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ZÜRICH | Zürich is Switzerland’s largest and most cosmopolitan city. It’s known, amongst other things, for its position as one of the world’s leading centres of banking and finance, its beautiful lake and river, and its cleanliness. It’s been voted time and time again, in several highly regarded surveys around the world, as one of the world’s most liveable cities.
The city was founded by the Romans in 15 BC, and since then has developed a rich cultural heritage. Zürich is home to numerous galleries and museums, and a beautifully intact old centre that’s a pleasure to walk through. It’s not just old world charm that Zürich’s about though. There’s a very modern side to the city, as exemplified by areas like Zürich West, where formerly underutilised and forgotten parts of the city have been transformed into vibrant, creative districts full of bars, restaurants, cafes, and galleries.
The last time I visited the city was just over 10 years ago, so I was excited to go back and discover more. I only had two full days in Zürich, and made sure I filled in that time well. If you’re looking for things to do in Zürich any only have a few days in town, here are a few of my recommendations to make the most of it.
Eat Some Luxemburgeli
Confiserie Sprüngli purveyors of premium Swiss chocolate. Their signature item isn’t chocolate though, but Luxemburgerli. They are like small macarons, but lighter and more airy in texture than a macaron. They’re made daily using fresh ingredients and designed to be eaten on the day. The classic flavours are fantastic – try the chocolate and raspberry deluxe, and the rotating monthly seasonal flavour is always well worth a try too. The freshness and quality of the ingredients is evident in every bite.
Explore Switzerland’s Craft Beer Scene
Switzerland has quite the burgeoning craft beer scene but finding Swiss craft beer outside of Switzerland and neighbouring countries can be difficult. La Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes “BFM” is known for its fantastic saisons and farmhouse ales while S&A Brewing produce some of the best IPAs in Switzerland.
In Zürich there’s a decent choice of stores to purchase take away beers and bars to drink craft beer at. Intercomestibles, der Laden is a fantastic little craft beer, cider, and spirit shop in Zürich’s Langstrasse neighbourhood, and has a constantly rotating selection of core range, limited, and hard to find craft beer releases from Switzerland and further afar. Beers’N’More rates as one of the city’s top craft beer bottle shops and is another great option, as is Moby Hick’s, which is both a bottle shop and bar.
For craft beer bars, visit Eldorado in Industriequartier where you’ll find 101 different beers on offer, or check out The Alehouse, which has an extensive range across its 20 taps and in the fridges, is right next to Beers’N’More and is another great option for those wanting to drink something interesting and local. The International is also worth checking out. They have around 100 different beers on offer at any given time, half of which are Swiss.
Visit A Museum
Given the wealth of culture in Zürich, it should come as no surprise that there are a lot museums in the city. What’s impressive about Zürich’s museums is the diversity of topics covered. There’s not only large museums that cover things like art and history, but smaller niche museums that deal with all sorts of interesting things.
The Museum Für Gestaltung (“Museum for Design”) deals with industrial design, visual communication, architecture, and craft, and is one of the most highly regarded museums of its kind in Europe. It holds over over 500,000 objects that cover topics that touch upon everyone’s lives. Lovers of modern and fine art should visit Kunsthaus Zürich, while those who like contemporary art will enjoy the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst. For lovers of history, the Landesmuseum is the most visited museum in Switzerland and deals with the history of Switzerland and its people.
If you’re looking for something more niche, visit the Haus Konstruktiv. Housed in a converted former electric sub-station, the museum explores concrete, constructive and conceptual art. Fans of football can visit the recently renovated FIFA World Football Museum, which has over 1,000 covering the first World Cup in Uruguay in 1930 though to today. Also fascinating is the Kantonspolizei Zürich Kriminalmuseum, a museum housed in a police barracks and run run by the city’s police department. It takes visitors through the history of the judiciary and the development of the cantonal police of Zürich, and discusses some of Zürich’s highest profile crime cases.
Enjoy The Diversity Of Zürich’s Dining Scene
Zürich has the most diverse and vibrant dining scene in Switzerland, and are plenty of restaurants, bars, and cafes in which to get a taste of the city. For traditional Swiss fare inside a former medieval arsenal, visit Zeughauskeller. If it’s coffee and some pastries or cakes that you’re in the mood for, check out Cafe Henrici and Milchbar, both of which have some of the best coffee in Zürich. Milchbar is also well worth visiting for its fantastic deli counter.
Another great coffee spot, that’s also known for its brilliant rotating natural wine selection, is 169 West. Come for the coffee and wine, and stay for the fantastic food – the menu features modern European dishes, cheese boards, and dishes inspired by one of the owner’s South East Asian heritage.
Also make sure you visit Haus Hiltl, the oldest continually running vegetarian restaurant in the world. Haus Hiltl is popular with people from all walks of life, who flock here for the fantastic vegetarian food that’s inspired by the world’s cuisines. Even meat eaters will walk away satisfied with a meal here. After all, when you’ve been serving vegetarian food to the public since 1898, you learn a thing or two about what tastes good.
Surfing isn’t the most obvious thing one thinks of when looking for things to do in Zürich, but at Urbansurf Zürich you can do exactly that. Urbansurf gives people the chance to learn or improve their surfing skills with the assistance of professional instructors. People of all ages and skill levels are welcome, and there’s a small cafe and bar on site if you just want to watch people have a go at surfing while enjoying a drink or bite to eat.
Walk Through The Old Town
Zürich’s historic centre is known as Altstadt (“old town”) and has a lot to offer visitors. It’s home to beautiful historical buildings and architecture, including Medieval houses, narrow cobblestone lanes and Renaissance period guild and town halls. Altstadt is where you’ll find three of Zürich’s most famous landmarks the twin towers of Grossmünster (Great Minster), the Peterskirche (Peter’s Church), which has Europe’s largest clock face, and the Fraumünster (Minster of Our Lady). Several operators run walking tours, or you can simply explore it for yourself.
The area is also home to Bahnhofstrasse, which runs from Zürich HB down to Lake Zurich. It’s a beautiful street and home to some of the best shopping that Zürich has to offer. Bahnhofstrasse and the nearby streets is where you’ll find all the big luxury names and luxury goods, along with mid range high street brands like Zara and Uniqlo. If that’s what you’re in the market for, Altstadt’s the place to be. For more independent and affordable shopping, check out Zürich West (see below) and Langstrasse.
Discover A Lesser Known Side To The City
Most visitors to Zürich spend their time in Zürich’s old town. It’s very beautiful, and well worth exploring as mentioned above, however those who explore beyond this can discover a different side to Zürich.
A short walk or tram ride north west of the old city takes visitors to Industriequartier or the section of it that’s become known as Zürich West in recent years. It’s a former industrial area behind a railway station that sat underutilised for many years. In 2010 the area started to become popular with youthful, creative types attracted by the area’s cheap rents. Today the area is home to an assortment or bars, restaurants, cafes, independent stores, and creative spaces. You’ll also find some of Zürich’s best street art around here.
Visit Frau Gerolds Garten, a large open/shipping container space that’s home to shops, art installations, a bar and eatery, pop-ups, an urban garden. Also check out the FREITAG tower. It’s the up-cycled bag manufacturer’s flagship store made entirely out of shipping containers. From the rooftop you get views across the rail-yards, over the city and beyond. The aforementioned Urbansurf is located next door.
Also worth a visit is Im Viadukt. It’s a 500 metre long, 36 arch mixed use space under recently restored rail arches which date back to 1894. You’ll find cafes, bars, restaurants, boutique and concept shops, and creative spaces, and even if you’re not looking to spend money, it’s worth visiting just to admire the scale of the development, and watch trains zip by on tracks above the arches.
Enjoy The Limmat
The Limmat is the river that runs through Zürich, from the heart of the old city where it meets Lake Zürich, through to the city’s north and beyond. Locals love the river, and it forms a focal point for a lot of activities during the year. In summertime you can go for a swim, or enjoy a drink and some food at one of the many bars and cafes while sitting on a deck chair soaking in the sun. During winter, swimming is out of the question, but you can still enjoy a drink or meal inside one of the eateries and bars on the river bank. Meanwhile a simple stroll along the river is something that can be enjoyed all year ’round.
See Lake Zürich
Lake Zürich is spectacular. I remember being wowed the first time I saw it and 10 years later I was still as amazed as the first time I saw it. The crystal clear water is clean enough to drink despite the lake being in the heart of the city. It makes for a spectacular backdrop when walking along the Limmat in Altstadt, as the city’s buildings give way to natural views and rolling hills. It’s truly one of Zürich’s greatest assets.
During the summer you can bathe, sail, partake in water sports or picnic in and around the river, while in winter you can go ice-skating on one of the rinks that are set up on the banks of the lake. Supposedly it’s possible to ice skate on the river itself when it’s fully frozen over, but the last time that happened was in 1963. If you’re not interested in any of those activities, simply go for a stroll along the banks of the river. The view is beautiful and the experience calming.