In the midst of this modern financial powerhouse of a city is a neighborhood filled with historic charm, its narrow streets rising steeply on the east side of the river. Heading up Münstergasse, you’ll come to the Napfgasse, with the Brunnenturm, which was headquarters of the Lombard money-changers in the 14th and 15th centuries. Haus zum Napt, at number 6, has a fine interior with rooms furnished in Renaissance style.
You can get an overview of the Old Town’s warren of charming streets, as well as an orientation of the layout of the city, on the two-hour Zurich Highlights Tour. After riding through the Old Town and hearing the historic commentary from your guide, you’ll board the Dolderbahn railway to climb into the hills of the Zurichberg district for views of the Old Town and lake.
For the best views of the city and the lake, follow locals to their favorite weekend aerie, the 871-meter Uetliberg. Southwest of Zürich, the Uetliberg is the most northerly summit in the Albis ridge, easy to reach by the Uetlibergbahn, a mountain railroad that runs year-round from Selnau station to the upper station. From here it is a 10-minute walk to the summit. The broad walkway is well lit at night and leads to the summit restaurant, a glass-enclosed space with beautiful views of the city lights below. Daytime views from the lookout tower stretch across the Valais, Bernese, and Glarus Alps, with the Black Forest to the north and the Säntis to the east. From here, an easy ridge walk to the Felsenegg takes a little more than an hour, where a cableway descends to Adliswil. You can return to Zurich by the Sihltalbahn. Riding to the Uetliberg at night for a dinner of fondue and views of the city with its lights reflected in the snow is one of the locals favorite things to do in Zürich in the winter.
Lake Zürich and Bürkliplatz
The focal point of Zürich, and a favorite playground for tourists and locals is the long Lake Zürich. The entire shore is lined with promenades and parks, where local residents catch the sun, jog, picnic, and swim in the lake. But the favorite way to enjoy the lake is on one of the many cruises from which you’ll see beautiful views to the Glarus Alps. Look for the steamer landing at Bürkliplatz, at the point where the Limmat flows from the lake. The Quaibrücke crosses the river to connect Bürkliplatz with Bellevueplatz. About 1.5 kilometers from Bellevueplatz is the beautiful Zürichhorn Park, built for the National Exhibition in 1939. Here, you’ll find a restaurant; a Chinese Garden; and a boat landing for the Limmatschiff, a boat that runs from the National Museum along the river to the lake, ending at Zürihorn.
The Sechseläuten (Spring Festival) takes place at Zurich’s most popular fairground directly adjacent to Lake Zurich every spring. Then the Böögg – an artificial snowman effigy, which is placed on a stake – is burned to say goodbye to winter and welcome the summer. The annual performances of the National Circus Knie and a Christmas market also takes place here.
The opera and the Bellevue, an important tram stop in Zurich, are also located here. This is one of the largest city squares in Switzerland – created with 16,000 m² of elegant quartzite. Trees, places to sit and water elements make it a very attractive and really cozy spot.
This art museum is the only art museum in Switzerland that focuses on non-European art, and has a substantial collection from Asia, America, Africa and Oceania. It’s also located in one of Zürich’s most beautiful parks.
Between the Bahnhofstrasse and the left bank of the Limmat, the western half of Zürich’s old town rises steeply to the quiet tree-shaded Lindenhof. This is where the Romans built their fortified settlement in the fourth century to defend against migrations from the North. Five centuries later, the grandson of Charlemagne built a palace here as a royal residence. Long after remains of these structures had all but disappeared, some incorporated into buildings around the park, the site was still used for important ceremonies; in 1798 the oath confirming the Helvetic Constitution was taken here. Today, it’s a tree-shaded park with benches, chess players, and tourists enjoying the sweeping views across the river and Old Town.
Limmatquai and the Rathaus (Town Hall)
Along the Limmatquai, a popular riverside shopping street, are a number of elegant old guild-houses with sumptuous interiors reflecting the wealth of the guilds which governed the town until 1789. Many of them now house restaurants, so you can get a look inside at the 1719 Haus zur Saffran (number 54); the 1660 Haus zur Rüden (42); and the two-storied Haus zur Zimmerleuten (40) from 1709, with a beautiful oriel window. Zürich’s Town Hall, the Rathaus, is easy to spot, as it overhangs the river and is supported on wide arches at the east end of the Rathausbrücke. Constructed between 1694 and 1698, the massive Late Renaissance building has rich sculptured decoration and a Baroque ceremonial hall that is well worth seeing.
This prominent 13th-century Gothic cathedral is perhaps best known for one of its more recent additions, stained-glass windows designed by Marc Chagall in the 1970s.
More than 360 different animal species live in the exotic world of the Zurich Zoo, one of the finest in Europe. Animals live as close to their own environments as possible: snow leopards amid the rocky Himalayan landscape, penguins swimming in chilly water, and you can spot flying foxes from a canopy walk amid 13,000 square meters of tropical rainforest. In the Kaeng Krachan Elephant Park, you can watch the Asian elephant family play with their baby and swim in their multi-environment outdoor complex, which was designed to resemble their natural Thai habitat. Trams and trains run to the zoo from the main train station and the Paradeplatz.
The Chinese Garden is located right by the lake at the Zürichhorn and was a gift from the city’s Chinese partner town of Kunming. At the center is a pond with a small island, pavilions and even a small palace on the banks. It is classed as a temple garden and is one of the highest-ranking gardens outside of China.
The garden was given in thanks for the technical and scientific support provided with expanding drinking water supplies and urban drainage in Kunming.