Zurich in Switzerland is a busy, bustling city with varied offerings – clean and green spaces, historical monuments, a charming old town, a busy financial center. Zurich even has a river, a lake, and an island. How cool is that? The activities are abundant. It might be hard to choose what the best things to do in Zurich are.
Here we have compiled a list of the 25 best things to do in Zurich, Switzerland. There are various activities for different interests. We hope that you will find one that fits your preferences.
1. Climb Karlsturm Inside the Grossmünster Church
The Grossmünster Church (Great Minister) is a beautiful church in a central location. Located along the Limmat River, it is only 950 meters or 12 minutes by foot from the train station.
The Romanesque-style Church with slender and striking towers is the most recognized landmark of Zurich.
When the priest Ulrich Zwingli took up his duties in 1519, the house had already been standing. Still, it is considered the cradle of the Zwingli Reformation. The Church was built between 1100 and 1250. The end of the 15th century saw the towers added.
During the reformation, the richly decorated interior was reduced to the essentials. Even today, the interior of the church is simple compared to its impressive exterior. There are also 3 windows by Augusto Giacometti from 1933 which show the Christmas Story.
The secret highlight of the Church is the Karlsturm – the right of the two towers. It is one of the best things to do in Zurich though it requires 187 steps going up. Once above, you will have an incomparable view of the city, the lake and the river.
Address: Grossmünsterplatz, 8001 Zürich. Trams: 4 or 15 – Helmhaus.
2. Swim in Zurich’s Island – The Werdinsel
Yes, you read that right. Zurich does have an island, although it is an incredibly tiny one (550 meters by 125 meters, in fact). But still.
Werdinsel is officially an island and protected area on the Limmat River, Switzerland. It is a popular recreation area. Locals normally come here in summer to have a barbecue, swim, play, and hang out with friends. It is said to be an artificial island.
Up to half a million visitors come here each year. It is super popular and definitely one of the best things to do in Zurich if you do not mind the crowd.
3. Reminisce about the Belle Époque on the Paddle Steamer
Two large steamboats cruise on Lake Zurich. The older one, Stadt Zürich, was built in 1909. This beautiful Belle Époque boat features a well-preserved saloon and a glazed upper deck. The second one, Stadt Rapperswil, was built in 1914. Both ships were built by Escher Wyss & Cie.
The steamboats operate from April until October. It goes from Zurich Bürkliplatz to Rapperswil and back. This nostalgic round-trip journey on the original style saloon takes a total of 4 hours. It is one of the best things to do in Zurich if you have ample time. You will see the original century-old steam engine in operation on this trip. For more information, visit the website of ZSG.
Address: Zurich Bürklpilatz Jetty. Trams: 2, 5, 8, 0, 11 – Bürkliplatz.
4. Ride the Polybahn to the Polyterasse
The Polybahn funicular brings visitors from Zurich Central to the Polyterasse. The train has been running since January 1889.
It used to be popular but has been less interesting as of late. However, it is still a cool thing to do to go up from the city center to the vantage point 41 meters higher. To avoid crowds, come in early in the morning or late in the afternoon. It gets busy during lunchtime.
Another good thing is that the price is already included in the city ticket if you have one. You do not have to buy a separate ticket to use the Polybahn.
Address: Limmatquai 144, 8001 Zürich. Trams: 4, 6, 8, 11, 13, 14 – Bahnhofquai/HB.
5. Cruise on the Limmat
Cruising on a Limmat with the glazed roof boats would be a memorable way to spend your day in Zurich. ZSG (Zürichsee Schifffahrtsgesellschaft) offers river cruises starting from Landesmuseum (Swiss National Museum) through the Grossmünster and Old Town until Zürichhorn. The ride lasts for 30 minutes. The entire round trip lasts approximately an hour.
The cruises run twice an hour daily from spring until autumn (April until October). Check out the ZSG’s website for more information.
Other locations to get in the boat are Bürkliplatz, Bellevue, Limmatquai, Storchen.
6. Stargaze at Urania-Sternwarte
The Urania Observatory is the right place for observing the sky above Zurich. Especially for astronomy fans, going to the observatory is one of the best things you can do in Zurich. You can also turn your fascination into scientific curiosity. In the middle of the city, opposite the Lindenhof, is the Urania-Sternwarte. It is the first Swiss observatory to offer a view of the universe.
Zeiss-Werke in the East German town of Jena built the telescope in 1908. It is in the 51-Meter-high tower. This allows the twelve-ton telescope possible to magnify the moon up to 600 times.
Not only is the view of the stars beautiful in Urania. You can also see the old town and the Zurich city. Tours begin every Fridays and Saturdays starting 9:00 PM.
The Urania Observatory is a listed in the Swiss inventory of cultural property of national and regional significance.
Address: Uraniastrasse 9, 8001. Trams: 6, 7, 11, 13 – Rennweg
7. Get Wowed at the Instagrammable WOW Museum
WOW Museum in Zurich is a new museum of illusions. And yes, it is perfectly Instagrammable and included in our list of the best things to do in Zurich. Across 400 square meters, you can engage in fun things like standing upside down or distorted perceptions. This fun museum is suitable for both children and adults alike.
If you would like to read more about WOW Museum, you can check out our article WOW Museum Zurich – Is It Worth Visiting?
Address: Werdmühlestrasse 10 8001 Zurich, Switzerland. Near Zurich Main Train Station / Zurich Hauptbahnhof.
8. View the City from Polyterasse
Polyterrasse has one of the nicest viewpoints in Zurich. Visiting it is definitely one of the best things to do in Zurich. To reach it, you can go with the Polybahn from Zurich Central as described above. Another option is to take the tram until ETH/Universitätsspital.
From the Polyterrasse, you can see the city up close and the alpine peaks far away. The Polyterrasse comes from the name of the previous name of the university near it, ETH. It used to be called Eidgenössisches Polytechnikum.
Gustav Gull expanded between 1915 and 1924 the building started by Gottfried Semper. He added the Polyterrasse. Between 1965 and 1978, Charles-Edouard Geisendorf added a multi-purpose hall. Sport and recreational rooms were also added. The terrace was complete.
Address: Leonhardstrasse between Tannenstrasse and Karl-Schmid-Strasse. Trams: 6, 9, 19 – ETH/Universitätsspital or Polybahn from Central.
9. Hike Up to Uetliberg 873 Meters High
Uetliberg is one of the four popular viewpoints near Zurich. You can also hike 400 meters up from Triemli or Albisgüetli instead of taking the train.
But if you want the more comfortable option, it is accessible in 27 minutes with the S10 Train from Zurich Train Station. From the train, the walk to the peak (Kulm) and the viewing tower is just 56 meters going up. The trains depart from Zurich Main Train Station every thirty minutes.
It provides a good view of Zurich city, the Alps in Glarus, and Central Switzerland. There is a hotel with its own restaurant called Uto Kulm on the mountain should you wish to have a meal.
Did you know that the Üetliberg Train is the steepest normal standard gauge adhesion railway in Europe? Indeed, it travels with a 7.9% gradient. The Uetliberg Train (Uetliberg Bahn in German) has been in operation since 1875 via Triemli and Uitikon-Waldegg. It is also really close to the Zurich city center and can be done in half a day.
If you would like to read more about Uetliberg, you can check out our article The Best Views in Zurich: A Guide to Uetliberg Mountain.
10. Relax with 9,000 Different Plants at the Botanic Garden
It is well known that spending time surrounded by nature improves health and lowers blood pressure. It might seem strange to include this in the list but if you have been traveling for a long time or need a break – relaxing at a botanical garden is one of the best things to do in Zurich.
The Botanical Garden (Der Botanische Garten in German), which opened in 1977, covers 53,000 square meters. In this area, you can observe 9,000 various plants. The Garden is fabulous to visit during spring. You can find odd plants, tropical plants, alpine roses, and many more.
Address: Zollikerstrasse 107, 8008 Zurich.
11. Walk Beside a Canal in Schanzengraben
The Schanzengraben feels like a parallel world if you visit it. You are still in the bustling city. Go down a small staircase two meters below, and it’s peaceful and relaxing. It is in the middle of the city but feels peaceful.
Zurich city converted a third of its military installations into a place to relax in 1984. It used to be smelly on the Limmat river due to industrialization. Although it opened in 1984, discussions for it started in the 1950s. How can we improve it? The citizens discussed building a pedestrian promenade along the small inner-city canal. Another 25 years passed before the project was actually tackled. Finally, the new Schanzengraben opened.
Address: Schanzengraben-Promenade, 8001 Zurich. Trams: 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 13 – Paradeplatz.
12. See Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso’s Art at Kunsthaus Zurich
Admittedly not as huge as Louvre in Paris, Kunsthaus Zurich is still worth visiting. The art museum in Zurich has pieces from Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, and Andy Warhol. Other renowned artists from different times and styles also have their works in it.
The museum is over 7,000 square meters large. It also displays the works of Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti.
Address: Heimplatz 1, 8001 Zurich. Trams: 3, 5, 8, 9 and Bus 31 – Kunsthaus
13. Crash Into The Lindenhof
Only fans of the Korean show Crash Landing Into You will understand this quip. Lindenhof was featured in the opening credits of this hit Korean TV show. Lindenhof is only 600 meters or 8 minutes by foot from the train station so totally easy to reach.
Lindenhof is definitely a place to visit in Zurich. From Lindenhof, you can view the old town, the Limmat river, the Grossmünster, and the town hall. It is 20 meters higher on top of a little hill. It has a calming, relaxing charm. Lindenhof provides another viewpoint of Zurich similar to the Polyterasse – closer, less extensive, more personal, but also so beautiful.
Address: Lindenhofstrasse, Pfalzgasse, Fortunagasse, 8001 Zurich. Trams: 6, 7, 11, 13 – Rennweg, 4 or 15 – Rudolf-Brun-Brücke
14. Treat Yourself to a Swiss Watch at Beyer Zürich
Beyer Zürich is the oldest watch shop in one of the most expensive shopping streets in the world – Bahnhofstrasse. The shop itself sells world-known watches: Rolex, Patek Philippe, Cartier, Breitling, IWC, and other luxurious watches.
If you aren’t keen on buying a watch for yourself, you can also just visit the museum. Uhrenmuseum Beyer Zürich presents 900 items from the world of timekeeping. Timepieces shown range from antique shadow rods, and sundials, to spectacular automatic clocks. Special exhibits are also shown over a period of a few weeks. The Uhrenmuseum Beyer is accessible via the Beyer shop in Zurich.
In 2009, the museum displayed 50 unique chronographs to the public. These are highly complicated watches with stop functions from the 19th century.
Address: Bahnhofstrasse 31, 8001 Zurich. Near Zurich Main Train Station / Zurich Hauptbahnhof.
15. Watch the Böögg Burning at Sechseläutenplatz
Sechseläutenplatz s between the Opera House and Bellevue.
Each year, on a Monday in April, there is a parade called Sechseläuten. Various guilds from Zurich and guests of honor present themselves on horseback. They parade in the city. Then they come to Sechseläutenplatz and burn the Böögg. They can predict how warm summer will be depending on how long it took for the Böögg to explode. The faster it completely burns, the nicer (i.e. warmer) we expect summer to be.
Sechseläuten is the most aesthetically pleasing festival in Zurich. Each guild marches with a unique costume and wagon decoration. The parade route goes from Bahnhofstrasse until Limmatquai. The burning of the Böögg begins as soon as the guilds gather in the Sechseläutenplatz at 6:00 PM.
During the Advent season, it is transformed into a cute little Christmas market. This Christmas Village with cute little red houses has lots of restaurants and shops. Lots of shops sell handcrafted and gift items. There is also normally an ice skating rink and a carousel for children.
Address: Sechseläutenplatz, 8001 Zürich. Trams: 2, 6, 8, 9, 11, 15 or S8 – Bahnhof Stadelhofen and 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, 15 – Bellevue.
16. Learn about Trams at the Zurich Tram Museum
The Zurich Tram Museum shows the development of the city’s transport network, with a particular focus on street trams. The opening of the museum was made possible by enthusiastic tram fans back in 1967.
It displays trams from the years 1897 until 1960. Engines, uniforms, and ticket machines are also shown. The trams are located in the old Tram Depot of Burgwies.
Address: Forchstrasse 260, 8008 Zürich, Switzerland. Tram 11 – Burgwies.
17. Shop or Not Shop in Bahnhofstrasse
Bahnhofstrasse is the street that connects the main train station of Zurich with Zurich Lake (Zürichsee in German). Just walk straight down this road and you will reach the waters. On this 1.4-kilometer-long shopping street, we find luxury labels such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Cartier, Prada, Burberry, and more. Most big-name brands will have their flagship stores in Switzerland on this street. The street also features popular high street brands such as H&M and Mango. The shops range from jewelers to luxury watches, clothes, and more. Bahnhofstrasse is directly in front of the train station on the other side of the Landesmuseum.
During the Christmas season, Bahnhofstrasse is also lined up with pretty night lights like the image shown above. One year, they decided to show bright white lights instead of yellowish fairy lights and it caused a stir. Needless to say, the pretty lights came back the following year.
Most shops are open on weekdays from 9:00 AM to 8:00 PM, and Saturdays from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM. It is best to check directly with the store regarding its opening hours. Each shop has its own opening hours. Shops also remain open on the Sundays prior to Christmas.
Tip: Most tourists tend to buy Swiss army knives from Victorinox, Swiss chocolates, or Swiss watches.
Address: Bahnhofstrasse 8001 Zurich. Tram 4, 6, 7, 11, 13, 15, 17 – Bahnhofstrasse.
18. Explore Swissness at the Swiss National Museum
Landesmuseum Zurich (Swiss National Museum) is the most-visited museum in all of Switzerland. It is located next to the Zurich Train Station (Zürich Hauptbahnhof in German). Opened in 1898, the museum has had exhibitions from prehistoric times until the present.
Landesmuseum contains over 820,000 objects. It has the largest collection of all cultural history and handicrafts in the country. The permanent exhibitions cover prehistory and early history. The museum has weapons, art, jewelry, clothing, and everyday objects from various eras. It also has temporary exhibitions, sometimes with subjects appealing to children as well.
Gustav Gull designed this palace-looking museum. It has a total area of over 6,000 square meters.
If you would like to read more about the Landesmuseum Zurich, you can check out our article Landesmuseum Zurich: The Most Popular Swiss National Museum.
Address: Museumstrasse 2, 8021 Zürich. In front of Zurich Main Train Station / Zuri.ch Hauptbahnhof.
19. Look at 4,500 Different Succulents for Free at Sukkulenten-Sammlung
Sukkulenten-Sammlung Zurich has been one of the biggest and most important collections of succulents in Switzerland since 1931. Succulents are plants from dry areas that can retain water for a long period of time. It involves not only cacti, but also agave, aloes, and thick-leaf plants.
The Zurich Succulent Plant Collection houses more than 4,500 different species from 78 plant families. Guided tours can be provided by appointment.
If you would like to read more about the Zurich Succulent Plant Collection, you can check out our article Here’s a look at the Zurich Succulent Plant Collection.
Address: Mythenquai 88, 8002 Zürich, Switzerland. Buses: 161 and 165 – Sukkulentensammlung
20. Catch an Indie Movie at Arthouse Cinema
There are five Arthouse cinemas in Zurich right now. Alba in Central Zurich, Le Paris and Picadilly near Stadelhofen, Movie in Limmatquai, and Uto in Kalkbreite. Uto showed its first film back in 1927. Alba is the most elegant of the five.
Arthouse shows amateur and indie films, all in their original versions. Subtitles are included. For a reasonable price, you can also book both a meal and a movie show. It’s definitely worth checking it out, especially if you’re a film buff.
Address: Arthouse Alba – Zähringerstrasse 44, 8001 Zurich. Trams 3, 4, 6, 7, 8 10, 11, 15 – Central.
21. Learn How Criminals Operate at Criminal Museum
The Criminal Museum (Das Kriminalmuseum in German) of Zurich’s Cantonal Police is definitely a unique thing to do in Zurich. In the museum, the Cantonal Police present a 2-hour long tour. In the tour, they describe the various ways criminals act. Visits are done by appointment. The tour is free and available to everyone at least 18 years of age.
The Criminal Museum is the oldest of its kind in Switzerland. It was opened in 1901 to help educate the Police force. In 1959, they decided to open it to the public.
Talking and learning about crime helps visitors to be aware of possible dangers. It also exhibits the history of justice, photos of crime sites, torture, and burglary equipment, and guns. It shows the world of theft, murder, and drugs.
Address: Kasernenstrasse 29, 8004 Zurich, Switzerland. Trams: 3 and 14 – Sihlpost/HB
22. Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth at Sprüngli Boutique Paradeplatz
A visit to Switzerland is never complete without chocolates. Or as in the image above – macaroons from Sprüngli. The macaroons are called Luxemburgerli, a sweet concoction made of buttercream inside meringue. There are 30 assorted flavors of this Luxemburgerli from mango, vanilla, chocolate, and pistachio.
In Confiserie Sprüngli, you can buy their specialty named Luxemburgerli. Established in 1836 by David Sprüngli, it is one of the most well-known Swiss Chocolate producers. The original company was split by the descendants of David Sprüngli into two companies. One is the Lindt & Sprüngli Chocolate company. Their main office is located in Paradeplatz in Zurich.
In the Sprüngli location in Paradeplatz, there is a restaurant where you can hang out and satisfy your sweet tooth. It is practically a guarantee that you will find something to your taste. The quality is top-notch: Luxembergli, Pralinés, Truffes, and Chocolate bars.
If the place is packed or you want another alternative, Teuscher is the other option. It is a pretty (and somewhat girly) chocolate place.
Address: Paradeplatz, Bahnhofstrasse 21, 8001 Zürich. Trams: 2, 5, 7, 8, 9, 13 – Paradeplatz
23. Visit the Fraumünster Church
Fraumünster is the smallest of the 34 Evangelical Reformed churches in the city. Even so, it is very beautiful. There used to be an abbey on its grounds. The abbey was dissolved in the face of reformation. In 1898, the abbey was eradicated to give way (eventually) to what we now know as the Fraumünster Church.
Fraumünster also contains the works of world-famous Marc Chagall and Augusto Giacometti. The installation of the windows done by Giacometti was done in September 1945. The delay was due to the Second World War. It is the last of Giacometti’s over 20 glass paintings. This masterpiece is 9 meters high and twice as large as Chagall’s Christ Window.
In 1970, Marc Chagall added the five-part choir windows of the church, as well as the rose window in the south transept.
Address: Münsterhof 2, 8001 Zurich. Trams: 6, 7, 11, 13 – Rennweg, 4 or 15 – Helmhaus.
24. Discover Earthquakes and Volcanoes at focusTerra
focusTerra is the Earth and Science Discovery Center of ETH Zurich. The museum is perfect for those who wish to learn about the geologic processes on our planet. For example, it shows how earthquakes are triggered, or what volcanoes are, and how the Alps were formed. It combines modern media stations with archives from the past.
The permanent exhibitions include:
- Archives of the earth – rocks, glaciations, river deposits, fossils, climate changes, lanscape of Zurich
- Treasures of the earth – crystals, minerals, gemstones
- Dynamics of the earth – solar system, earth, moon, meteorites, plate tectonics, volcanoes, mountains
- Media Stations – climate change, earthquakes, energy sources, mineral sources
Address: ETH Zurich focusTerra, Building – Sonneggstrasse 5 8092 Zurich, Switzerland. Trams: 5, 6, 8 9, 10 – ETH/Universitätsspital
25. Hang out in Frau Gerold’s Garden
One of the coolest locations in Zurich for hanging out, Frau Gerold’s Garden does not disappoint. Located near the Prime Tower, this gem opened back in the summer of 2012. It has a 2,500 square meter Garden – yes, a real one. Kraut + Quer, the company behind it, plant vegetables and fruits without added chemicals in this area.
Besides the garden, Frau Gerold’s Garden also has some small shops and art. In summer, there is a terrace and open-air bar. In winter, she transforms them into cozy fireplaces and food trucks. Yummy Cheese dishes are also typically served during winter. There is also a small gift market on the Saturdays leading up to Christmas.
Address: Geroldstrasse 23, 8005 Zürich. Trains: S5, S6, S7, S9, S11, S12, S15, S16, S20 – Hardbrücke
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