This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
What can you say about Zürich that hasn’t been said already? Okay, let’s face it: The canons of travel literature are a little thin when it comes to Switzerland’s biggest city (banking and the Reformation may be cool, but they aren’t exactly page turners). Still, that doesn’t mean Zürich doesn’t have a lot going for it. There are great gourmet spots like Kronenhalle (best Zürcher Geschnetzeltes, or sliced veal in gravy, in town) and the world’s first vegetarian restaurant, Hiltl (opened in 1898). It’s also famously LGBT-friendly. The city lays on the Swiss charm with gentle urban river views, iconic churches and historic neighborhoods that you needn’t be a hedge fund manager to enjoy.
1. Fraumünster Church
The slender steeple of this historic Zürich church makes it among the city’s most iconic. It traces its roots to 853 and King Louis the German, and gained cachet in medieval times for its abbey which was the abode of many prominent female aristocrats of the time. A landmark of Altstadt, or Old Town, it’s perhaps most famous today for its contemporary stained glass windows: in the northern transept there’s a tall window designed by Giacometti in 1940, while the southern transept contains five windows by Marc Chagall, installed in 1970.
2. Münsterhof Square
Located in the Lindenhof district of Altstadt, Münsterhof is the largest town square in the medieval core of Zürich, close to the Münsterbrücke bridge that crosses the Limmat river. It’s the site of a former pig market and is best known for its collection of medieval guild houses, including the Zunfthaus zur Meisen, home of the Swiss National Museum’s fine porcelains, and Zunft zum Kämbel (the old wine merchants’ guild). Design-wise, about the only modern thing you’ll find here is the fountain in the middle.
Zürich is not a city closely associated with urban charm, but wander around the historic core for a while and you may change your mind. Winding Augustinergasse, which takes its name from a former abbey, is probably the most Instagram-ready lane in the central pedestrian-only zone. The buildings you see are most remarkable for their painted wooden façades, dating mainly from the 16th century when workshop owners tried to outdo each other for the most impressive building decorations.
4. St. Peter’s Church (St. Peterskirche)
In case you forgot, the Swiss are big on keeping time and St. Peter’s Church boasts the largest clock face in Europe. The diameter of each of the church’s four clocks measures 28.3ft — by contrast, the diameter of Big Ben’s is 23ft. There was an earlier Romanesque church on the site around 1000 AD, but even beforehand this spot next to Lindenhof hill was sacred: an ancient Roman temple to Jupiter was here. As for the clocks, of course they’re a lot more recent, and yes you can set your watch by them.
5. National Museum Zürich (Schweizerisches Landesmuseum)
Situated next to the bustling Hauptbahnhof (Zürich’s central train station), the Swiss National Museum is also called the National Museum Zürich and is a sight to make time for — for aesthetic reasons both inside and out. The historicist style of the main museum compound is an 1898 design by Gustav Gull and includes a mix of turrets and towers that recall fairytale-friendly French chateaux. A visit to the exhibits will get you up to speed on the sweep of Swiss history from ancient times through today. The museum’s location by the riverside Park Platzspitz makes it a point of departure for the Zürichsee-Schifffahrtsgesellschaft ferry boats that ply Zürich’s River Limmat.
6. View from Grossmünster Church
Grossmünster may not be the most beautiful of Zürich’s churches — composer Richard Wagner said it looked liked two pepper shakers — but it’s an historical heavyweight: How many churches can claim to have been commissioned by Charlemagne? This Romanesque edifice was completed around 1220, but the towers came later and were subsequently given a Gothic makeover in the late 18th century. The thing to do here is climb the 187 steps of the south tower, or Karlsturm, for the Instagrammable views of the old town and Lake Zürich.
7. Freitag Tower
Shopping online can be convenient, but it’s nowhere near as Instagrammable as perusing the wares housed in the lower levels of an 85-foot-high tower made of 17 disused freight containers. Such is the composition of the inimitable Freitag Tower, at the Swiss brand’s flagship store which rises above the hipster zone of Zürich-West and stocks upwards of 1,600 variations (in styles and sizes) of the famous recycled “freewaybags.” They’re upcycled from the likes of bicycle inner tubes, truck tarpaulins, seatbelts and even airbags. Do your shopping on the first four stories, then catch the view of the former industrial zone from the roof.
8. Zürich Hauptbahnhof
Zürich is the largest railway hub in Switzerland, and it has a train station to fit the bill. And for a station that serves nearly 3,000 trains per day, the Zürich Hauptbahnhof (or Zürich HB) is remarkably clean. The fanciful 1871 entrance as seen from the Bahnhofstrasse, Zürich’s main shopping street, is quite a contrast to the thoroughly modernized interior and underground shopping mall. The station is situated at the northern end of Altstadt and — in case you’re considering a brief city tour during a layover — is only six miles and about a 15-minute ride from Zürich Airport by train.
9. Thermalbad & Spa Zürich
With so much emphasis on Swiss banking and chocolate, it’s easy to forget that Switzerland is home to a plethora of natural mineral springs and spas, where you can get a taste of the country’s spa heritage in the heart of Zürich. The mineral-rich thermal waters of Thermalbad & Spa Zürich bubble up from the city’s Aqui spring and you can luxuriate in them amidst the century-old stone vaults of what used to be a brewery. But perhaps the best part of this “bathing sanctuary” is the Instagram-ready rooftop, where you can hydrate and bliss out with the entire cityscape before you.
10. Zürich Airport Observation Decks
Compact, city center close, almost astonishingly clean and home to many great shops and restaurants, Zürich Airport is hard not to love. But for planespotters, it gets even better thanks to its duo of observation decks. At Deck B, for which there is a small admission charge, you can pinpoint not only planes from the observation walkway but pilots in the cockpit as well. For the best views of longer haul birds such as the A380, hop on the free shuttle bus (during summer only) from Deck B over to the outdoor passenger Deck E (pictured below).
Featured of River Limmat, Fraumuenster Church and St. Peter Church in Zurich by Westend61/Getty Images
Know before you go.
News and deals straight to your inbox every day.
NEW INCREASED OFFER: 60,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- No foreign transaction fees