With a population of around 240,000, Zurich is not only the largest city in Switzerland and the capital of the canton of the same name, but also an international transport hub, a financial centre, a university city and a centre of the Swiss creative industry.
Every year, Zurich also attracts millions of visitors who come to visit or go on excursions to the enchanting medieval old town, the deep blue Lake Zurich and the numerous cultural events.
Zurich hardly sleeps at night and so night owls can look forward to an exciting nightlife in more than 500 legendary bars, discos and nightclubs.
It’s almost too bad to visit the Swiss metropolis just once, because there are countless exciting activities you can do. Zurich’s geographical location, nestled between several local mountains, such as the Uetilberg, the Zürichberg, the Waidberg and the Käferberg, and on the shores of picturesque Lake Zurich, offers a wide range of leisure activities.
Whether you’re walking, using public transport or cycling – in Zurich you can reach all the well-known and less well-known places in a variety of ways. The providers of leisure activities in Zurich offer special experiences that will be remembered.
Zurich city tours
The best way to get to know the lively Swiss metropolis is to take part in a guided tour of Zurich with a local guide. He knows the most beautiful places and some insider tips, even off the beaten track. During a themed tour, you will not only discover the beautiful medieval Old Town and the most famous top sights in Zurich, but you will also receive explanations about the special features of the 22 districts into which Zurich is divided, the idyllic garden terraces on Lake Zurich or the latest food trends in the city.
If you do not like to walk, you can take part in a guided E-scooter tour in Zurich or at a guided Segway Tour through Zurich. The place of departure and the route will be individually adapted to the wishes of the participants. Without any effort, you will explore the trendy quarter of West Zurich with the electrically driven scooters, visit the numerous pleasure shops where regional products are sold or roam the magnificent gardens and parks of the big city. City tours by bike are also becoming increasingly popular. There are 20,000 different cycling routes throughout the canton of Zurich, consisting of flat, hilly, short or long routes, depending on your preference. In the city of Zurich, the cycle routes are marked with yellow signs. At several bike stations you can even rent e-bikes, city bikes and children’s bikes for free, such as at the main station, at the Pestalozziwiese and at the tram station Bellevue.
Lake Zurich – Water activities
The paradisiacal Lake Zurich is a popular local recreation area for the inhabitants of Zurich and a magnet for tourists. The 90-square-kilometre lake is a popular destination for water sports enthusiasts and bathers, especially in summer. You can stroll along the beautiful lake promenades and enjoy the ambience in the cafés and restaurants. The two rivers Sihl and Limmat, the inflows and outflows of Lake Zurich, also offer ideal conditions for various water sports, such as kayaking and canoeing.
For sun worshippers, several outdoor pools are open from May to October, both on Lake Zurich and on the Sihl and Limmat rivers. The river bath Oberer Letten is even located in the middle of the city centre. You can learn to sail and surf at local sailing schools or, as a professional, hire the necessary equipment. Who has ever taken part in an exciting SUP city tour? On this guided stand up paddling tour you will explore Zurich on waterways and learn additional interesting facts about the city. Several boat hire companies on Lake Zurich also offer all kinds of watercraft for hire, from modern motor and speed boats to rubber boats and pedal boats, the so-called Kleinbötlis.
Wakeboarding, wakeskateing and wakesurfing are popular with water sports enthusiasts of all ages. Just the ride on the lake with the Mastercraft boat or with an X-Star boat is an experience in itself and then learning the lively moves on the boards! Simply indescribable. Lake Zurich also has a lot to offer under water for active holidaymakers. There are several diving clubs that take visitors diving in Zürich both summer and winter into the mystical underwater world. You can also explore the more than 10 designated diving spots, such as the rugged cliffs at Williams Reef, the craggy steep face at Au Peninsula or the notorious Schoggiwand, which owes its name to the nearby Lindt & Sprüngli chocolate factory, on your own by renting diving equipment from the diving clubs. A nice way to experience the unique water world of Lake Zurich is a trip on one of the excursion boats. All year round, 17 passenger boats cruise Lake Zurich and some even cruise through the city on the Limmat River. In addition, there is a ferry service for passengers and motorised traffic between the municipalities of Horgen and Meilen.
High above the roofs of Zurich
Even if you are on holiday in a metropolis like Zurich, you can still go hiking. The local mountains around Switzerland’s largest city offer ideal conditions for long walks and leisurely hikes. Whether Uetilberg, Zürichberg, Waidberg or Käferberg – there are signposted paths everywhere. For families with children, for example, the Planet Trail on the Uetilberg is ideal, leading for six kilometres to the Felsenegg vantage point. There, visitors can enjoy a fantastic panoramic view of Lake Zurich while enjoying Swiss specialities on the restaurant’s sun terrace.
For the descent you can take the cable car to Adliswil. Forest roads run from the eastern shore of Lake Zurich towards Toggwil, past waterfalls, stone boulders, a waterfall and the ruins of Friedberg Castle, until you reach the 35-metre-high observation tower on the Pfannenstiel. There are several restaurants along the way. If you are looking for greater challenges, the gentle foothills of the Alps and the mighty Western Alps are almost on your doorstep. These not only offer countless hiking opportunities, but are also popular with the paragliding providers in Zurich.
The certified paragliding pros pick you up directly in Zurich and take you to nearby, unbelievable take-off spots on the Rigi, Pilatus or Chäserrugg. On tandem and paragliding flights with experienced outdoor experts, you will experience the fantastic natural landscapes around Zurich from a bird’s eye view.
The town in the eastern Swiss Mittelland is a perfect starting point for day trips to the neighbouring regions and the Swiss Alps. On Top of Europe you will visit the famous Jungfraujoch, a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site at an altitude of over 3,500 metres. You travel by comfortable coach to Grindewald, where a spectacular ride on the cogwheel railway to the highest railway station in Europe awaits you. In addition to an indescribable view of the three thousand metre peaks of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, many other attractions await you here.
At least as unforgettable is a trip to the eternal ice on the Titlis. In winter, you should definitely take your winter sports equipment with you or rent it on site, because the unique high alpine glacier world offers several kilometres of prepared ski slopes, snow-shoe trails, cross-country ski runs and winter hiking trails in the Engelberg-Titlis ski area. Along the way you will also get to know the enchanting bridge city of Lucerne, which with its eventful history is the cultural centre of Central Switzerland.
One of the most popular excursion mountains for the Swiss near Zurich is the Rigi massif. It is not for nothing that the name of the mountain range is derived from the Latin Regina montium, which means “queen of the mountains”. The varied mountain world allows hikes of all degrees of difficulty and altitudes. Finally, you can take a boat trip on Lake Lucerne and a city walk through Lucerne.
A special natural spectacle is the Rhine Falls near Schaffhausen, the largest waterfall in Europe. The journey alone through picturesque wine-growing areas, tranquil farming villages and medieval towns such as Laufen and Stein is something special. Then take the panorama lift and follow the panorama trail to the Känzeli vantage point. The region around Interlaken and Grindewald, which are among the best outdoor adventure regions in Europe, is an ideal day trip destination for active holidaymakers. From canyoning and river rafting to mountain biking, everything is possible here to satisfy the outdoor active heart.
What would a holiday in Zurich be without visiting the charming, historic medieval old town? The most important sights in Zurich can be found in or around the Old Town and are therefore easily reached on foot, by bicycle or by public transport.
Particularly noteworthy are the magnificent Renaissance town hall, the mighty Romanesque church of Grossmünster and the excellently preserved guild houses that line the Limmatquais, a true jewel of medieval architecture. If you want to learn more about the history of Zurich, the best place to visit is the National Museum Zurich, one of the most popular museums in Switzerland. More than 50 other museums, several art galleries and countless galleries deal with artistic trends from all over the world. The Rämistrasse area in particular has a high density of galleries and exhibition houses.
You always wanted to know more about the Native Americans or marvel at Asian and Islamic art? In Zurich that is possible. Over the centuries, numerous artists, composers and musicians from all over the world have stayed in Zurich, turning the city on Lake Zurich into a world-class centre of art and culture. For families with children, an excursion to the zoo on the Zürichberg is ideal, which is also easily accessible by tram and public buses. The Botanical Garden on the shore of Lake Zurich, the Zurich Rope Park near Kloten near the airport and the Allmend Bike Park, one of the oldest urban bike parks, are also interesting destinations for the whole family.
By the way, with the Zürich Card you get free tram, train, boat, bus and cable car rides in Zürich and the surrounding area as well as free admission or discounts at the 43 participating museums.
Although Zurich presents itself as a cosmopolitan and modern metropolis, the people of Zurich are nevertheless conscious of tradition, as the many public festivals and traditional events prove. Every spring at the Spring Festival in Zurich, the fire of the Sechseläuten is carried out, which begins with the dramatic march of the 25 Zurich guilds and ends with the several hours of arguments between the guilds after the burning of the Böögg, a straw-filled puppet, and the dinner with the debates of the guilds.
The Boys’ Shooting in September, the carnival parades at Fasching and the Züri Fäscht, one of the largest Swiss folk festivals, which attracts millions of visitors to Lake Zurich, are also among the annual fixtures in Zurich’s calendar of events. Open-air festivals are also regularly held in the squares, streets and parks, especially in summer, while in winter Zurich’s Christmas markets immerse the entire city in a sea of lights. Almost every weekend, concerts with local and internationally renowned musicians take place in the bars and discotheques.
The Street Parade, a dazzling techno and house festival, the Zurich Film Festival, the Zürcher Theaterspektakel and the Zurich Festival are known worldwide. The flourishing alternative culture scene also has a firm place in Zurich. A dedicated Art Space Guide takes you to art offspaces and self-organised art spaces.
As an international traffic hub, Zurich is accessible via several motorways. From St. Gallen and Geneva you can reach the Swiss metropolis via the A1, from Basel and Chur via the A3 and from Lucerne it is the A4. Almost all international trains arrive at Zurich’s main station, be it the EuroCity, the French TGV, the German ICE or the Austrian RailJet. One of the most important airports in Switzerland and at the same time one of the largest in Europe, with a passenger volume of around 30 million per year, is Zurich Airport with the international IATA code ZRH, which is located about 13 kilometres north of Zurich and is served by all international airlines.
Together with the airports in Basel and Geneva, Zurich Airport is one of the three Swiss national airports. It has its own railway station, from which both long-distance trains and suburban trains depart.
In the city itself, the best way to get around is by tram, trolley bus, bus, on foot or by bicycle, because, as in any big city, the streets are often congested and parking is scarce.