Heads up: some of the links on this site are affiliate links. If you click and make a booking or purchase, I’ll make a commission (at no extra cost to you). I partner with companies I personally use and the $$ goes towards creating more awesome, free travel content.
Oh Zurich. We met for only a day but I was instantly attracted to you. Like Oslo in Norway you’re expensive, but I loved your elegant watches, tailored clothes, private banks and beautiful men. I’d love to get to know you better, but alas I only had one day! I hope we meet again. ~ Pommie
After a 10-day rail trip exploring the Baden-Wurttemberg area of Germany, I decided to take a train across the border from Konstanz to Zurich and visit a whole new country- Switzerland.
I’m so glad I did because I found Zurich to be an incredibly scenic place with lots of fantastic places to eat for a foodie like myself.
With only one day in Zurich to explore, I arrived at 12pm and had just one afternoon to see as much of the city as possible. Thankfully it’s a very walkable city, which made it possible to cover a fair bit of ground.
If you only have 24 hours (or less) here’s how to spend one day in Zurich.
A quick intro to Zurich
- Currency – Swiss franc
- Language – Swiss German
- Airport – Zurich Airport ZRH
Zurich is Switzerland’s largest city and one of the world’s largest financial centers. It also happens to be a top hub for research; Google’s largest European office is located in downtown Zurich and Disney Research is also located here.
The city lies at the northernmost point of Lake Zurich and is divided into two parts by the Limmat River. The Old Town is very picturesque with some charming alleys, especially in the “Niederdorf” area, which is situated to the right bank of the river.
It’s not really necessary to take taxis or Ubers here since everything is walkable. On a stroll around the Old Town you’ll discover churches, museums, chocolate shops and terraces with views of the city.
Did you know:
- There are over 1,200 drinking fountains scattered around the city.
- Zurich is regularly listed on the Global Liveability Ranking as one of the world’s most liveable cities.
- Bircher Müesli originates from Zurich.
- St Peter’s Church in Zurich boasts the largest church clock in Europe.
Zurich 1 Day Itinerary
Go Window Shopping on Bahnhoffstrasse
Money, money, money, it’s a rich man’s world. Zurich’s expensive shopping street is lined with designer shops and private banks. If you stroll along the sidewalk in the afternoon you’ll see lots of tall, good looking Swiss bankers grabbing a bite to eat in their lunch hour. Gaze into the shop windows of Chanel, Cartier, Louis Vuitton and dream of what watch you would buy if you came into a small fortune.
Buy Some Chocolate at Sprungli
Sprungli has been around for over 170 years and is well-known for its excellent Swiss chocolate and confectionery. You’ll see several branches throughout the city, but you must visit the big store at 21 Bahnhofftrasse.
Grab a window seat in their first-floor café and enjoy a coffee along with something sweet. On your way out, pop in their ground-floor shop to buy some of their famous luxembergerli macaroons to take home as a present.
Visit the Beyer Watch Museum (Uhrenmuseum )
Switzerland is famed for its watches and timepieces, so make sure you pay a visit to the Watch Museum, which is located in the basement of the Beyer watch shop halfway along Bahnhofstrasse.
Inside you’ll find a collection of instruments used for measuring time from the Egyptians to the present day. There are lots of beautiful clocks and watches to see and the staff are very helpful if there’s anything you would like to know. Admission costs 8 Swiss francs.
Admire the view from Lindenhof
Next it’s time to walk up to Lindenhof, which is a pretty little square on a hill in the city centre. Sit on one of the benches and admire the gorgeous views over the Limmat River and the Old Town. It’s definitely a romantic, peaceful spot and the best place for taking photos of the city.
Have lunch at Juice Market
The guidebooks will tell you about all sorts of tourist restaurants and fondue places, but my personal favourite for lunch is a cute café just off Bahnhofstrsasse called Juice Market. If you’re into healthy food this place serves fresh juices, salads, jacket potatoes and coffee. Pull up a seat outside and watch people walk by!
St. Peter’s Church and Fraumunster
After you’ve lined your stomach, walk past the Church of St. Peter, which boasts the largest clock in Europe, with a dial that measures 8.7 meters in diameter. It’s the oldest church in Zurich (dating back to before the year 900) and from the Middle Ages till 1911 the church was used as a fire lookout point. Inside the tower there are five bells; the largest bell weighs 6,000kg without clappers! Step inside to marvel at the crystal chandeliers and the organ which has 53 stops.
From here you can stroll to Fraumunster Church, which is recognizable from its green steeple. The main attractions of the church are the stained glass windows by Marc Chagall and Augusto Giacometti, and the organ, which has 5793 pipes.
Visit the Grand Church (Grossmunster)
Once you’ve seen the Church of St. Peter and Fraumunster, walk across the bridge to see Grossmunster. With its unmistakable two towers, Grossmunster church is one of Zurich’s most famous landmarks. This Romanesque-style church is very old and was inaugurated around 1220.
According to legend, the church was built on the graves of the city’s patron saints, Regula and Felix. Highlights include stained glass windows by artist Sigmar Polke and bronze doors by Otto Münch. If you’re feeling energetic, climb up the 187 steps to the tower for sweeping views over the city.
Walk around Niederdorf
On the right hand side of the river you’ll also find Niederdorf, which is a pedestrian with quaint alleyways and plenty of shops and restaurants. It’s a great place to visit if you want to grab a bite to eat or buy gifts to take home. In August Niederdorf welcomes Dörfli-Fäscht – a street festival with live bands and food stalls.
Sip on a cup of a coffee at Café & Confiserie 1842
Situated just off Niederdorfstrasse, Café 1842 (formerly Café Schober) is one of Zurich’s oldest coffee houses – it’s over a century old! When the cafe fell under new management the name was changed to reflect the year when its protected building was founded.
Order their famous hot chocolate and choose one of the gorgeous sweet treats from the display cabinets.
Go To the Opera House
The Zurich Opera House is a grand building right next to Lake Zurich, which was built in 1891 by Austrian architects Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer. You can take photos from the outside or purchase tickets to the opera and watch a show. Tickets can be purchased online, over the phone or at the ticket booth.
Walk by the Lake
From the Opera House, take a relaxing stroll alongside picturesque Lake Zurich, where you’ll see swans floating gracefully on top of the water. The lake is bordered by the cantons of Zurich, St.Gallen and Schwyz and is shaped a bit like a banana.
Lake Zurich is a popular place for water sports and boat rides and there are a total of 17 boats operating on the water. The most popular boats with tourists are the two renovated paddle steamers “Stadt Zürich” and “Stadt Rapperswil”.
Enjoy a beer at Zeughauskeller
Zurich has several beer halls should you wish to try a Swiss pint. Zeughauskeller is a big beer hall in a medieval arsenal just off Bahnhofstrasse, serving hearty Swiss food and of course plenty of beer. Patrons share tables with other groups, so it’s fairly easy to make some new friends!
Finish the day with cheese fondue
OK if this is your first time in Switzerland you can’t leave Zurich without trying the Swiss speciality- cheese fondue, which basically involves dipping cubes of bread into a big pot of bubbling cheese.
I enjoyed an incredible fondue at Swiss Chuchi, which is in the heart of Niederdorf in the Old City. Order Adler’s special blend with a mix of four aged-cheeses and wash it down with a glass of their Pinot Noir. They also have meat fondue and an extensive dessert menu should you have room for more! It is extremely popular and there was a 20-minute wait when I got there at 7pm, but there is a little waiting room where you can enjoy a drink and some peanuts.
Where to stay in Zurich
I like to enjoy nice food and drink, but Zurich is an expensive city. So I saved on my accommodation by staying at City Backpacker Hostel (Hotel Biber) which is right in the heart of the Old Town. You can’t beat the location as it is in the heart of Niederdorf, although you do have to walk up several spiral staircases to get to it because there is no elevator! There are 6-person dorms, and some private rooms, along with a common area, communal showers, a shared kitchen and rooftop terrace.
If you’re looking for hotels, here are some suggestions…
Mid-range: Located in the upcoming area of Zurich West, the 25 Hours hotel is a trendy Design Hotel designed by award-winning interior designer Alfredo Häberli. Throughout the hotel you’ll find the designer’s favourite city hotspots scribbled down on various surfaces and objects.
Luxury: The Widder Hotel is a 5-star luxury hotel situated within 9 protected historic houses in the heart of the old town. Each of the rooms is unique and completely unique in atmosphere.
For more hotel ideas, see a full list of hotels on Booking.com.
Is one day in Zurich enough?
Zurich is small and walkable so you can easily explore most of Zurich in a day if you get up early. If you don’t want to rush around and you’d rather have a more leisurely experience, then 2 days would be a good amount of time in Zurich.
How to get around Zurich
Best way – by foot or bike
Zurich’s city center is best explored on foot, particularly the Old Town since it has narrow, cobblestone streets. You can also get around by bike since the City of Zurich offers free bike rentals. Bike rentals can be found outside the main train station, Hauptbahnhof and you’ll just need to show them your passport and provide a refundable deposit of 20 Swiss Francs.
If you’re venturing further, Zurich has an excellent public transportation system (VBZ) consisting of trams, trains, buses and boats to help people get around. Taxis and Uber are available but they’re expensive, so the tram is generally the best option. Before you board the tram you’ll need to purchase a single ticket or a day pass at one of the automated ticket machines or a ticket office. Fares operate on a zone system but generally you can expect a single ticket to cost around 2.70 Francs.
Should you get the Zurich card?
The Zürich Card is a pass available for 24 or 72 hours. During that time you can enjoy:
- Unlimited 2nd class travel by tram, bus, train, boat and cableway in the city of Zurich and surrounding region
- Short boat trips and Limmat river cruise
- Free or reduced admission to 43 museums
- 50% discount on the Zurich Old Town Walking Tour
The cost is 27 Swiss francs for 24 hours or 53 Swiss francs for 72 hours. If you’re visiting Zurich for one day then you could purchase the 24-hour pass but it really depends on whether you plan on visiting a few museums or doing a boat trip.
Zurich can easily be explored on foot so I honestly didn’t need to use any public transportation, aside from getting to and from the airport. With this one day itinerary you don’t really need the Zurich card.
However, if you plan on staying a few days then the Zurich card could be worth it.
If you have more time…
Decided to stay another day or two? Here are some more things you can do…
Take the S10 train outside of the city to Uetliberg- a mountain that towers 869 metres above sea level. From the station it’s a 10-minute walk to the peak where you’ll also find a lookout tower and a restaurant. The mountain offers beautiful views over the city, the lake and the Alps.
Take a cruise on the Lake:
If it’s nice weather, take a boat trip on the lake with Lake Zurich Navigation Company. The shortest lake cruise lasts 90 minutes and the longest lasts 4 hours.
Visit the FIFA Museum
If you’re into football (aka soccer) then you may want to include a visit to the FIFA Museum, which is located opposite the FIFA headquarters and Bahnhof Enge. The museum is spread over 3 floors and 3,000 square meters of exhibition space. The exhibits take you through the history of football and document the impact that football has had on society.
How to get to the FIFA Museum: You can reach the museum via public transportation. If you travel by train you get a 20% discount on the price of your train ticket and a 10% discount on entry to the museum. Alternatively you can take the tram or the S-Bahn and get off at Bahnhof Enge. A ticket to the musem costs 24 Swiss francs for adults.
A final word…
If it’s your first time in Zurich I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. It’s a great introduction to Switzerland and there are plenty of great restaurants where you can try Swiss foods like fondue, raclette, rösti and Swiss chocolate. It’s definitely possible to see Zurich in a day since the city is so compact but once you arrive here you may wish you had an extra day!
Did you like this 1 day Zurich itinerary? Have any other recommendations? Leave a comment below!