The Top Things to Do and See in Zürich City Centre

Zurich | © Sergey Borisov / Alamy Stock Photo
Lena Blos

It’s easy to see why Zurich is considered one of the world’s most liveable cities. Switzerland’s wealthy capital is set around a lake and a river, with the elegant Old Town at its heart, and culture that ranges from traditional chocolate to striking modern art, including stained-glass windows by Marc Chagall.

1. Walk around the Old Town

Historical Landmark

pedestrian street view in zurich altstadt old town switzerland
© Jack Malipan Travel Photography / Alamy Stock Photo

Zürich’s Old Town – known as the Altstadt – encompasses what was the entire city before 1893. Cobbled and flagstone lanes lead you around landmarks such as the Grossmünster cathedral and Fraumünster church (see below), rows of towering 17th-century buildings with multi-coloured facades, and a stone bridge across the River Limmat. Join the Zurich Old Town Walking Tour to learn the origins of Switzerland’s biggest city and get the lowdown on famous Zurich citizens.

2. See the stained-glass windows of Fraumünster


Pioneering modernist artist Marc Chagall designed the Fraumünster church’s five stained-glass windows, during the 1960s. In true form, a different vibrant colour has been used on each long and slim pane of glass. The contemporary windows are all the more striking considering the church’s age – it was founded in 853 by King Louis the German, for his daughter Hildegard. Its Romanesque chancel and high vaulted transept contrast wonderfully with the modern art.

3. Take a tour of the Lindt & Sprüngli Chocolate Factory


Live out your Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fantasies at the Lindt chocolate factory, where tours take you through the manufacturing process and history of Swiss chocolate. In the Chocolate Production room, you’ll see how the world-famous chocolate bars and pralines go from cocoa bean to the product we know and love. For an extra fee, you can participate in a two-to-three-hour workshop and take your handmade treats home with you.

5. Walk around the Bürkliterrasse


Ganymede sculpture on the Burkliterrasse in Zurich, Switzerland
© Georg Berg / Alamy Stock Photo
This gathering spot by the lake is set up for relaxation, as you take in the view over Lake Zurich and across to the Alps. Attached to the exclusive shopping boulevard of Bahnhofstrasse, the terrace’s tree-shaded benches are a welcome spot to rest your legs after browsing designer fashion brands. The viewpoint also features one of the most famous statues in the city, Ganymede, depicting the Greek God Zeus as a young boy.

6. Visit the Grossmünster cathedral


According to legend, Zurich’s 13th-century landmark cathedral is built on the graves of the city’s patron saints, Felix and Regula. Further along in the Grossmünster’s history, it was the breeding ground of the Swiss-German Reformation movement in the first half of the 16th century – a tale that’s told in the Reformation Museum, located in the cloister. Stand-out features of the building include stained glass windows by Sigmar Polke and bronze doors by Otto Münch.

7. Hear classical music at Tonhalle

Concert Hall

This exquisite concert hall is one of the most prestigious in Europe, and is the home performance space of the Tonhalle-Orchester, Switzerland‘s oldest symphony orchestra (established 1868). Around 100 musicians from 20 countries play here, performing over 100 concerts per season. On the Tonhalle’s calendar there’s a show on almost every night, from classic Schubert to an evening of ‘literature and music’.

8. See the sights on a river cruise

Building, Museum

Board one of the tourist boats outside the National Museum to see Zurich’s Old Town from a new perspective, as you cruise past the Grossmünster and the Town Hall all the way down to Lake Zürich. Available between April and October, a round-trip takes about an hour. The boats have been fitted with glass roofs, so that you can enjoy a leisurely ride in any weather.

9. Look through a giant telescope at Urania Observatory


Check out the starry view from Zurich’s magnificent telescope, which has a magnification power of 600 – allowing you to see the details of the moon and bands surrounding Jupiter. It’s one of the highlights at Urania Observatory, which offers guided tours during the week, covering all sorts of astrological themes, from galaxies to interstellar clouds. Once you’re finished, take in another great view at the Jules Verne Bar, which has a 360-degree view over the city.

10. Visit the Swiss National Museum


The palace-like Swiss National Museum spawls along the river peninsular, behind the main train station. Built in 1898 in the style of French Renaissance chateaus, its fairytale appearance features turrets, towers and courtyears. Inside, exhibits delve into Swiss history from the Middle Ages to modern times, including displays on Gothic art, traditional furnishings, an Armoury Tower and a coin cabinet.

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