Zurich offers a unique blend of sightseeing, cultural attractions, and outdoor activities within a thoroughly modern city. It houses traditional fine watchmakers and artisanal chocolatiers as well as modern global players in science and business. In a single day, you can hike through the foothills of the Alps, climb the tower of an 800-year-old church, eat in Europe’s oldest vegetarian restaurant, and enjoy a sundowner in an open-air lounge that during the day is a public pool by the riverside.
If you can stay in Zurich a little longer, here are some suggestions for things to do on your own:
Note that some of the ticket prices mentioned below to give you an estimate may have changed since publication.
½ day excursions:
- Üetliberg is a small mountain just outside of Zurich. It is 871 meters above sea level and offers extraordinary views of Zurich, Lake Zurich and the Alps. After taking the train up the mountain and hiking a little further uphill for ca. 500 meters, there are two restaurants on top of Üetliberg, offering a variety of cuisine and a stunning view of the Alps. Restaurant Allegra specializes in gourmet fare, while Restaurant Gmüetliberg offers traditional Swiss cuisine. While on Üetliberg, simply enjoy the breathtaking views or hike, bike or paraglide. It takes 20 minutes to get to Üetliberg from the main train station (Hauptbahnhof) and trains leave every 30 minutes during the week and every 20 minutes over the weekend. Tickets can be purchased at any ZVV or SBB kiosk (options in a variety of languages, including English and French) or you may buy tickets from a representative at the main station (Hauptbahnhof) ticket booth (SBB Reisebüro). The total price is currently CHF 8.60. Uetliberg travel info.
- The Zurich Zoo is fun for all ages. It transports you through many types of habitats, including the Masoala rainforest, the Mongolian steppes and the Kaeng Krachan Elephant Park. It is always evolving with the animals and conservation in mind. You can buy the tickets online or at the zoo itself. You can get to the zoo by taking the 6 tram to Zoo.
- The ZSG ferry on Lake Zurich takes you roundtrip from Bürkliplatz, with stops in several lakeside destinations, such as Rapperswil. You can hop off and walk around another town and grab lunch, or you can simply enjoy the scenic 1.5 hour long “short” round trip. Food and beverages are available for purchase on the boat. Take a tram to Bürkliplatz, where all ferries depart. ZVV zone tickets 110, 140 and 150, ZürichCARD, 9-Hour Pass or Day Pass cover the cost of the ride. There is also a Limmat River Cruise that leaves from the dock by the Landesmuseum, the building across the street from the main station that looks like a castle. It is about an hour long and is free with your ZVV zone tickets 110 or ZürichCARD.
1 day excursions:
All train tickets for the following trips may be purchased at [www.sbb.ch] or at the ticket booth (SBB Reisebüro) at the Zurich main station (Hauptbahnhof).
- Lucerne and Mt. Pilatus, Take the Golden Round Trip for the full experience: by boat from Lucerne (50 min. from Zurich by train), up the world’s steepest cogwheel railway, breathtaking views of Lake Lucerne and surrounding Alps, then down by gondola and return to Lucerne by bus (currently CHF 72 for the Golden Round Trip; cheaper options are also available. While in Lucerne, relax by the lake and make sure to walk over Chapel Bridge, a 14th century covered, wooden bridge that almost burned down completely in 1993 but has been beautifully renovated. There is a free walking tour of Lucerne about twice per week.
- Bern, the Swiss capitol (60-90 min. from Zurich by train), houses the parliament. Bern has been an influential and notable city since medieval times. While there, walk through the old city, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, look at the intricate clock tower, see their bear habitat, check out the view of the Alps and the pristine Aare River from the Rosengarten (rose garden) and see the many fountains, including "Kindlifresserbrunnen" or the “Fountain of the Children-Gobbler”. You can tour the Einstein House, the Einstein Museum and the Cathedral at Munsterplatz. If you prefer a guided walking tour, there are free ones several times per week.
- Appenzell is a popular destination for a picturesque day of hiking (about 2 hours from Zurich by train). There are several hikes you can take depending on skill level and desired length.
- Constance, Germany, is a scenic city located by Lake Constance, that is bordered by three countries: Switzerland, Germany, and Austria. Besides its historic meaning for the Council of Constance, it is world famous for its “flower isle” Mainau Island, where around a million tulips, rhododendrons, scented roses, perennials and colourful dahlias bloom in the park and gardens.
If you can stay in Europe a little longer, here are some suggestions for places to go:
- The Glacier Express goes from Zermatt to St. Moritz/Davos for unparalleled views of the Alps and surrounding areas. It has several places where you can hop off or you can ride it all the way to St. Moritz. A one way trip is 7 hours long. It is one of the most enjoyable ways to experience Switzerland. You begin your journey in Zermatt, at the foot of the Matterhorn, and arrive at St. Moritz, a beautiful resort town. Trains leave from Zermatt 3 times per day and currently cost CHF 149 one way. You can return to Zurich directly from St. Moritz. Tickets may be purchased online here or here or at the Zurich main station (Hauptbahnhof) ticket booth (SBB Reisebüro).
- Milan, Italy. The direct train from Zurich to Milan takes just over 4 hours and goes 7 times per day. From Milan, you can ride further to Venice or Rome in about 3 hours. Tickets for currently approximately CHF 164 round trip (2nd class) can be purchased [online] [www.sbb.ch] or at the ticket booth (SBB Reisebüro) in the Zurich main station (Hauptbahnhof). Taking the bus is another great option to get to Milan direct from Zurich. It currently costs EUR 38 roundtrip and takes as little as 3 and a half hours (traffic permitting), currently leaving 7 times per day.
- Paris, France. The famous TGV high-speed train takes just over 4 hours from Zurich. You may purchase tickets online or from the ticket booth (SBB Reisebüro) in the Zurich main station (Hauptbahnhof). Trains leave several times daily.
- Munich, Germany. Going by train from Zurich to Munich currently costs around CHF 183 roundtrip and takes about 4 hours. You may buy tickets [online] [www.sbb.ch] or at the Zurich main station (Hauptbahnhof) ticket booth (SBB Reisebüro). You may also take a bus directly to Munich. The bus takes as little as 3 hours and 45 minutes (traffic permitting) with a “direct express.” Costs vary depending on time and occupancy, but are generally much cheaper than by train. It can be as low as EUR 30 roundtrip. Buses currenlty leave up to 14 times per day.
- There are many more convenient train connections and direct flights from Zurich to various destinations in Europe. Check out: Europe by train and SWISS airline route network.