Zürich regularly ranks high in the world’s most livable cities. It is the largest city in Switzerland with about 400,000 inhabitants (1.3 million in the agglomeration).
Almost everything fits in Zurich (apart from the far too high cost of living): coziness paired with cosmopolitanism, spectacular nature with mountains, lakes and rivers, a noticeably high quality of life in every corner, picturesque streetscapes.
Zürich makes a charming impression.
The city, situated 408 meters above sea level, is a city of beautiful churches. Likewise, with all its hilly streets, colorful shutters, surrounding mountains and picturesque church towers, Zurich is above all a dream come true for tourists.
Tip 1: Grossmünster
The Grossmünster is a Protestant Reformed church in the heart of Zurich’s old town and the city’s landmark. According to legend, it was founded by Charlemagne in the 9th century on the graves of the city saints Felix and Regula, who were martyred on the present site of the Wasserkirche.
The Romanesque structure that can be seen today dates back to the 12th century. In the 15th century, the two double towers were added, which today are the actual landmarks of Zurich.
Before the Grossmünster attained its present purpose, it was already an Augustinian canons’ monastery and housed a Latin school and a higher grammar school. In the 16th century it was the hub of the German-Swiss Reformation, as its pioneer Huldrych Zwingli preached there. In 1833, Ulrich Zwingli founded a theological academy in the Abbey building, which became the nucleus of Zurich University.
The interior is rather plain, with only a pulpit and a baptismal font. The crypt is the oldest part of the church, here you can still find very faded wall paintings from the 14th/15th century.
One of the two towers is called Charlemagne’s Tower. A statue of Charlemagne is attached to the tower. If you want to have a nice view over the old town of Zurich and the lakes of the city, you can climb a staircase with 187 steps in the nave and get to the observation deck of the Karlsturm.
Tip 2: Kunsthaus Zürich
For art lovers, Zurich’s Kunsthaus (Art House) on Heimplatz is a must-see. Thanks to the extension by David Chipperfield, the Kunsthaus Zürich is now the largest art museum in Switzerland. Together with the old buildings, the Moser-Müller-Bau and the Bührle-Bau, the Kunsthaus Zürich now has 11,500 m2 of exhibition space.
Within this area, it has one of the most important art collections in Europe, including works by great masters such as Van Gogh, Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Monet and Warhol. As a fan of Alberto Giacometti and Edvard Munch, I couldn’t pass up this cultural treat.
Particularly worth seeing in the Kunsthaus Zürich are the most extensive collection of Giacometti artworks, the largest Munch collection outside Norway and the Miró garden.
But the building itself is also worth a visit. Especially the staircase in Art Nouveau style made me marvel for a while.
At the entrance to the main building of the Kunsthaus Zürich on Heimplatz is Auguste Rodin’s “The Gates of Hell.” It is particularly moving because of its eerie depictions.
Tip 3: Uetliberg
At 871 m, the Uetliberg, Zurich’s local mountain, is the city’s highest elevation and a popular, car-free recreation area. From the 30-meter-high platform of the Uetliberg observation tower, you can enjoy a view of the entire city and Lake Zurich all the way to the Alps. In the Middle Ages, six castles stood on the Uetliberg and the nearby Albiskamm, but today only ruins remain.
A hike from Zurich to the summit of the Uetliberg is already charming: you only have to allow about an hour here. But if you want to walk one of the many hiking trails from the mountain first, you can take the Uetlibergbahn from Zurich’s main train station and be chauffeured comfortably up to 871 meters above sea level.
On the mountain then you will find numerous beautiful hiking trails, such as the high trail from Uetliberg to Sihlbrugg village or the hike from Uetliberg to Türlersee. Something very special is the planet path: it leads over a ridge from Uetliberg to Felsenegg, represents our solar system and is meant to illustrate the proportionality of distance in it. The path is also easily walkable with a baby carriage.
There are two bike trails on Zurich’s local mountain. Both are suitable for beginners, but also bring more experienced bikers a lot of fun.
Fantastic views of Zurich are offered by a paragliding flight from the Uetliberg. You start from the take-off point in Leimbach on the Albisgrat. In principle, you can land anywhere.
Tip 4: Lake Zürich
Lake Zurich is the heart of the city. Young and old meet here in all weathers and seasons, but of course most of all in the summer months for ice cream, cycling, swimming, walking or in one of the numerous restaurants and cafés.
It is probably one of the reasons why the quality of life in Zurich is considered one of the highest in the world. Rest, recreation, sports and leisure activities find equal space and the beautiful panorama right at the gates of the metropolis rounds off the offer. The wide range of water sports on offer, including water skiing, stand-up paddling, lake swimming, canoeing and much more, attracts locals and tourists alike to the clear alpine lake in the summer months, and all year round people can be found strolling, relaxing, enjoying themselves and feasting in the many pretty restaurants and cafés along the promenade.
The best thing to do is to take a boat tour across the lake. The small tours give you a nice impression of the lake and the places on the shore in about one and a half hours. The larger tours sail all the way across the lake and even stop at the small island of Ufenau, where there is only a small restaurant.
Tip 5: Old Town
The Zurich Old Town describes the framework of the former city of Zurich, which existed until 1893 and is still the focal point for visitors and tourists. Today the area is officially called Kreis 1, but of course every die-hard Zurich resident knows what you mean when you talk about the Altstadt. The highlight is the Niederdorf district, a part of the old town that impresses with colorful facades, pretty bay windows and small alleys. Here, people sit on small wooden chairs in front of cafes and restaurants, Swiss flags wave in the wind and pretty stores line up.
During the day you can stroll through the alleys and enjoy the unrecognizable charm of the pretty old town, in the evening Niederdorf turns into a nightlife district where the restaurants and bars are well filled. Although Niederdorf is somewhat touristy and is therefore sometimes eyed critically by the locals, the neighborhood has nothing to do with intrusive tourist stores.
The original charm has always been preserved and makes a visit to Niederdorf absolutely worthwhile. The well-kept alleys, with their cobblestones and winding streets, convey a wonderfully original and tranquil ambience in the great metropolis of Zurich.