1. Enjoy a livable city
Zurich’s often named as one of the world’s most livable cities and for good reason. It’s an extremely pleasant place to live and visit. Not so exciting as some cities, but we all need time to relax. Hang out in the tree-filled Lindenhof park overlooking the Limmat River. Go for a swim in the Zurichsee. Ride one of the funicular railways. And, use Switzerland’s fantastic system of trains, boats, buses and trams to travel car free to throughout the country and beyond.
2. Take Public Transport
Zurich’s public transport is unsurpassed in the world. Buy a day pass and you’ll have the city at your fingertips. Notice how efficient and pleasant public transport can be when city leaders decide it’s a priority. You’ll be at your destination in no time for a fraction of the cost of driving. Read more about Zurich’s public transport in my research (LINK). For longer trips – even beyond Switzerland – use the Swiss Federal Railways’ travel planner, it’s my favourite travel planning app: www.sbb.ch
3. Walk around the historic Altstadt
Altstadt means old city in German. The Altstadt is Zürich’s historic centre and lies along both sides of the Limmat River from the point where it leaves the Zürichsee to the Hauptbahnhof. Unlike in most of Europe, Swiss cities were not destroyed in the World Wars, so the Altstadt still has the medieval street pattern and many tastefully restored historic buildings. Wander around and get lost, there are many interesting sights, shops, restaurants and bars. Some favourites: Neumarkt, Zum Grunen Glas, Café Schoeber …
4. Ride a funicular
There are three funicular railways in Zürich that are operated as part of the regular city transit network. They are:
- Polybahn from Central to the ETH;
- Dolderbahn from Römerhof to the Zürichberg park;
- Seilbahn Rigiblick to Rigiblick on the Zürichberg.
You can ride these funicular railways with the normal Zürich city transit ticket.
5. Zürich Tram Museum
The Zürich Tram Museum has a collection of historic trams and information about the system’s history. The museum is located on the #11 tram line at (Burgwies station). The museum operates historic trams on weekends and on special occasions from downtown to the tram museum (Zürich Museumslinie 21).
6. Zürich Hauptbahnhof
Zürich’s main train station (Hauptbahnhof) is a small city. It’s fun to just walk through to see the hustle and bustle, the mix of historic and modern architecture, the trains coming and going, and to pick-up anything you might need from the many shops (open late and on Sundays!). There are also several good places to eat and drink while you wait for a train or hang out.
7. Stadelhofen Station
Stadelhofen Station is an elegant solution to a difficult engineering problem. The station was the first large project completed by the Spanish architect-engineer Santiago Calatrava. In the late 1980s, the existing station was reconstructed as part of the S-Bahn construction project. Check out the especially elegant structure in the underground shopping area (shops open late and on Sundays!).
8. Boat Trip on Zürichsee
The Zürichsee Schifffahrtsgesellschaft (ZSG) operates lake steamers which leave from Burkliplatz (at the end of Bahnhofstrasse). The ZSG offers a variety of tourist-oriented trips including a Jazz Brunch, and operates several beautifully restored historic steam ships. A popular trip is to Rapperswil. The town has a beautiful castle overlooking the lake surrounded by a medieval town. If you are pressed for time you can take the S-Bahn back to Zürich (with the same round-trip ticket). Ships operate on a reduced schedule in winter.
9. Swiss Museum of Transport
The Swiss Museum of Transport is located in Lucerne, a short 45-minute train trip from Zürich. After arriving in Lucerne, you can take a bus, boat (in the summer) or a nice half-hour walk along the lakeshore. The museum has an exhibit on building the Gotthard Tunnel, historic trains and trams, exhibits on air travel and even aerial cable cars. Lucerne has a very nice historic centre and is an excellent starting point for boat trips on the Vierwaldstättersee. (See Railaway below for discount travel and admission.)
The Swiss National Railway’s RailAway Program combines train travel with local transport and entry into many cultural attractions throughout Switzerland. Generally, you save 10% – 30% and all the travel arrangements are taken care of (so no need to figure out how to buy a bus ticket at your destination). Ask about Railaway or pick-up a brochure at most rail stations. Railaway is a great example of how Switzerland makes public transport attractive.
11. Daytrip to Alsace
You can take the train from Zürich to Colmar (Alsace, France) in about two-hours. There’s a great old town and the fantastic Unterlinden Museum. Colmar is a fine starting place for visiting the Alsatian wine villages and tasting the local food. If you leave early in the morning you can make a day trip there and back … although I’d recommend staying overnight, Alsace is great! Some of my old blog posts: Alsace Hike, Riquewihr, and Ribeauville.
On the 3rd or 4th Monday in April Zürich’s guilds (Zunfte) parade through the city in medieval costumes to the Sechseläuten-platz where a papier-mache “Böögg” filled with explosives is sitting on top of a huge bonfire. At 6 pm they light the bonfire. (Who says Zurich is boring?) The time until the Böögg’s head explodes indicates how good the summer will be … fast = good … slow = bad. On the weekend before Sechseläuten there’s a party feeling throughout the Altstadt: brass bands marching through the narrow streets and an international children’s Sechseläuten on Sunday afternoon.