Zurich City Guide

Zurich

Picturesque Zurich is framed by the Swiss Alps and sits majestically alongside the clear glacial waters of Lake Zürich. The city remains an important global center for banking and finance, it also retains an atmosphere of old world charm and tradition, that beckons discovery.

Medieval Zurich was built around the the river Limmat, a crystal-clear river formed as an outfall from Lake Zurich. The Limmat flows directly through the historic and picturesque Altstadt (central old town), dividing the city's rich culture and ancient history.

Walking through the city you'll discover a skyline dominated by colorful clock towers and tall church steeples, while the bustling cobbled streets promote the city's elegant shops, romantic squares, cozy bars, traditional Swiss restaurants and a modern vibrant nightlife.

Zurich City Breaks: The city of Zurich makes a perfect short break adventure, it's also a great stop off point for exclusive shopping before heading to the Swiss Alps. Zurich provides great access to some of Europe's most celebrated and scenic ski resorts, such as Wengen, Grindelwald, Arosa and Flims. But ultimately it's the relaxing charm of the immaculate Old Town that makes a city break to Zurich so appealing.

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Swiss International Air Lines AG, quick facts: Commonly referred to as Swiss or Swiss Air. The name SWISS stands for high quality and a friendly Swiss customer service. The airline is a Star Alliance member and flag carrier of Switzerland. Zurich Airport serves as Swiss Air's primary hub with Geneva Airport a secondary focus, the airline's fleet consists of mainly Airbus equipment with the addition of 12 Boeing 777-300ER aircraft.

Swiss Travel Zurich

Introduction to Zurich Switzerland:
Zurich is a bit like a swiss army knife, as it caters for a variety of tastes and needs. Due to its central location Zurich is known as the gateway to the Alps, it's also the largest and one of the most exciting cities in Switzerland.

Zurich is a great city to visit all year round, it's abuzz with activity both day and night, blending a unique mix of well-preserved old town with a modern fast-paced city life. Read on for some exciting tips on places we think you should visit.

Zurich's main attractions:

(1). Zurich Old Town (Altstadt): Zurich is steeped in history, the old town's Niederdorf district (known locally as "Dörfli") contains most of the city's main historical sights, plus high-end shopping and entertainment, including bars, pubs and numerous classy and traditional dining options.

The old town (Altstadt in German) is where you'll find an interesting array of antique shops, luxury fashion stores, traditional Swiss restaurants, plus superb wine and pastry outlets, it's also renowned for its buzzing nightlife scene and has a wide selection of bars, restaurants and clubs. Altstadt is where you'll find iconic churches such as Fraumünster and Grossmünster cathedral, it's also home to The Bahnhofstrasse, Zurich's prime shopping street and home to Europe's top labels and shopping brands.

The old town area is packed with beautiful rows of towering 16th & 17th-century buildings with multi-coloured facades, small plazas and winding cobbled streets that encourage leisurely exploration.

Top Tip: If it's warm outside slip into Café Henrici in Niederdorf for a glass of Nitro Coldbrew, a freshly tapped cold brew coffee. Barrel Cold Brew is made from the Ethiopian coffee bean, a sweet and slightly fruity coffee that's carefully filtered, poured into a barrel then nitrogen (nitro) is added, giving the cold brew its sweet taste and creamy texture - without any milk or sugar.

A great way to explore the old town is to meander along the narrow cobbled lanes, past Medieval houses, Renaissance buildings and pretty plazas, then take a break at one of Zurich's many traditional cafes, like Teecafe Schwarzenbach on Muenstergasse where you can enjoy a delicious pastry and a refreshing glass of Fendant.

Top Tip: Ever wondered why you seldom find Swiss wine outside of Switzerland, have a glass of Fendant Chasselas from the Valais region (a canton in southern Switzerland) and you'll discover why. The Swiss are serious about their superior wine, they prefer to enjoy drinking it rather than exporting it.

(2). The twin-towered Grossmünster: The Grossmünster church was built in the Romanesque style around the 12th century and is one of Zurich's most important landmarks. The building was originally a former monastery and was supposedly built on the graves of the city’s patron saints, Felix and Regula. Grossmünster was also the centre of Switzerland’s Protestant Reformation that took place during the first half of the 16th century, the history of the Reformation can be found on site in the church cloister.

The most prominent features include the distinctive twin-towers, topped by identical neo-Gothic style cylinder tops that loom over the many restaurants, bars, and shops below. Other interesting features include the Romanesque crypt, the stained glass windows by Sigmar Polke and bronze doors by Otto Münch (1935 and 1950), also the stained glass windows by Swiss artist Augusto Giacometti (1932), and the Reformation museum in the cloister.

Top Tip: For a small fee you can climb the 187 steps to the viewing platform at the top of the 50 meter high Karlsturm tower, here you have superb panoramic views over the old town, lake Zurich and on a clear day the Alps in the distance.

(3). Kunsthause Art Museum: The Kunsthaus Art Gallery is the largest and one of the most impressive museums in Switzerland. The Kunsthaus is known for its impressionist and modern art collection, it contains over 4,000 pieces of work with around 1,000 works on permanent display, it includes sculptures, paintings and sketches by world-famous artists dating from the 15th century to the present day.

The Kunsthaus is one of the best sites in Europe for viewing and discovering Swiss artists, and includes works by the Swiss surrealist painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti and his brother, Bruno Giacometti. The gallery's collection includes works such as Monet's impressionist landscapes to Edvard Munch's expressionist paintings, and includes the largest collection of Munch paintings outside Norway. The gallery also features key works from late-20th and 21st centuries, including works by Warhol and Jackson Pollock.

The Kunsthaus exhibits the following prominent artists, Claude Monet (including the unique Water Lily paintings), van Gogh (including Thatched Roofs by Auvers), Pablo Picasso (including Grand Nu from 1964) and Matisse, to name but a few.

The Kunsthause consists of two buildings, the original was built in 1910 and the impressive modern extension designed by David Chipperfield opened in 2021, with a core focus of exhibiting art from the 1960's onwards. Both buildings are connected via a 70 meter-long underground passage.


Zurich Opera House

(4). Zurich Opera House: The stunning Zurich Opera House was built to a neoclassical and rococo style and is one of the Zurich's most important cultural centres and a fine example of the city's heritage. The original theatre (Actien-Theater or Shares Theatre) opened in 1834, unfortunately it burnt down in 1890 and was replaced in 1891 by a stunning new building designed by Fellner and Helmer under the name 'Stadttheater' (town theatre). The Zurich Opera House is now one of the busiest classical music venues in Europe.

The Opera House has a seating capacity of approximately 1150 and is the perfect place to spend a cultural evening. Regular performances by prestigious companies perform some of the world's greatest ballets, operas and theatre, you'll find lots to keep your cultural interests satisfied. A calendar of events can be found on the Opera House website.

Top Tips:
(1) Take a 'Behind the Scenes' guided tour of the Opera House. Various tours available and they all offer a fascinating glimpse of how the building works including discovering backstage props, lighting, make-up and tailoring, you also get access to the costume and furniture store and backdrop storage areas. The tour provides a good insight into how each department works together to provide a successful production.

(2) The regal styling of the Zurich Opera House helps make the building an architectural gem, both inside and out. It's worth visiting the building just to admire its architectural qualities.

Zurich Bahnhofstrasse

(5). Bahnhofstrasse: The Bahnhofstrasse is known as one of the most expensive and exclusive shopping streets in Europe, a place to admire and buy world-class art and top fashion brands. The street is largely pedestrianised and stretches 1.4 kilometers (a comfortable 25 min walk) between the Old Town from Hauptbahnhof (Zurich's main rail station) and Lake Zurich.

The area comprises mostly of bold mid-to-late 19th-century style buildings and architecture, making Bahnhofstrasse a pleasing place to explore whilst admiring the sleek and immaculately presented shop fronts of Cartier, Rolex, Gucci, Prada and Chanel.

The southern end of Bahnhofstrasse is where you'll find Paradeplatz, a busy town square and important tram junction close to Lake Zurich and one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in Switzerland. The square is known for Confiserie Sprüngli, a luxury chocolatier dating back to 1836 and the pioneers of Swiss chocolate producers. Paradeplatz is also the location of the headquarters of both UBS and Credit Suisse Banks. Top Tip: Visit Sprüngli and try a Luxemburgerli (an airy mini-macaroon filled with a fresh light cream, exclusive to Confiserie Sprüngli).

Top Tips: (1) Take the time to rest-up at on of many cosy cafes along the strip, it's a perfect excuse to people watch. (2) Visit the Cafe Gourmet part of the Hotel Schweizerhof, located directly opposite Zurich's Main Station on Bahnhofstrasse. Cafe Gourmet is known for its great tasting coffee and croissants, plus if you're shopping late on a Thursday, check out the Schweizerhof Bar for their entertaining Gin & Jazz evenings.

(6). The UBS Polybahn: The adorable vintage UBS Polybahn is an unmanned funicular cable railway system, connecting the old town with the beautiful viewing terraces high above the city. The two minute nostalgic ride was saved from closure at the last minute by a Swiss bank in 1976, hence the name UBS Polybahn.

The Polybahn dates back to the late 19th century and transports around two million people every year on its 176 metre (23% gradient journey from Central to the Polyterrasse (panorama viewing terrace), where you have spectacular views over the old town and the city.

As well as serving the viewing terresase the Polybahn also serves the learning centres of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and Zurich University. Little has changed to the Polybahn since it first came into service in 1889, except for a complete overhaul in 1996 when it was equipped with up-to-date operating systems.

The two-car funicular can transport up to 50 passengers per car, with each car retaining their splendid late Victorian design and character, including exposed engineering metal works, light fittings and wooden seating. Ticket prices start at CHF 1.20 with tickets available at the ticket machine in front of the Polybahn (Central and ETH Polyterrasse).

(7). Zurich West: Zurich West is the new industrial working-class-turned-hip district of Zurich. A former industrial area now converted into a cultural district, its once empty warehouses have been reclaimed and transformed into new-wave hubs for trendy shops, art galleries, underground theatres, rooftop bars, restaurants, luxury flats and an energetic music scene. The areas main attraction is the Viadukt, a stretch of shops, bars and restaurants built into old railway arches.

The old Löwenbräu brewery building has been transformed into a base for young artists and houses the Kunsthalle Zurich art gallery, located in the Löwenbräukunst complex, the gallery displays works of established and upcoming contemporary artists.

Top Tips: (1) Check out LaSalle restaurant and bar located in Kreis 5's old ship-yard, it offers French and Italian cuisine in an open setting with original features including expansive exposed brick work and oversized windows, or just enjoy a cocktail on the sunny terrace. (2) Alternatively try Rosso the best log fired pizzeria in town, set in an industrial setting its super hip with a great atmosphere, shared tables, cold beer and a long wait for a table if you don't book in advance.

Zurich Urania Observatory

(8). Urania Observatory: Pay a visit to the Urania Sternwarte, the city's giant telescope at the Urania Observatory. Built in 1907 the Urania Observatory is located in the Lindenhof district at the western end of the old town. The Observatory consists of a striking 50m high round tower, which houses a 12-tonne Zeiss refractor telescope that provides magnifications of up to 600 times.

Depending on visibility and the time of your visit it's possible to see far into space, and includes the potential viewing of the cloud-rings around Jupiter, detailed craters on the moon, star clusters, cosmic nebulae and distant galaxies, N.B. please visit the Urania-Sternwarte website or contact the Observatory direct for details on tour availability and for the potential Moon and planet visibilities available during the time of your intended visit.

Public guided tours are available and take place every Thursday/Friday/Sat evening, the tours include talks covering all sorts of astrological themes and access to the telescope.

Top Tip: A convenient nearby venue is the inviting Jules Verne Bar located close to the top of the Urania Sternwarte tower, the bar offers delicious cocktails and first-class wines and dinning facilities along with spectacular views over the city skyline and of Lake Zurich.

Introduction to Zurich's Public Transport:
Local transport in Zurich. Think Swiss, think efficiency - Zurich is noted for its safe, clean and highly effective public transportation system, with the Zurich Transport Network (ZVV) being responsible for the city's public transportation needs, including the control of ticketing, which allows for one ticket to be used on all forms of transportation on the city's networks.

The city is easy to navigate and explore, with trams, buses and boats running across the city daily from 5.30am to midnight. The easiest way to move around is to use a travel pass known as the Tageskarte (one day ticket) that allows travel on all buses and trams for 24 hours.

Alternatively you can buy a Zurich Card valid for 24 or 72 hours, the card allows unlimited travel for specified periods, plus extra discounts for sightseeing and other attractions. In the summer months bicycles can be hired free of charge from various rail stations. Taxi's are safe but expensive. The Zürich Region is served by efficient rapid transit trains (S-Bahn) called The Schweizerische Bundesbahnen (SBB) which covers regional and international train connections.

Zurich's Tram Network: The Zurich tram network is highly efficient and well-developed and consists of over 100 miles of track, 16 routes with approximately 320 trams in service. For several decades the tram network has been the pride and joy of Zurich’s inhabitants, with the tram network conveniently covering nearly every corner of the city.

Tram & Bus Fares and Ticketing:
The one ticket or pass covers all modes of ZVV public transport. Fares are calculated using a zone system, with single-ride tickets being valid for a fixed time period, usually upto 1 hour. The easiest and fastest way to buy single tickets is from ticket machines, or with the ZVV app or in the ZVV ticket shop . You can also buy a day pass valid for 24hrs, this ticket is beneficial if you plan on doing lots of sightseeing and you don't want the hassle of buying individual tickets.

If staying within central Zurich the one zone (Zone 110) covers the city centre, including Zürich Hauptbahnhof (the main train station) and the Altstadt (Old Town) areas. Top Tip: Download a zone map from the ZVV website to work out how many zones you will cross to travel to your chosen attractions.

A good alternative to the day pass is the Zürich Card, this gives you unlimited travel on trams, trains, buses, cable cars and boats within the city and surrounding areas. The card is currently priced at 27CHF for 24hrs and 53CHF for 72hrs. The Zurich Card has additional benefits such as free entry to various museums and price reductions at various tourist hot-spots including 50% discount on public city tours organized by Zürich Tourism and when visiting Uetliberg and Felsenegg. The Zurich card is available to buy online at zuerich.com and at VBZ Ticket offices and via the Tourist Information centre at main rail stations.

Top Tram & Bus Tips: Trams (street cars) are possibly the most convenient mode of transport (and there's lots of them hurtling through the city), however if you‘re unfamiliar with tram networks remember that trams always have the right of way (even at pedestrian crossings). Be vigilant, as quite often tram-line road makings aren't always highly visible also remember the distances between two sets of tracks can be deceptively narrow. Trams have limitations on stopping quickly and always be vigilant when crossing wide roads...if you hear a loud bell look-out!

Remember all Zürich Cards and day passes must be validated (stamped) in a ticket machine before boarding the tram or bus.

Check out the ZVV website for tram and bus route maps and for online route planners, the site is easy to use and makes planning a journey on the ZVV network less complicated, especially if you're new to the system. You can also buy digital tickets when planning your journey.

Remember to check out the Zurich Card (tourist card), it provides unlimited travel on all forms of public transportation in the city (fare zone 110) and surrounding region (Zones 111, 121, 140, 150, 154 and 155), plus discounts at many tourist attractions. The Zurich Card also includes transfer between Zurich Airport and Zurich city.

Zurich Airport (ZRH). The airport is located in the suburb of Kloten, eight miles (12km) north of Zurich.

Airport Transport and Shuttle Services:

Airport Train & Tram: The main direct transport links from Zurich airport to the city centre are by train, the airport train station is called (Bahnhof SBB Flughafen Zürich). Train services are provided by Swiss Rail (SBB) and Inter-Regional (IR) trains run by the Zurich Transport Network (ZVV). Tickets can be purchased at ticket machines located in the arrivals area, and at Zurich city centre rail station (Zürich Hauptbahnhof).

The train station at zurich airport is located below the arrivals terminal, train departures are frequent every 5-10 minutes during peak times with a direct journey time of between 10-15 minutes.

Rail services at Zurich Airport are extensive with many destinations in Switzerland being available direct from the airport (avoiding the need to change trains). A Shuttle bus is available to the city centre with a journey time of 30-40 minutes. Alternatively you can take the Glattalbahn Tram (Line 10) with a journey time of 40 minutes, it's less convenient compared to rail services , however the route is perhaps more scenic.

Airport Taxi: Taxis are available to hire from outside both arrival terminals. Taxis in Zurich are clean, reliable and safe, with a journey time from airport to downtown of around 20-25 minutes. Taxis are convenient and transport you directly to your hotel or city centre destination. Taxi services operate a metered system with prices / fares set by state authorities, additional charges are made for luggage, with surcharges for weekend and bank holiday travel.

Top Tip: As with any city taxi service make sure your using an official licensed taxi, look out for the taxi licence displayed in the window, along with a fare / price list and make sure the meter is working. Check with the driver before entering the taxi what the estimated fare will be, plus the accepted payment methods. The typical taxi fare from Zurich airport to downtown Zurich is around CHF 70.00.

Car Hire: All major car rental companies are represented at Zurich airport, including Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz and Sixt.

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