Discover the best views and sights in Zurich Switzerland with our travel guide and get great tips by a local to do on your own.
Text and pictures by Marc Gottwald
Zurich – The largest city in Switzerland
The city of Zurich is widely known for being a global center for finance and banking, and it’s also a picturesque location for leisure and fun activities. Furthermore, the city has a great pre-medieval history. In fact, there are all kinds of different sights & activities you can visit within the city.
If you’re even remotely interested in visiting Switzerland, then you have to check out Zürich and these great spots listed below. So let’s start to discover together the best places together.
By the way: If you want to have an exclusive City Experience with a Switzerland expert, feel free to reach out for a “Guided City Tour”. A tour you won’t experience somewhere else!
1. Enjoy the view at Grossmünster
One of the main reasons why Grossmünster in “Zurich Switzerland” is a must-see is that the cathedral is more than 800 years old, and you can get om the North tower which is very high up in the air. This means you must take a total of 187 stairs as there is no elevator. But who hasn’t heard it before: first the work and then the pleasure.
According to the legend, the Grossmünster was created by Charlemagne after his horse stopped over a few graves in the area. Going to the top of the highest tower is a bit scary, but the view above is unlike anything that you can find out there. Sadly, the tops and spires of this cathedral were reconstructed due to a fire in 1763.
There are 4 balconies that you can visit and these provide an extraordinary view. You can see many parts of the city, as well as other churches like the Peterskirche or Fraumünster. But there are many more churches in the city! Did you know that you will find in total 47 churches all over the city! That’s really a lot. So how many can you see on the Grossmünster?
If you’re interested in a great viewing points, then Grossmünster is a place where you have to go. It is by far one of the best views of Zürich and one of my favorite places besides some other points I will show you in this article.
2. Lindenhof Zurich
One of the most beautiful places in the city is the Lindenhof. In order to get there, you must walk up those narrow streets that are south of the river docks. This hilltop park means pure life as in summer people are playing chest with big figures or are relaxing here and enjoying the view. I belong to the second group 😀
But what many people do not know is that the area of Zurich and in general a huge part of Switzerland was covered 20’000 years ago with ice (glacier). The elevations of the Lindenhof were formed when the glacier was pushing forth some material. Also all other hills you can see in the city are the result of a former ice age.
The best view is actually at the low stone wall that helps you see the Limmat river and also buildings like the “ETH Zurich”, the “University of Zurich” and the Niederdörfli with the beautiful old houses.
Another great spot is the Lindenhof. It is not the highest viewpoint of the city but it’s absolutely worth your time since it’s close to the river and it delivers a very picturesque atmosphere. It’s a romantic place! A lot of local couples go there just to spend some time together and enjoy the view on one of the many benches you can find on the Lindenhofplatz. Nothing has changed that much in the past centuries here, so it’s a great place and a historical location you can visit to relax and unwind.
3. Shopping at Bahnhofstrasse
“Bahnhofstrasse” is the shopping street of Zurich. If you want to get some souvenirs, local products, luxury brands and all kinds of items, this is the right place for you. Of course there are also hotels or unique cafes at the Bahnhofstrasse.
The interesting thing is that 150 years ago on the place of Bahnhofstrasse there were the city moats. Nowadays the Bahnhofstrasse connects the main railway station with Lake Zurich. It actually spans over 1.4 km, which is quite a lot for a shopping street.
What kind of stores can you find on Bahnhofstrasse? That depends, there are all kinds of boutiques, as well as famous clockmaker’s and shopping buildings. The Bahnhofstrasse is actually among the most expensive shopping streets in the world with up to 15‘000CHF per m2 and year. This means as a shop or business you pay here around 25% more than in Basel or Bern on comparing places. Only Hong Kong and New York have similar rates.
Even the world known Swiss banking center of Switzerland “Paradeplatz” is as well here at the Bahnhofstrasse. Furthermore, you can enjoy hot chocolate, mulled wine and all kinds of delicacies at local market stands (for example in front of the Globus Market. If you’re interested in shopping or taking beautiful picture, then Bahnhofstrasse is worth the time. Of course you can also take the tram and drive from the Zurich Mainstation via Bahnhofstrasse directly to the lake.
4. Scenic hike at Üetliberg – the mountain of Zurich
Let me show you one of my favorite places of Zurich, named Üetliberg. It is a mountain outside of the city and its steel tower can be seen pretty much from anywhere in the city. Furthermore, it is a recreational area for the citizens. Since it’s a big town, it often has a lot of people when the weather is nice or on a weekend.
There are multiple ways to reach the vantage point of Üetliberg. A common one is to take the train from the mainstation which takes around 20 minutes. However, there is also the option to hike to Üetliberg, which is a bit more exhausting but I love it. The hike is around one hour and if you are used to hiking it’s not very challenging. Nevertheless, you make around 400 metres of altitude if you start at train station Zürich Triemli.
Great views over Zurich
Arrived on the top there is the tower I already have mentioned before. The tower can be climbed if you want for 2CHF, so you can get a 360-degree view over the city, the Zurich lake and much more. If you don’t want to go up the tower you still have a wonderful view. The Üetliberg is by far one of the coolest ways to see the region from above, although it does take a while to get there.
If you want to continue your hike on the Üetliberg, you can walk along the mountain chain to Felsenegg, which you should reach in around 1h15min. By the way: If it is not snowy nor icy, the trail can be even done in winter. However, in spring, summer and autumn it’s the perfect time to visit that place.
5. Drive Pedalo at the Lake Zurich
Visiting the Lake Zurich, in german called Zürichsee, is a very good idea if you want to enjoy some water sports or the amazing view. There are many “boat rentals” where you can rent for example a pedalo boat. Depending on the place you rent them, they sometimes even come with lights for a romantic experience during sunset. And the cool thing is I like most, that you can take a swim during your pedalo adventure.
Keep in mind that a previous booking is required mostly (via telephone), since this activity has normally a high demand.
When you explore the 5th biggest Swiss lake with a pedalo, you are rewarded with views. It’s an activity I don’t do every day but I always enjoy doing it. And it also makes everyday life or exploring the city more diversified.
Please note that there are many ships on Lake Zurich, including large cruise ships. Therefore, it is important to always drive and observe the situation carefully. Prices are starting from around 30CHF/h.
6. Relax and take a Swim at Letten
Want to sunbathe or take a leisurely swim in the city? Then the Letten near the main station is your place! Here the dolce vita takes place in summer, and it’s a “see and be seen”.
“Letten” is widely known for being a place where you can unwind and relax. You can have a swim during the summer if you want, or you can just enjoy some sunbathing. There are no entry costs at all.
There is the “Obere and Untere Letten”, means there are in total two different areas where you can and relax and swim. My favorite is the “Obere Letten” as here you also have a bar and the space is more open compared to the Untere Letten.
In both “Letten” you will find lockers, a changing room and so on. It’s a great way to see a different flair of Zurich and a great place to explore.
Important: Be aware that the river flows into a power plant, so go out early enough to keep yourself safe and follow the instructions you will find there. If you stick to it, you should be safe. Thousands of people go swimming here every year, me included.
7. Enjoy the best view over Zurich at Waid
There are so many ways to explore this Swiss city and enjoy all its extraordinary views. But the truth is that Waid is one of the top places to visit around the city of Zurich Over there you will get a stellar view over the city, the lake and the alps as well. This is known for being one of the ideal places to take photos, especially if you like panoramic views.
And I can tell you right now, that the “vantage point Waid” is my favorite viewpoint in Zurich. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I lived nearby and special memories come up, but many people would agree.
At the viewpoint Waid you have several benches to take a seat and enjoy the outlook. Furthermore, a fountain with cool spring water is waiting for you. Perfect in summer when you are thirsty and need a refreshment.
There is also a restaurant next to the location called “Die Waid”. So even if you get to the vantage point, you do not have to worry in case you are hungry. You can eat delicious Swiss traditional food which I can recommend. Combined with the view it’s a great place to spend time with your loved ones.
Another interesting fact about the “viewpoint Waid” is that you can even get to see the Central Swiss Alps. It’s actually one of the few places within Zurich where you can see the Alps that well. Yes, the “viewpoint Waid” is the place to take stellar souvenir photos and to enjoy the unique time.
8. Zoo Zurich
That’s the place for families and animal lovers! The Zoo Zurich is known for being one of the nicest and largest zoos in Europe. It was established back in 1929 with the idea to bring in a huge collection of animals to Zurich Now it has more than 380 species and 4600 specimens. The fact that you can see so many animals makes it a great sight to visit. But the thing I personally most like is definitely the innovative character of Zoo.
They offer all kinds of special events like for example “Sleepwalk” where you can observe the wildlife at night in the “masoala hall”, eat as well there and an overnight stay in the yurt with breaktfast in the morning. Be aware that this type of event is very popular and you should book early in advance.
Another special events you don’t have to book extra is the penguin parade that takes place every day in the afternoon, under certain temperatures of course. When it comes to special attractions, the place has a large Elephant Hall. They also have great lemurs, Siberian tigers and so on. It’s a great place to visit with the entire family.
What I especially like is that the Zoo is an EAZA member. This means that they are investing a lot of money in keeping animals safe and protecting their survival on our planet.
The Zoo Zürich can be comfortably reached with the tram Nr. 6 from Zurich Mainstation (Bahnhofquai/HB) or with the car. But we highly recommend if possible, to come via public transportation as the parking spaces are very limited. Especially during the weekends it’s hard to find a spot.
9. Zurich Opera House
What a beautiful and impressive building, which is immediately noticeable when standing on the “Sechseläutenplatz” or coming from “Lake Zurich”. It’s the opera house of Zurich. The Opernhaus belongs to the biggest international opera houses and has yearly around 250 events with international stars! Furthermore, it’s is as well home of the Ballet.
The first Opera House was built in 1834 while opening concert was the “Zauberflöte” from Mozart. Not even 60 years later, the building burned down almost completely so that the “Opera House” had to be reorganized.
To rebuild the Opera House they have chosen to take a new place near the lake. So this means that the building you see today is from 1891 and more than 130 years old. The building itself has a neo classical façade and its auditorium comes with a neo rococo style. It was the first opera house in Europe with electrical lighting.
10. Vanatage Point at ETH Zurich Polyterrasse (Take the Polybahn)
The Polyterrasse at ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) I associate with a lot of memories, because I studied here for a few years.
And I promise you it’s another great place to visit in Zurich if you love nice lookouts. Because the research university with the Polyterrasse is known for offering some of the top views in the city and also often combined with a guided city tour.
Reaching the ETH from the Mainstation is very easy. You can take tram number 6 (which would bring you also further to Zoo) or tram line 10. But I highly recommend you to check out the Polybahn, a small old school funicular which is a real experience. Not only do you reach the university a lot faster, but the fact that it’s a funicular railway that brings great experiences.
One of the best universities in the world
ETH Zurich is one of the best university in the world. Among the top 10, ETH is ranked on place 7. This is also what makes the ETH so popular abroad. In the Master’s program, 70% of the students are from abroad and only 30% are Swiss.
For everyone who is interested at studying at a university of Zurich or at the ETH, here my personal opinion: Studying at ETH was one of the best decisions in my life. Because here you not only get an excellent education with the best professors in the world, you also learn how to deal with high pressure. Compared to other universities, where you must spend the prescribed 30 hours or less per credit, the lectures with the final exams at ETH are non-officially at least between 60 to 90 hours per credit.
But let’s be honest: no one would officially admit that anyway in order not to look stupid. But I know from my fellow student friends that this benchmark is normal at “ETH Zurich” for many people. That means you have to do a lot more than on other universities, but you also learn much more. For me it was totally worth it.
There is another campus of the ETH Hönggerberg, which you can easily reach with the free ETH Link Bus.
11. Paradeplatz Zurich
If you shop or doing a walk at the “Bahnhofstrasse Zürich”, you almost cannot miss the famous Paradeplatz, the financial center of Switzerland. The place is known for being one of the most expensive real estate locations in Switzerland and even in the world.
You have some great views and photo spots here, since there are a lot of old and tall buildings like for example a traditional 5-star hotel. This square is home to many Swiss banks, and a lot of people consider it synonymous to history, wealth and money.
Normally it is a very busy location, but one that people enjoy visiting because it’s the epitome of business. From the “Paradeplatz” you can easily reach the Lindenhof or the riverside of “Lake Zurich”.
Niederdorf or “Niederdörfli” in the Swiss German dialect, is widely known for being one of the most beautiful districts of Zurich with a lot of charming houses. The Niederdörfli offers a variety of sights like the Neumarkt, the Predigerkirche and a plethora of culinary delights.
The Niederdorf is an ideal destination for locals and tourists of all ages. On top of that, this is where the “Dörflifascht” takes place every year at the end of August. Here you can find more than 50 market booths, shows and DJs to enjoy beautiful days together and nights together.
The “Niederdörfli” is a must for every Zurich city tour and is very close to other sights like the Grossmünster, the Limmat and the Lindenhof.
Zurichs Chinagarten is a beautiful Chinese garden that you can find a bit outside of the city center. The place is easy reachable by a 30 minutes walk along the Lake from the “Sechseläutenplatz” or by bus. What makes it very distinct is the fact that the sight was created by the Chinese city of Kunming, a partner town of Zurich and it does bring a piece of China to Switzerland.
What you will notice about the Chinagarden is the astounding design. The garden itself has a very low wall, and one of its main attractions is a pond that has a small island. There are also calligraphies on a golden plate, many distinct Chinese design ideas and a beautiful interior. While you will like the entire China garden, there’s no denying that the water palace is the main attraction here, and it does look quite astonishing.
The garden itself is a huge park and invites you to relax in summer and autumn. The direct location at the lake gives the perfect opportunity for a refreshing swim. In the summer, there are sometimes even open airs here and you will find countless stalls and restaurants on the way from the city to the Chinese Garden. For me and many residents, this is one of the great places in Zürich to enjoy and relax.
14. Old Botanical Garden of Zurich
Do you love as well city parks and botanical gardens? For me as a nature lover with background in sustainability management it’s almost a must, when I visit a city. Besides Basel, Zurich has one of my favorite botanical gardens of Switzerland.
It’s found in the city center just 15 minutes by foot from the mainstation. You can also take easily the train from to “Zürich Selnau”.
On the hill you can visit the medieval garden of Conrad Gessner, with more than 50 medicinal plants. The hill makes it an incredible place for amazing set of views. On top of that, the gardens cover quite a lot of space, so you can spend a few hours here.
What you will notice about the “Old Botanical Garden of Zurich” is that it is one of the few remaining baroque fortifications in the town. This means that you will see various remains of the wall.
What I love about this garden is that it is maintained with so much love. Especially for me who love plants it is great to see species from all over the region. There are even guided tours in the park with botanists.
15. Urania Sternwarte (take a drink and watch the stars + enjoy the view over the city)
The Urania Sternwarte is a historic observatory that offers guided tours. It has a huge telescope viewing and since the tower is with 51 meters so tall that can provide some scenic views over the city. The Urania Sternwarte was opened back in 1907 and it was the first building in the town that was actively made by concrete. That’s one of the reasons why it is a protected monument today. You can find the must visit place right next to the Bahnhofstrasse and the Mainstation. If you want, you can also enjoy a drink at the bar at the top, which makes it even more of an exciting experience you can share with your loved ones.
A guided tour of the observatory is a special experience. Who can claim to have seen Mars in Zurich? Today, the observatory is only in operation for guided tours. One of the reasons is that the city has expanded a lot since 1907 and light pollution has increased massively. With so much light, it’s hard to see the stars. One of the best places in Switzerland to observe the stars in an observatory is on Melchsee Frutt, around 1.5 hours away from Zurich by car.
If you are interested in culture or partying in Zurich, then “Langstrasse” is the right address for you. In the beginning of the 19th century the Langstrasse was the eyesore of the city with a lot of drug addicted people. Then with the connection of the tram more and more new people moved to this place so there was a better mixture of low income and middle class people.
In the meantime the district is known for its restaurants, dance clubs and nightlife. You will also find many sport bars, pubs, cocktail lounges and it’s the red light district of the city.
During the day you can do shopping even I have to clearly say that the best stores you find at the Bahnhofstrasse. At the Helvetiaplatz you find my favorite bakery of Zurich called “John Baker”.
Here you can get fresh bread from the wood-fired oven all day long. The bakery is a bit more expensive but definitely worth it. You can also combine something delicious from the bakery with a visit to the “Café Bank” restaurant, which is in the same building. Langstrasse is definitively not a beautiful district but worth to see it and still shows today the huge contrasts of Zurich.
The “Europaallee” is the most modern district of Zurich and right next to the Langstrasse which means that it is the perfect example to see the huge contrast we have in the city between the disctrics. With a total of 8 construction fields, which were ready for move-in from 2012 to 2020 the “Europaallee” was one of the biggest building projects in this century in Zurich.
In the “Europaallee” there are more than 75 shops such as restaurants and boutiques of all kinds. In addition, more than 5000 students study here and more than 8000 jobs have been created in this quarter, where well-known companies such as Google have their offices. Thanks to its central location to Zurich’s main railway station, Europaallee is a perfect place to work.
Since the owner of the Europaallee (SBB) was obliged to build apartments as well, 400 flats have been created. Part of them are social housings. By the way: What do you think was here before? More background knowledge you will get in one of my guided city tours.
Now let’s go up to the hill with the Dolderbahn, a 1.3 km long rack railway started in 1895 for reaching the Dolder Grand Hotel and the surrounding areas. When taking this train you will experience an average of 19.6% incline.
Once you reach the Dolder Grand Hotel after a 3-minute walk, you can enjoy a drink on the terrace or dine on a high-quality gourmet menu. Because celebrities often stay here, it is possible that you will meet Justin Bieber or other stars. It’s good to know that the Dolder is close to the Zoo as well an ice rink in winter, so it can be a great experience for the entire family.
19. Wellness at Hürlimann Areal
When you are in Zurich for some days or as a local, it makes a lot of sense to unwind and relax. That’s why it can be a good idea to visit the “Hürlimann Areal”, the most popular wellness destination in the city. The wellness place was built on the space of a former brewery. From the rooftop pool you can enjoy amazing views over the town. Of course you also have some thermal baths and saunas as well here. It’s the ideal place to enjoy a stellar spa experience and just cherish the moments at your own pace.
The thermal bath and spa is very popular among the city population and therefore it is worth coming during the week days.
20. Seilbahn Rigiblick
The “Seilbahn Rigiblick” is a funicular railway that can be found near the Irchel Park. You can easily access it from the mainstation with the Tram Number 10 and drive to “Seilbahn Rigiblick”. It’s quite an old track, since it was created in 1901. However, it was refurbished multiple times since then. The “Seilbahn Rigiblick” has a track length of 385 meters and an incline of 36%, so it’s quite steep when compared to other funicular railways in the region. The “Seilbahn Rigiblick” brings you up to the “Zürichberg” with a great view over “Zurich Switzerland”. And once you arrived at the top, you can even enjoy a beautiful panoramic walk towards the “Zoo Zurich”.
21. Irchel Park
The “Irchel Park” is widely known for being the biggest public park in the city of Zurich, and the most spacious modern park in the country as well. There is an artificial lake in the park next to a large meadow. However, the lake itself is separated by a wooden bridge construction that is used as a pathway.
In the upper part you have the campus of “University Zurich” and also a public restaurant mainly used by the students. In addition, you have a jogging facility in here as well, fireplaces areas, natural playgrounds and many others. Overall, it’s a beautiful nice and exciting place where you can go and become one with nature, while eliminating the daily stress.
Where else can you do shopping and enjoying time in a restaurant besides the famous “Bahnhofstrasse”? Of course there are many places in “Zurich Switzerland”. But this is by far my favorite one: The Viadukt near “Hardbrücke”.
The Viadukt is known for being a very innovative shopping district in the city. It’s a shopping area with more than 500 meters of design and creativity. You can also find other things like restaurant, markets, fitness, living and fashion or outdoor products. And yes, you will also find a viaduct here just like you would during Roman times. It’s an interesting concept which a lot of people enjoy because it’s so visually imposing, unique and different.
Even more shops
If you want to see a cool way to shop in Zurich then it makes sense to try out Viadukt, as there are a whole lot of things to enjoy here. You can easily reach the Viadukt from the Mainstation by various trains to “Hardbrücke” or tram lines 4 and 13 in about 5 minutes to “Zürich Löwenbrau”.
And if you’re already visiting the viaduct, then I definitely recommend stopping by the “Freitag Tower” and “Frau Gerold’s Garten” as well. This is where life in Zurich takes place. At the “Freitag Tower” you climb up some containers via the store and have a cool view over the town. At the “Frau Gerolds Garten” you can choose a cozy drink or a delicious meal. In addition, sometimes markets take place here on Saturdays.
Conclusion of Zurich
“Zurich Switzerland” is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and there are many different ways to enjoy all of its vistas and sights. If you are passionate about exploring a new city and relishing into its extraordinary beauty, we recommend you check out all these great places listed in our travel guide. They can give you a stellar view over the city, and the best part is that you will be amazed with the diversity and great things you can experience here. Of course, there are also some new places for residents, which must be seen.