Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland, the financial and cultural hub of the country. The restless city on its own is a must-see architectural landscape, but the painting-life scenery of snow-tipped peaks and sprawling fresh lake makes it one-of-a-kind. You could easily spend a few days exploring this cosmopolitan city. But I’m guessing your Switzerland itinerary is jam-packed, so save some money and time and spend one day in Zurich.
Zurich, or Zürich, is a huge metropolis, even if the city center looks compact on a map. Don’t worry about how you’re going to get around – I’ve laid out all your options below at the beginning of this guide.
This one day in Zurich itinerary essentially makes a circle around the center, from the southeastern Opera House to the southwestern Enge neighborhood on the opposite side of Lake Zurich. You could essentially pick any starting point and follow the rest of the things to do in order.
Or, if you’re just looking for some Zurich itinerary ideas, then this is a great place to be inspired! Jump around with the menu below to check out tips for visiting famous spots and hidden gems alike.
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Arriving in Zurich
Public transportation in Switzerland is so well-connected and maintained that I would recommend day-tripping to Zurich by train rather than a car.
By choosing to stay outside of the city, you’ll be saving tons on your Switzerland budget. Prices for accommodation can triple from the countryside to the city.
Zurich main train station is the largest in Switzerland and takes you directly to the center of the city.
Of course, driving in Switzerland will offer your more freedom and flexibility, so that’s never a bad option. But there are a few cons to driving in Zurich. Some of them being:
- Expensive parking & gas
- Lots of traffic lights
- Tons of pedestrians
- Navigating around trams, buses, and cyclists
Okay, it sounds like a lot, but after personal experience visiting Zurich, I’d say my boyfriend and I would have wished we looked into train prices instead of spending the money on gas and parking (which probably costs more than the train ticket.)
Zurich Airport is about 6 miles from the city center, to which you can travel by train.
Where to Park
There are a few parking rules to note about Zurich and in all of Switzerland. Yellow spaces are reserved for residents or companies, blue spaces are free for 90 minutes with the EU parking disc, and white spaces are paid parking for the public.
However, Zurich itself has many parking garages that make finding parking a lot easier. Most start at 5 CHF (Swiss Francs) per hour, roughly 5.50 USD.
In parking garages, you’ll take a ticket at the entrance and then keep that ticket with you while you explore. When you’re ready to head out, you’ll pay at one of the machines at the parking garage entrance. Nearly all of them accept credit cards.
Then take your paid ticket back to your car and insert it into the machine when leaving the parking garage.
Parkhaus Opera is my favorite place to park in Zurich, as the spots are not too tight and it’s centrally-located.
Getting Around Zurich & the Zurich Card
Zurich is a very walkable city, although larger than you think. It can be especially difficult to see as much as you wanted if you travel to Zurich at the peak of summer! The weather is super hot and there are tons of people in the city.
You may want to hop on one of the trams or buses to take you around to different neighborhoods.
You can either buy individual tickets or purchase the Zurich Card which gives you unlimited travel on trains, buses, trams, and cable cars in Zurich. It also has a bunch of other benefits, like free or discounted museum entry. Zurich has tons of amazing museums, like the Lindt Chocolate Museum and the Fifa World Football Museum.
You could easily spend the day walking around Zurich, but this is another option if you prefer using public transport.
The Best Things to Do With One Day in Zurich
Zurich is a must-stop on any Switzerland itinerary. The country may be small, but it’s packed full of beautiful places to see. One day in Zurich may be all you have to spare in your travel plans, so make the most of it by having these essential and unique experiences!
Ogle at the Opera House & Stroll the Neighborhood of Seefeld, and East Promenade of Lake Zurich
If you park at Parkhaus Opera, you’ll escape the underground garage into a wide open square, dominated by the opulent Zurich Opera House.
You may not have time to catch a show, but snapping a photo is the least you can do to show off your Zurich adventures.
Head across the street towards Lake Zurich to get your first look at this vast body of water. The distant mountains, bursting fountains, and the armada of boats on the water create an image so stunning you’ll have to pinch yourself.
The promenade on the west of Lake Zurich is covered by shady trees and lined with inviting park benches. You’ll also find a popular swimming location here, Seebad Utoquai, in case you can’t wait to jump in the water! Just be weary – on hot summer days, the line to enter stretches a long way down the promenade.
If you cross inland, you’ll enter the relaxed neighborhood of Seefeld. The ambiance completely contrasts that of the busy neighborhoods of Old Town, Langstrasse, and Enge. With only 24 hours, Seefeld isn’t a must-do, but if you like to explore local places, then wander these quiet streets before entering the hectic center.
Rent a Paddle Boat for an Hour on the Lake
While you’re near the lake, consider experiencing it from a different point of view!
Tons of people rent paddle boats when the nice weather arrives. You may not want to get in the water as soon as you arrive in Zurich, but this activity can keep you refreshed on hot summer days and energized to explore the city. It’s a unique activity to live like a local and dive into Lake Zurich life – literally!
It costs 20 CHF to rent a paddle boat for half an hour – but we already know Zurich is not meant to be a budget-friendly city.
Explore Old Town
Old Town is the historic district of Zurich, to the east of the Limmat River. These narrow streets and jumbled, colorful houses transport you to a different era in time!
The Germanic architecture with wood details and painted fresco facades make you feel like you’re exploring Snow White’s village. Okay, so she doesn’t have a village, but if she did, it would be Old Town.
Local spots to check out include H. Schwarzenbach Cafe and Predigerkirche, which is a church built in the 1200s.
On the edge of Old Town is the Kunsthaus, Zurich’s major art gallery for any art connoisseur’s out there!
Visit Grossmunster Church
When you visit Zurich, you’ll notice the city’s centerpiece right away. The two towers of the Grossmünster Church soar high above the historic houses of Old Town, catching your attention from nearly every district.
East of the Limmat River, the city is built upon an ascending hill, so the Grossmünster Church, as well as the surrounding streets of Old Town are a bit higher than the rest of the city below. You’ll find unique viewpoints over the river, but taking photos of Grossmünster up close will be difficult, as the main square doesn’t allow much space to back up and put the whole church into frame, even with the widest lens.
You can enter the church for free, although the outside is more breathtaking than the interior.
Cross the Limmat River
Two rivers run through the city, but the Limmat is the largest, snaking right through the hub of Zurich.
Walking along the Limmat River, you experience the best perspective of Zurich life. To the east, the buildings of Old Town cascade uphill, while to the west, the city is abundant with modern buildings, but still full of character.
You can hop in the river to take a swim or discover nooks to sit close by the water and take a walk break.
Walk Up to Lindenhof for the Best Views
Lindenhof is one of my favorite spots in Zurich. This park is elevated on a hill along the Limmat river. It’s a short, steep climb to the top, but well worth the energy expenditure.
The views here are incredible but the liveliness of the locals was my favorite part. You can come here to picnic with a grocery-bought lunch or simply take a break from walking while still being able to soak up the city.
Indulge in Decadent Swiss Chocolate
Can you travel to Switzerland without entering a chocolate shop? The answer is no! Zurich has a plethora of fancy and luxurious chocolatier studios nestled in its winding streets.
These chocolate shops are like the Gucci of chocolate shops – the shiny, handmade chocolate pieces glisten beneath the window case almost too perfect-looking to be devoured.
Some of the classic shops are Laderach, Vollenweider, and Lindt. But Zurich has an eclectic side too – like Confiserie Teuscher.
Best of al – Zurich hosts the Lindt Chocolate MUSEUM! If there was ever a unique thing to do while traveling, it’s entering a museum of chocolate with a huge chocolate waterfall to welcome you.
Do Some Luxury Shopping on Bahnhofstrasse
There’s the Gucci of chocolate, and then there’s Gucci – plus hundreds of other designer stores so luxurious you’ve never even heard of them. At least, that was my experience.
It wasn’t in my budget to actually shop the stores on the Bahnhofstrasse but it was certainly a unique experience walking the famous promenade and gawking at the most luxurious sports cars I’ve ever seen.
Where to Stay Overnight
If you’re planning to stay overnight after one day in Zurich and before heading off to your next destination, here are few options at each price range perfect for a one night stay:
Best Tours in Zurich
With only one day in Zurich, you may want to see as much as possible and there’s no better way than with a good guided tour.
It takes the stress out of navigating the city yourself. Zurich is walkable, but large, so especially in the summer on hot days, you may not be able to accomplish seeing as much as you thought you could.
I love getting lost in new places and discovering a city on my own, but when I don’t have a lot of time and do have the money to spend, a good walking tour allows me to see lots that I could have missed out on.
Here are some walking tour suggestions:
- Zurich Old Town Walking Tour (Perfect for Budget Travelers)
- Zurich Ferry, Cable Car, and Coach 4-Hour Tour (Perfect for Travelers Wanting to See It All)
- Tuk-Tuk City Tour (Perfect for Couples)
- Zurich in a Nutshell: Guided Sightseeing Walk (Perfect for Larger Groups)
If you want to dive deeper into a more specific, cultural tour, check out these unique experiences! The chocolate one is calling my name…
Extra Tips for a Perfect Day in Zurich
- Don’t waste money buying water bottles. Take along your own compact, reusable bottle perfect for travel and fill it up at one of the 1,200 fountains around Zurich! These fountains have clean, cold drinking water, perfect for cooling off on hot summer days.
- Zurich has its own City Guide App you can download on your phone that connects the Zurich Card for ease of use and readily available information about your discounts included with the purchase. It also has an index of restaurants & museums to check out.
- The Zurich Tourism website has tons of specific articles related to cool things to do around Zurich like going out to rooftop bars, finding the best viewpoints, and visiting Uetliberg mountain, so I suggest browsing their site while planning your trip.
What’s on the top of your Zurich bucket list?
I hope you now know everything you need to prepare for your whirlwind one day in Zurich!