Zurich is much more than just the business and banking capital of Switzerland and there is a lot to do here in 24 hours! Zurich is known for its picturesque streets, cosy restaurants, lakeside views and great nightlife, as well as its fantastic Christmas Markets! Whether it’s the Old Town, Zurich Lake or the Alps just a stone’s throw away, beautiful sights are to be found everywhere. If you are on a stopover or a weekend city break, read on to discover the perfect itinerary to explore this beautiful city: welcome to 24 hours in Zurich!
Zurich is a pretty compact city with the main sights centred around the Old Town, which is where you’ll spend the majority of your time. The beautiful Old town is full of history and interesting sites, with many churches and beautiful historic architecture and of course, the stunning Lake Zurich. Cobblestone streets, cute narrow lanes and medieval houses all add to the charming atmosphere of the Old Town (or Aldstadt as it is known in German).
First up, head to Grossmünster (“great minster”) church. Built in 1230, Grossmünster is Zurich’s landmark and the most iconic church in Zurich. The church has two towers and for 5 Swiss Francs you can climb the 187 steps to the top of one of the towers: Karlsturm Tower.
Whilst the climb is a little challenging, this is actually one of my favourite things to do in Zurich!! From the top you’ll have such beautiful panoramic views of the lake and mountains that you’ll totally forget about the climb up! You’ll also get a wonderful birds-eye view of the city and see some of Zurich’s other landmarks, including Fraumünster church on the other side of the river, instantly recognised by its thin green steeple.
From up here you’ll probably notice that for such a modern city, Zurich has very few skyscrapers, mostly due to building height regulations. Many people love this about the city as it helps to keep the old vibes.
Grossmünster lies on the banks of the Lammat river, so once you’ve come back down from the tower, stroll along the river and admire the beautiful buildings on the other side. Even stop for a morning coffee at one of the riverside cafes.
The Old Town spans both sides of the river, and so from here, cross over Münsterbücke – the famous bridge near Grossmünster. Head into Fraumünster church (“women’s church”) – the one with the green steeple, but please observe – no photographs are allowed inside. Then make your way to the nearby Peterskirche (St Peter’s church), which has the largest clock face in Europe.
The streets in Zurich are full of beautiful buildings with colourful window shutters. It’s best to just wander the Old Town and discover these streets for yourself, however do make sure to visit the prettiest one: Augustinergasse street, it’s lined with flags and looks like it is straight out of a fairytale! And whilst you’re there, Zurich is certainly not short of great places to eat and drink and there are many cute cafes and restaurants around this area where you can sit in, eat, drink and watch the world go by!
Lindenhof Park is just around the corner so make sure to go up the short uphill walk to it to enjoy the panoramic skyline and river views. It’s not a park as such as there isn’t too much green there, it is more of a public square and is actually the site of the old Roman Castle from which the city was originally built around. Even though the views from here are really lovely, luckily this place is usually pretty quiet so you can sit on one of the benches, relax for a bit and watch the locals playing chess if you wish.
Afterwards make your way to the shores of Lake Zurich – there are lots of cafes and restaurants on the shores of the lake too if you wish to take a break and admire the stunning views of the Alps. Or alternatively there are lots of boats at the harbour that can take you around the lake, or you can even hire a pedalo if you have the energy! Alternatively you can take a one-hour boat ride of the Old Town on the river (between April and October) from the National Museum, which will take you to Lake Zurich, going past all the historical buildings.
Thermalbad & Spa
One place that you definitely shouldn’t miss is Thermalbad & Spa, just a short walk from the Old Town and Lake Zurich. The thermal baths offer a really relaxing experience, and for 36 Swiss francs for a day pass, you can have access to the incredible outdoor infinity pool with amazing views of Zurich (unfortunately cameras are not allowed inside, so sad!!).
Lindt Chocolate Factory
If you still have time, visit the famous Lindt chocolate factory of Switzerland in Zurich too! It is located just 6km from the Old Town on the other shore of the lake and you can try your hand at making your own chocolates here. As I’m sure you’re aware, Switzerland is world renowned for it’s quality chocolate, so if you don’t make it to the chocolate factory make sure you don’t forget to buy some Swiss chocolate when you are here!
One part of Zurich that is becoming very trendy is Zurich West. Once an industrial area but now a definite up and coming part of town, you’ll see old shipping containers turned into bars, railway viaducts turned into shopping areas and old factories turned into shopping centres! It is totally reminiscent of hipster Shoreditch in London! One particularly interesting shop is the Freitag store (which sells lovely bags made from recycled materials) located in the Freitag Tower, which is actually several shipping containers stacked ontop of each other and is definitely worth seeing! You can also climb the 26 metres to the top get a nice view of downtown Zurich.
Where to watch the sunset in Zurich
Of course, sunset deserves a great viewpoint, and where other than at ETH Zurich University. Seems strange for a sunset viewpoint, but in front of the university is a panoramic viewing platform overlooking the city that is free to access. The views from here are beautiful.
After dusk, Zurich emerges into a city with a busy nightlife and cosy cafes and bars. There are lots of lovely rooftop bars in Zurich, my favourite being Jules Verne bar (very close to Lindenhof park) as it is cosy, very sophisticated and has fantastic 360 degrees view over the city. Zurich has a young population who love to party and the Old Town has several clubs situated in the Niederdorf area of the Old Town, so head out and join the locals for a night on the town.
Zurich Christmas Markets
What better way to get into the festive spirit than to visit Zurich during the Christmas market season! The first time I visited Zurich was during this time, and the atmosphere here was just amazing! Zurich definitely makes one of the best winter city breaks in Europe! There are a few Christmas Markets here in Zurich; the most popular ones being the one in the Old Town and the one in the Central Train Station, called the Christkindlimarkt.
The one at the Central Train Station is one of the largest indoor Christmas markets in Europe, so head here as opposed to the outdoor market in the Old Town if you can’t bear the cold! The Christmas Market at the Central Train Station has over 150 stalls, and what’s more, there is a giant 50ft Christmas tree in the middle and it’s decorated with hundreds of beautiful Swarovski crystals! Sip on a glühwein (hot mulled red wine), eat some melted cheese, raclette and pretzels, and buy cute Christmas gifts and artisan products for your loved ones!
The exact Christmas Market opening and closing dates vary each year, so just check before you go, but generally they are open from around November 22nd-December 24th each year.
Zurich Night Photography
Especially during the festive season, the streets and monuments of Zurich are lit up wonderfully in the evenings. Stroll around the streets – it is very safe here at night.
How expensive is Zurich?
Now Switzerland on the whole is very expensive, and Zurich constantly ranks as one of the world’s most expensive cities. Accommodation is expensive, restaurants are expensive and transport and food can be sometimes as much as three times more expensive than neighbouring Germany!
*Money saving tip* There are hundreds of water fountains all over the city where you can refill your water bottle for free. You’ll appreciate this tip when you realise just how expensive Switzerland can be!
Day trips from Zurich:
If you have longer than 24 hours in Zurich, make sure to get out of the city and explore!! Zurich is a great place to use as a base to make some lovely day trips, including to Lucerne – a beautiful historic city, or to The Rhine Falls (the largest waterfall in Europe), both of which are less than one hour away from Zurich city centre by public transport. Zurich is surrounded by mountains, meaning it is so easy to escape the city even if you don’t want to venture too far away. If you enjoy hiking there are several hiking trails you can take that are very close to Zurich, including Schauenberg Nordic Trail (Zurich’s highest trail). Or you can head to nearby Uetliberg: Zurich’s local mountain for some great views of Zurich lake, the city and the Alps.
If you are heading to Geneva make sure to check out my guide How to explore Geneva on a budget!
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