The Top 8 Things to do in Zurich, Switzerland

Zurich, Switzerland is an awesome city and a great place to visit from April through October with summer being the best weather. I personally like to visit Zurich in late May or early June when it is getting warmer, and when the crowds are still not too overwhelming. This city is nothing like Munich, Amsterdam or Barcelona. Zurich is reserved, very clean, quiet and serene. It’s a beautiful city and you can see it all in a day of exploration. What is important is what you decide to see and do and how you decide to go about it. Taxis are expensive and trams, while cheap, only take you to places once you know where you’re going. Which leads me to my first tip for traveling to Zurich.  And, just to make it fun, I’ll write as a countdown instead of your typical list.  Hey!  Blogging isn’t always that exciting, I’ll take what I can get and right now a countdown of 8 cool things to do in Zurich, Switzerland feels good to me.

8. Take the bike tour

Bikes are the best way to get around most of Europe.  Zurich is no exception.  Look free air pumps!

Bikes are the best way to get around most of Europe. Zurich is no exception. Look free air pumps!

I cannot express how cool this is. Many European cities are best experienced on bike, but Zurich is definitely one where this is true. Zurich is not a large city and there are not all kinds of fabulous attractions around every corner like there is in Paris or Rome. Zurich is a city of business and families. It’s beautiful, pristine and well situated, but walking the streets will not give you the most experience for your time. Believe me, I’ve done the city on foot and while it’s great, it is simply too spread out to experience it all within a short period of time.  Taking a bike tour gives you an expert’s insight into the city of Zurich and also allows you to find your way around much more quickly than you would otherwise. The trams are awesome and really simple to navigate, so once you’ve found your way around on bike and have decided what parts of the city you want to see more of, the tram is the way to go.

7. Eat at neighborhood restaurants

An awesome neighborhood bar I found upon arriving in Zurich.  Best conversations I've had in years.

An awesome neighborhood bar I found upon arriving in Zurich. Best conversations I’ve had in years.

Zurich has amazing food and it’s readily available just about anywhere you go. But if your idea of experiencing a new place is to meet locals and hang out chatting it up with people you otherwise would never meet, finding the little neighborhood pubs and restaurants is the way to go. I was lucky enough to find some really amazing bars tucked away on the back streets of Zurich while searching for my AirBnB apartment. With every turn comes a great new opportunity to start the night sitting next to total strangers and end the night in the company of amazing new friends.

6. The Felsenegg Cable Car Ride

View of Lake Zurich and the Alps in the distance.

View of Lake Zurich and the Alps in the distance.

Look over beautiful Lake Zurich from the top of a mountain peak. Felsenegg is about 20 minutes outside of Zurich, but is a great way to spend a couple of hours during the day. It’s a wonderful photo opportunity and really gives you classic Swiss view of the surrounding areas. You’ll see a number of little Swiss towns from the top and really get to experience some of the areas near Zurich that add to the local flavor. There are tour companies that will show you all around Zurich and then take you to Felsenegg for the cable ride up the mountain and this is why I have included it in this article about things to do in Zurich. With these tours you’ll get a ton of great information about the city and see all the highlights for a very reasonable price – not something found often in pricey Switzerland.

5. Visit the botanical garden (botanischer garten)

The Botanical Gardens in Zurich surprised me.  I went to waste an hour before meeting people for lunch and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Botanical Gardens in Zurich surprised me. I went to waste an hour before meeting people for lunch and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Access is free and there are millions of beautiful plants arranged thoughtfully along the grounds of a beautiful old Swiss villa. You’ll only need about a hour to see it all and it’s a really nice way to experience a little of what Zurich has to offer just before or after lunch time. The botanical gardens are surprisingly interesting and are within close walking distance of Lake Zurich and other fun places of interest.

4. Catch a local live music event

Where the river meets Lake Zurich.  This area is lively and full of things to do.

Where the river meets Lake Zurich. This area is lively and full of things to do.

Zurich is a city full of young vibrant people. The only problem is that the city is very conservative in its presentation of events – you just don’t see or hear a lot about things that are going on. Ask around, check online and see what is happening in town when you’re there and definitely drop by a local hang-out to catch some live music. This sounds a bit like an easy tip to offer, but unlike many other cities, you are definitely going to meet a lot of people if you go out in Zurich.  Most people speak English so it’s simple to make friends. Zurich’s emerging music scene is the place locals flock to in an effort to be more social. Join in with them and have a blast.

3. Skip the bathing culture

There are plenty of things to do and see in Zurich, but they're not as obvious as in other European cities.  Meet the locals and you'll have a blast!

There are plenty of things to do and see in Zurich, but they’re not as obvious as in other European cities. Meet the locals and you’ll have a blast!

If you search online, you’ll read all about the bathing culture in Zurich. Swimming in the lake, lounging in the hot spring baths blah blah blah. After about 20 minutes in such a scenario I realized this is the old guard way of living and any visitors giving it a try are either incredibly lonely or just trying too hard. I personally tried it to experience this aspect of the culture, but you really don’t have to experience it to understand that this is a socially approved method of public relaxation.  Honestly, it’s not that bad.  If I lived in Zurich, I would probably take part in this type of relaxation activity regularly, but as a traveler, I did not find it worth my time.  It will not satisfy your urge to chill, mingle and make new friends like the experience of sitting in a local pub and chugging on a local beer.

2. Take in the history

Zurich is a very old city.  History tours explain so much about the culture and why things are how they are.

Zurich is a very old city. History tours explain so much about the culture and why things are how they are.

I’m a big researcher of history so I put together my own little historical tour of Zurich (which was awesome)! But there are plenty of tour companies that will help you do the same and unlike just about everything else in Switzerland, they are affordable. While a couple sausages, a roll and a beer may cost you 25 Swiss Francs (currently about 93 cents to 1 American dollar), a quality historical tour will typically run you about twice that much and will last a couple of hours and will help you come away with a great understanding of the place you have come to experience. Zurich is a very old city and it is full of well kept science, history and art museums. Visit them! Knowing some of its history will only improve your experience.

1. Stay with a local

Zurich train station.  Easy in, easy out!

Zurich train station. Easy in, easy out!

I use AirBnB pretty often, but definitely when in Zurich. It’s cheaper than a hotel and if you search well you’ll probably find someone your age who is cool enough to hang out and show you around. I’ve had great luck with this and now have some really great people to call-up when I’m going to be in town who can give me a place to stay. AirBnB allows you to make friends with your hosts (sometimes) and will allow you the opportunity to live like a local for the duration of your visit to Zurich.

I can’t say enough good about Zurich.  It’s clear however, that most people may find it a little out of the way or too normal to give it much time on a vacation to Europe.  But I recommend it.  If your idea of a great experience is seeing local spots and meeting the natives, consider giving Zurich some of your time when you visit Europe.

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