What to do and see when you only have a day to zip through Zurich
Zurich's laid-back pace invites visitors to leisurely stroll through the medieval Old Town’s narrow lanes, pause along the banks of the Limmat River or the shores of Lake Zurich and soak up the peak-filled backdrop of the majestic Swiss Alps. But, even if your itinerary allows only one day in the Swiss city, you can still enjoy an authentic Zurich experience if you arrive prepared and dedicated to very specific attractions.
Saving money at Kunsthaus Zurich
One of Switzerland's most revered art museums, Kunsthaus Zurich features a large and diverse collection, from medieval sculptures to Monet and Picasso paintings. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday, Friday and Saturday; until 8 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday; and is closed on Monday. Buy a ZurichCARD online and enjoy free access to public transportation and discounted tickets to Kunsthaus. Tickets for the museum’s permanent collection include complimentary audio guides in a variety of languages. Special exhibitions cost extra. The museum is particularly crowded on Wednesdays when admission to the permanent collection is free to the public.
Lake and river adventures
Enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding landscape via the Lake Zurich Navigation Company’s year-round cruises on Lake Zurich and the river Limmat. Round-trip lake cruises vary from 1.5 to 7 hours, depending on the destination, with boats departing at the end of the famed shopping thoroughfare, Bahnhofstrasse. Round-trip river cruises, which travel between the Swiss National Museum and the town square of Burkliplatz, typically last about one hour. The company also offers specialty themed cruises throughout the year, such as fondue, murder mystery, sunset and brunch cruises. Tickets are available online for all cruises and boat rides. Enjoy discounted rates on short lake cruises and river boat rides with a ZurichCARD and unlimited boat rides with Rail Europe’s all-inclusive Swiss Travel Pass.
Climbing toward the heavens
Founded in the 9th century by King Charlemagne, Grossmunster is the iconic cathedral whose twin towers dominate the Zurich skyline. It’s free to enter the church, but there’s a small fee to climb the nearly 200 steps in either of the towers’ narrow stairwells. Tickets must be purchased in person. Once atop the towers, you’ll enjoy a 360-degree view of the city and surrounding region from outdoor terraces. The church and towers open to the public every morning at 10 a.m., except on Sundays when church service delays the opening until 12:30 p.m. The cathedral usually hosts Wednesday night concerts featuring Grossmunster’s beloved organ. There are also 30-minute concerts that take place every Saturday at noon from mid-August through early October. Tickets for all concerts are available for purchase at the church.
Wild times in Zurich
Uetliberg is a 2,800-plus-foot mountain set right outside Zurich, known for its hiking and biking trails. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a chore to reach the area, and you can find equally rewarding views from atop Grossmunster. But, if you’re looking to enjoy nature with a bit less hassle, visit the Zoo Zurich, one of Europe’s most revered zoos. Home to more than 1,500 animals, including an exhibit that lets visitors view elephants as they swim under water, the zoo is easily accessible from Old Town in about 20 minutes by Zurich’s tram system. Save time by buying tickets ahead of time online. While the zoo is open year-round, the train which transports visitors from the entrance to the Masoala Rainforest exhibit runs only from spring through autumn. Train tickets must be purchased directly from the driver.
Pausing for a picnic
As the city's main shopping district, Bahnhofstrasse is a bustling street filled with high-end boutiques and big crowds. Enjoy a more laid-back and budget-friendly excursion instead by visiting Lindenhof, a hilltop square in Old Town where locals play chess and bocce. The north end of the square offers grass where you can relax with a picnic and take in sweeping views of the city and the river Limmat down below.