I have first visited Zurich and Switzerland in June 2007. Although it is right there in the middle of Europe, I have not known anyone that has ever visited and I have not known anything about the city itself. Except of course that it is suppose to have a lot of banks and be very expensive. I came for 6 months originally, and extended, and extended, and extended. And now, after several years have passed, I can assure you, the city has a lot to offer.
When to visit?
The best time to visit Zurich has to be during the summer. The sun brings a completely new light to the city and the people, the atmosphere changes. The holidays have begun so maybe it is slightly less empty than usual, but that doesn’t mean it get any less interesting. Explore the streets in the morning, rest and refresh yourself in one of the “badis” (public swimming places) by the lake or at Limmat, have a picnic and enjoy the view over the mountains. Jumping for a swim in either the lake or the Limmat has got to be what makes Zurich special and it is one of the nicest things you can do in a big city like this.
What to do?
You can “see” Zurich as a tourist in a day or two, depending on how much you would like to see and how much time you reserve for each of the activities. Sure, on the first look the city is not that big and all. But if you want to really discover, it’s worth taking a while to discover it.
One of the high things to do was already mentioned – bring your swimming attire with you and visit either Seebad Enge, Badi obere Letten or Badi untere Letten, if you are more keen for a quieter place and prefer to swim a bit more. There are many more Badis, of course, these are just one of the more popular ones so don’t be surprised to see plenty of people sharing the sun with you.
If you like walking a lot, Zurich has a lot of picturesque little neighborhoods worth strolling through. Pass by the park Lindenhof and enjoy the view over the Limmat and explore the narrow hidden streets that surround it. Cross over to the other side and see how you like Niederdorf. Take the stairs up to the ETH and the university and enjoy another fascinating view over the city and admire the beautiful two old buildings, where so many of the Nobel prize winners received their education. If you still want to walk some more and prefer a greener surrounding, take a walk through the woods at Zurichberg or again on the other side all the way to Uetliberg, either on foot or by train. And once your stomach starts growling, stop for a bite to eat in any of the numerous little restaurants in Kreis 3 or 4. Keep your eyes open and stay alert, you might just find your next favourite place.
Of course there are also plenty of museums one can visit, and indeed Kunsthaus offers an excellent permanent exhibition that includes works of some of the most important Swiss and worldwide artists. Museum Rietberg is also another great museum, if you are interested in Asian, African, American and Oceanic art. More and more little galleries are entering the scene, and if you like art you will discover them when you are wandering the streets without a particular goal in mind. Landesmuseum is also very big and important, but you might want to check online what exhibition is currently on show before deciding to go.
Where to stay?
Depending on whether you are travelling in a group or alone and depending on the budget you have reserved for your Zurich adventure you have several options. The youth hostel in Zurich is very clean and peaceful, and affordable, even if it is still much more pricy than in several other European cities. I believe several AirBNB options must now be available as well and will likely fit your budget too. The hotels tend to be pretty pricy as there are many people coming to Zurich for business as well, but you might find a good deal nevertheless. I think I would personally recommend Kreis 3, 4 or 5 for a short touristy stay, as it will give you a nice Zurich atmosphere right in front of your door, and you will be close enough to still be able to walk anywhere, if you like.
What (not) to eat?
Restaurants in Zurich is always something I get upset about, not because the food would be bad, but because they tend to be very expensive very quickly and good service (I mean really good service) is very rare. I can imagine you would like to have a Fondue, but I would advise against that in the summer actually, as it is a very heavy dish. If you are just looking for a snack the Bratwurst at Sternen at Bellevue is a classic. And another Zurich meal is Zürcher Geschnetzeltes with Rösti – Zurich style veal with delicious roasted potatoes.
Good to know
Zurich has a lot of fountains all over the city and the water running from there is potable. So don’t waste your money on buying bottles water, just refill your empty bottle whenever you pass by any of the fountains.
The public transport is very well organized and punctual, but make sure you have the correct kind of ticket before your ride, while the probability of being controlled is not very high, they are merciless in case they catch you.
You can rent bikes for free from the city and use them to explore the city, check out this page.
There are a couple of parks that offer public grilling spots, so you can simply bring your sausages with you and grill them when you get hungry, see this page for more information.
Wish you a wonderful Zurich experience!