Zurich has an old-world charm with history around every corner. Like most European cities, it bears the marks of war and culture.
After spending a few days in Zurich, I have developed a budget-friendly but fun-filled way to spend a day in Zurich.
Breakfast & Lunch
Unfortunately, Switzerland seems to aim to break the bank at every turn. That’s why I recommend making your own breakfast and lunch.
Croissants from the grocery store cost less than 2 CHF (Swiss Francs) and are better than the ones I had in France! Pair a croissant with some yoghurt for an on the go breakfast. I ate mine on the train to Zurich from Baden.
For lunch, make a simple sandwich. I usually went with salami and cheese. Grocery stores have an incredible selection of cheeses to choose from. Even budget travellers can sample Edam, Swiss and more without spending too much.
Pack some snacks to keep you full throughout the day. Apples and crackers were reasonably priced.
Bring a reusable water bottle to Switzerland. Every city has taps where you can refill it with drinkable water for free!
Free Walking Tour
Free walking tours are an amazing way of getting to see a city and learn about its history. Best part: you get to choose the price! Tip what you feel the tour was worth, or what you can afford, at the end of the tour.
Free Walk runs their Downtown Zurich Tour at 11 am daily. The tour lasts 1.5 hours and runs throughout the downtown area. You will get a perfect cityscape view of Zurich, information on the city’s art history and get to the see famous cathedral. We even got a free champagne truffle!
It’s a great way to orient yourself around the city. The guide was able to give tips on where to eat and recommended what became my favourite fondue spot in Switzerland. (More on that below!)
Zurich Fun Facts:
The tour was so fun, I thought I’d share some of my favourite facts that I learned from our guide!
- Switzerland still has mandatory conscription, so Zurich has the most guns on average per person. But no one has ammo. Everyone has a gun from their conscription days, but no one keeps it loaded.
- Like the Canadian Groundhog Day, in Zurich they use a ceremony to predict the type of summer they will have. Unlike our Groundhog Day, they do that by blowing up a snowman. The snowman is stuffed full of explosives and an archer shoots arrows at it. The sooner it lights, the better the summer will be. Swiss blame their recent poor summers on the fact that they have been putting gasoline on the snowman to get it to explode sooner. (Poor, Frosty!)
- Switzerland is full of bunkers left over from the war. For a country that was neutral, they sure did plan well! Nowadays, many of these city bunkers are parking garages or laundry rooms. If you don’t have one in your building, you have to pay a tax to be able to get into one somewhere else (just in case!).
- Some of the bunkers in the Swiss mountains are big enough to hold planes.
- The Parliament building only has one emergency exit option: the windows. In the event of a fire, government officials will jump out the windows into Lake Zurich below.
- One steeple on the church is lucky. This is because it didn’t burn down with the rest. You can tell which one on the 3D model used for the blind. The lucky steeple is bent on the model from people touching it so much.
Swiss National Museum
** The museum is closed every Monday! In Switzerland, most things are closed either Monday or Sunday (a rotating cycle I could never get right). I’d advise visiting Zurich on other days to make the most of your trip.**
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 was an interesting museum to visit, with layers of history unfolding in each room. The information on the World Wars goes far beyond what I was ever taught in school. I spent at least twenty minutes just marvelling at old uniforms and jewels.
I got a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff in the museum, but the free audio guide helped. You can download an app on your phone and the guide will take you around the museum. The narrator is a bit slow, so if you are pressed for time, only listen when you really want to know additional information.
The room that I was most looking forward to was the bestiary. In medieval literature, a bestiary is a book of mythical animals. In Zurich, it’s a room full of stuffed cows and St. Bernards.
It turned out to be oddly fascinating. Who knew that ibexes and Swiss ground hogs would be the most memorable part of the museum?
Say hi to the groundhogs for me when you visit!
River Limmat Cruises
I took the River Limmat cruise because the museum was closed on my first day in Zurich. It actually turned out to be a wonderful way to spend a day in the city.
Try to get a window seat to see the beautiful city as best you can. The boat takes you past the ancient guild houses, Grossmünster church and City Hall. The ride takes 25 minutes to reach Zürichhorn, the bottom of the city, or 50 minutes round trip. Since it is a hop on hop off boat, you are able to get off at any stop and then get back on.
It’s also a good chance to rest your feet after the walking tour.
Adult tickets costs 4.40 CHF. Entry is free with a Zürich Card.
Note: the boat only runs from March – October (specific dates change subject to the year).
Hike the Mountain
The very best thing I did in Zurich was climb Uetilberg. Well, I climbed the last bit.
Uetilberg is just 20 minutes from Zurich with trains running constantly. There are a number of trails you can take with varying length. I chose to take a train to the highest possible point to minimize my hike, as I was just starting my hiking adventures back in 2017.
The hike itself isn’t the point of Uetilberg: the views are. The mountain’s peak offers spectacular views of Zurich, the lake and the alps. Try to go on a clear day to get the best view.
At the top of the mountain, you can go even higher by climbing the viewing tower. Climbing it costs 2 CHF, but it’s worth it. The tower takes you further above the trees and is where you can get the views of the alps.
Restaurant Uto Kulm is at the top of the Uetilberg. They offer cheese fondue for two. You can even stay at their hotel overnight to get what I’m sure are spectacular sunrises and sunsets. But, if you want excellent fondue, wait until you get back to the city.
Swiss Chuchi for Fondue
Switzerland is famous for their fondue.
When I asked my free walking tour guide where to go for some authentic fondue, he immediately sent me to Swiss Chuchi. I went back twice more before I moved on to Geneva.
Swiss Chuchi has numerous options for fondue and raclette. I got an original cheese fondue that was made with garlic and cheese brandy. It came with a giant basket of bread. I also got a plate of fruit to have apples to dip in my cheese.
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.
This is a meal you won’t want to miss.
Oldest Vegetarian Restaurant in the World
Don’t fancy fondue? Head to Haus Hiltl, the oldest vegetarian restaurant in the world!
The restaurant has been running since 1898. They focus on regional produce. Their wines are even vegan!
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.
Truffles for Dessert
End your day in Zurich with a box of truffles from Sprüngli. They have an assortment of flavours so everyone will find what they’re looking for.
I got six and ate them over a couple of days (it took all my will power not to cram them all in my mouth!).
My days in Zurich were often fraught with unclear transit and expensive food. Even so, the city still made an impression on me. Hiking Uetilberg and gorging on real Swiss fondue are some of my favourite memories from my three weeks in Switzerland.
Devouring Swiss chocolate probably played a role in my forgetting the pain that is the Swiss transport system.
Enjoy your day in Zurich!
What are you most excited to do in Zurich?