Zurich in One Day: Travel Guide of Things to Do

Have the ultimate Swiss holiday by learning how to see Zurich in one day with the help of this travel guide.

Zurich has an old-world charm with history around every corner. Like most European cities, it bears the scars of war. You’ll find evidence of ancient struggles in the city’s famous church.

But there’s more to the city than strife. Zurich holds the beauty of the Swiss culture in its food and the gorgeous countryside.

It’s hard to decide how best to see Zurich in one day. There’s so much to do, and so many odd opening hours, that you can easily err (like I did) and need many days to see the city properly.

This Zurich travel guide will teach you the best things to do in Zurich in one day so you can explore more Swiss cities in your vacation.

🏔 I recommend this one day tour of Zurich

Quick Travel Guide of What to Do in Zurich

  • Hike Uetliberg
  • Take a free walking tour through Zurich’s Old Town
  • Have a packed lunch in Platzspitz
  • See the city from the water with a river cruise (& hop off to explore other areas)
  • Explore the Swiss National Museum
  • Eat a traditional cheese fondue as Swiss Chuchi
St Peter's clock tower in Zurich with an autumnal tree in front

Budget-Friendly Meal Tips For Zurich

Unfortunately, Switzerland is one of the most expensive European cities for travelers. Budget travelers often struggle when visiting Zurich.

One of the easiest ways to save money in Zurich is to make your own breakfast and lunch.

You’ll avoid restaurant mark-ups, get to eat in the city’s beautiful parks, and have more time to wander the city’s winding streets.

For breakfast, I always got a croissant and a yogurt from the grocery store. Honestly, the 2 CHF croissants were better than the ones I had in France!

This is a great on-the-go breakfast that you can eat on the train to your hike or sitting beside Lake Zurich.

For lunch, make a sandwich that you can carry with you. I highly recommend adding cheese to your sandwich. Switzerland is famous for its cheese and it’s surprisingly affordable.

Try a selection of Edam, Swiss, and more without breaking the bank.

You can sample even more by pairing them with apples and crackers for an afternoon snack. They’re a lovely treat to have at the top of Uetilburg.

Save a ton of money on drinks by packing a reusable water bottle. Switzerland is one of the best cities for water fountains. There are taps literally everywhere where you can get cool, drinkable water for free!

Zurich city street view

6 Fun Facts About Zurich

  1. Zurich has the most guns per person of any city in the world. Why? Because mandatory conscription is still in effect in Switzerland. Everyone has a gun, but no one has ammo.
  2. To predict the type of summer they will have, Zurich residents blow up a snowman. Every year, a snowman is stuffed full of explosives beside Lake Zurich, then an archer shoots flaming arrows at it. The sooner the snowman ignites, the better their summer will be. The Swiss blame their string of bad summers on officials breaking the rules and dousing the snowman in kerosene (poor Frosty!). It’s such a unique holiday tradition!
  3. Swiss people have to pay a tax to have access to a war bunker. Switzerland is full of leftover war bunkers. Many have been converted to parking garages or laundry rooms. In case of another war, the Swiss are prepared by ensuring every citizen has access to a war bunker around the city.
  4. Some of the bunkers in the Swiss mountains are big enough to hold airplanes.
  5. The Zurich parliament building only has one emergency exit: the windows. If there’s a fire, the government officials have to jump out the windows into Lake Zurich.
  6. One steeple of the city’s famous church is considered lucky. It survived a fire that destroyed the rest of the building. Although the church has been repaired, you can still identify the lucky steeple by using the 3D model for blind people. Tourists have touched the lucky steeple on the model so much that the point has bent.

What to do in One Day in Zurich

Views of the Swiss Alps from Uetliberg in Zurich

8:30 AM: Hike Uetliberg for the Best Views of Zurich

The best thing I did in Zurich was leave the downtown core to hike Uetliberg, a gorgeous mountain on the outskirts of the city.

Take a train 20 minutes from the city center to reach the mountain. You can get off at the bottom and hike the entire mountain, or take the train about halfway up to shorten your hike.

If you’re seeing Zurich in one day, you should opt for the shorter hike since the mountain peak is the best part of the hike.

From either spot, you’ll find multiple trails for hiking and mountain biking your way up the mountain.

The trails are beginner-friendly, with well-maintained gravel paths and good signage. You’ll be able to find your way to the top easily.

Don't Forget to Pack the Essentials!

Views from uetilburg mountain looking out at Zurich

At the top of Uetliberg, you can go a step further and climb the viewing tower for the best views of Zurich and the alps. Going above the treeline gives you an amazing view of the snowcapped Swiss Alps surrounding the city.

Spend the 2 francs to get the ultimate view.

If you go later in the day, you can even have cheese fondue overlooking the alps at Restaurant Uto Kulm. You can even stay at Uto Kulm hotel overnight to get what I’m sure are spectacular sunrises and sunsets.

View over Lake Zurich and the old Swiss houses at Lindenhof

11 AM: Free City Walking Tour of Altstadt to Discover Zurich’s History

Free walking tours are my favourite way to get acclimatized to a new city. They teach you about its history, give you local tips on where to eat, and you get to choose the price!

Although they are “free”, you do have to pay. You’re supposed to tip what you feel the tour is worth. I usually tip the equivalent of $5 for an ok tour or $10 for a great tour.

Although it can end up costing you as much as a prepaid tour, I like that I get to test the product and decide the price myself.

Use Free Walk for an excellent tour of Zurich’s city center. The tour runs at 11 am daily and lasts 1.5 hours. You’ll learn about the city’s history, the remnants of the world wars, and find some of the best vantage points for pictures of Zurich.

My fun facts about Zurich are things I learned from our incredible tour guide.

I loved the tour even more because the guide introduced me to the best spot for fondue in Zurich (see “Where to Eat Dinner”).

If you’re planning to extend your time in Zurich or to return, you’ll get lots of amazing tips on extra things to do in Zurich, like visiting the local zoo.

12:30 PM: Park Lunch

Head to Platzspitz after your walking tour ends to enjoy your packed lunch in a lovely park. Platzspitz is a lovely green park with benches overlooking Lake Zurich. There’s even an 18th century Pavillion you can marvel at while you snack on your crackers.

St Peter's Church clock tower at dawn of my one day in Zurich

1:50 PM: Rest Your Feet on a River Cruise

After lunch, head to the River Limmat Cruise located on the East side of the park by the Swiss National Museum.

Get a new view of Zurich from the lake from a river cruise.

I stumbled upon the river cruises when I was trying to visit the Swiss National Museum for the first time, only to find out that it’s closed on Mondays. Instead, I took a 50-minute ride on the lake that turned out to be an incredible tour.

The cruise is hop-on hop-off, so you can actually start your day on a river cruise and use it to get you around the city. For 4.40 CHF (free with a Zurich Card), you can see all of Zurich in a day.

Try to get a window seat for better views of the city.  Look out for the ancient guild houses, Grossmunster Church, and the City Hall building. Watch out for any politicians leaping from the windows!

** Note: The cruises only run from March to October. Check the River Limmat website for official timetables. **

3:30 PM: Visit Zurich’s Cultural History at the Swiss National Museum

Swiss National Museum in Zurich

The Swiss National Museum is the most visited cultural history museum in Switzerland. The exhibits range from the beginning of Swiss history to present day.

It’s a must see if you only have one day in Zurich.

You’ll learn about Switzerland’s involvement in the world wars (which was more extensive than I expected for a neutral country), their political system, and even historical dress.

It’s easy to spend hours wandering through this museum, but 1.5 hours is plenty to see the significant exhibits.

Use the free audio guide, a downloadable app, to learn more about the artifacts. The narrator is a bit slow, so only listen when there are artifacts you are really interested in.

Take your time browsing the war memorabilia and the rich jewel displays before you head to the bestiary. I expected a medieval bestiary, like those I’d studied in school. Instead, it was full of stuffed cows and St. Bernards. I was disappointed at first, but it turned out to be one of the most interesting rooms. You’ll learn about the myth of St. Bernards carrying alcohol in barrels around their collars and about Swiss agriculture.

Who knew that ibexes and Swiss groundhogs would be the most memorable part of the museum?

** The museum is closed every Monday. **

Extra Things to do in Zurich

I recognize that not everyone can visit Zurich on days that aren’t Monday, so I’ve included some extra fun things to do in Zurich so you won’t be bored on your one day stop over.

Besides, a travel guide isn’t complete without some extra options, now is it?

  • Kunsthaus Zurich (Art Museum)
  • Zurich Zoo
  • Climb the spires at Fraumunster Church
  • Fifa World Cup Museum
  • Take pictures from the vista at Lindenhof
  • Zurich West Viaduct for chic restaurants
  • Climb Bahnhof Hardbrucke
  • Shop in Niederdorf
  • Rietberg Museum (Archeaology)
  • Beyer Clock and Watch Museum
  • St Peter Church
  • Zurich Opera House
  • University of Zurich Botanical Gardens
  • Swim in Lake Zurich
  • Zoological Museum

Where to Eat Dinner

I’m obsessed with food, so the first question I asked my free walking tour guide was where should I eat in Zurich. He recommended two restaurants that, even after days of eating my way across the city, are the best eats in Zurich.

Although it’s expensive to eat out in the city, be sure to treat yourself to a meal. You have to try to best food in the city if you’re seeing Zurich in one day, right?

Swiss fondue from Swiss Chuchi in Zurich

If You’re Craving Fondue

Switzerland is famous for its fondue. It’s a definite must have when you’re in Zurich for one day.

Be sure to try the best fondue in Zurich at Swiss Chuchi.

The fondue house has a menu full of fondue options, with selections of types of cheese and various sides to complete your meal. You can even get raclette or meat dishes if you’re not a fondue fan.

I went back three times for the original cheese fondue made with garlic and cheese brandy (who knew that was even a thing?). It came with a giant basket of bread.

To try and be healthy, I got apples to dip as well.

The fondue, including the bread, costs 28.50 CHF. Adding fruit cost an additional 7.00 CHF.

If you want to try raclette, they have many options waiting for you! A basic raclette costs 28.50 CHF.

Although it’s expensive compared to your homemade breakfast and lunch, this is a meal you won’t want to miss. Besides, why scrimp on meals if you aren’t going to use that savings for a truly epic meal down the line??

If You’re Craving Vegetarian

Don’t fancy fondue?

Head to Haus Hiltl, the oldest vegetarian restaurant in the world!

The restaurant has been running since 1898 with a focus on regional produce. You can find excellent vegan options – including vegan wines!

They have a range of options, from Indian to pasta. Check out their interesting options in the “Vegetarian Butcher” section.

The prices at Haus Hiltl range from 27.50 –  38.00 CHF. These are pretty standard prices for a meal in Zurich, even though Hiltl is very well rated and uses excellent ingredients.

Swiss chocolate truffles

After Dinner Treat

You’ll notice I didn’t mention dessert above. Although chocolate fondue and vegan puddings are available, I opted to save my sweet tooth for Sprungli.

End you perfect one day in Zurich with a box of truffles from Sprungli, my favourite chocolatier in the city.

Get an assortment to test out different flavours (like the champagne truffles). I managed to make 6 truffles last a few days, but I’m still not sure how I had enough willpower.

If you’ll be leaving Switzerland soon, Sprungli truffles make an excellent gift for friends and family. Or the perfect plane food to help cure those end-of-vacation blues.

🏔 I recommend this one day tour of Zurich

Where to Stay in Zurich

Getting Around Zurich

Zurich is a very walkable city.

Visitors who look for the most popular things to do in Zurich tend to stick to the downtown core, where you can walk the length of the area in about an hour.

If you’re planning to go beyond the city centre, like to Uetliberg, you’ll need to take public transportation.

Trains and buses in Zurich are amazing – if you use them properly. I’d often get on sleep-deprived and end up going a stop or two in the wrong direction. It taught me how to ask for directions so it rarely happens anymore.

Public transport is an easy way to get from Uetliberg to the Zurich Zoo. You’ll find metros, buses, and long-distance trains all located at Zürich Hauptbahnhof, the city’s main train station.

Looking to get around via car? Find the cheapest car rentals here!

Zurich's Hauptbahnhof train station in Altstadt

Closing Thoughts

I learned a lot from my 8 months in Europe, like how to not take my failures so seriously.

Initially I really struggled with how many mistakes I made in Zurich. I kept visiting on days when things were closed, or accidentally taking the train in the wrong direction. My budget was quickly dwindling from the amount of fondue I was eating.

Looking back, I can see how I made those errors and how they made me a better traveler. They’ve helped me learn how to budget time and how to travel plan better.

Although I never managed to have a 100% successful trip to see Zurich in one day, this city itinerary will save you from repeating my mistakes.

And if things do go wrong, fondue and Swiss chocolate heal all wounds!

Enjoy these amazing things to do in Zurich and plan the ultimate city getaway with this travel guide.

🏔 I recommend this one day tour of Zurich

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