11 tips for when you first move to Zurich

Relocating to Zurich? Switzerland's biggest city has loads of great things to see, do and experience. Here are our top tips for things to do in Zurich when you first arrive.


As Switzerland’s biggest city, Zurich is – unsurprisingly – a mighty hub of great things to do and see – and eat and drink, while we’re at it. Moving to Zurich (which, for reference, is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, though you'll find that some English is widely spoken among a lot of the population) is an exciting prospect, but as a new arrival you might have some questions about how and where to find all of that marvellous stuff, as well as wider questions about life in the city.

That’s where our top tips come in handy. We’ve picked out some of the most essential Zurich experiences that anyone moving to the city needs to tick-off their list, and mixed these in with useful info about finding your way around. Prepare to meet your new favourite city, and remember you can find more tips in our moving to Switzerland guide.

1. Check out Lake Zurich

Lake Zurich (the Zurichsee) is an unmissable and enticing spot to begin your Zurich adventures. Take a short round-trip by boat from Zurich Bürkliplatz (1.5 hours) or traverse the entire 40km of lake in four hours (Zurich-Rapperswil return). You can also catch a boat up the Limmat river. In the summer months, lake and river temperatures hit 20-plus degrees Celsius, making it a fine time to head to one of the designated swimming spots (known as badis). You can also try stand-up paddleboarding or hire a pedalo. Most of the lakeshore takes the form of a public park that's ideal for a stroll or cycle (grab a free bike from Zuri rollt), with plenty of places to stop for a picnic or for the kids to play.

  • Things to do
  • Friesenberg

After you've checked out the lake, enjoying the view from above is a great way to get your bearings in a new city. Catch the Uetlibergbahn to Uetliberg, the peak of Zurich. From here, there are amazing panoramic views of the whole city and the lake. If you have time, walk the Planet Trail to Felsenegg and catch the cable car (seilbahn) back down the hill. Other steep rides to city lookouts include the Dolderbahn up Adlisberg where you'll find the Dolder Grand, one of Zurich's fanciest hotels. There's also the Polybahn behind Central to ETH Polyterrasse and the Seilbahn Rigiblick funicular. For amazing views from tall buildings, climb Freitag Tower, book a meal at Clouds or grab a drink at the appropriately named Jules Verne Panorama Bar.


3. That's the ticket

Zurich is extremely well served for public transport, with a wide network of tramlines as well as buses, trolleybuses, trains (S-bahn) boats and cable cars. Transport tickets are easy to buy and/or validate before you travel from the ZVV machines at stops and stations. Make sure you do this! Ticket inspectors will not hesitate to hand out hefty fines if you're caught without a valid ticket and the “I don't speak German” excuse won't wash. Assuming you’ll be here for a while, it’s worth investing in the half-fare card (halbtax), which gives discounts up to half price on transport tickets in Zurich and across Switzerland. Check out Zurich transport for timetables, fares and more 

4. Weird and wonderful festivals

Zurich has some brilliant and bizarre events and festivals throughout the year. In August the city hosts Street Parade, one of Europe's biggest celebrations of peace, love and electronic music, attended by millions of people. In April, there's Seschselauten in which a giant straw snowman called the Böögg is set on fire. The time it takes for the Böögg's head to explode indicates whether it will be a good summer, apparently. If that's got you in the mood for the weird and wonderfuk, check out these other quirky Swiss festivals.


5. Shopping: Bahnhofstrasse and beyond

It’s probably obligatory to check out Zurich’s Bahnhofstrasse before you do much else. Famous for being one of the world’s most expensive shopping streets, you’ll find all the big names and chains here from H&M to Hermès. Once you’ve got that out of your system, search out Zurich’s quirkier shops and shopping areas. Niederdorf is a charming maze of cobblestone streets chock-full of boutiques. Kreis 4 and 5 have an edgier vibe – start with Viadukt, a 500-metre stretch of stores and businesses celebrating creativity and independent design. And if you're after some mall action, head to Sihlcity. For newcomers, it’s worth noting most of Zurich’s shops are closed on Sundays, but if you’re desperate, supermarkets and other shops open at Zurich Hauptbahnhof (commonly referred to as just Zurich HB) and Zurich Airport.

6. Fabulous food

Great things are happening throughout Zurich's dining and culinary scene. From food truck festivals to brilliant restaurants, you'll find tons of great eats around Zurich, but if you're simply after a filling snack, bratwurst and brot (sausage and bread) is a staple on-the-go meal and about as close as you'll come to cheap eats in Switzerland. Bellevue's Sternen Grill does some of the – ahem – best wurst in town. Brunch is a big deal in Zurich, so make sure to investigate our pick of the very best brunches, but don't fill up so much that you forget to take a look at our favourite Zurich cafes and burger joints. For more traditional Swiss meals, dip into Zurich's best fondue restaurants, or if you're on a health kick, head straight for one of Zurich's best healthy eating joints. And make sure to wash it all down with a drink at one of Zurich's best bars.


7. The bells

One thing you’ll surely notice when you first arrive in Zurich is church bells ringing. As you might expect in a country famous for its timekeeping, Zurich’s many churches chime precisely and often. You’ll hear bells every quarter hour and on the hour, with additional sequences throughout the day (usually at 7am, 11am and 7pm) as well as for services and special occasions. Most people get used to it fairly quickly and many find it quite charming. Go straight to the source by checking out one of Zurich’s iconic churches, such as the twin-towered Grossmunster, the Fraumünster (with windows by artist Marc Chagall) and St Peter’s, which boasts the largest clock face in Europe.

8. Seasonal fun

No matter what time of year you get here, you’ll find something enjoyable happening in Zurich. In the lead up to Christmas, Zurich is a winter wonderland with outdoor ice rinks and Christmas markets popping up at Bellevue, Zurich HB and Europaallee. During summer, the city really comes alive. 'Badi season – when the lake, river and open-air pools are open to the public – runs from mid-May to mid-September. But there’s also a laid-back vibe all across town, with people dining al fresco on restaurant terraces, relaxing and soaking up the sun in the city’s many green spaces or enjoying a quiet dink and maybe a slowdance in a biergarten, such as the popular version on Bauschänzli, Zurich's own mini-island. If that's got you in the mood for an outdoor bevvy, get stuck-in to our list of the best summer bars in Zurich – spoiler alert: there are plenty of absolute gems.


9. Get out!

Zurich is a fantastic hub for travel across Switzerland and the world. The city is centrally located in the country and allows easy access to Switzerland's excellent nationwide travel system, meaning you can hook into amazing panoramic journeys by train, bus and boat. Take a trip to or through Switzerland's UNESCO-listed sites or jump on a train to Paris or Milan from Zurich HB (a four-ish hour journey either way). Or catch a plane to just about anywhere in the world from Zurich’s very user-friendly international airport.

10. FC Zurich

Football lovers will find much to enjoy in Zurich. You might notice that, while graffiti is relatively rare in tidy Switzerland, something you do see scrawled on walls is FCZ, which stands for Fussball Club Zurich. FC Zurich is one of the city's two home teams, alongside the the Grasshoppers (GCZ). If footy’s your thing, catch a local match alongside thousands of good-natured fans at the Letzigrund Stadium during the season. To watch Premier and European League matches there are English-style watering holes such as the Nelson Pub. And, of course, no self-respecting footy fan would spend long in Zurich without visiting the Fifa Museum and making a pilgrimage to Fifa headquarters.

  • Things to do

Once you've done the groundwork, check out our guide to feast on more Zurich highlights. You'll find everything from sport and sightseeing to unmissable boutiques and party hotspots.

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