Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland but it is relatively small compared to many other European cities. The main tourist attractions are located in the city center in the walkable distance within each other. One day in Zurich is not enough to see everything, but it is definitely enough time to see the main highlights. If you arrive in Zurich by plane, it takes just 10 minutes to reach the main Zurich train station from Zurich airport. So you can even explore the city on a long layover in Zurich.
Zurich is often a starting and ending point of Switzerland travel itinerary for international visitors. It is a great base for day trips in Switzerland and neighboring countries. Thanks to the convenient geographic location you can easily do day trips from Zurich to Germany, France, and Liechtenstein.
25 day trips from Zurich by train or car
Whenever I’m short on time and have a limited time to explore the city, I like to take walking tours with local companies. During a 2-3 hours walk with a knowledgeable guide you can usually see and learn way more about the city that when you try to do it on your own. However, Switzerland is not a cheap destination and Zurich regularly tops the ranking of the most expensive cities in the world. If you want to do a walking tour in Zurich but have a limited budget, I would recommend trying free walking tours. Free Walk Zurich is one of such companies that offer tip-based walking tours. After the tour, you can pay as much as you can or as much as you think the tour was worth.
If the walking tour is not an option for you, here is a selection of the best things to do when you have only one day in Zurich.
1. Discover Altstadt (Zurich’s Old Town)
The Old Own of Zurich is located on both sides of the Limmat river. The area on the left side of the river between Central and Bellevue is called Niederdorf. This is one of the most charming parts of Zurich with cobblestone streets and old buildings. Niederdorf is a great place to just walk and enjoy the atmosphere. There are lots of cafes, restaurants, and shops in this area. If you want to try Swiss food, you will easily find fondue, raclette, and rösti here. But as you are in Zurich, you can try the most famous local specialty – Zürcher Geschnetzeltes (made of veal and champignons in white wine sauce).
2. Visit Grossmünster
Grossmünster with its two towers is the most recognizable Zurich landmark located in Niederdorf. For a small fee, you can climb up one of the towers (Karlsturm) for wonderful views over the city, the Limmat river, Lake Zurich and maybe even the Alps on a clear day. The tower is usually open from 10.00 till 16.30 in winter and until 17.30 in summer. On Sunday the visit is only possible after 12.30. Check the official website for more information about opening times.
3. Climb up to the Lindenhof
On the other side of the river, you will find Lindenhof. A visit to Zurich is not complete without a visit to Lindenhof. From Lindenhof square, you can enjoy the view of the Old Town Zurich. This place is popular not only for tourists but also for locals. When the weather is nice, you can see people playing chess and relaxing on the benches.
4. Explore Bahnhofstrasse
The Bahnhofstrasse runs from Zurich main train station to Lake Zurich. It is known to be one of the most expensive shopping streets in the world. Here you will find all possible stored from From H&M and Zara to Louis Vuitton and other luxury brands. Pay attention to the shop names – the closer you come to the lake, the more expensive the stores get.
There are also a few nice restaurants and cafes in this area. Confiserie Sprüngli is famous for its chocolate and Luxemburgerli. They have many locations in Zurich but the main one is on Bahnhofstrasse (Paradeplatz). Their terrasse is perfect to relax, drink coffee, eat something sweet and watch people.
My favorite vegetarian restaurant in Zurich is also located nearby. Even if you are not a vegetarian, you will probably enjoy eating at Hiltl. It is the oldest vegetarian restaurant in the world and their buffet is just amazing.
5. Sechseläutenplatz and Opernhaus Zürich
The famous Zurich Opera House is located on the Sechseläutenplatz. In front of the opera house, you will find some chairs for seating and a fountain for kids to play in summer. In December one of the Christmas markets is located here. And every year in spring the traditional spring festival Sechseläuten is celebrated on Sechseläuten square. If you are lucky to be in Zurich in April, you can witness the burning of Böögg – a snowman figure filled with fireckrackers. It is said that the faster the Böögg explodes, the better the summer will be.
6. Enjoy Lake Zurich
Zurich locals spend a lot of time on the shores of Lake Zurich. In summer some people even go for a quick dip in the lake during their lunch break. There are things to do on both sides of the lake, but if you have only one day in Zurich, I recommend to check out the Quaianlage, the promenade on the left bank of the lake, next to the Opera house.
Another great way to enjoy the lake is to take a boat tour. Even if your time is limited, maybe you can take a short boat tour on the Lake Zurich. The shortest round trip lasts one and a half hours. In summer boats depart from Bürkliplatz every 30 minutes, in winter there are only a few trips daily with some additional cruises at weekends and public holidays.
Or you can also take a cruise on the Limmat river and see the city’s most famous sights from another perspective. The round trip takes about one hour and is available only in summer season. Visit the official website for timetable and departure locations.
7. Polyterasse & Polybahn
Polyterasse in front of ETH Zurich is a popular hangout spot for locals, especially students. From the Polyterrasse, you have a wonderful view over Zurich and the Üetliberg (Zürich’s local mountain). You can reach Polyterasse on foot from Niederdorf if you don’t mind climbing up. Or take a short ride with Polybahn that runs every 2-5 minutes on weekdays. Polybahn with its cute res funicular cars might look just like another tourist attraction at first sight, but it’s a part of public transportation that brings students and employees to the universities located on the hill. That’s why it is closed on Sunday and public holidays and Saturday afternoon. You can ride the Polybahn with a local transport ticket for Zurich, Swiss Pass or …
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