This international finance capital is blessed with one of the highest qualities of life in the world, making for an exceptionally safe and highly enjoyable visit. While the city is smaller than you might think, there’s plenty to keep you busy, whether you’re wandering the gilded cocoon of the Altstadt (Old Town), lined with glittery watch and jewelry boutiques, private banks, and storied chocolate houses, or taking in the dynamic, edgy scene that awaits in Zurich West with its art galleries, design boutiques, and trendy eating and drinking establishments. Capping it all is an unparalleled natural beauty, with the serene Limmat River cutting through the city’s heart before opening into vast, shimmering Lake Zurich.



When’s the best time to go to Zurich?

The image of Switzerland might be of snow-capped mountains, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find much snow in Zurich. The country is full of microclimates, and Zurich’s is a moderate one. Winter is a glorious time to visit, thanks to temperatures that barely ever dip below freezing, Europe’s biggest indoor Christmas market, and Bahnhofstrasse shopping—even on Sundays throughout December. Spring weather can be cool and sunny, but it’s often wet, especially in the later months. (One consolation is the numerous pockets of gorgeous cherry blossoms that dot the city.) Surely the best season to visit is summer and early fall, when it’s warm enough to swim in the lake.

How to get around Zurich

The concrete, steel, and glass–clad Flughafen Zürich, also known as Zurich Kloten Airport, offers a microcosm of what to expect in the city you’re about to enter: Everything is pristine, with advertisements for watches everywhere. Zurich’s main train station, Hauptbahnhof, is just eight miles south, and a number of trains will take you there in as little as 12 minutes. The number 10 tram takes 35 minutes but might be more convenient if your destination is on the northern edges of town. Taxis are insanely expensive—about 50 Swiss francs or $55 to the heart of the city—and should be avoided unless you have lots of baggage.

It’s no exaggeration to say Zurich’s public transportation system is the most punctual and reliable in the world. Like practically everything else in this city, it doesn’t come cheap: a one-hour ticket costs 4.20 Swiss francs. But a day pass, at 8.60 Swiss francs, is a relative bargain considering it allows for travel on any of the city’s various modes of public transportation, be it train, bus, tram, funicular, cable car, or boat, during any given 24-hour period. The most popular, and efficient, is the city’s iconic blue tram. A fun alternative is to tour the city on two wheels with Züri rollt, the city’s popular—and free—bike-share program. Also, considering Zurich’s relatively small size and pedestrian-friendly Altstadt, it’s possible to reach many of the city’s most interesting sights entirely on foot.

Can’t miss things to do in Zurich

Even born-and-bred locals can’t get enough of strolling along the lake, with loyalties divided between the right and left bank. The former may seem the obvious stunner, with its gorgeous tree-lined promenade, but the latter certainly has its lures. Keep wandering south until you reach Saffa Island, perhaps the most charming spot on the lake, reachable by an arched pedestrian bridge, and offering a straight-shot view of the Alps.

Food and drink to try in Zurich

Swiss food is hearty—and deliciously indulgent. It is certainly possible to dine on fondue and bratwurst for all your meals here, but it would be wise to seek out some of the lesser-known traditional dishes, like raclette, rösti, and Zürcher Geschnetzeltes, the classic Zurich specialty of pan-fried veal with a creamy white-wine sauce. But the Zurich food scene is much more than just meat, cheese, and potatoes: there’s visionary fine dining, internationally inflected vegetarian, and fresh fish dishes prepared with Lake Zurich catch. There’s also a seemingly limitless choice of chocolate, whether your vice is richly dense cake, Champagne-filled truffles, or single-origin bars. Zurich is a beer-loving city—try a local TurbinenBraü brew—but while you’re here, make sure to sample some of the wines produced from grapes grown in and around the city, many of which you’ll be hard-pressed to find outside of Zurich, much less out of the country.

Culture in Zurich

Where there’s wealth, there’s art. This is a city brimming with cultural institutions. The venerable Kunsthaus, which holds Zurich’s most important collection of modern art, should be on every art lover’s itinerary, as should the lesser-known “Löwenbräu brewery-turned-arts complex, home to Kunsthalle Zürich and Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, two of the most important museums for contemporary art in the city. If you never step foot inside a museum, you can still get your fill of great art: Fraumünster church has stained-glass windows by Marc Chagall and Augusto Giacometti, several hotels have sizable art collections (the Widder even commissioned a Rauschenberg), and for high-rolling diners, Kronenhalle serves veal steak and wiener schnitzel amid pieces by Picasso, Matisse, and Mirò.

For a small city, Zurich has a packed celebratory calendar. With time-honored, tradition-bound festivals such as the Sechlauten in the spring, raucous blowouts like Street Parade in the summer, and numerous cultural events like the Zurich Film Festival in the fall, there is no shortage of events around which to plan your vacation.

Local travel tips for Zurich

The Swiss tend to be proud and reserved, but they can be exceedingly polite and helpful if encountered on their terms. Always greet shop owners and restaurant staff with “Greüzi” (hello) when entering, and “entschuldigen” (pardon) before asking a question or making a request. Use polite tram etiquette. On older trams, avoid the second car, which is reserved for strollers and wheelchairs, unless necessary. If you want to cross ahead of an idle tram, make eye contact with the driver and proceed only if he waves you through. The Swiss are very rule abiding: You’ll find them standing at a red light even if there’s no traffic in sight. Follow their lead.

Guide Editor

Read Before You Go
Resources to help plan your trip
From the glitz and glamour of chic lounges to the speakeasy-style hangouts, Zurich’s bar scene is legendary in Switzerland. Zurich West’s Hotel Rivington & Sons, with its 80-year old New York made bar, is perfect for savoring a whiskey or ginger wine. But to climb the scales of exclusivity, head to Nietturm, a stunning bar located in a glass cube atop the Zurich skyline.
Zurich doesn’t just offer affluent living; it’s also sporty and historically fascinating. One week is enough time to start soaking up the city’s lifestyle. Stroll down Zurich’s glittering Bahnhofstrasse—one of the most expensive shopping streets in the world—for a taste of true extravagance. Or head to the Letzigrund soccer stadium to cheer on Grasshopper or F.C. Zurich. Bürkliplatz’s flea market is ideal for bargain hunters and the Swiss National Museum explores the history of Switzerland.
Zurich West is trendy, diverse and the ideal shopping hot spot. Im Viadukt is Zurich’s first covered market with over 50 vendors peddling everything from local wine and liquors to fabulously smelly cheeses. Gerolds Markt is lovely and houses seven independent boutiques, but the coolest store in Zurich, possibly the world, is Freitag. Here individually designed cult messenger bags are sold in 19-stacked shipping containers.
From champagne truffles and single-origin chocolate to indulgent cakes and chocolate covered beans, Zurich is heaven for chocoholics. Teuscher is synonymous with Swiss chocolate and its flagship store is here in Zurich - don’t forget to try the Dom Perignon-infused truffle. The best hot chocolate in Zurich is served in the fairy-tale setting of Café Conditorei Schober while Sprüngli specializes in ginormous ice cream sundaes.
There’s no shortage of diverse dining options in Zurich West - from the stylish tapas-sized dishes in Josef to the classical French-Italian cuisine of LaSalle. The opening of Zurich’s first permanent closed market created a plethora of restaurants including the modern Restaurant Viadukt and the popular Markthalle, offering hearty meat-centric dishes. Diners wanting to hit new heights should eat at Clouds - a high-end restaurant atop Switzerland’s tallest tower.
Arguably the best way to explore Zurich is by walking along its lakefront or through its enchanting cobbled streets. Strolling along the serene Limmatquai offers spectacular views of the Limmat River and Lake Zurich is best seen from the Arboretum. Zurich’s Bahnhofstrasse is one of the most exclusive shopping streets in the world and will take the fancy of any fastidious shopper, but don’t forget Einzigart in Zurich West and Limmatquai for equally desirable boutiques.
From one of Switzerland’s most iconic lakes to quaint cobblestone backstreets, there are certain unforgettable views in Zurich. Elegance and efficiency are entwined at Zurich’s Paradeplatz, home to many of the largest Swiss banks. Expense and affluence are flaunted on Bahnhofstrasse, lined with designer shops. Nostalgia fills the air around James Joyce’s grave at Friedhof Fluntern cemetery, and the view of the stained glass windows in Zurich’s Fraumünster church is sublime.
If indulging in some of the most expensive food in Switzerland is not your thing, Zurich offers a host of cheap eats. Try a 10 franc sandwich with your choice of filling from a flower shop near the ETH Zurich or the vegetarian buffet close to Zurich’s Opera House. Don’t forget Zurich’s department stores which have affordable buffets; the best of which is atop Manor and is priced by the plate not the pound.
Coffee culture is taken extremely seriously in Zurich, and the city’s best coffee shops reflect this. Long summer afternoons are well spent sat out on the cobblestone Niederdorf sampling Café Henrici’s Brazilian coffee beans, or overlooking the Limmat River with an exquisite espresso from Grande. When the winter chill hits Zurich, snuggle with a loved one in the red velvet booths of Teecafé Schwarzenbach, or defrost your fingertips at the stand-up espresso counter.
Zurich’s locals are fanatical about swimming and the best way to join them is to take a plunge into one of the badis, or outdoor pools. Strandbad Mythenquai is popular, not only because it’s the only badi in Zurich with a beach, but because of its five-meter diving board. One of the most aesthetically pleasing badis is the art deco Frauenbad Stadthausquai, and the oldest in Zurich is the Männerbad Schanzengraben, a spot surrounded by an ivy-laden wall.
Postcard-pretty cities, turquoise lake waters, and Alpine peaks are just some highlights of day trips from Zurich. Among the Swiss Alps lies Mount Rigi, a mountain almost completely surrounded by water and so beautiful is often depicted in works of art. Luzern attracts visitors for its mountain/lake beauty which is enhanced by the 14th-century Kapellbrücke Bridge, and the Wasserturm water tower.
Discovering a hidden eatery will make any Swiss sojourn utterly memorable. Find out here where the locals in Zurich eat. Discover a restaurant down a quiet side street of the Niederdorf that serves up delicious food using seasonal ingredients. Scale the hill in the Wollishofen neighborhood and splurge on Zurich’s best entrecôte steak. Or enjoy the finest catches of the day from Lake Zurich at a fish restaurant located on the city’s only campground.
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