One Day in Zurich Itinerary: Uncover Secrets of the Old Town | The Invisible Tourist

“It’s tough to find a place not to like in Switzerland.” ~ Michele Bachmann. 

With a reputation for being the most expensive city in Europe, it’s easy to umm-and-ahh about whether you should spend one day in Zurich (German: Zürich). As the country’s glistening financial capital, it’s also often confused as the Swiss capital (that’s reserved for lesser-known Bern). 

But if you brush that to the side for a moment, is it really worth putting together a Zurich itinerary? What is Zurich famous for, anyway? Take it from me, I’ve visited Switzerland in winter and summer, and admit I enjoyed Zurich more than I anticipated.

While Zurich seems luxurious and exclusive on the surface, there are plenty of free things to uncover year-round if you only have one day to spare. The city’s Roman and medieval roots run deep throughout if you know where to look.

As I love nothing more than to be an invisible tourist on my travels, I created my Zurich one day itinerary to share a few of the secrets behind what’s hiding in plain sight to help you make the most of your visit, too.

If you’re interested in getting beneath the surface and discovering the delightful things to do in Zurich in one day, read on for more!

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One Day in Zurich Itinerary: Uncover Secrets of the Old Town | The Invisible Tourist
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NOTE: This guide to discovering Zurich in one day is part of my larger 1 week in Switzerland itinerary. Take a look once you’re done here for more Switzerland travel inspiration.

Why visit Zurich?

If you’re looking for lush valleys with the causal sound of cow bells off in the distance, it may be obvious you’re not going to find that here. What you will find by taking the time to explore Zurich in one day is a cosmopolitan city bursting with charm and intrigue that isn’t only limited to bankers and celebrities. Seriously!

If we step back in time, Zurich has a surprising history dating back millennia to when the Romans founded it in 15 BC. Although, earlier settlements have been found here dating back to 6400 BC – that’s pretty incredible!

These discoveries demonstrate how Zurich has always been an important geographical location. 

Blossoming over time into the city we see today, Zurich holds the titles for Switzerland’s largest city and major transport hub – Zurich Airport and Zürich Hauptbahnhof main train station are busiest in the country.

Did I also mention Zurich is consistently ranked as one of the world’s most liveable cities? Even Einstein lived here – it’s a great city break destination!

TIP: For unlimited travel on public transportation, a short round-trip on Lake Zurich and free or discounted entry to 40+ museums, the Zurich Card could be for you! If you’re combining your visit to Zurich with other cities in Switzerland, consider the Swiss Half Fare Card or Swiss Travel Pass to save money.

Explore beautiful narrow streets during your one day in Zurich

 

Where to stay in Zurich

My first visit to Zurich I did as a day trip from Lucerne, however I stayed at Hotel California during my second trip. I chose it based on its central location and close proximity to the train for Zurich Airport. It was a great budget option as Zurich is one of the more pricier places to stay in Switzerland.

Need more information & pricing for Zurich hotels? Be sure to check out:

Where you can find alternative hotels in Zurich city centre
Read more reviews and compare greater Zurich hotel prices here.
Find out why I don’t recommend Airbnb here.

 

Where to eat in Zurich

Food in Switzerland can be on the pricey side for visitors but you can be sure the quality is top notch. Hit up some of the bakeries in search of zuntagzopf (Sunday Bread) for a snack. Also called butterzopf, this braided loaf is crusty, yet buttery and absolutely delicious! You can learn more about popular Swiss breads here.

I enjoyed a delicious Italian meal at Molino Pizzaria & Ristorante, their pizza and hime-made lasagne was so good! And of course the café at the Lindt Home of Chocolate Museum (more on this down the page, videos on my Instagram!)

An authentic Zurich dish is called Züri Geschnetzeltes – veal ragout with creamy white wine sauce, topped with mushrooms and a side of Rösti (finely grated fried potatoes). They love their mushrooms in Switzerland! You can find Züri Geschnetzeltes at traditional beer halls such as Zeughauskeller and Zunfthaus zur Waag in Zurich Old Town. There is also cheese fondue, but I personally skip that one!

Spaghetti Factory Rosenhof is one of my personal favourites, there’s also one in Bern. Come here for a home-cooked meal just like your grandmother would prepare for you (they have vegan options, too). 

How to spend one day in Zurich

Zurich is relatively flat, compact and easy to get around on foot. You’ll see so much exploring the narrow cobbled streets, but if you need there’s a tram spot around every 300 metres. 

This guide to spending one day in Zurich is a self-guided walking tour that explores much of the Old Town (Altstadt). As I’ll explain in more detail below, you’ll get to explore the major sights as well as the meanings behind some gems hiding in plain sight dotted throughout the city.

If you wish to explore more of the city and the surrounding region, I’ve included flexible options to extend your Zurich itinerary if you so wish towards the end of this guide.

Finally, I’ll also share a photo spot that captures several of Zurich’s attractions in one shot so be sure to read on to find out where it is!

Did you know? Switzerland has four official languages. Willkommen, you’re in a German-speaking region of the country now! Read more about how I learn language for travel and how you can, too.

Things to do in Zurich: A one day itinerary walking tour

We’ll begin this one day in Zurich itinerary at the city’s main train station, and spend the morning exploring the streets and main attractions along the west banks of the Limmat River. 

From here, once we hit Quaibrücke in the city’s south we’ll head east in the direction of the Altstadt (Old Town) and spend the afternoon admiring the attractions here while wandering north through the backstreets of this beautiful area.

With all the logistics out of the way, let’s jump into the amazing places to visit in Zurich in one day on this self-guided walking tour! 

Step foot inside Zurich Hauptbahnhof

If you’re visiting as a day trip from elsewhere, it’s likely you’ll start your day at Zurich Hauptbahnhof (often shortened to Zurich HB) so I’ll begin this Zurich itinerary from here. 

Opened in 1847 and with over 3,000 local and regional services per day, it’s one of the busiest train stations in Europe as well as the world! Exit here to begin your journey into Zurich, starting along Bahnhofstrasse.

Window shop along Bahnhofstrasse

Stroll along Bahnhofstrasse which is considered the most expensive shopping street in Europe! Depending on how you feel, you may be happy just window shopping instead. You’ll find a number of department stores, luxury brands and high street fashion retailers.

I honestly didn’t find it to be any more expensive than other cities in Switzerland, but the jury is still out on that. For a full list of stores and eateries along tree-lined Bahnhofstrasse, click here

While you’re taking in the sights along this famous street, you could literally be walking on hidden treasure –  it’s rumoured numerous bank vaults buried underneath the tram tracks are loaded with gold and silver! 

Towards the southern end of Bahnhofstrasse lies Paradeplatz, a square that holds the title of the most expensive piece of real estate in the entire country.

Previously an 18th century livestock market, Paradeplatz is now the largest financial transaction site in Switzerland as several Swiss banks such as UBS and Credit Suisse are headquartered here.

READ MORE:

7 Days in Switzerland Itinerary: Complete Guide for First Timers

Inspiring Reasons to Visit Switzerland in Winter (for Non-Skiers)

One Day in Geneva Itinerary: Uncover Secrets of the Old Town

Marvel at the history of Schipfe

From Bahnhofstrasse, take some time to explore the narrow cobbled backstreets of the Schipfe quarter beneath Lindenhof (more below). Previously a Gallo-roman settlement, it’s one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods and was initially named Turicum by the Romans in 5 AD.

This area pre-dates the modern-day name of Zurich and the city was built around this very spot.

During the Middle Ages, as well as being the location for boat building and bath houses, Schipfe’s riverbank was the main port for trade including food, gold and silk. Houses were built directly on the shore, giving the area a little “Venice of Switzerland” appearance.

It’s best viewed from the opposite side of the river along Limmatquai, more on this down the page.

Admire the city views from Lindenhof Hill

In my opinion, for one of the best viewpoints in Zurich head to Lindenhof for sweeping panoramic views over the city and Limmat River. There’s much more to this spot than a pretty view!

Evidence of Neolithic and Bronze age settlements have been found in this area and a Roman castle dating back to the 4th century was once perched high on this hill. 

Due to its strategic location at the mouth of Lake Zurich, Lindenhof became a tax collection point for imported goods from the Schipfe port below. A tombstone dating back to the 2nd century explaining this historical tidbit was uncovered here. 

Don’t miss the seemingly ordinary Hedwig Fountain (Hedwigbrunnen). It’s dedicated to a clever group of women who defended Zurich in 1291 by dressing up as male soldiers to trick Duke Albert I of Germany in an attempted siege!

While I stood peering out over colourful buildings adorning the opposite side of the river, I was amazed to think of these various events throughout history. From this vantage point, I could see quite a few Zurich attractions – Grossmunster, Wasserkirche, Rathaus and the University of Zurich.

Today you can try your hand at a life-sized game of chess incorporated into the grounds here.

Lindenhof is one of the must see see Zurich attractions

Appreciate St Peterskirche and Europe’s largest clock

Another icon of Zurich lining the Limmat River is St Peterskirche (St Peter’s Church). With an iconic 15th century clock tower, it’s visible from many locations around the city and if you get your angles right, you can capture a shot of this along with Fraumünster’s clock spire. 

Did you know St Peterskirche boasts the largest church clock in all of Europe? The diameter of each clock face measures a surprising 8.64 metres, the minute hands 5.73 metres and the hour hands 5.07 metres.

That’s quite impressive – no wonder it was the keeper of Zurich’s official local time for centuries!

Enjoy the vibrant beauty of Augustinergasse

This is one street I don’t see specifically mentioned by name on other blogs, so today is your lucky day! The best treat for your eyes is to approach Augustinergasse from the south where it intersects with Münzplatz – there is a smallish round-a-bout just before the pedestrian-only entrance.

Once you’re there, I’m sure you’ll understand why this was easily my favourite street in all of Zurich! This narrow alley of traditional Swiss buildings is the closest thing to a rainbow I’ve encountered, the lovely colourful shutters contrasting perfectly against a laneway of pastel hues. 

There’s a reason why so much attention to detail has gone into the architecture along Augustinergasse. In the 17th century, the store owners here literally competed with each other for the best façade to attract customers.

The amazing results are the intricate wood carvings and kaleidoscope of colours that adorn the buildings to this day.

TIP: While this is such a photo-worthy street, please remember to be somewhat “invisible” here. Take a few quick photos and be sure to minimise disruption to locals going about their daily lives. It is a street for cafés and businesses, first and foremost.

TIP: My first visit was during winter so the Swiss flags were not flying. However during my spring visit, they were in the process of placing them back along the street. If I had to guess, the flags are removed over winter to prevent being frozen or damaged in icy winds.

Augustinergasse, Zurich

Take in the history of Fraumünster

One of the most noteworthy Zurich attractions is the amazing Fraumünster (Minster of Our Lady). It’s hard to miss the intricate details of its clock tower, the needle-like green spire pierces high above the city skyline. This is an icon of Zurich, being one of four main churches found in the city.

Dating back to the Middle Ages, this former Catholic Benedictine abbey was once decorated with alters, an organ and religious ornaments.

As with Geneva, the Reformation of Zurich by protestants in the 16th century meant Roman Catholic relics and worship were banned. The walls were whitewashed, its stained glass windows and ornaments removed. Being a Swiss Reformed church, today’s interior is quite simplistic.

In saying that, Fraumünster is now adorned with colourful stained-glass windows by Chagall and Giacometti, installed in 1970. Each has a colour theme and depicts a Christian story.

Laying beneath the church is a crypt featuring frescos of the founding women of the church, as well as portraits of Zurich’s three patron saints. The crypt was open to visitors again in 2016, having been closed off for 116 years. Cost: CHF 5.00 

NOTE: The use of devices such as cameras and mobile phones are prohibited inside the church.

Appreciate the significance of Grossmünster

Seek out the Grossmünster (also Großmünster – Great Minster), one of the most recognised structures in Zurich with its two domed towers creating shadows along the Limmat River. It’s said the current structure dates back to the 13th century and it was commissioned to be built by Charlemagne.

In 1520, it was from Huldrych Zwingli’s pastoral office here that a series of events kicked off the Reformation in Switzerland. You could say Grossmünster was at the very heart of these changes, therefore it’s now listed in the Swiss inventory of National and Regional Significance for its important role.

Stand on Quaibrücke, the only photo spot you’ll need

If your camera battery is about to die and you can only get a single shot to commemorate your 1 day in Zurich, let it be at Quaibrücke (Quay Bridge)! From this 19th century bridge, you can admire the expanse of Lake Zurich from the south side and see much of the way up Limmat River to the north. 

From here, Zurich’s famous icons can be seen – the twin domes of Grossmünster, the pointed emerald spire of Fraumünster and huge clock face of St Peterskirche’s tower. It’s arguable the best photo spot in Zurich!

Before crossing the bridge, you can take a small detour over to Bürkliplatz (Lake Promenade). This lakeside outdoor market area is popular with locals for a stroll and has a lovely view of the Alps on a clear day. There’s also a huge Flower Clock like the one in Geneva.

The best photo spot when spending one day in Zurich is from Quaibrüke

READ MORE:

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Leisurely stroll along Limmatquai 

This namesake street running parallel to the Limmat River is ideal for a casual stroll around Altstadt. In parts, it is pedestrian-only aside from trams so it’s great for leisurely walking along the river bank and ducking into the nearby shops and cafes as you go.

Notable sights along Limmatquai include uninterrupted views across the river to Lindenhof, Schipfe, Grossmünster, and the Wasserkirche (Water Church). In the 19th century, Limmatquai became connected to the small island Wasserkirche and its connected Helmhaus were built on, so it was no longer isolated. 

TIP: It’s also nice to stroll the opposite of the river to Limmataquai, Stadhausquai. Is this Venice or Zurich??

Soak up some sun in Quaianlagen

South of Limmataquai beyond Quaibruke, the Quaianlagen park lines the banks of Lake Zurich. With ample spots to rest with boats gently bopping up and down as a backdrop, it’s the perfect spot to slow down and watch the world go by. 

Notice what’s different about the Town Hall

Zurich’s Town Hall (Rathaus Zürich), remains largely in its original condition from the 17th century. This largely sandstone structure is built on the site of two previous wooden buildings dating back to the 13th century, and is now home to the city’s parliament and legislative chambers.

If you’re observant you’ll notice this isn’t an ordinary Town Hall. It’s almost built entirely over the water with two narrow tunnels beneath! Its elegant architectural features are a fusion of Renaissance and Baroque styles. You can admire the fine details up close from Limmatquai.

Satisfy your sweet tooth at the Lindt Home of Chocolate Factory & Museum

And now, I’ve saved the best for last… As a chocoholic, this was one of my obvious favourites in Zurich! Located in the city’s south, the Lindt Home of Chocolate Museum is like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory come to life.

The museum demonstrates how Switzerland became one of the world’s top chocolate producers, and has many different displays ranging from packaging designs over the decades to different types of moulds used to create beloved chocolate shapes.

See one of the world’s largest chocolate fountains, the world’s largest Lindt chocolate shop, take a guided tour and samples different kinds of sweet treats along the way! Allow 1.5 – 2 hours here.

TIP: I highly recommend buying tickets at least a few days beforehand for the time slot you prefer. This does get popular, and the initial session I wanted was sold out when trying to purchase the day before. Buy advance entry tickets here.

TIP: Take Bus 165 from Quaibrücke, it isn’t obvious as the bus faces the wrong way at first. However, it does a loop and will drop you directly out front of Lindt Home of Chocolate. 

If you have extra time in Zurich

Gone over all the above things to do in Zurich and after more ways to spend your time? Consider visiting the below world-class museums:

  • Kunsthaus
    One not to be missed by art lovers! Proudly houses artworks by Monet, Van Gogh, Rodin and over 4,000 paintings and sculptures from the Middle Ages to the present day. 
  • Swiss National Museum
    Holds a unique collection representing Swiss cultural history, with over 860,000 artefacts to be discovered.
  • Zurich Tram Museum
    Once a former tram depot, the Zurich Tram Museum showcases the history of the city’s tram system.
  • Uhrenmuseum Beyer
    If you’re a lover of timepieces, this museum is for you. Dedicated to everything related to timekeeping, the museum has a special exhibition recounting the history of timekeeping from 1400 BC to the present. 

Christmas in Zurich

If your one day in Zurich coincides with the festive season don’t miss Dörfli Christmas Markets, running along Niederdorf area of the Old Town. These are the oldest in the city, with market stalls spanning Niederdorfstrasse and Hirschenplatz.

Admire the pretty decorations, glowing night illuminations (especially along Augustinergasse) and get stuck into some delicious Swiss eats like raclette in the crisp night air. Find more Zurich Christmas Market locations here.

Day trips from Zurich

If you decide to spend the night and would like to explore the surrounding region’s beauty the next day, here are some popular day trips from Zurich to consider:

Are Lucerne and Geneva day trips from Zurich?

Zurich to Geneva is a 3 hour train trip one way, which can be a bit far for a day trip. To make the most of your time in Zurich, I’d suggest using Geneva or Bern as bases for other day trips on the western side of Switzerland. My Bern itinerary has the details.

My detailed Geneva itinerary is perfect as a day trip from Bern, and my Lucerne itinerary is full of suggestions for how to spend 2 or more days there instead.

 

View out the window from Eismeer Station, Jungfraubahn
TOP: Cable car ride to Mt Pilatus’ summit, Lucerne ~ BOTTOM: Eismeer Lookout near Jungfraujoch

How to get to Zurich

Getting from Zurich airport to the city

Transit from Zurich Airport to the city centre is simple and only about 10 kilometres away. Train is usually the preferred choice as, for once, it’s the fastest and cheapest option!

Trains from the airport to city centre come every 5-10 minutes, so no need to stress if you miss one by a moment. Approximate times and costs below are from the airport to Zurich HB station in the city centre, and are the covered by the Zurich Card:

  • By train: 10-15 minutes to Zurich HB (cost: adult CHF 6.80)
  • By streetcar (tram): 35 minutes on Line 10 (cost: adult day ticket CHF 13.60)
  • By shuttle bus: 30-40 minutes (cost: CHF 25.00)
  • By taxi: 15 minutes, cost CHF 60.00 – 70.00 (not covered by the Zurich Card).

Getting to Zurich from within Switzerland

I haven’t yet mentioned how in love I am with the Swiss high-speed trains! SBB Rail connects all major Swiss cities in a giant spiderweb-like network, making getting around fairly simple and time efficient. 

The costs listed are per adult when travelling with the Swiss Half Fare Card (more on this in my detailed 7 days in Switzerland itinerary). Use the below times as a guide if you’re planning to do a day trip to Zurich from other Swiss cities via SBB Rail:

  • From Lucerne: 45 mins one way, CHF 6.25
  • From Basel: 1 hour one way, CHF 8.50 
  • From Bern: 1 hour one way, CHF 12.75
  • From Interlaken: 2 hours one way, CHF 17.50

Concluding my one day in Zurich itinerary

I hope this guide has provided you with insight into the meanings behind prominent Zurich attractions and landmarks, and now you’re confident make the trip! I hope you enjoyed learning how to best spend 1 day in Zurich and will add many of these gems to your Zurich itinerary. 

Even though many say Zurich is an expensive city, thankfully exploring it doesn’t have to be. Allow yourself to fall in love with Zurich’s charming atmosphere and enjoy a little slice of luxury during your Switzerland trip. For even more travel tips and itineraries, take a look at all my articles on Switzerland here

Want to “blend in” even more in Zurich, or anywhere in the world? I’ve shared my unique strategy and personal blueprint to help you plan the perfect trip in my #1 Amazon New Release book, be sure to check it out.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to pick up your Swiss Travel Pass for free travel & museum entry or Swiss Half Fare Card to receive 50% off your train, bus, boat and even cable car rides throughout Switzerland!

Did you find my Zurich travel guide helpful or are planning to use it on your trip? I’d love if you could please share it with your friends! You can also come and join me on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or TikTok for more itineraries and travel inspiration!

Until next time, 

The Invisible Tourist


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8 Comments

  1. Wow! Such a bundle of great information. This will give me rock star status with my wife. Taking her to Switzerland for our 40th. Thank You!!

    1. I’m so glad to hear that, David! You’l definitely earn some huge brownie points with your wife, what a wonderful 40th birthday present 🥳
      I hope you both have a wonderful time in Zurich!

  2. Zurich is filled with endless activities both day and night. The city is filled with booming nightlife, beautiful history, well-known museums, and gorgeous nature. Thanks for sharing

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