Zurich was the first major Swiss city I visited on my three week trip to Switzerland. I had never been there before and was not sure quite what to expect. My only experiences of Switzerland so far had been Geneva and Lugano which I gathered were quite different to Zurich.
Because I was based in Saint Gallen, I was only in Zurich properly for one full day exploring (aside from coming in and out for smaller things) but you can definitely see a lot in this time. I found Zurich to be stunningly beautiful and full of places to explore. Although the city is the sixth most expensive in the world, there are ways to get around this. I made it my challenge to try and see as much of Zurich for as little as possible. And yes, that was hard.
Language: Swiss German
Currency: Swiss franc (CHF)
Main station: Zurich Hauptbahnhof
Airport: Zurich Flughafen
Wandering through the streets of Zurich
This could honestly take up all of your day – it is stunning! The little cobblestone alleyways are full of gorgeous buildings with shuttered windows. Lots of the buildings are ornately painted and really grab your attention. The streets wind up and down the gentle hills and each one holds some kind of surprise. I was amazed by how many of them revealed a hidden church or Christmas market.
Zurich in its entirety is lovely to wander around but the old town is definitely the winner. Here is where you really feel as though you are in a fairy tale. And the best bit about exploring the old area? It’s absolutely free!
One of the many streets in the old area of the city
Cobblestone streets often end with beautiful churches
If there is one thing that Zurich has a lot of, it’s churches
Stumbling upon streets that feel like being in a fairytale
Count the fountains
Apparently there are 1200 fountains in Zurich and I would definitely believe that! There are fountains everywhere and many of them are beautiful and ornate. When wandering through the city make sure you keep your eye out for them.
There are many colourful buildings which brighten up the city in any season. This square contains one of the many fountains
Christmas markets (in winter)
If you happen to be in Zurich for in the festive season then you must visit the Christmas markets in front of the Opera House. Set beside the lake, these markets are beautiful! The stalls are all painted in matching red and the items for sale are beautiful. To top it all off there is a carousel at the end of the market. Although not the largest Christmas market it really is lovely and compact. Impeccably designed and full of festive atmosphere it really does add some charm to your day. Once again, exploring these markets is totally free (unless you decide to indulge in some glühwein – which you probably will).
In 2016 the market ran from November 24 until December 23, so if you are around at this time you should check it out! For more details about what you can experience at the markets visit Zuerich.com.
Looking at the Christmas markets from the side towards the Opera House
The beautiful carousel
The stalls are all coordinated in colour and sell lovely wares. A tall and well-decorated Christmas tree can be seen at the end.
Soak up the view from Lindenhoff
I stumbled upon this by accident but if you want a great view of Zurich for free then head to Lidenhoff. It is a small park which overlooks the city and gives great views over Zurich and Grossmünster. The park is also a lovely place for lunch with lots of benches and drinking fountains.
Grab a sausage from Sternen Grill
Sternen Grill is a busy place to stop for lunch but it is fairly well priced for Zurich. It sells sausages and beer so if you want to sample the local wurst then this is the place for you! For around 10CHF you can get yourself a wurst and beer. It was the cheapest place I could find in the touristy area of the city and was good value. The line can get long though because it is a super popular eatery.
If 10CHF is still a little out of your budget then never fear because groceries aren’t actually too expensive in Switzerland (if you buy home brand). I found them to be comparable with Australia but the supermarket-branded foods are actually pretty good quality. For 7CHF from Co-Op I got a 200g packet of smoked salmon, rye bread, and crème fraiche with herbs. This made enough for four luxurious sandwiches which could be eaten by the lake – more than enough for two people! Ahh, only in Zurich is it cheaper to have smoked salmon lunches per person at 3.50CHF than get an espresso from McDonalds for 3.90CHF.
On that note, coffee is very expensive here and difficult to find! I did not find a cheap place in Zurich despite looking. I settled for one which was 3CHF for an espresso. It was good but pricey. Let me know if anybody finds one!
A smoked salmon lunch by Lake Zurich suited me just fine
Walk by Lake Zurich
Walking along the Limmat is equally peaceful and stunning
The Limmat provides great views of Zurich
Lake Zurich is huge and you could spend a very long time walk along it. Taking a stroll along the banks is a peaceful break from the often busy city. If you don’t wish to stray from the city too much, the lake turns into the Limmat which meanders through the city itself. This is a gentle walk as well and takes you through many beautiful parts of Zurich.
Looking at Grössmunster from one of the many bridges of Zurich
Grössmunster is a truly spectacular church from the outside and inside. This church is iconically Zurich so it is 100% worth a visit. It is free to look around the church and if you wish to climb up for the viewpoint you can do it for 4CHF. This viewpoint offers fantastic vistas over the whole city. The viewpoint is only open at certain times during the day so be sure to check those out.
Go window shopping on Bahnhofstrasse
Looking down Banhofstrasse
Banhofstrasse is a very long street which begins at Zurich HB. It is lined with shops both affordable and high end – perfect for window shopping and people watching. Strolling up and down here is something that is definitely worthwhile.
See a concert at Tonhalle
The Zurich Tonhalle is a beautiful old building and it plays host to many spectacular concerts. I saw Pollini play at the Tonhalle and it was a marvellous experience. The seats for this concert were 25CHF so it does not have to be an overly expensive thing to do. Even being in the building is stunning let alone the muscial delights.
Got Zurich tips or questions? Comment below – I would love to hear from you!