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Zurich travel guide, tours & things to do

Only got a couple of days to get to know a new city? Our Big Five City Guides can help. We break each destination down into culture, history, dining, shopping and relaxation must-sees and dos. Roslyn Jolly checks in from Zurich in Switzerland...
Zurich travel guide
Zurich travel guide

On a warm afternoon, Zurich’s waterfront cafes throng with people.

Dozens more perch on the stone edges of the quays, soaking up sunshine and dangling their legs over the glacier-pure water of the Limmat River. Swans glide by as church bells ring. Can this be Switzerland’s banking centre and a hub for global finance? Indeed it is — but Zurich also has an enchantingly mellow side.

Enjoy this Zurich travel guide.

Zurich travel guide
Zurich travel guide

Zurich for history lovers

A key position on European transport routes shaped Zurich’s history as a Roman customs post, medieval trading hub and modern centre for financial services.

The city also played an important part in the emergence of Swiss Protestantism and the creation of the modern Swiss state.

A nucleus of Zurich’s history is the Lindenhof — an elevated park in the Old Town. Once the site of a Roman fort, then of a medieval palace, in 1798 this public space was the venue for the taking of the city’s oath of allegiance to the Helvetic Republic, the first attempt to create a unified Swiss nation. Today its linden trees frame a panorama of the peaceful city.

Book a Zurich Old Town Walking Tour

Zurich travel guide
Zurich travel guide: Explore the Lindenhof. Image: Bigstock

Two churches — the green-spired Fraumünster and the twin-towered Grossmünster — facing each other across the Limmat, also tell of the city’s religious and political past. The Fraumünster, with its stunning Marc Chagall windows, was once a medieval convent whose abbess essentially ruled the city. The Grossmünster was the cradle of the Swiss Reformation, where iconoclastic priest Huldrych Zwingli initiated the country’s move to Protestantism.

400 years later, Zurich hatched another revolution, this time in art. The absurdist Dada movement was born here in 1916, and you can visit Cabaret Voltaire — the café on Spiegelgasse where it all began.

Zurich travel guide
Zurich travel guide: Cabaret Voltaire. Image courtesy of Zurich Tourism

Top cultural experiences in Zurich

Ancient customs are honoured at festivals such as Sechselaüten, which is celebrated each April to mark the coming of spring.

Horsemen, a children’s parade, and trade guilds dressed in historical costume create a colourful pageant that culminates in the burning of the ‘Böögg’ — a giant snowman-like figure.

For contemporary culture, Zurich’s Openair festival is an annual midsummer celebration of electro, pop and dance music. The August Zurich Street Parade, another paean to electronic music, is an all-day lakeside street party where communal revelry promotes peace and tolerance.

Book a Zurich City Highlights Tour

Zurich travel guide
Zurich travel guide: Zurich Opera House

And, of course, Zurich boasts the familiar cultural features of most major European cities, including a busy program of opera and ballet at the city’s Opera House, and a splendid Museum of Art.

There’s also the FIFA World Football Museum, where you can learn everything you ever wanted to know about the history of the World Game.

Where to shop in Zurich

Bahnhofstrasse is the city’s premier shopping strip.

It showcases the world’s top fashion and jewellery brands. Don’t worry if prices are beyond your reach — the displays are works of art and well worth a spot of window-shopping.

Zurich travel guide
Zurich travel guide: Shop up a storm on Bahnhofstrasse.

For artisanal charm, try the picturesque Schipfe area in the Old Town. The small shops and cobbled streets recall Sydney’s The Rocks, but on a smaller and quieter scale. Here you’ll find vintage of all kinds, leather crafts and independent fashion. Stone arches in the historic covered walkways frame views of the city and river.

Im Viadukt in West Zurich offers a modern alternative vibe, where a nineteenth-century railway viaduct has become a nest of market stalls, craft studios and hipster fashion stores.

Great places to eat in Zurich

There’s no shortage of delicious dining experiences on offer in Zurich, but here are just a handful of memorable recommendations.

Swiss Chuchi restaurant in the centrally located Hotel Adler is an ideal place to try the classics of the national cuisine: fondue and raclette.

The Artisan Kitchen and Urban Garden in the city’s north features on-trend dining that focusses on locally and sustainably sourced ingredients, with a wide range of gluten-free options.

Book a Zurich Foodie Walking Tour

Zurich travel guide
Image courtesy of The Artisan Kitchen and Urban Garden

Elle’n’Belle is an award-winning vegan restaurant situated to the north of the main station in Limmatstrasse. Downtown, Haus Hiltl is a Zurich institution, which has been serving delicious vegetarian food since 1898. The Guinness Book of Records lists it as the world’s first vegetarian restaurant!

For something different, visit the restaurant at Fischers Fritz — Zurich’s only urban campground. Fresh-caught fish from the lake is served in a casual, beachside atmosphere.

Zurich travel guide
Image courtesy of Fischers Fritz

Ways to relax in Zurich

The hippest place to relax is West Zurich, where repurposed industrial buildings house bars, art galleries and design ateliers.

Near the Hardbrücke station you’ll find Frau Gerolds Garten, an urban renewal project combining a kitchen garden, food markets and eateries. In summer, its open terraces are perfect for sipping beer or coffee. In winter, the action moves into heated tents where fondue is served.

Zurich’s waterways offer more opportunities for relaxation. Hour-long Limmat River cruises traverse the Old Town and lake cruises extend to picturesque Rapperswil, with its medieval castle and monastery, at the opposite end of Lake Zurich.

Zurich travel guide
Zurich travel guide: Do a cruise on the Limmat River.

In summer, Zürchers (citizens of Zurich) love to swim in the clear waters of their lake and river. The art deco Frauenbad, the women’s pool at Stadthausquai, has superb city views and transforms into a unisex Barefoot Bar three nights a week.

There’s also the Männerbad, the men’s pool, situated in what was once the city moat. At night it becomes the Rimini Bar, an open-air lounge with music, food, drinks and the fine motto: ‘In summer we trust’. There’s even a Monday Market where you can browse vintage clothes and accessories.

For more information, please visit www.myswitzerland.com and www.zuerich.com.

Do you have any tips to add to our Zurich travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Additional images: Bigstock

About the writer

Roslyn Jolly is a freelance travel writer whose work has appeared in Luxury Travel, Get Up & Go, The Sunday Telegraph and The Australian. In her former career as an English Literature academic, Roslyn studied and taught the work of great travel writers, such as Henry James, Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson, and became fascinated by the history of travel and tourism. Two years at school in Wales and three years at university in England allowed her to travel extensively in Europe and North America, which she continues to do.

 

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