Our two-day detour to Zurich, Switzerland was more about meeting up with longtime friends than it was about visiting the city itself. However, that didn’t keep us from discovering the best sights of the Zurich Old Town! We devised a Zurich self-guided walking tour that would take us through the pristine city, down the shopping lanes, to a few churches and viewpoints – while still allowing enough time for lunch, chocolates and a couple beers. Come along with us to see the sights of the city on our Zurich Self-Guided Walking Tour (we’ve even included a Zurich Old Town Walking Map at the end of this post!).
Zurich Self-Guided Walking Tour
Our Zurich sightseeing focused on the sights in the center of town. There are many Zurich tourist attractions – and our list includes 12 things to see in Zurich. Our Zurich walking tour route is about 3 miles long (mostly flat), which should take about an hour without any stops. Even if you only have one day in Zurich, our walking tour is a great way to get an introduction to the city.
We started our Zurich Self-Guided Walking Tour at the Paradeplatz tram station in the city center. Heading north on Bahnhofstrasse, we gawked at the expensive watches glittering in the window displays. The street is flooded with fashionable high-end retailers, boutiques and banks. The famous shopping street is a Zurich must see!
#2 Detour onto Augustinergasse and Rennweg Street
On our Zurich city tour, we were sidetracked more than once by the colorful streets in the city center. We turned right down the bright and colorful Augustinergasse. At Widdergasse we turned left…and left again onto Rennweg, which was the main thoroughfare during the Middle Ages and features quaint craft houses. We followed Rennweg north to where it meets back up with Bahnhofstrasse.
#3 & #4 Bahnhofplatz and Central Polybahn
When we reached Bahnhofplatz, the main train station, we crossed the Limmat River on the Bahnhofbrucke Brigde. We headed to the funicular, Central Polybahn, for a ride up the hill to a lookout point. (Unfortunately, it was one of the few Zurich sights that was closed during our visit).
Continuing our Zuirch Old Town walking tour, we turned south on Niederdorfstrasse, a pedestrian street in the Zurich Old Town filled with cafes, restaurants and bars. It was perfect timing because we were getting hungry for lunch. Kris decided on a kebab, but I found a café near Stussihofstatt serving traditional dishes, deli-style, which are loaded up into containers and paid for by weight. I opted for the inexpensive lunch special: bratwurst with a roll and mustard for $6.50 – and I couldn’t resist adding the creamy potatoes au gratin to my meal for another $2.
#6 Rathaus & River Views
Back to the river, by the Zurich Town Hall (Rathaus), we couldn’t stop taking pictures of the idyllic waterfront buildings. There, we were approached by a woman who told us that the flag flying above the front door of Town Hall indicated that the local government was in session and that we were free to go in. We passed through security and then walked upstairs to a balcony overlooking a beautiful room filled with a (surprisingly) casual bunch of politicians. Taking a peek inside the Rathaus is one of the best free things to do in Zurich (besides our free walking tour Zurich, of course!).
Next up on our Zurich itinerary: the Cathedral (Grossmunster), which was built in 1220 and is one of the top Zurich tourist attractions. The two towers were added in 1787 and the 187 steps can be climbed for great views (and $4). The interior of the church is rather plain, but has bright stained glass windows. A crypt beneath the altar houses an original sculpture from one of the towers.
#8 Lake Zurich and Opernhaus Zurich
Continuing on our Zurich one day tour, we walked south to Lake Zurich and the Zurich Opera House (Opernhaus Zurich). On the lakeside, a man played the traditional Swiss alphorn for tips. Behind him, on the lake, dozens of swans were gliding on the water and in the background the majestic snowcapped mountains completed the idyllic scene.
#9 Riverwalk and St. Peter Church
We could have continued walking along the lake, but there were more Zurich Old Town attractions we wanted to see. We crossed back to the west side of the river at Quaibrucke Bridge and strolled along the water. We cut into the old city center near St. Peter Church, which has the largest church clock in all of Europe.
We wound through the tangle of streets up to Lindenhof, a raised park with views over the river and one of the best places to visit in Zurich. Two men played bocce ball, a younger group contemplated the next move on the giant chess board and several others sat along the wall enjoying the view of the city and mountains in the distance.
#11 Zuirch Chocolate Shop
Back on the city streets, we came upon yet another chocolate shop – probably the 100th since our Zurich self-guided walking tour began. Colorfully decorated for Easter, it was difficult to tell if it was a chocolate shop or a florist, but the sweet scent of cocoa floated out the door and, unable to resist the temptation any longer, we splurged for three truffles: caramel, Grand Marnier and Champagne ($4.50). Touring Zurich wouldn’t be complete without a taste of chocolate! Tip: Join the Chocolate and Sweets Walking Tour for a more indulgent taste of Zurich!
We ended our ‘Zurich in a day’ tour at Zeughauskeller for a local beer ($6.50 half-liter). Built in 1487, the building was used as an armory, but in 1926 it was transformed into a place for social gathering and beer drinking. The old-time, beer hall atmosphere survives today.
Thoughts on our Zurich Self-Guided Walking Tour
We felt we got a great introduction to the beauty of the city with our Zurich self-guided walking tour. In the bustling city of historic buildings, clock towers and row houses, the people and trams move at a fast pace. At the same time, the distant Alps, wide river, open squares and iconic fountains slow things down a bit. The scenic diversity creates a pleasant atmosphere that is ideal for a stroll on a Zurich walking tour.
Zurich Self-Guided Walking Tour Map
This Zurich city map highlights the top places to visit in Zurich in 1 day (as outlined above). Print (or screenshot) this Zurich sightseeing map to help you find your way on our Self-Guided Walking Tour Zurich.
For a Zurich walking tour map with turn-by-turn directions, click here for a link to our Zurich Self-Guided Walking Tour on Google Maps.
Our top tips for your trip to Zurich, Switzerland
There are many Zurich guided tours to help tourists gain a better understanding of the history and sights in Zurich. Some of the most popular tours in Zurich include Walking Tours, Coach Tours and full day tours that go beyond the city center. Search (and book in advance) more Zurich day tours on Viator.
Free Tour Zurich
Want guided Zurich sightseeing tours for free? There are several companies that offers a free walk of Zurich, but the guides on these free Zurich walks expect (and earn!) tips. If you forgo a Zurich Self-Guided Walking Tour in favor of a free walking tour Zurich, be prepared to pay the guide a tip.
Zurich Day Trips
With mountains, lakes and picturesque towns, there are many day trips from Zurich to the surrounding regions, which can be found (and booked in advance) on Viator. Some of the most popular Zurich day trips include a Swiss Alps Day Trip, Jungfraujoch, and a Lucerne and lake cruise trip.
The Zurich Card is available for 24 or 72 hours and includes free or reduced admission into museums, as well as free public transportation and other discounts.
Where To Stay in Zurich
During our visit to Zurich, we stayed in an awesome Airbnb Apartment. (Not already a member of Airbnb? Use this link to create an account and save money on your first stay!) We have found that staying in apartments is often less expensive than hotel rooms – with the added benefit of a kitchen and, usually, more space. Zurich holiday apartments can also be searched on FlipKey (which is part of TripAdvisor) or on VRBO – Vacation Rentals By Owner.
However, for those who prefer staying in traditional accommodations, there are many Zurich hotels to choose from in – or close to – the city center. Check out these top-rated hotels (based on guest reviews!) for your upcoming trip: Atlantis by Giardino, Baur au Lac and Widder Hotel. Or, find a deal on a hotel room by bidding on Priceline.
Budget travelers – and those looking for truly local experiences – should check out Couchsurfing where guests stay with locals for free.
Zurich can be reached by plane, train, bus or car.
Our preferred method of getting anywhere is by flying (we are JetSetting Fools, after all!) and when we do need to purchase plane tickets, we start our search for the best deals on airline tickets on Skyscanner or Flight Hub.
To get from city to city when flights are not possible, we usually rely on public transportation and take trains or buses. In Europe, we use Rail Europe to find train tickets and our preferred bus company is FlixBus – as it is economical, clean and comfortable with on-board wifi, seat-back entertainment, refreshments and a toilet. We aren’t keen on driving abroad, but renting a car can often save time and money (especially when traveling with more than two people) – and it allows for greater discovery.
Before You Go
- Don’t forget to pack a pair of lightweight and comfortable walking shoes. I (Sarah) have traveled with these shoes by Columbia, Skechers and Reef. Kris prefers wearing these shoes by Merrell and Sanuk.
- We’re certain you’ll be snapping tons of photos during your trip. Rather than relying on your mobile phone to capture the sights, upgrade to an actual camera for higher quality photos (that can later be beautifully compiled into a travel photo book). We travel with a Canon Rebel (which takes amazing photos, but can be a bit clunky) and a Canon PowerShot ELPH (which takes beautiful pictures, is slim and lightweight – and the new models are wifi enabled so you can share your trip pics to social media in real time!).
- It’s easy to get turned around or lost in any new city! Be sure to have a good city map and/or guidebook prior to arriving.
- We think travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected with World Nomads.
We want to know: Have you taken a Zurich self-guided walking tour? What would you add to ours? Tell us in the comments!
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