The 15 best things to do in Zurich

Your ultimate guide to things to do in Zurich – from the lakeside city’s best restaurants and shops to museums and sightseeing
© Zurich Tourism Take a trip around the Viadukt shopping area - one of the top things to do in Zurich

The vistas Zurich presents are a good enough reason in themselves to visit but there's plenty of things to do in Zurich too. Set alongside a shimmering lake and framed by alpine mountains, Zurich seamlessly blends the indoor and outdoor. The old town with its narrow alleys and quirky shops offers enticing strolls, and hip and edgy attractions such as the Viadukt in the former industrial quarter are not far away. Take a boat, ride a bike or just go for an amble. The open air swimming pools, or 'badis' are beloved by locals and there are scenic spas to chill in here. For the best views of the city hop on a train up a nearby mountain. If you want high life of a different kind, you can eyeball the world's most expensive shopping street, before eating in the oldest vegetarian restaurant anywhere. And this is a city that loves to party, with an exciting network of bars and clubs open into the small hours and beyond

The 15 best things to do in Zurich

Dreamboats Zurich
© Zürich Tourismus / Bruno Macor

1. Hop on a boat

The flat boats of the Limmatschifffahrt offer a different view of the city – from the bottom up. Built to pass below the seven bridges over the Limmat, they offer space for up to 51 passengers. It can get crowded at the Landesmuseum station, where the boat begins its one-hour round trip, so check the website in advance for departure times and arrive early. Fancy a dinner cruise on the lake? Board one of the Dreamboats of ZSG, departing from Bürkliplatz – fondue trips, barbecues and even 'Cruises for Vegetarians' are on offer, but beware of the 'Single Party Cruise' – you might want to jump overboard within minutes after its departure.

The Kunsthaus Zürich is a museum of Fine Art
© Zürich Tourismus / Kunsthaus Zürich

2. Spend an artsy day

Zurich’s Kunsthaus may not be the MoMa or the Tate, but it has plenty to offer. Lovers of Alberto Giacometti will find a whole series of rooms dedicated to the Swiss artist and sculptor, and the likes of Van Gogh, Monet and Chagall are displayed in small but bright rooms on the top floor. While the permanent collection can be visited for free on Wednesdays, a glimpse of its 'Japanese Inspirations' with works of Monet, Gauguin, Van Gogh and a beautiful selection of Japanese woodcuts will cost you (a well invested) CHF 22. Looking for something more cutting-edge? Then head to Kunsthalle, located in the former brewery of Löwenbräu, where it shares re-built premises with the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst and some of Zurich’s most influential art galleries. And do hurry – it’s only on until early May. Dont miss a few exhibitions before they close: 'Kosmos' at the Museum Rietberg (until May 31st) and the beautiful 'Paper Cuts' at the Landesmuseum (until April 19th).

Cabaret Voltaire is a museum, shop, cafe, gallery and event venue in Zurich
© Martin Stollenwerk

3. Take a stroll down the Niederdorf

The old town stretches between Central and Bellevue and is often referred to as the 'Dörfli' by locals. It actually consists of two parts – Niederdorf and Oberdorf. Though something of a tourist trap – fondue restaurants and souvenir shops are common hereabouts – the old buildings and narrow streets are charming enough, and the area has generous offerings of quirky shops and cosy bars. Don’t miss Cabaret Voltaire, the cradle of Dada, and its Café duDA. For impressive views of the city, climb up one of the towers of Grossmünster – those who suffer from vertigo might first want to stop by the Bodega Espanola for a bolstering Moscatel.

Frau Gerolds Garten, restaurant, bar

4. Explore Zurich West

Originally a run down area full of decaying warehouses, Zurich West – also called 'Kreis 5' or 'Industriequartier' – is quickly becoming the new heart of town. Its main attraction is the 'Viadukt', a stretch of shops, restaurants and bars built into the arches of the old railway viaduct that runs between the bank of the river Limmat and Hardbrücke station. Nearby Frau Gerolds Garten offers cute little shops, an urban garden and some seasonal attractions such as a Saturday market in summer and a fondue tent in winter. Every local’s favourite restaurant, the Rosso  with its crispy pizzas and industrial atmosphere, is a few steps away.

Raygrodski is a cocktail bar in Zurich

5. Go on a bar crawl

Rather than go on one of the group tours offered on various websites (and designed mainly to get participants drunk before the third stop), you should put together your individual itinerary. However, we do have a few suggestions: start with a beer at El Lokal and admire the skeleton hanging from its ceiling, before moving on to Central, where you might want to have a quick snack to prepare for the rest of the night. If cocktails are your thing, make sure not to miss Raygrodski (we strongly recommend the 'Hot Russian). The Wohnzimmer is the place for a mellow ending, while the bar of the Plaza might get you in the mood for a long night out.

Seebad Enge, badi, swimming pool, bar, concert venue, Zürich

6. Visit a Badi

The editors of hipster-bible 'Monocle' never get tired of pointing out the 'Badis' as Zurich’s unique attraction. The Badi of all Badis is definitely the Flussbad Oberer Letten. Whether you lounge around on the wooden panels of the right bank, play a game of beach volley, enjoy a glass of 'Spritzz' from the container bar or join the sun-hungry at Pier West on the left bank – do make sure your body is in shape and your tattoos are all polished up. Walk up the left bank for the longest swim – the current takes you all the way to the lifeguard at Pier West. But the Badis are not just about swimming, and some of them are open all year round, including the Seebad Enge, where the sauna gets fired up during the colder months of the year and you end your sweaty ritual with a jump into the freezing cold lake.


7. Walk down Bahnhofstrasse

Known as one of the most expensive shopping streets in the world, Bahnhofstrasse is popular with visitors. Its lower half (starting from the main station) is filled with the usual high street brands, while most of the luxury shops are situated at the upper end, close to Bürkliplatz and the lake. Café Sprüngli’s outside tables on Paradeplatz, the epicentre of the Swiss banking world, are the place to be on a sunny afternoon (try their hot chocolate if it’s chilly), while in December you should wait until after dark to see the dazzling lights of 'Lucy', Bahnhofstrasse’s custom made Christmas illumination.

Uetliberg Zurich
© Christof Sonderegger

8. Take a train up Uetliberg

Departing from the main station, the SZU takes you all the way up Zurich’s backyard mountain, the Uetliberg. Take the journey up to the top where you can climb the observation tower and enjoy the views in all directions. A planet trail takes you over to the Felsenegg, from where you can take the cable car down to Adliswil (and return to Zurich on the train). If you prefer to head straight back to town there are various hiking trails downhill – but beware of the mountain bikers! On a winter’s day if you're lucky you might be able to sledge down the Uetliberg – an exceptional experience as Zurich does not usually get a lot of snow.

Zuri Rolt bicycles Zurich cycling

9. Enjoy something for free

Some of the best spring activities in town come for free: visit the Botanical Garden or rent a bike. 'Rent' is actually not the right term here – the city of Zurich is giving out bikes for free! Leave a CHF 20 deposit at one of the Züri rollt containers and enjoy the city on two wheels. You might want to cycle down either side of the lake, or simply use the bike to get round town quicker. Why not start at the Bellevue rental station, enjoy a quiet ride with striking river views down the car-free Limmatquai (but beware of the trams!), before making your way around the train station and down Josefstrasse and its ecletic selection of shops until you reach Josefswiese and the Viadukt? Then you can hand in your bike at the on-site rental station and quench your thirst with a 'Gazosa' lemonade from the Kiosk.

Jules Verne Bar, Zuerich, Juni 2014. Photo by Elisabeth Real
Elisabeth Real

10. Look at the stars

Some call it a tourist trap, but sitting in the Jules Verne bar with 360-degree views of the city, sipping on a cocktail and holding your significant other's hand might be as close to a perfect date as it can get in Zurich. The bar is just below the Urania Sternwarte and reached through the elevator inside Brasserie Lipp. It can be crowded, but a table beside the window is worth the wait. To top up your stargazing experience, check Urania Sternwarte's website for public tours and events – and bring a warm sweater, because it can get chilly when they open the dome.

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