Have you already seen the top tourist spots in Zurich, or do you prefer to hang out with the locals when you visit a city? Either way, this guide will give you an exclusive glimpse into the city’s hidden gems.
If you want to explore beyond the standard tourist spots in Zurich, then this article is here to lead the way. Covered here is a selection of the more unusual things to do in Zurich.
From daytime attractions in Zurich to cool things to do in Zurich at night, visiting these hotspots means really getting under the skin of Switzerland’s biggest city.
Whether you want to know about cheap things to do in Zurich on a budget, would like to discover the most interesting places in Zurich, or are seeking things to do in Zurich in winter or summer, here are 13 of the best hidden gems in Zurich – as recommended by a local expert!
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13 Super Cool Things to Do in Zurich
You cannot visit Switzerland without heading up at least one mountain, and Uetliberg’s proximity to the city makes this easy when in Zurich.
At 870 metres (or 2,850 feet) above sea level, Uetliberg also offers panoramic views over the city, Lake Zurich and beyond to the Swiss Alps.
A train will transport you from Zurich’s main station to the summit, where you can find a hotel and a restaurant.
In winter, there’s even a cute little Christmas market, where you can sample Swiss specialities washed down with a glass of glühwein.
A second restaurant can also be reached via a 15-minute walk from the top station. The Felsenegg restaurant and viewpoint offer superb views over the surrounding area, which you can enjoy while samping a traditional fondue when you dine at the former.
Uetliberg is also popular with mountain bikers.
It takes around 20 minutes to reach the summit from the city centre. Taking this trip is among the best free activities in Zurich for holders of the Swiss Travel Pass as the train ride is fully covered by the pass.
There are 12 districts within Zurich in all, and District 5 is one of the most appealing of the dozen. It’s a hip neighbourhood with a dose of urban grit thrown in, and here you can find an exciting mix of attractions.
District 5 is party central when it comes to Zurich nightlife, with stylish bars and cool clubs. The area is also dotted with smart places to eat, one-off shops and boutique hotels.
There’s also a couple of parks, and even places where you can swim in the river in summer.
Below you will find a list of some of the most popular places for locals to visit in Zurich.
Freitag is a famous Swiss brand producing bags made from recycled truck tarpaulins. The Freitag Tower in Zurich’s District 5 is home to the brand’s headquarters, and was constructed using shipping containers.
Hardbrücke train station is close to the tower and store, making it easy to get to from anywhere in the city.
Even if you’re not especially interested in upcycled bags, it’s worth seeing the 26-metre tower comprising a stack of 19 rusting shipping containers. From the designated viewing area you can also enjoy great views over this desirable part of the city.
Freitag bags were first made in the city in 1993, and now the company’s range also includes other products such as purses, wallets and phone cases. Any one of these would make a unique souvenir of your Swiss trip!
The tower is a must do in Zurich for anyone that is interested in fashion or architecture or those who like to hunt out quirky places.
Frau Gerold’s Garten
Frau Gerold’s Garten is located next to Freitag Tower, so it’s easy to visit both while in the west of the city.
It’s an al fresco restaurant and bar with heated tents in winter, and can also be reached by taking the train to Hardbrücke station.
Frau Gerold’s is something of a garden oasis in the heart of this hip urban area.
As well as food and drinks, you can also buy local artworks here. Seasonal events and specialities are also a thing, with Gelateria Di Berna ice cream available in summer and a tiny Christmas market in winter.
It’s also worth looking out for special events taking place during your visit, such as fine dining meals prepared by top-level chefs.
Regardless of whether there are any special events on or not, this is a lovely place to relax and watch the world go by.
Urban Surf can also be found in Zurich’s District 5. It’s also near Hardbrücke station, Frau Gerold’s Garten and Freitag Tower.
This attraction centres on a wave pool, where would-be surfers can book a session to sample the sport. It’s certainly one of the more unexpected things to do in Zurich.
Sessions are offered at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels, and last for around half an hour. The artificial wave is pretty realistic, and boards are supplied by the venue.
If you don’t fancy taking to the water, you can still enjoy spending time at Urban Surf. There’s a chilled out bar area to unwind in, and this also serves food.
It’s a great spot for settling down to watch the surfers, or seeing the sunset over Prime Tower.
Also in District 5 is the Viaduct Arches. This is the place to go if you’re seeking something unique, either for yourself or to take home as a gift. As the name suggests, this shopping venue is housed in a former railway viaduct.
The shops at the Viaduct Arches specialise in selling vintage and secondhand clothing and accessories, as well as small designer items and locally made goods. This makes it the perfect place to shop for a one-off item to wear, or to grace your home, or to give as a present.
There is also a market hall at the Viaduct Arches. This deals in fresh local produce, and also offers takeaway style food sold from stalls.
As the market is open between 9am and 8pm daily except on Sundays, you could grab breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner here.
In fact if you visit during the evening, you’ll see the arches all lit up, which is an attractive sight. The arches are still in use, too, so expect to hear trains running overhead.
At 126 metres high, Prime Tower is the city’s tallest building and was completed in 2011. It’s a modern icon of the thriving Zurich-West district, and has 36 floors.
Though mainly aimed at business users, Prime Tower has a top-floor restaurant that’s aptly named Clouds. This is one of the city’s most popular brunch venues, and of course you get spectacular views thrown in with your meal.
Reservations aren’t generally required, so you can drop in on a whim when you’re looking for things to do in Zurich on Sunday. You do have more chance of getting a table when visiting on a weekday, though!
By night, dining at Clouds restaurant on the top floor of Prime Tower offers breathtaking views at sunset, and also of the illuminated city skyline.
You can also visit the bar at Clouds for a pre-dinner drink with those amazing views.
At any time of the day, look out for the views over Zurich’s main train station, which is Switzerland’s biggest and also one of the largest stations in Europe. You can not only see the train station itself from here, but also all the tracks.
The views from Prime Tower also stretch as far as Lake Zurich.
Entry to the Prime Tower is free as long as you buy at least one drink..
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The Polybahn – or UBS Polybahn as it’s also known – is a funicular railway operating in the heart of the city.
Due to Zurich’s position between the Uetliberg and the Züriberg, there are hills on both sides. The Polybahn is therefore used by students at the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich, to reach their respective academic institutions.
If you want to take a trip on this functional funicular railway, it’s best to avoid rush hour when the train is extremely busy. During the daytime, though, it’s much more peaceful.
Once you reach your destination, you can then drink in city panoramas from the elevated viewpoint.
The Waid Restaurant
The Waid is situated on a hill called Käferberg. You’ll need to take a one hour walk or catch a bus to get there.
If you do have the time and the inclination, the uphill hike allows you to see another side of Zurich en route, as you’ll pass through the quieter residential areas. Along the way you can enjoy sweeping views over the city.
Of course the view from The Waid restaurant and its viewpoint is extra special.
Food and drinks are rather expensive at The Waid, but it is worth it for this bucket list kind of experience. It’s also a peaceful spot, and therefore feels like an escape from the hustle and bustle of Switzerland’s largest city.
If you want to use public transport, bus number 11 will take you to Käferberg and The Waid.
Of all the things to see in Zurich, the Urania Sternwarte is the number one destination for any fan of astronomy. This can be found within District 1, at the centre of the city.
The round observatory tower is 50 metres high, and houses telescopes offering 600 times magnification. It’s a historic structure, dating from 1907, and was Zurich’s first concrete building.
The observatory has had protected monument status since 1989, and is one of the old town’s most iconic buildings. Urania Sternwarte’s telescope was fully renovated when the observatory celebrated its centenary.
You can take a guided tour of the observatory. While it’s a non-profit organisation, fees are payable for this. Tours are generally delivered in German, so you’ll need to request it if you want to take one in English instead.
Flea market at Burkliplatz
Other than the Viaduct Arches, another place to snap up unique finds is at the flea market at
Bürkliplatz. The market is known as a place to find rarities, and is thus popular with collectors.
The market is very popular with locals, and is held every Saturday at the beginning of Bahnhofstrasse at Bürkliplatz, right across the street from the lake pier.
It’s open between 7am and 5pm and keen collectors often arrive early to bag the best vintage and unusual pieces.
There is also a farmer’s market at Bürkliplatz during summer.
There are two places in central Zurich where you can take a cooling dip during a hot summer’s day. These are Flussbad Oberer Letten and Flussbad Unterer Letten.
The former is close to the main train station, while the latter is the city’s oldest bathing amenity by the river.
Letten is an area forming part of the River Limmat, which winds its way through the city. The two bathing spots (Flussbad translates as river bath) can be found on this section of the river.
Both bathing facilities are close to one another. Many people who come here allow the current to carry them downstream, before getting out, walking back and doing the same all over again.
Flussbad Oberer Letten has a 2 metre diving platform and a swimming channel that’s 400 metres long. There’s also a boule lawn and a couple of beach volleyball courts here.
You can also sunbathe on the sunny terrace, picking a book to read from the boxes provided. The Panama restaurant and bar is also nearby.
Flussbad Unterer Letten is best for families, as it has a kids’ paddling pool, a pool for non-swimmers and a 3-metre diving platform. There’s also a kiosk selling salads, antipasti, pasta and barbecued food.
During summer, movies are also shown here in the open air, and there’s also a programme of other cultural events.
Another way to enjoy superlative views over the city is to take a relaxing soak at the Hürlimannbad & Spa Zürich. It’s housed in a former brewery, and is fed by warm, thermal water.
There are various thermal baths and spa rituals available, including the very popular rooftop infinity pool. The cheaper ticket option gives access to the thermal baths, while the more pricey ticket adds in an Irish-Roman spa ritual. Both tickets include entry to the rooftop pool.
Whichever you choose, the bubbling thermal rooftop pool, city views and the setting of the old stone brewery vaults make this a very special experience.
Rather than ticking off the usual tourist sights, doing something different while visiting any destination is a great way to get a feel for how the locals live.
Zurich is no exception, and as you can see there are some wonderful ways to spend your time when visiting Switzerland’s largest city.
Zurich offers the opportunity to take a summer dip in the River Limmat or a soak at a rooftop thermal pool, or instead you could shop for unusual finds at the local markets.
In this Swiss city, you can also head up Uetliberg, Prime Tower or to a Käferberg restaurant, take a trip on the Polybahn or discover all that hip District 5 has to offer.
With plenty of unique things to do in Zurich, which will you be trying first?