Zurich, Switzerland, may well be one of the world’s greatest walking cities. It has a flat central district with broad strolling lanes, and pedestrian-only bridges over the Limmat River make for a perfect opportunity to do a self-guided Zurich walking tour. And because the city is so accessible to the airport, visitors can see a lot of the city on even a modest Zurich layover.
New York may lay claim to being the great melting pot of cultures, but Zurich, Switzerland puts that into practice. Around every corner, you hear the languages of the world spoken: Chinese , English, Hindi, Portuguese and lots of German (of course). This is a result of all international companies (banking and pharmaceutical) that have operations here. Zurich just feels so worldly.
For reasons I can’t explain, Zurich may well be one of my favorite cities in Europe. Zurich just feels so right to me. It’s a blend of cosmopolitan and international with a small city and provincial life. It’s a city filled with constant festivals and street markets. And it’s just beautiful. I’ve been to Zurich seven or eight times and love it more each time. However, with the exception of my very first trip, it has poured rain each and every time I’ve visited. If you’re in Zurich with good weather, congratulations! If not, get yourself an umbrella and get out there anyway. Despite the weather, it is still a great city!
You’ve Got Baggage
What do you do with your luggage on a Zurich layover? If you’re on a codeshare or connecting flight, your checked luggage will go straight through. If you aren’t on a codeshare flight, you may need to pick up your luggage. If you want to dump off bags (either checked or carryon), proceed to the Luggage Service Center located within the Car Park 2 (it’s on Level 1). They have lockers as well as attendants. It’s open from 6:00am-10:30pm, which will be fine if you’re doing this a layover. You should expect to pay 6 CHF for hand luggage and carryons and 9 CHF for large suitcases to the attendant. Prices for the lockers are slightly higher.
How to Get Into Zurich from the Airport
You have three options to get into town on your Zurich layover: taxi, train and tram. The taxi will set you back about CHF 60-70 (or, about $60) one way. The train and tram are about equally priced. The train is one of those efficient double-decker commuter trains. It gets the job done but goes through a number of tunnels. Tram #10 follows streets and puts you at eye-level with the city. You’ll go through the modern business district, past the zoo, through the universities and end up right at the main train station. We’ve done both the train and the tram. Despite taking a little longer, the tram lets you experience more of the city. A 24-hour ticket for the tram costs CHF 13.20.
Your Self-Guided Zurich Walking Tour
The city center is very compact and most of the places to see in Zurich are right in the center along both sides of the Limmat River. Nearly every guidebook will contain some manner of a Zurich walking tour similar to the one below (including the free Zurich Guide obtained at the tourist information kiosk). We’ve made a number of adaptations and specific turn-by-turn directions in this self-guided walking tour. Depending on how fast you walk, how many cafes you stop at and how much money you want to spend shopping in the luxury stores, this walking tour should take you about three hours.
Start your Zurich walking tour at the Hauptbahnhof – the main train station. Most city walking tours start outside the station, but actually neglect the station itself. The main train station, Zurich Hauptbahnhof, is actually one of the busiest train stations in the world. Over 2,000 trains connect through the station daily. On the main level, there’s a farmers market, which has food stalls where you can fill up for a good, cheap meal. I availed myself of the stall selling Tibetan food (I love the momo dumpinglings!).
Leaving the Zurich Hauptbahnhof station, follow the signs for Bahnhofstrasse. This pedestrian and tram-only street is Zurich’s main boulevard. Built in 1864, the 1.4km (less than a mile) street is also one of the most exclusive shopping districts in the world. The stores get nicer the closer you get to the lake. If you’re looking for designer fashions in Switzerland, this is your spot!
Walk about 3 blocks down Bahnhofstrasse and make a left on Rennweg Street. This is the iconic photo of Zurich you see in all the guide books. A holdover from the Middle Ages, this is what Zurich once looked like before modernization took hold. These days, the street is lined with craft shops, souvenir stores and cafes. Consider stopping at one of the cafes for your morning coffee.
Before reaching the end of Rennweg Street, make a left on Fortuna-Gasse. A few steps up on the right, you might consider stopping into the Spielzeugmuseum toy museum, one of the few museums right in the heart of the city. However, your objective is at the top of the hill. When you reach the top, make a right and climb the stairs into the Lindenhof Park. On the left side of the park, you’ll have beautiful views of the city from the scenic overlook. Beyond the views, this little plot of land is actually historic. Here, the Zurich canton swore allegiance to the Swiss Federation in 1798 and beneath the ground are the ruins of both Celtic and Roman settlements dating back to over 1500 BC.
After enjoying the views resume your walking tour by exiting out of Lidenhof Park the opposite way you came in (on your left). This will drop you out onto Strehl-Gasse. You’ll follow Strehlgasse down the hill until you reach the church.
The St. Peter Kirche (or St. Peter’s Church) is a working church for the local parishioners. While tourists flock to other churches in Zurich, St. Peter’s still keeps the feel of a local church. What St. Peter’s has is the largest church clock in Europe. You’ll be able to tell the time all over Zurich because of the clock on the steeple.
Leaving the church square, take a left onto Weggen-Gasse, which will drop you out onto Strehl-Gasse, where you will make a right. This will turn into Storchengasse and you’ll pass by a number of luxury shops. If you’re inclined to drop big money, you might consider spending some time in the Valentino store. At the end of the street, you’ll find a large square, Munsterhof.
The large church in front of you is the Fraumunster. The church was founded as a Benedictine Abbey in 853. The church is best known for its glass windows by Marc Chagall. You’ll get a better view of the church later on this walking tour.
Continue your Zurich walking tour by making a right on Post-Strasse, which is immediately opposite the entrance to the church. At the end of the street is Paradeplatz. Before the completion of the train station, this unremarkable square was Zurich’s transit hub, and the largest stagecoach hub in Europe. The horses are long gone and these days, locals congregate here waiting to catch trams out to other parts of the city. However, visitors should not miss the Confiserie Sprungli chocolate shop on the corner. Swiss chocolate seems like a cliché, but the café at Sprungli makes a great rest spot.
Make a left and continue walking down Bahnhofstrasse to the lake. The lake is Zurich’s heart and soul. The cool breezes of the lake moderate the temperatures in the city. If the weather is good, you should definitely consider a boat trip. Boat trips on Lake Zurich last between 90 minutes and two hours, and are available several times a day. The weather hasn’t cooperated for me, so I’ve never had the chance to do the boat trip.
Turn to your left, cross over the Quaibrucke bridge to the other side. As you walk across the bridge, stay on the lake side, enjoying the mountain views. Once across the bridge, cross the street and double back onto the bridge to enjoy views of the city and the marina.
At the first street, Utoquai, make a left and follow the street north as it turns into Limmatquai, the main street on this side of the river. At the first bridge, Munsterbrucke, walk out onto the bridge and you can take pictures of the Fraumunster church and the heart of Zurich. This site of the Fraumunster church is more photogenic than the side by the square.
Continue across the bridge (so you’re back on the original side where you started) to Wuhre, the small pedestrian lane running right up the river. Walk up the river and you’ll have a beautiful view of the Grossmunster church with its twin neo-Gothic tours. The church itself dates from the 1220 and was built in the Romanesque style.
At the far end of the Wuhre pedestrian lane, make a right and cross the Rathaus Bridge. On the right, jutting out into the river is the Rathaus, or old city hall. Built in 1698 in the Renaissance/Baroque style, this city hall bears witness to the city’s influence over the years.
If you want to visit inside the Grossmunster church, make a right and head up the steps. If you are skipping the inside of the church, continue straight up the narrow lane called Marktgasse.
The complexion of Zurich changes once you get one block away from the river. This narrow pedestrian-only street is filled with stores and restaurants. Make a right walking a block or two soaking up the ambiance before doubling back and walking in the other direction.
As you walk along the street, its name will change several times: Marktgasse, then Stussihofstatt, before ultimately becoming Niederdorf-strasse. This is where Zurich comes to eat, hit the bars or meet up with friends. If you’re doing this walking tour on a Zurich layover, consider eating here before heading back to the airport.
Working your way up Niederdorfstrasse, you’ll cross a main street called Muhlegasse. The rest of Niederdorf gets a little cheesy. There are a couple made-for-tourist fondue places, a Chinese restaurant and even a strip club.
At the far end of Niederdorfstrasse, make a left, cross the street and you’ll be on the Bahnhof-Brucke. You’ve just made a complete loop on your Zurich walking tour.
If you’re doing this walking tour on a Zurich layover, you can cross the bridge and go back to the train station. Or, if you took Tram 10 from the airport, you can pick it up on this side of the river too (at the Central tram stop immediately in front of the Starbucks).
Long Zurich Layovers
If you have long overnight layover, we suggest staying at one of the many Zurich airport hotels (check current prices here), but spending as much of your day in the city as possible. Start with this Zurich walking tour and then find a museum to visit or take a cruise on the lake.