Even though it is not a capital, Zurich is the heart of Switzerland. Located in the north-central part of the country, Zurich represents the main entrance to Switzerland for many tourists. Transportation in Zurich is as perfect and punctual as a worldwide known Swiss clock. It is the central hub for roads and railways and runs the biggest and busiest international airport in the country. Due to its proximity to ski resorts and mountainous scenery, Zurich is often referred to as the portal to the Alps. Only one hour away from the city there are perpetual snow and ice at over 3000 meters above sea level. If you find yourself on Mount Pilatus, Mount Rigi or Mount Stanserhorn on a clear day, you can delight in enchanting panoramic views which extend far beyond the Bernese Oberland and Central Switzerland.
The city itself is the spitting image of the whole country – efficient, clean, and rich in diversity, natural resources, and cultural landmarks. It is often ranked as one of the places with the highest quality standard of living in the world. The city provides many possibilities even for the pickiest among tourists and residents. If you find yourself in Zurich at any time of the year, regardless of the occasion, make sure to have enough time to search the city and dive into its beauty.
Let us show you the places in Zurich you must visit and things you must do and see:
1. Take a history lesson in Altstadt
Being the historical, cultural, and social melting pot of the city, the Old Town is an excellent starting point for your sightseeing trip around Zurich. To get there, you can use the train from Zurich airport, or any other city around Switzerland, straight to the main Hauptbahnhof train station which lies at the north end of Bahnhofstrasse. A number of tram lines also run throughout the Old Town, with stops at Central, Paradeplatz, and Neumarkt. But to get the most of it, you should stroll around it on foot.
The Old Town stretches between Central and Bellevue and consists of two parts – Niederdorf and Oberdorf and is often referred to as the ‘Dörfli’ by the locals. Before 1893, Old Town used to house the entire city. Today, it is the portal to medieval Europe. Its cobblestone alleys run alongside quintessential attractions, hotels, and restaurants. Sightseeing Zurich tours usually start in the Altstadt. There are the landmarks like the Grossmünster, Fraumünster, Peterskirche, the Swiss National Museum, the Museum of Art, and Cabaret Voltaire, the cradle of Dada. If you are there with a partner, go for a walk along the Limmat River and leave a love lock on the fence of the Muhlesteg Footbridge.
The best period to pay a visit is early in the morning. Thus you will escape the crowd and enjoy your walk in peace. During the day, its many boutiques and souvenir shops, which are almost hidden in the alleys, tempt you to shop. When you are done an outing, shopping, and taking pictures, you can sit at the terrace of some of its renowned restaurants and enjoy some of the traditional specialties of Swiss cuisine, like Swiss hot chocolate and fondue.
When the sun sets, Altstadt gets another dimension. It changes into a nightlife district as it boasts the highest concentration of nightclubs in Switzerland. It offers casual and alternative bars, live-music venues, as well as both classy and strip clubs. For those who prefer a quiet night out, there are wine and cocktail bars around Paradeplatz. The fact that people from almost half of Switzerland come to Zurich on the weekend nights speaks a volume about how extraordinary it is.
2. Go on Zurich Zoo field trips
Missing the Zoo when in Zurich makes a lifetime regret for every animal lover. Zurich Zoo reflects the whole planet Earth on an area of 27 hectares. It is the home of 4000 animals representing 380 species. The oldest resident is over 70 years old Nigrita, a Galapagos giant turtle. The zoo has been built almost 90 years ago high above the rooftops of Zurich, in an idyllic location in the Fluntern quarter. Surrounded by greenery, it serves as an ambassador between nature, animals, and people.
The exhibits replicate the animals’ natural habitats as closely as possible. The recreated exhibits are:
- Masoala Rainforest where geckos, turtles, snakes, parrots, and many other rainforest animals live,
- Australian enclosure, home to koalas, kangaroos, perenties, and emus,
- Kaeng Krachan Elephant Park, a beautiful enclosure in which eight Asian elephants live,
- Aquarium with 700 fish and around 70 aquatic species living in eight large basins, each of which forms an individual habitat. The penguin enclosure is also part of the aquarium,
- Mongolian Steppe, home to Bactrian camels, domesticated yaks, and cashmere goats,
- Pantanal, a separate enclosure for capybaras, squirrel monkeys, giant anteaters, and other mammals and birds where they enjoy the South American climate.
- Zoolino – an exhibit where you can feed and stroke pygmy goats, pigs, and other domestic and farm animals.
The Zoo is open the whole year-round, from 9 to 5. Tickets are free for children under 6 years of age and there are family and group discounts, too. Tickets are available online to purchase in advance and avoid long waiting in the line before the entrance. And even if you wait for a little, the Zoo will compensate it, as it shows an incredible diversity of wildlife. Need an idea for exciting yet quality and educational time with children? Head straight to the Zurich Zoo and watch how they soak in everything in amazement with all their senses.
3. Go on an adventure at the Rhine Falls
Rheine Falls are Europe’s biggest waterfalls and one of Switzerland’s major tourist attractions. Go on an afternoon excursion to discover the delightful Rhine Falls. Take a boat ride to its basin, the rocks in the middle of the Rhine, and downstream to the national border or further to the Rheinau power plant. Delight wondrous vistas from the Belvedere panoramic lift which brings you to the platform right above the falls. There you can see how an average of 700.000 litres of water per second plunge across a width of 150 meters into the basin below and feel the spindrift of the rumbling waters.
In summer, you can take a boat ride close to the falls and continue through the ravishing countryside and over Schaffhausen with its famous Munot Fortress, all the way to the medieval town of Stein am Rhein. Enjoy one hour of leisure time while listening to your multilingual guide who tells you about the history of this well-preserved old town and its many stone buildings with dainty wooden windows. The White Eagle is the most outstanding of the houses, which exceptional frescoes, the oldest preserved mural painting from the Renaissance period, stun every visitor.
Public transportation in Zurich is safe and efficient. It is only 50 km away from Rheine Falls, which you can reach by bus, train or car. You can arrive at Schloss Laufen am Rheinfall from where you can take a boat, bike, or go on a hike to the Rhine Falls. While planning your trip, in order to avoid confusion, keep in mind that on most maps the left bank of the Rhine Falls is usually to the right of the Rhine River. It is also referred to as the northern bank or the Schloss Laufen side. The right bank is then left on maps and referred to as the Schlossli Worth side or the southern bank.
4. Climb the rooftop of Appenzell Alps
Mount Säntis is the highest mountain in the Alpstein massif of northeastern Switzerland. Reaching 2,500 meters above sea level and shared by three cantons, it represents a highly visible landmark. It is the culminating point of the whole Appenzell Alps, between Lake Constance and Lake Walen. Santis is among the most prominent summits not only in the Alps but in Europe as well. There is an observation deck on the top from where the panorama is spectacular. On a clear and sunny day, you will be able to see six countries from the top – Switzerland, Germany, France, Italy, Austria, and Liechtenstein. How impressive!
Mount Santis has been popular among mountaineers since 1846. At the beginning of the last century, the railway line to Wasserauen was planned to reach the Santis as well, which never happened, so in 1935 the cableway from Schwägalp was open. Transportation from Zurich takes around 2.5 hours to get to Schwägalp. There is a picturesque path leading to the Schäfler mountain restaurant and continuing to the Ebenalp. There are Alpine paths even on the western side of the mountain, including one to the Tierwis mountain restaurant. Being very steep and high, these paths are reserved for those with a head for heights only.
The greenery of those distinct rolling hills in the Appenzell region is dotted with picturesque farms, white goats, and herds of cows. On your way to Santis, ringing church bells and farmers on tractors and mopeds will be welcoming you. The cable car ride to the top of Mount Santis at 2,500 meters above sea level takes only ten minutes. Each of the two cabins of cable car can hold up to 85 passengers, keeping the lines short even on busy weekends.
In 1882, the meteorologists established a weather station on Mt. Santis. A typically polar climate with heavy precipitation rules here. It is usually very foggy at lower elevations. Going all the way to the summit is a great opportunity to escape from the fog to glorious sunshine and to enjoy the breathtaking Alpine panorama on the sweeping vistas. And below the viewpoint, you can even spot ibexes carefully crossing a snowfield on their lookout for food. Besides hiking and enjoying the views, there are a plethora of activities to engage in – Alpine skiing, snow-shoe tracking, family ski lift, horse-drawn sleigh rides, and Nordic walking on the network of well-maintained trails even in winter.
5. Events and Festivals in Zurich
Zurich is a city that never sleeps. For those who are not globetrotters, Zurich offers a variety of possibilities to have a good time. There are all kinds of events happening throughout the whole year. At any time of the day or night, there are exhibitions, lectures, sports events, markets, trade fairs, concerts or live shows.
April in Zurich is the month of the Sechseläuten spring festival. The festival takes place on the first Monday after the spring equinox, announcing that spring had begun. Over the centuries, the event developed into a colorful affair that included a procession of the guilds through the streets. This citywide party is called Sächsilüüte by the locals, and its main character is the “Böögg”. The whole event culminates in the burning of this snowman-like figure accompanied by the pealing of the city’s church bells to represent the driving out of winter. The locals believe that the faster his head explodes, the finer the coming summer will be.
Anyone who is into cycling will enjoy Zurich at the time of the Urban Bike Festival. There are exhibitors showing the latest trends, as well as enthusiastic freestylers. The highlights of the event are the various contests at which international stars compete against each other. The “Urban Cyclocross” includes a bike race through the city, across volleyball courts, down flights of steps, through water ditches, and over the viaduct in Zürich-West. This spectacular festival is free of charge and also features various concerts and street food stands catering to a wide public. Other interesting events include the Zurich marathon, “Eidgenössische”, the Federal Swiss Wrestling and Alpine Festival, and “Man’s World” – an exhibition aimed only at men who are interested in lifestyle, mobility, technology, and gastronomy.
Music and film festivals and events are equally popular in Zurich. At the end of June in Rapperswil-Jona, directly by Lake Zurich, two days’ concerts happen within the Blues’n’Jazz Festival. At Zurich Main Train Station, over a period of two days in May, passers-by are invited to take part in different styles of dance – urban and breakdance, Irish and English folk dance, salsa and swing, right through to the melancholic and soulful milonga. Autumn is reserved for the lovers of the seventh art offering Fantoche – International Animation Film Festival, Zurich Film Festival, and International Short Film Festival Winterthur as some of many cinematic events.