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BlogDestinationsThe Go Ahead Travel Guide to Zurich
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The Go Ahead Travel Guide to Zurich

Oct 22, 2020 by Cayleigh Heitsmith

This destination guide was created for you by our global team here at Go Ahead Tours! Whether we’re designing new trips or writing guides like this one, everything we do is handcrafted. Read on to get our staffers’ insider tips from their travels.

Some know the Swiss city of Zurich as home to some of the best chocolate in the world (and they’re not wrong!). But, there’s more to this city than sweets. Keep reading to discover more things our team of travel experts love about this charming destination—and don’t worry, we’ll also include some tips for finding regional treats while on tour in Zurich.

Currency: The Swiss Franc (although major stores and restaurants usually accept the Euro).

Languages: Swiss German, Swiss French, Swiss Italian, and Romansh are the four national languages of Switzerland. Zurich is home to the part of Switzerland where Swiss German is spoken, but if you can’t quite master the complex pronunciation, English will usually do.

Best way to get around: Don’t forget about Swiss efficiency! The best way to get around this city is by public transportation, which tends to always be on time. You can either rely on the tram, train (S-bahn), or local bus. Want to explore smaller neighborhoods? Our team also loves to see Zurich on foot, which allows you to see more of the city.

Phrases to know: “Grüezi” is the Swiss German word for “hello,” and you’ll hear it all over the city. “Merci vilmal” is a multi-lingual way of saying “thanks a lot.” And finally, if you want to wish someone a good meal, impress the locals by saying “En Guete!


swans swimming in the limmat river

WHEN TO TRAVEL TO ZURICH

While you can never go wrong with traveling in the off-season, one of the best times to visit Zurich on tour is in the summer. Temperatures hover around the low to mid 70s, which means taking a swim in beautiful Lake Zurich right outside the city is just the ticket! If you’d rather skip the dip and experience local culture at a festival, here are some can’t-miss events to seek out when you visit Zurich in the summer.

  • Züri Fascht. The “City Festival in Zurich” is known to millions and only happens once every three years on the first weekend of July. This sprawling festival takes over the city center during the day and night, and features games, music, dance performances, fireworks, and hundreds of food stalls. Go Ahead staffer Cayleigh recalls, “I was in Zurich last summer and just stumbled upon this amazing event. It was such a pleasant surprise! I watched an authentic Swiss dance show and then checked out food stalls from around the world.”
  • Zurich Pride Festival. This multi-day event has taken place in Zurich every June since 1994 and celebrates the beauty and diversity of the LGBTQ+ community. The festival’s home base is Sechselautenplatz, Zurich’s largest town square, and the main events include a parade around the city and concerts by national and international artists.
  • Caliente! is Europe’s largest Latin festival, and it takes place on one of Zurich’s main streets, Langstrasse. If you love Latin-American music, cuisine, culture, and traditions, this festival is the one for you.
  • Zuricher Theatre Spektakel. This performing arts festival takes place on the shores of Lake Zurich, where a park is transformed into more than ten stages, and around forty international theatre groups perform. Whether you come to enjoy the shows, go for a swim in the lake, or take a walk in the park, it’s a great summer attraction.
  • Zurcher Limmatschwimmen. If you don’t plan on jumping into Zurich’s Limmat River yourself, you can watch this relaxed race happen from the sidelines. Thousands of participants swim or float in the river during this yearly summer event. (But, we do suggest joining the festivities and jumping in—it’s a great way to take in views of the city and feel like a local!).


people at a gelato stand in zurich

WHAT TO PACK FOR A TRIP TO ZURICH

Zurich can get chilly even in the summer months, so any Zurich travel guide worth its salt will mention the proper clothing (and accessories!) to have on hand. Here’s what to pack for your tour of Zurich so you don’t have to worry about anything, but enjoying the city sights.

  • Layers in case it gets colder (or hotter) than you expected while traveling in Zurich. We recommend putting a light sweater and jacket into your backpack so you’re always prepared while out exploring.
  • Walking shoes. Zurich is a very walkable city, and our tours always have a portion that will be led on foot. You’ll want to make sure your walking shoes are well broken-in and very comfortable to last you all day.
  • An umbrella. Sometimes the weather in Zurich can be unpredictable, so always have a small umbrella on hand during your adventure.


flag waving off a boat on lake zurich

THINGS TO DO IN ZURICH

Even though Zurich is Switzerland’s largest city with countless things to see, it still has small-town charm—which means it’s fairly easy to discover all the city’s gems! Here are some of our team’s favorite sites to visit and things to do in Zurich.

  • Step inside Grossmünster. This church is one of Zurich’s most famous landmarks, with its two twin towers that characterize the skyline of the city. There’s also a legend associated with this church that says Charlemagne had it erected as a monastery on top of the graves of Zurich’s patron saints, Felix and Regula. If you have the energy, you can climb up the Karlsturm (one of the church’s two towers) for fantastic views.
  • Stroll through Niederdorf in the Old Town, called “Dörfli” by the locals. It’s a section entirely blocked off for pedestrians, so you can feel free to walk around and enjoy the shops without the distraction of cars. There’s even an event that takes place at the end of August called “Dörflifäscht” when Niederdorf transforms into a party zone with market booths, DJs, and other attractions.
  • Visit the Uetliberg mountain. It’s only a short train ride from the city center, and is the best place to take in views of the city, Lake Zurich, and the Alps. (And yes, it’s just as pretty as it sounds!)
  • See stained glass inside Fraumünster, the “Women’s Church.” It’s often recognized by its ornate stained glass windows that were crafted by artists Chagall and Giacometti.
  • Kick back at Lake Zurich. If you’re still wondering what to do in Zurich, this popular destination for swimming, boating, and relaxing is right at the base of the Limmat River. Make sure to seek out the most prominent sculpture in the area called Ganymed. This sculpture of a young boy and an eagle finds its roots in Greek mythology—but you’ll have to visit to find out the full story!
  • Art enthusiasts, stop by Kunsthaus Zurich, a fine arts museum that showcases a collection of Classical Modernism art. It boasts the largest collection of Munch paintings outside of Oslo, Norway, and the most prominent collection of Monet paintings outside of Paris.


bahnhofstrasse shopping street in zurich

HOW TO SPEND FREE TIME IN ZURICH

If you’re traveling on a budget and wondering what to do in Zurich, trust us: There are countless places that are completely free to visit, and are sure to leave you with lifetime memories. Here are some of the best places to visit in Zurich during free time on tour. Our tip? Have your camera ready.

  • Shop on Bahnhofstrasse in the central part of the city. This shopping street is a top Zurich attraction and has everything your heart could desire: luxurious clothing brands, chocolate shops, art stores, and restaurants. It’s one of the best places to visit in Zurich to get a good buy and soak in the local scene. This street connects Lake Zurich with the city’s main train station and is almost one mile long.
  • The historic Lindenhof park in the heart of the city, where the best thing is the view! The park overlooks the Old Town, Limmat River, and some of Zurich’s main landmarks, and is the place to go to escape the city streets and get some R&R. Once you see the beautiful scenery, you’ll know why visiting this park is one of the best things to do in Zurich.
  • The Old Town. Like most European cities, Zurich has a charming Old Town area that is preserved in its original style. Be sure to walk down Rennweg, which is home to the famous Widder Hotel, and has beautiful decorations for each season. Of all the places to visit in Zurich, the Old Town should be at the top of your list!
  • Sechseläutenplatz. This large city square gets its name from the Spring Festival that happens at a popular fairground next to Lake Zurich each spring. You can head here to see Zurich’s Opera House, relax in the many available chairs, and watch local life go by.


2 hands with forks dipping potatoes into fondue

WHAT (& WHERE) TO EAT IN ZURICH

One of the best things to do in Zurich? Eat! And you won’t spend much time wondering what to eat in Zurich—there are countless comfort foods to try on tour in Switzerland! Think: cheese, chocolate, potatoes, sausage, more chocolate… you get the idea. To make sure you get the most out of our Zurich travel guide, here are some of out team’s favorite Swiss dishes to try on tour in Zurich.

  • Fondue, the national dish. Just think of cheesy goodness bubbling in a small “caquelon” pot in front of you as you pierce a cube of bread to dip inside. The type of cheeses used in traditional Swiss fondue depends on the restaurant, but the top three are Gruyere, Emmentaler, and Sbrinz (often used in Swiss cuisine to replace Parmesan). Want to eat your fondue in the true “après-ski” style? One of the best places to visit in Zurich is Älplerstube, a fondue restaurant that gives you an ambiance of an Swiss alpine hut.
  • Raclette. While we’re on the subject of cheese, we want to mention another dish that is worthy of a high honor in Switzerland. Raclette, which is also popular in France, consists of melting a quarter wheel of raclette cheese over an open flame, scraping it off with a knife, and eating it with either bread or potatoes (and often charcuterie). What’s not to like?
  • Rösti, the Swiss version of potato pancakes. The potatoes are grated, formed into patties, and deep fried to golden perfection in either oil or butter. It’s a very simple, but delicious dish that sometimes includes bacon, onion, or cheese.
  • Geschnetzeltes, a filling dish that consists of the rösti potato pancake and pan-fried veal, topped with a delicious creamy sauce. If you’re looking for the best place to find a plate, look no further than Kronenhalle, which has become famous for its Geschnetzeltes and has become a Zurich top attraction.
  • Muesli, a breakfast dish known all over the world that originated in Zurich. This healthy dish that can be eaten as a snack or the first meal of the day consists of rolled oats that are soaked in water along with various fruits and nuts. If you need a break from heavier Swiss foods, muesli is a must-try on tour in Switzerland.
  • Swiss chocolate—need we say more? No Zurich travel guide is complete without a mention of the sweet stuff, and you can find some of the best chocolate no matter where you turn on tour in Zurich. One of our best tips for Zurich is to taste the chocolate whenever and wherever you can—and then just walk it off as you explore the city!


absinthe being poured over a sugar cube into a glass

WHAT TO DRINK IN ZURICH

If digging into this Zurich travel guide has made you thirsty, here’s a list of the most typical Swiss drinks that will be sure to get you feeling like a local! Enjoy these drinks during your meal, as an aperitif or digestif while on tour in Zurich.

  • Absinthe. This (very strong) alcoholic beverage is made from the leaves of Artemisia absinthium and has been around for centuries. It’s a strong spirit that’s typically infused with flavors like anise, fennel, and coriander, and is most often served with a dissolved sugar cube.
  • Chasselas, a white grape variety that’s very popular in Switzerland, as it is grown in the western Vaud region of the country. This wine is very light and easy to drink, perfect for sipping during dinner.
  • Kafi Luz, a coffee drink with a bit of a twist. The coffee is mixed with a pear and apple fruit brandy known as Träsch and is typically served in a tall glass.
  • Beer! Although Switzerland shares a border with Germany, one of the beer capitals of the world, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check out Zurich’s local beers when you have a chance. Feldschlösschen is the biggest brewery in Switzerland and a part of the Carlsberg empire, so we recommend trying their most popular lager, Feldschlösschen Original. It’s light and refreshing, the perfect accompaniment to a meal.
  • Zuger Kirsch is a very well-known cherry brandy from the Zug region in northern Switzerland. It’s typically enjoyed as a digestif, and is often used in popular Swiss desserts such as the Zug cherry cake and spiced cookies.


chocolates on display at a shop

SOUVENIRS TO BUY IN ZURICH

Our team wants you to always remember the great time you had on tour in Zurich alongside our travel experts—and fellow travelers-turned friends! So, we’re capping off our Zurich travel guide with a list of keepsakes to seek out on tour in Switzerland.

  • A cheese fondue set—you didn’t think we were going to stop talking about fondue, did you?! A fondue set is something you’ll be able to use in your own home while sharing a part of Switzerland with your friends and family. Zurich guide pro tip: Many shops in Zurich offer shipping if you can’t fit the fondue set in your luggage.
  • Swiss chocolate… a souvenir that you can eat! After you taste Swiss chocolate for the first time, you’ll definitely want to share it with the folks back home. So, one of our top tips for Zurich is to go to popular local chocolatiers like Merkur or Teuscher to buy your sweet treats.
  • Hand-painted cow bells, which are popular keepsakes to take home from Switzerland. Whether you want to display it in your home to remind you of your trip to Zurich or use it to cheer on your favorite sports team, this is a fun souvenir to have.
  • A Swiss army knife. Imagine getting to tell your friends that you bought your Swiss army knife in Switzerland! This classic tool is one of the top-selling items in the country, and for good reason. Just make sure to pack this away in your checked luggage rather than your carry-on!
Have you ever visited Zurich on tour? Or, have any tips for Zurich that you’d add to this Zurich guide? Share your favorite things to do in Zurich on our Facebook page!

Destination guides
About the author | Cayleigh Heitsmith
Cayleigh knew she was hooked on travel after studying abroad in France during college. She went on to graduate and move to southern France (and afterward, Berlin, Germany) for the following three years. When she’s not traveling or working as a Travel Support Specialist for Go Ahead, she enjoys road biking, discovering new restaurants and cuisines, and spending time with her family in Vermont.

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