Zürich, Switzerland’s largest city, is well known as the country’s economic and cultural hub and one of Europe’s main financial and industrial capitals, it’s also a delightful and fascinating place for tourists. Its many attractions include dozens of museums, a well-preserved old town filled with medieval and Renaissance buildings, and enough art – both in and out of museums – to keep art-lovers happy for a week.
Best Time to Visit
The summer months are the best time to visit Zurich, thanks to the pleasant weather (temperature averages around 21°C). Enjoy the outdoors during sunny days and party away the cool breezy evenings. Being the peak tourist season, Zurich is a tad expensive during this time.
Top Places to Visit in Zurich
1. Old Town
In the midst of this modern financial powerhouse of a city is a neighborhood filled with historic charm, its narrow streets rising steeply on the east side of the river. Heading up Münstergasse, you’ll come to the Napfgasse, with the Brunnenturm, which was headquarters of the Lombard money-changers in the 14th and 15th centuries. Haus zum Napt, at number 6, has a fine interior with rooms furnished in Renaissance style.
For the best views of the city and the lake, follow locals to their favorite weekend aerie, the 871-meter Uetliberg. Southwest of Zürich, the Uetliberg is the most northerly summit in the Albis ridge, easy to reach by the Uetlibergbahn, a mountain railroad that runs year-round from Selnau station to the upper station. From here it is a 10-minute walk to the summit. The broad walkway is well lit at night and leads to the summit restaurant, a glass-enclosed space with beautiful views of the city lights below. Daytime views from the lookout tower stretch across the Valais, Bernese, and Glarus Alps, with the Black Forest to the north and the Säntis to the east. From here, an easy ridge walk to the Felsenegg takes a little more than an hour, where a cableway descends to Adliswil.
3. Lake Zürich and Bürkliplatz
The focal point of Zürich, and a favorite playground for tourists and locals is the long Lake Zürich. The entire shore is lined with promenades and parks, where local residents catch the sun, jog, picnic, and swim in the lake. But the favorite way to enjoy the lake is on one of the many cruises from which you’ll see beautiful views to the Glarus Alps. Look for the steamer landing at Bürkliplatz, at the point where the Limmat flows from the lake. Here, you’ll find a restaurant; a Chinese Garden; and a boat landing for the Limmatschiff, a boat that runs from the National Museum along the river to the lake, ending at Zürihorn.
4. Museum of Fine Arts
One of Europe’s top art museums, the Kunsthaus is run by the Zürich Society of Arts and traces its history back to a society of artists founded in 1787. While it has large collections of works by several artists – more paintings by Charles Munch than any other museum outside of Oslo and Europe’s most important collection of Monet’s works outside of Paris – the emphasis has always been on showing the highest quality works by an artist over the largest quantity.
5. Swiss National Museum
A castle-like building with neo-Gothic flourishes houses an excellent museum showcasing the cultural history of all Switzerland. It is by far the most important collection of Swiss historic and cultural artifacts – more than 820,000 of them, covering a wide range of subjects from prehistory through the 20th century. The archaeological collections, with artifacts discovered in Switzerland that date from about 100,000 BC to about AD 800 are among the finest in Europe. Entire collections cover works of gold- and silversmiths, textiles, costumes, metalwork, jewelry, watches and clocks, scientific instruments, rural life, carriages and sleighs, musical instruments, crafts, and industrial antiquities. The medieval wall paintings are particularly interesting, as is the collection of old stained glass. The Armory Tower exhibits an important collection of arms and armor.
6. Zurich Zoo
More than 360 different animal species live in the exotic world of the Zurich Zoo, one of the finest in Europe. Animals live as close to their own environments as possible: snow leopards amid the rocky Himalayan landscape, penguins swimming in chilly water, and you can spot flying foxes from a canopy walk amid 13,000 square meters of tropical rainforest. In the Kaeng Krachan Elephant Park, you can watch the Asian elephant family play with their baby and swim in their multi-environment outdoor complex, which was designed to resemble their natural Thai habitat. Trams and trains run to the zoo from the main train station and the Paradeplatz.
7. St. Peter’s Church
South of the Lindenhof in the part of the Old Town that lies on the west bank of the Limmat, St. Peter’s Church stands on a little hill. The oldest parish church in Zürich, it has an early 13th-century Romanesque choir under the tower and a Baroque nave with three-aisles and galleries. You can see the original 9th-century foundation underneath the chancel. In 1538, the church acquired the largest clock dials in Europe, 8.7 meters in diameter, and still holds that record.