church was once the former monastery built on the graves of the city’s patron saints, Felix and Regula, and is the site of the first secondary school, believed to be founded by Charlemagne. During the 16th century, it was the center of the Swiss-German Reformation.
- Climb 187 steps (up in the tower) from the nave and get a panoramic view of Zurich.
- Entrance Fee: Free to enter the church. To climb the tower, it is CHF 5
- Hours: Monday – Saturday 10:00 – 18:00; closed on Sunday
- Services take place on Sunday at 10:00 am, and anyone is welcome to attend.
Swiss National Museum
Visit the Swiss National Museum to see an extensive collection of cultural history, artwork, and craftsmanship. It is considered one of the best museums in Zurich. The building was constructed in historicism style but reminiscent of a fairytale castle.
Make sure to visit the backside, where you will find Platzspitz Park, and stroll through the gardens. Allow at least two hours to explore the museum properly.
- Audio guides are available in various languages.
- Entrance: CHF 10 or FREE with Zurich Card
Niederdorfstrasse is a lively neighborhood in Zurich’s old town full of stunning medieval streets, old buildings, plus various shops, and cafes. Several streets within Niedorfstrasse are pedestrian-only areas that are full of charm to explore.
We devoured cheese fondue at Swiss Chuchi Restaurant, located in Biederdorfstrasse.
GIACOMETTI HALL (Blüemlihalle)
Inside the Zurich police headquarters is the fresco by Augusto Giacometti (1877-1947), one of the most important art pieces and architecture in the city.
The building once was an orphanage and was converted into an administrative building in 1911. In 1922, the city of Zurich launched a competition to decorate the entrance hall, hoping to brighten up the space so that employees would enjoy coming to work. Augusto Giacometti won the competition.
- Hours: 9:00 – 11:00 / 14:00 – 16:00.
- Entrance Fee: Free but must present your ID at the entrance.
Augustinergasse is a great place to walk if you want to do a little shopping within the beautiful and historic street of the old town. This is where you will find local boutiques and souvenir shops. Also, here you will find cafes and restaurants which are great for sitting and admiring your historical surroundings.
- Nearby is Rennweg street, which is also another great place to shop in the old town. Shoppers can find great ideas for souvenirs or presents to bring home, like coffees, teas, and Swiss chocolate.
- Both Rennweg and Augustinergasse are pedestrian-only streets.
If you are in the mood to hike up a steep climb and want to get a panoramic view of Zurich, visit Lindenhof Hill. Here you can see much of Old Town and the breathtaking view of the historical Roman castle and former Imperial Palace.
View from Lindenhof Hill
The Church of St. Peter
The Church of St. Peter is the only baroque-style church in Zurich. The huge clockface on the outer wall- the largest clock in Europe -makes it easy to find in Old Town. The clock face is 8.7 m in diameter. The church tower was used as a fire watch post in 1911. Five bells dating back to 1880 still ring in the tower-the largest one weighing over six tons.
The clock tower of St. Peter had been Zurich’s official local time for centuries, and all public city clocks had to conform to it.
- Entrance: FREE
- Hours: Monday – Friday 8:00 – 18:00; Saturday 10:00 – 16:00; Sunday 11:00 – 17:00
If you are looking for a great place to eat or enjoy a cold beer or a glass of wine, visit Oberdorfstrasse. This area is filled with a wide variety of restaurants, bars, and shops.
Fraumünster Church is in the old town and was founded in 853 by King Louis the German. This church, with its convent, was inhabited by the female members of the aristocracy of Europe. With its iconic teal-blue spire and clock tower, Fraumünster Church is also known for its Chagall-stained glass windows, the original home to an abbess. Inside you will also find a series of frescos by Paul Bodmer.
- Entrance Fee: CHF 5; Guided tours available for an additional fee
- Hours: November – February 28 10:00 – 17:00; March – October 31 10:00 – 18:00
Next to the Fraumünster Church is the Stadthaus which is a government building or town hall. Step inside this neo-Gothic building and see the elegant multi-level gallery in Italian Renaissance style. On the top floor are frescos of old Zurich.
- Entrance: Free
If you want to shop like the rich, then visit Bahnhofstrasse, where you will find the most expensive and exclusive brands in the world. The street is packed with shops of all kinds, and from the train station onwards the shops get more and more expensive. So even if you have no desire to make a purchase, it is worth a walk down the street to do some window shopping.
FIFA World Football Champion Museum
We are big fans of football (called soccer in the United States). My husband has been playing and officiating soccer for more than 30 years. So, it was exciting to visit the FIFA World Football Museum, which is spread over three floors and covering approximately 3,0000 square meters of exhibition space. In addition to the extraordinary history of FIFA and the Football World Cup, an interactive, multimedia world of experience illustrates how, across the globe, the game has connected with people in their daily life.
- Entrance Fee: CHF 24 per adult.
- Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 10:00 – 18:00; Closed on Monday
Enjoy a break from all the sightseeing by having a picnic overlooking Lake Zurich. On a warm day, you will find it packed with people on boats, walking the shoreline, or relaxing under a tree. It is a perfect place to escape to for anyone needing a break from the busy city center.
Travelers also have the option to relax on a scenic boat tour around the lake. There are multiple options for length of time, where the boats dock, etc. A boat tour is an excellent excursion from a hectic day of walking the streets and sightseeing.
- TIP – You can purchase drinks/snacks at the grocery store and bring them on the boat much cheaper!).
Zurich Opera House
Constructed by Viennese architects Fellner & Helmer, the Zurich Neoclassical Opera House dates back to the 180s and is one of the best cultural experiences to enjoy. Housing over 1,000 seats, it is one of the best opera houses in the world.
If you want to add a special touch to your trip, visit the Zurich Opera House performance.
- See the schedule on the website
The Enge Church is a reformed evangelical church in the Enge district of Zurich. The neo-renaissance-style building is one of the most important church buildings in Switzerland. It was built in 1892-1894.
- Hours: Open Daily; Services on Sunday 10:30 and silence on Wednesday 12:15 – 12:35
DAY TRIP OPTION
Limmat River Cruise
If time allows, take a river cruise to the Rhine Falls and Stein Am Rhein. These cruises take about half a day but are worth the visit. Rhine Falls is in the town Schaffhausen (about a 40-minute drive outside Zurich), where you will see a beautiful natural waterfall. The falls are roughly 150 meters wide and 23 meters high.
After you visit Rhine Falls, you can stop to visit the medieval town of Stein Am Rhein. They are known for their half-timbered medieval houses with painted facades, clustered around Rathausplatz in the old town.
- Entrance: CHF 90.40 or Discounted with a Zurich Card
When traveling to different countries throughout the world, I have come across some attractive public restrooms. Most Europe refers to them as “toilet,” or you may also see the symbol “WC.” Many of the public restrooms require a small fee in their currency to access the bathroom.
While in Zurich, we came across the most interesting building, looking much like elevator access. After inserting the required money, the door opens, and you have the bathroom all to yourself.
Interestingly, once you leave the restroom building, a showering machine washes the entire unit. Thus, the floor of the bathroom is somewhat wet when you enter.
- TIP: I recommend you carry with you tissue paper or wet wipes for bathroom use. Sometimes these are rare commodities!
If you plan to attend many of the museums, I recommend purchasing a Zurich Card. With ZürichCARD, you get unlimited travel (including to/from the airport) which practically pays for itself, not to mention the free or reduced admission you get on Zurich’s museums and river cruises.
- Available for either 24 hours or 72 hours, the card is only CHF 24 or CHF 48
FREE WALKING TOUR
A great way to understand the layout of the city is to take a free walking tour. You will get valuable information about the city, historical sites, and recommendations from the guide. The tour takes approximately 90 minutes. The tour covers critical spots in the city, including Paradeplatz, Fraumünster, Lindenhof, Grossmünster, Niederdorf, plus other hidden places.
- Visit the website to schedule your tour.
GETTING AROUND ZURICH
Most sightseeing spots are in District 1, so walking might be the best way to explore this gorgeous city. However, if you are looking for a faster way to travel, you will find buses, trams, and taxis available.
If you want to see the city by bicycle, you can do so free in Zurich. These bikes are called Züri Rollt (Zurich Rolls in English).
Café Elena is a great spot to have a classic breakfast and brunch. They offer everything from traditional breakfasts to unusual dishes to give you a unique brunch experience.
Switzerland is known for cheese fondue. It was designed to use stale bread and aged cheese in the cold winter months when fresh produce was hard to come by. Here are some great places to enjoy cheese fondue; Swiss Chuchi, Raclette Stube or Le Dezaley.
For a more traditional meal that includes “wienerschnitzel” or sausage, you must visit Zeughauskeller Restaurant. Interestingly this building once stored weapons and ammunition during WWI. This restaurant has been serving customers since 1926.
Hostels and hotels can be relatively costly no matter what you choose.
- The Green Marmot Capsule Hotel offers a nightly stay for as low as 80USD per night, located in Old Town.
- Located in the heart of Old Town is the Altstadt Hotel. It is a minutes’ walk from many of the landmark sites and near the tram.
- Sitting upon a hill overlooking the city is The Dolder Grand Hotel. It also houses The Restaurant, which was awarded two Michelin stars and 19 GaultMillau points.
- Near the airport and the tram is the Dorint Airport Hotel. The rooms are spacious, and the rooms included breakfast, and parking was free.
Here are some other blogs about places to visit in Switzerland:
- Guide in Dining in Geneva
- Exploring Geneva, Switzerland
- What to See in A Day in Lucerne
- City Guide to Basel, Switzerland
Enjoy your travels! Please read my blogs about other exciting places around the world at Traveling Lens Photography.