When it comes to tourism in Europe, Zürich doesn’t always make the top of the list. It’s labeled as a banking city, a college town, but with a small old city center, it typically serves more as a quick stop before travelers head out to the countryside. That doesn’t mean that Zürich doesn’t have anything to offer though. In fact, it’s a perfect city for leisurely urban hiking, with enough to see and do before you catch that train to the mountains. This guide can easily be done in half a day to a full day, depending on how long you linger in each spot.
As you wander the streets of Zürich, look up to catch glimpses of the clocktower of St. Peter’s.
Zürich HB Train Station
It’s worth mentioning the train station for those who may only have a few hours in Zürich. Located at the northern tip of the old city center, you’ll quickly get acquainted with this busy station. With trains traveling to/ from the airport, as well as around the country and into other parts of Europe, it’s likely you will start your journey here. If you arrive in the morning before you can check into your hotel, there are luggage lockers conveniently located on the lower level—drop your heavy bags there and head out for a walk around the city!
Head south of the train station (and keep an eye and ear out for the extremely quiet tram cars!) onto Zürich’s main shopping drag, Bahnhofstrasse, which extends parallel with the river and all the way down to the north tip of Lake Zürich. Here, you’ll find most of the modern shops you can find in most cities—H&M, Zara, etc.—demonstrating the city’s function as what I’d like to call a ‘livable city.’ You’ll also notice Zürich’s cleanliness as you walk down this street—unlike other major metropolises like New York, Milan, or Paris, which have a distinct grittiness to their streets, Zürich is meticulously pristine. Spend some time popping in and out of shops if you have the time, and continue south until you reach…
THIS was my favorite part of Zürich. Turning left off Bahnhofstrasse and onto Oetenbachgasse, then right onto Lindenhofstrasse, you’ll go through a small arched tunnel to an elevated park that overlooks the Limmat River. On a warm, sunny day, this is a perfect spot to stop and rest, catch up on some writing, or check your map to make a plan for the rest of your route. Snap some photos of the city, with the famed Grossmünster church across the way, and watch locals play chess or picnic with family members. Continuing south through the park, you’ll encounter the upscale Münzplatz, the medieval-aged neighborhood that now boasts trendy gift shops, chocolate boutiques, and custom watch makers. Whether you’re looking for a gift, or just browsing, this area is a wonderful snapshot of Swiss city homes—just wandering around I found myself taking notes on how to replicate the design on my future home.
Zürich is famous for its numerous fountains around the city—approximately 1,200—and all dispense clean drinking water. Be sure to stop and fill up your water bottle at one of these fountains, you’ll be able to taste the difference!
Swiss churches are far more modest than those you may find in Italy or France, but as you trek along the country’s landscape, you’ll regularly spot the distinct pointed towers of these churches. Probably the best example of this in Zürich is the Kirche Fraumünster, on the west bank of the Limmat River. You’ll have to pay to go inside, but you can also take a step back in the adjacent plaza to marvel at the Swiss design. Before you check this church off your list though, be sure to stop at the Church of St. Peter, located between Fraumünster and Lindenhof (look for the clock tower, you can’t miss it).
When it comes to churches in Zürich though, the most famous is Grossmünster, the two-towered Romanesque church on Zürich’s east bank. Entry is free, so take some time to step inside this city landmark and learn more about Switzerland’s history.
If you follow the Limmat south, eventually you hit the mouth and get a full view of Lake Zürich. On a clear day, you’ll be able to see the Alps in the distance, and in the summer months, you can swim or take a boat out on to the lake. But don’t be fooled by its size, at 25 miles in length and another 2 miles wide, you could spend all day on the water. Grab a sandwich and have a picnic, or catch the sun setting at the end of the day.
When you’re tired from the walk, head back towards the train station along the east bank of the Limmat, and take a detour into the Niederdorf neighborhood. This area is more hip, with trendy gift shops and plenty of bars and restaurants, and adorable side streets to explore. Take some time to sample some local favorites, and don’t forget to try the fondue!
Looking for something a little more relaxing? Take an afternoon or evening to visit Zurich’s Thermalbad Spa, with a rooftop bath that overlooks the city and plenty of spa services indoors—it’s a nice way to relax after a long walk around the city.