Switzerland's most dynamic city may be compact, but it doesn't feel that way. Brimming with old world charm, full of luxury stores, Michelin-starred restaurants, world-class art galleries, and nightlife venues, Zurich has everything vacationers could ask for.
Art lovers can spend whole days absorbed by the masterpieces on display in the Kunsthaus. Skiers can shop for luxury timepieces in the city center and be on the slopes in the afternoon. In the summer, you can rent a boat and explore Lake Zurich during the day, before taking your seat at the Opera House, and trying gourmet restaurants like Mesa in the evening.
Zurich allows travelers to experience the beauty and sporting attractions of the Alps along with the attractions of an upscale, safe, and efficient world city. Not many cities can offer that kind of versatility, which is why so many people fall in love with this beautiful Swiss destination.
Zurich has long been one of the centers of European art. In the early 20th century it was the birthplace of Dada, and you can visit the Cabaret Voltaire where the movement began. But it's not all about iconoclasts. You'll find everything from Old Masters to Impressionists at the superb Kunsthaus, while contemporaries like Peter Kilchmann run their own galleries that art lovers will adore.
Zurich has plenty of urban attractions, but when the snow arrives and the slopes open, it's hard to resist the urge to strap on your skis and climb into the ski lift. Nearby resorts include world-famous locations like Gstaad and St. Anton am Arlberg.
Zurich prides itself on its gourmet traditions, and with Michelin-starred restaurants like Mesa, Sein, and Maison Manesse, it's definitely among the world's elite dining destinations.
Zurich also fronts onto the lake of the same name, and the waterfront is a great place to try outdoor activities during the summer. You can rent boats, try water-skiing or wakeboarding, or just strip down to your swimming shorts and splash around in the open air pools at Seebad Enge.
Zurich is also famous for its luxury products and anyone who loves to shop will fall in love with the vast array of stores on Bahnhofstrasse. From the chocolate creations of Lindt and Frey to the watches made by Swatch and Rolex, shopping doesn't get much more exclusive than in downtown Zurich.
Zurich's Old Town beckons tourists to wander rapturously day and night in these ancient parts. St. Peter, Grossmünster, and Fraumünster... The steeples of Zurich's finest churches lead the way all around - spot them from Lidenhof hill. On the left bank, Bahnhof Street is for shopping, and it'll lead you to Zeughauskeller, an old armory that serves up beer. On the right bank, walk Limmatquai for more river views, or explore the narrow Niederdorf street with its shops and bars.
Switzerland's largest city sits at the northern tip of this expansive lake, folding around the waterside to the east and west. Bürkliplatz square is at the very top, where you'll find the first views into the distance. There are even more beautiful vantage points of the landscape over the water as you wander lakeside. Enjoy the parks along the edges, especially the well-maintained Chinese Garden. This is the closest to the famous Swiss landscape visitors will get without leaving the city.
With art that represents expression from the Middle Ages through the present day, Zurich's Kunsthaus is home to one of the country's most established collections of art. Of course, there is a particular focus on masterpieces by artists native to Switzerland - this is one of the best places in the world to learn about the work emerging from the small but powerful country. Famous pieces by Mondrian, Manet and Van Gogh are also to be appreciated in these halls - and the list goes on.
Famous for its incredible mountain ranges, Switzerland has hills absolutely everywhere. Although Uetliberg can hardly be considered an alp, it stands proudly as Zurich's own little mountain. Locals and tourists alike love to make their way to the top, whether by train or by foot, and the peak offers great panoramic views. Look down on the lovely city, and discover the views over the rest of the country beyond. The lake glimmers, and more mountains beckon in the distance.
Neighborhoods to the west of Old Town are the new place to be in Zurich. As old industries left the city, their factories have been reclaimed by new generations. Now this area is the hotspot for art, creation, good eats, and artisan experiences. There are endless hip digs to try out, each cooler than the next, and you can be the judge of which homegrown project or start-up tickles your fancy. Explore the streets, participate in the fanfare, and appreciate the reclamation of an industrial zone.
Zurich is a great place to visit at almost any time of year. If you intend to mix shopping with skiing, the ski season is obviously the time to go, so book a trip between November and late March. For the best sightseeing weather, July and August are ideal. Early July might actually be best, as it's festival season in Zurich, when Züri Fäscht takes over the river banks.
Zurich Airport (ZRH) has connections with most parts of the world, including the United States and it's easy to get from there to downtown Zurich. The best way is to catch the airport train from underneath the shopping mall opposite the arrivals hall. The journey takes around 12 minutes and costs CHF6.60.
All international trains to Zurich arrive at the city's Hauptbahnhof, which is right in the middle of town. However, if you are staying in the north of the city, airport trains also stop at Oerlikon, which might be more convenient.
You can easily drive to Zurich from neighboring countries and other Swiss cities. If you are coming from northern Germany, take Autobahn 81, then change onto Swiss route 4 to Zurich. From Basel and the French border, route 3 is the road to take, while route 2 connects Zurich to Milan via some truly stunning alpine scenery.
Zurich's coach station is served by plenty of international bus companies, including DeinBus, FlixBus, Eurolines, and Baltour, with connections to Italy, Germany, France, and Austria (as well as long-distance services to eastern Europe).
If your budget can stretch that far, check out some of Zurich's luxury accommodation options, like the Widder Hotel, the Park Hyatt, and Hotel zum Storchen. Slightly more affordable options include the Art Deco Wellenberg and the business-friendly Hotel St. Gotthard. Budget options are thin on the ground, but hostels like Youthhostel Zurich and City Backpacker provide relatively cheap dorm beds and singles.
The Altstadt – the Altstadt (Old Town) is Zurich's historic core and a great place to start a sightseeing tour. Highlights include the twin spires of the Grossmünster, Zurich's cathedral, the various quaint guild halls, the huge clock of St. Peterskirche and the Fraumünster, with modernist stained glass artworks by Chagall and Giacometti.
Niederdorf – technically part of the Old Town, Niederdorf feels separate thanks to its lively dining and clubbing scene and the river Limmat which divides it from the city center. It's also the venue for Dörflifäscht in August, which sees the area transformed into a party venue, open-air market, and gourmet tasting venue.
Seefeld – Seefeld is just to the south of the Old Town and Niederdorf, and it's a much more sedate place to be. Prosperous, leafy, and relaxed, it's a good place to look for accommodation. Just as importantly, it also faces Lake Zurich, and you can rent boats, swim, or dine at lakefront restaurants - a great way to wind down on a summer's evening.
Public transportation in Zurich is clean, fast, and reliable, so it's the best way to get around the city. Choices include S-Bahn trains, trams, buses, and even cable cars, and water taxis, which might seem complicated but the SBB app helps to make the system easy to navigate. Fares vary by zones that radiate out from the center and a good option is to buy a ZVV Network Pass for the duration of your stay.
If you have the money to spare, getting around Zurich by taxi is fast and convenient, but be aware that the city is one of the world's most expensive. A mile-long journey can cost as much as CHF10, so it's probably best to stick to public transit if you are staying in the city center.
Another good option is to rent a car of your own. That way, you can drive around Lake Zurich and visit other Swiss cities or ski resorts at your leisure. Rental outlets in Zurich include Sixt and Europcar, and rates start at about CHF80 per day for a small vehicle.
Zurich is an expensive place to shop, but it's also a great place to pick up luxury items. Bahnhofstrasse is probably the number one shopping street, hosting the upscale department stores Jelmoli and Globus as well as luxury good stores like the watch retailer Beyer Chronometrie and gourmet food stores like Läderach. Niederdorf is the place to go for edgier, cheaper boutiques. You'll find apparel stores like Panta Rhei and the Concept Store and plenty of specialty outlets on streets like Kruggasse.
Grocery shopping isn't cheap in Zurich, but you can cut down the cost by shopping at supermarkets like Aldi, Lidl, and Migros. There are also many gourmet delicatessens along with wonderful chocolate stores like Confiserie Sprüngli if you want to try out Swiss delicacies. Expect a gallon of milk to cost around CHF5.40 and 12 eggs to come to CHF5.20.
Zurich is full of incredible places to eat. Kronenhalle is probably the cream of the crop, with its walls covered in artworks and menu stuffed with Swiss delights. But it's closely followed by restaurants like Zunfthaus zur Waag, the Michelin-starred Mesa Restaurant, and Le Dézaley. If all you want is a feast of fondue try Raclette Stube, and if you need a vegetarian meal give Elle'n'Belle on Limmatstrasse a try. Meals will cost between CHF25 and CHF70 at high-end restaurants, so budget accordingly.