Zurich is Switzerland’s most populous city, situated in the north of the country.
It’s a world financial hub, set alongside the shores of the stunning Lake Zurich and surrounded by hills and mountains.
It’s an active city, where people embrace nature and spend time amongst it.
It has a beautiful historic heart, with high end shops, top restaurants and the peace of mind that nature is within walking distance.
However, despite its reputation as a centre of international finance, don’t be fooled, it certainly isn’t purely strait laced.
It’s a cool, creative, buzzing and youthful city – with an excellent food and drink scene, lively nightclubs and artistic edge.
With brilliant museums, galleries and a packed events calendar, it’s a city which is sure to keep you busy.
It’s also ideally placed, with outstanding transport connections to make the most of the rest of Switzerland, much of which can be accessed in a day trip.
Join us as we highlight the best things to do in Zurich.
21 Best Things To Do In Zurich
#1. Lake Zurich
The shores of the stunning Lake Zurich run straight up into the heart of the city.
It’s a focal point for people in the town throughout the year, but is a buzzing hive of activity during the warmer months of the year in particular.
It’s a wonderful place to take a break from the city’s streets, with activities for all the family – stretching 40 kilometres long and 3 kilometres wide, surrounded by hills and mountains.
A must is the stunning promenade called Utoquai, right next to the city centre, which is lined with lovely cafes, restaurants and bars.
Meanwhile, many people take to the lake itself – swimming, kayaking, paddleboarding and renting a boat or pedalo – even in the winter months.
There are many peaceful parks at the city end of the lake, which make great spots to have a picnic or sunbath.
And there is a vast array of ferry shuttle services, which lead to other villages and towns along the banks of Lake Zurich.
The lake is a major attraction in itself and will always keep you busy.
Rentalcars provides travellers all over the world with affordable car rental options
#2. River Life
We mentioned that Zurich has nature at every turn and it isn’t just Lake Zurich which draws people in their thousands.
The river which runs off the lake is a fantastic spot to kick back and relax in the summer months.
An area called The Letten is lined with wooden decking and has numerous great bars, where people sunbath and cool off with dips into the nearby river.
There are numerous spots to dive off, a waterside skatepark, basketball courts and plenty of tasty eateries.
A large legal graffiti wall also attracts artists in big numbers, where you can see art being created as you relax by the water.
You can also catch DJs playing at some of the local bars in the summer months, which all together creates one of the coolest vibes in the city.
This area is one of our favourites, particularly in summer, but it’s also a nice spot to amble during the winter months too.
# 3. Historic heart
Zurich has some stunning historic architecture and it’s within the network of cobbled streets around the Altstadt area where you will find the majority of it.
The neighbourhood spans two sides of the Limat River, near its mouth with Lake Zurich, packed with medieval buildings, impressive churches, cute cafes and tasty restaurants serving local cuisine.
It’s fantastic place to wander and get lost among a labyrinth of tight streets.
The area is also home to the city’s main shopping districts, filled with high-end shops, cocktail bars and relaxing squares.
Among some of the must-see sites in the area are the city’s Grossmünster and Fraumünster churches, the Lindenhof hill, which rises up on the eastern bank of the River Limmat, and the luxury shops along Bahnhofstrasse.
A great way to get to know the Swiss culture is by tasting it! Try Fondue and Wine Tuk Tuk Tour in Zurich where you discover Switzerland’s national dish as you glide around the city in a Tuk Tuk.
Zurich’s Industrial Quarter, just north of the main railway station, couldn’t be more different to the historic heart in Altstadt.
This is the city’s cool and creative district, full of street art and old warehouses which now house restaurants, nightclubs, bars and exhibition spaces.
One of the coolest spots in the area is the impressive box park called Frau Gerald’s Garten – a collection of shipping containers in a big open plan garden full of bars, street food eateries, small creative shops
From DJ events and Christmas markets to live bands and art exhibitions.
Next door you have one of the city’s coolest nightclubs, called Hive, which attracts major names in electronic music from around the world.
Nearby you can surf on a manmade wave pool, right in the heart of the city, while next door you drink beers in a bar where you can also play a game of badminton.
I think you’re getting a feel for the area now – it’s an eclectic mix of incredibly cool businesses.
Another top pick in this area is the Markthalle IM VIADUKT – a covered market hall under the railway line, which has many street food eateries, bars, restaurants and gourmet food stalls.
Wandering around the art covered area you’ll also find many excellent craft beer breweries, coffee roasteries, eateries and other smaller gallery spaces.
It’s a place not to miss.
#5. Shop until you drop
We briefly touched upon it earlier, Zurich is a magnet for luxury shopping.
The city is filled with high-end shops, from the fashion brands like Louis Vuitton and Gucci, among hundreds of others, to luxury jewellery producers, car manufacturers and galleries selling fine art.
The city’s Bahnhofstrasse, in Altstadt, has been named as one of the most expensive and exclusive shopping streets on earth, running more than 1 kilometre from Lake Zurich to the city’s main railway station.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the city, you will find 100s upon 100s of other smaller fashion boutiques and many high street names selling more affordable items.
It’s certainly worth bringing your purse and wallet out with you on a wander around Zurich’s city centre.
#6. Go hiking
The Swiss are passionate about their hiking.
The country is a hiker’s paradise, with endless natural beauty, stunning high peaks and dense forest.
You don’t have to venture far from Zurich’s city centre to find beautiful walking territory.
There are hills and mountains surrounding the city, and the rest of Lake Zurich, with routes for all abilities.
One of our favourite areas is Uetliberg, a mountain to the south of Zurich, which rises up to 868m right out the back of residential neighbourhoods.
A great way to get to know Zurich is through the eyes of a local! Book an Extended City Sightseeing Tour where you will explore Zurich and the surroundings.
Zurich’s Uetliberg mountain is a wonderful escape from the busy city streets.
As we mentioned, it’s super accessible, rising straight up to the south of the city, only a 15 minute walk from the busy shopping streets and the shores of Lake Zurich.
The whole mountain side is criss-crossed with many kilometres of excellent hiking trails, which meander their way through dense woodland, rising up to the top of the mountain.
From the top of Uetliberg you have panoramic views across the whole city, Lake Zurich and the surrounding mountains.
It’s a beautiful spot, with cafes and a bar at the top, and in winter the snow-covered hiking trails are transformed into sledding tracks – so you can whizz down the mountainside.
From the top you can then hike further south across the hills to smaller villages behind the city.
And if you can’t manage the hike up, don’t worry, there is a train which runs to the top from Zurich’s central railway station (Zurich HB).
#8. Catch a boat
The shores of Lake Zurich are lined with boats of all shapes and sizes – from big public ferries which lead to other villages and towns, to smaller pleasure crafts to rent on a summer’s day.
We recommend going out and getting on the lake, taking a trip to one of the nearby villages or having a spin around the lake in a rental boat or on a guided tour.
There are many spots to rent boats, right next to the heart of the city centre.
It’s a lovely way to get a feel for the rest of Lake Zurich and see the city from a different perspective.
You can also find one of the city’s best currywurst stalls, right next to the ferry port.
#9. Art & Museums
Zurich is one of the creative hearts of Switzerland and has a vibrant cultural scene.
One spot, which can’t be missed, is the city’s Kunsthaus, the largest art museum in Switzerland, which has works by the likes of Monet, Picasso and Van Gough.
It also hosts many temporary exhibitions throughout the year, showcasing more modern pieces.
The Swiss National Museum is also a great place to visit to get a grasp of Swiss history through the ages.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a more modern cultural twist, then the Migros Museum of Contemporary Art is a great spot– it’s garnered an international reputation for its forward thinking and ever-changing collections.
#10. Summer surf in the city
Although Zurich is very much landlocked, it has a sizeable surfing community and the city has its very own manmade wave in the Industriequartier, called Urban Surf.
It’s only open in the summer months, but it’s an excellent place to hone your surfing skills or just relax with a beer as you watch people take to the wave.
There’s an onsite café and you can rent equipment at the surf centre.
A great way to spend a summer’s afternoon and the surrounding area is filled to the brim with great places to eat and drink.
#11. Go to a badi
Water is hugely important to many people in Zurich, which you might expect with an enormous lake at the city’s door.
The whole city is filled with public swimming spots and pools, some which you have to pay a small amount to use and others which are free.
From lakeside facilities, with diving boards into the lakes, to public lidos in the heart of the city’s busy neighbourhoods, they really nail public swimming areas in Zurich.
We’ve already mentioned one of our favourite spots, alongside the river, but there are many others.
Strandbad Mythenquai, on the southern shore of Lake Zurich, is a great spot to enjoy a summer’s day, with a relaxing park, various diving boards, paddleboard rental and many lovely dipping spots.
Strandbad Tiefenbrunnen on the northern side of Lake Zurich is another excellent spot – it has a great park to sunbath in, waterslides, pontoons out in the lake and many other great facilities.
The ones we’ve mentioned is only scratching the surface, you can find spots of all shapes and sizes all over the city.
#12. Go cycling
Despite Switzerland’s mountainous reputation, Zurich is actually a largely flat city.
The city is well set-up for cycling, with an excellent protected lane infrastructure and secure lock-up facilities.
It’s a good way to get frequented with the city properly too, rather than sticking just to public transport, and there are plenty of places to rent bikes for affordable prices.
The shores of Lake Zurich are also lined with great cycle lanes, a good way to get some exercise in and see more of the city.
#13. Ice hockey
Zurich has its very own professional ice hockey team and a brand-new stadium, where the city’s Zürcher Schlittschuh Club Lions play their matches.
The side’s home matches aren’t to be missed, with high octane action and a buzzing environment.
The club play their matches at the Swiss Life Arena, in the north-west of the city, near Altstetten station, with the season running between September and March.
#14. Football culture
Football has a big place in Zurich too.
The city has two professional football clubs, who play their matches at the Stadion Letzigrund.
FC Zurich and Grasshoppers not only feature in the local domestic top division, but sometimes feature in all-European competitions too.
The local derbies are games which you should jump at the chance of seeing, with passionate local fans organising colourful displays, complete with fireworks before matches.
The city is also home to the FIFA Museum, which drew 400,000 football fans to it in 2022, to see its vast collections of football memorabilia, interactive football games and many other football related exhibitions.
#15. Street art
Zurich has a growing street art scene, with an increasing number of large scale murals adorning the sides of buildings.
The scene is most vibrant around the hip Industriequartier, where you can’t go far without seeing an example of the city’s creativity on the walls.
There are also a number of legal painting locations, where you can regularly see graffiti artists taking to the walls, particularly along the banks of the river around the Letten.
Much of the city’s streets, around the more modern areas, are adorned with colourful paintings and there’s a local street art tour, which offers a guided experience to help you understand the city’s painting culture.
#16. Skiing & snowboarding
Switzerland is in the heart of the Alps and is a country full of enormous mountains.
You can reach fantastic skiing areas from Zurich in an hour and a half on the train.
It means you can hit the slopes in a simple day trip and make it back to enjoy dinner in the city.
Few European cities have such wonderful access or transport connections to top notch skiing territory.
It isn’t rare to see people on local trams in Zurich city centre wearing their skiing or snowboarding gear.
#17. Big events
Zurich has a packed event’s calendar, with major events all the way through the year.
Here are some of our favourites:
#18. Christmas Markets
Zurich really nails Christmas, with a large number of enchanting Christmas markets, full of locally produced festive goods, excellent food and festive bars.
There are numerous markets dotted around the city over the festive period.
#19. Zurich Street Parade
Every August more than 1 million people visit Zurich for an enormous techno and electronic music event through the city’s streets.
It usually runs on the second Saturday of August with DJs from around the world playing to huge crowds around the city.
#20. Züri Fäscht
A large 2 day music festival in July, with more than 2 million music fans visiting the city to watch bands and DJs around the city.
It’s accompanied by large fireworks displays and other events.
#21. Zurich Marathon
Every April tens of thousands of runners, including the world’s best, come to the city to take on the city’s marathon.
The 26.2 mile loop takes in a large part of the city and around the beautiful Lake Zurich.
Zurich is a beautiful and lively city in an incredible setting.
There are few European cities which offer such excellent access to nature, with mountains, forests, lakes and waterways all around.
Yet the place also offers so much buzzing city life too – with fantastic shops, museums, nightlife, restaurants and a lively event’s calendar.
Zurich is far from a dull financial hub, it’s an incredible exciting and diverse city, with bags of creativity and culture.
We love Zurich and hope to see you by the lake, in the hills or on the city’s streets soon.