Zürich city guide

‘Allegra!’ – welcome to Zürich, Switzerland’s cosmopolitan heart and culture-rich second city.

Wrapped in a horizon of snowy peaks, the city lies on Zürichsee, a vast lake whose waters feed the Rhine River.

Being within 15miles of the German border, Zürich has a strong Germanic influence, something made evident in its culture, architecture, nightlife and language.

Zürich is a global city of immense wealth and influence, with a number of financial institutions and multi-corporates making up its financial district. This fortune, alongside 2,000 years of history and rich, multicultural traditions, contribute to Zürich regularly been named among the top 10 most liveble cities in the world – and one that’s always a joy to visit.

Elegant, clean and brimming with history; Zürich showcases Switzerland’s decadent past as well as its vibrant and diverse modern culture. Trace the medieval history of the city at the beautiful Fraumünster church, discover a fine collection of Old Masters at the famous Kunsthaus, drink in the atmosphere at the vibrant Frau Gerolds Garten, or stretch your legs at the nearby peak of Uetliberg. Every day brings new discoveries in this iconic Swiss city.

If you’re travelling to Zürich as part of an upcoming Rhine river cruise, be sure to read our guide to the city’s unmissable sights, hidden gems and best foodie highlights before your visit.

Must see sights

Grossmünster

Great Munster Church

Instantly recognisable on the Zürich cityscape, Grossmünster is a 12th-century cathedral whose iconic Romanesque spires dominate the skyline. One of the four major churches in the city, the history of Grossmünster dates back to the 12th century, though it’s better known for its connection to renowned Reformist preachers Huldrych Zwingli and Heinrich Bullinger, who preached from the church in the early 1600s. The church is a triumph of Romanesque architecture inside and out, and those feeling active can ascend one of its twin spires, for spectacular views across the city and the mountains beyond.

Kunsthaus

Kunsthaus

Regarded as one of the most important galleries in Europe, Zürich’s Kunsthaus is a celebrated art museum which houses a wonderful collection of Old Masters from across the continent. Established as early as the 1700s, this historic gallery showcases art from the Middle Ages to the present day, including works by Alberto Giacometti, Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh, and several sculptures by French artist, Auguste Rodin. As well as these Old Masters, the Kunsthaus does a terrific job of shining a light on emerging artists, with an emphasis on the Swiss art scene.

Zürich Opera House

Zurich Opera House

Like so many cities in Europe, one of Zürich’s architectural icons is its Opera House, a 19th-century neo-baroque masterstroke which hosts regular performances from the Zürich Opera and Zürich Ballet schools. Located on elegant Sechseläutenplatz, this spectacular opera house opened its doors in 1891, and is today regarded as one of the world’s finest concert venues. As well as the Zürich Opera and Ballet, the house is also home to the Bernhard-Theater, a modern drama space at the cutting edge of contemporary theatre in Europe.

Uetliberg

Uetliberg

Active travellers can transition quickly from urban to outdoors in Zürich, with the famous Uetliberg peak on the city’s doorstep. This 3,000ft-high mountain has become the go-to alpine playground for Zürich’s outdoorsy types, offering a series of hiking trails that criss-cross up and away from the city. With fresh air and fantastic views guaranteed, this is the perfect place to drink in Switzerland’s momentous alpine beauty. At the top, there’s a small café and observation tower, giving you the opportunity to relax and take it all in before your descent.

Bahnhofstrasse

Bahnhofstrasse

If shopping’s on your agenda during a stint in Zürich, make straight for the elegant boulevard of Bahnhofstrasse. Housing some of Switzerland’s grandest designer flagships, this is the place to indulge in and enjoy Zürich’s revered wealth and prosperity, with stores including Burberry, Prada, Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel and Cartier. Bahnhofstrasse cuts a north-to-south swathe through the centre of town, following the natural curve of the River Limmat away from Zürichsee to Bahnhofplatz, and is also home to some of the city’s finest restaurants. Think the Champs-Élysées or London’s Oxford Street, without the traffic.

Frau Gerolds Garten

Frau Gerald

Zürich’s financial prestige may set it at odds from more youthful destinations like Berlin, Amsterdam and Prague, but don’t be fooled: the city boasts some of the best nightlife in Europe, and nowhere is this more evident than Frau Gerolds Garten. A former industrial space in the shadow of Zürich’s skyscraper-strewn financial district, this culture park has been transformed into a hip urban space complete with restaurants, bars and endless biergartens. If you’re looking to experience the alternative, counter-cultural side of Zürich, this is the place.

Hidden Gems of Zürich

Rote Fabrik

Rote Fabrik

Wherever you go in Zürich, the city’s former industrial landscape is being transformed into hives of creativity. One such destination is Rote Fabrik, an old factory that’s become one of Zürich’s most up-and-coming music and culture venues. Whether you want to catch some live music, unearth the local art scene or enjoy some authentic street eats, this is a welcoming spot where you can experience another side to the city.

Zürich West

If you can tear yourself away from Zürich’s heritage-rich old town, it’s well worth straying off the tourist trail to visit the west side of the city. This underrated enclave has a much more ‘local’ feel, with bars, restaurants, cafés and independent galleries giving you boundless opportunities to immerse in a real slice of Zürich life.

Seebad Enge

In the summer months, Zürich’s waterways attract bathers keen to make the most of the warm sun and clean, alpine waters. The city is home to several open-air baths, including Frauenbadi and Schanzengraben, but our favourite is Seebad Enge, which offers incredible views over the Alps. Located just outside the city, this lakeside swim spot is popular with locals, and has a wonderful waterfront bar and restaurant where you can enjoy a choice of refreshments after your dip.

Pavilion Le Corbusier

Fans of architecture mustn’t miss out on the opportunity to visit Pavilion Le Corbusier, a contemporary museum renowned as the final project of famed architect, Le Corbusier. The building carries all of Le Corbusier’s trademark design cues; think glass, steel, colour and swathes of natural light. The museum itself offers fascinating insight into the life and inspiration behind one of Switzerland’s most prolific architects, so if you’re at all interested in architecture, add it to your must-see list.

Lake Zürich

Zurich Lake
Though Zürich is built on the edge of one of Switzerland’s largest lakes, Zürichsee, it’s easy to miss out on experiencing the beauty of the lake first-hand – with the distractions of the city often meaning the lake gets overlooked. However, if you have some spare time in your day, head to the Zürichsee ferry port and take an afternoon trip across the water. Promising alpine vistas punctuated by Zürich’s beautiful skyline, this is the perfect way to while away a sunny afternoon.

Fast Facts

Get to know the essentials of Switzerland’s second city before your visit with our collection of need-to-know fast facts.

  • The population of Zürich is 402,762 (2017 UN data)
  • Zürich is the biggest city in Switzerland, and both its airport and railway station are the busiest in the country.
  • The official language of Zürich is German, which derives from the traditional Alemannic Swiss German dialect.
  • Zürich is the wealthiest city in Europe in terms of GDP per capita.
  • The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Ranking places Zürich among the top 10 most liveble cities in the world.
  • The name Zürich is believed to derive from the Roman ‘Turicum’, with the ‘z’ coming in much later when the city fell under Germanic rule.
  • Zürich’s St Peter’s Church boasts the largest tower clock face in Europe, with a span of 8.64 metres.
  • Thanks to an abundance of clean alpine water, it’s safe to drink out of all of Zürich’s 1,000+ water fountains.
  • Zürich is home to 12 distinguished museums, including the world-famous Kunsthaus and the Swiss National Museum.
  • Zürich provides jobs for 10% of Switzerland’s total population

Zurich City Stays 

At Emerald Waterways, we’re always thinking of new ways to help you discover more during your river cruise through Europe. That’s why we introduced a collection of extend your stay itineraries, which give you the option to enjoy a wonderful city stay before or after your cruise.

One of the destinations featured in our extend your stay itineraries is Zurich, which you can visit before or after a Rhine river cruise, depending on your preference. Perfect for those who like to explore independently, you’ll be given a whole day free to take in the highlights of the city, before enjoying a luxury hotel stay right in the heart of the action.

With a full day to spend how you wish in Zurich, the hardest part is knowing where to start. Begin by tracking down a traditional bakery to get your day off to an authentic Swiss start with some zopf bread. Then, make for the Kunsthaus, and spend an hour or two marvelling at the museum’s collection of Old Masters. From here, lunch beckons, so find a cosy eatery beside the lake and enjoy a classic cheese fondue.

In the afternoon, take a walk down the impressive Bahnhofstrasse and indulge in a little retail therapy in any number of designer flagships. Then, head west across the river to take in Zurich’s local neighbourhoods, where you’ll find plenty of welcoming cafés for well-earned coffee and cake.

Our extend your stay itineraries in Zurich include a luxury hotel stay (bed and breakfast) and onward transfers to the airport or your Emerald Star-Ship – so you can enjoy the highlights of this wonderful city in total comfort and peace of mind.