Zurich and the River Limmat
Zurich

How to spend 48 hours in Zurich

September 29, 2019
by

Thanks to its seamless transport connections to other Swiss destinations, Zurich is often overlooked as a city to spend a day or two. Hopefully you can allow at least one day in Zurich – or even two or three – in your Switzerland itinerary to enjoy the many attractions the city has to offer.

In this Zurich travel guide, you’ll read the top things to do in Zurich and how to spend two days in the city.

48 Hours in Zurich: What to do on Day 1

There are so many things to do in Zurich, Switzerland but it’s still a small enough city that you can easily fit the highlights into 48 hours. Start your first day by exploring the Zurich Old Town, the heart of the city, and by far the most picturesque. It spans both sides of the Limmat river, and the best way to appreciate the water views is to wander along the pedestrian-only Limmatquai

There are a number of bridges crossing the Limmat River.  When it’s time for you to cross over from one side to the other, make sure you take the Muhlesteg Footbridge, which is highly decorated with love locks. Add yours or simply admire the existing ones. 

There are four particularly noteworthy churches that are great places to visit in Zurich, perhaps the most popular being the Grossmunster (or Great Minster), whose salt-and-pepper shaker towers mark the Zurich skyline. 

As legend tells it, Charlemagne himself commissioned the church upon the graves of saints Felix and Regula. It would later become the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation in Switzerland. 

While it’s free to tour the church, a 187-stair ascent up one of the towers costs CHF 5 per adult, but is well worth it for the stunning views of the city. 

Another Old Town church, St. Peter, is the oldest parish church in Zurich and is a Zurich must-see. It’s best known for having the largest clock face in Europe – 8.7 metres in diameter – which you can easily admire from the street belo.

When the minute hand cracks, it jumps an entire half-metre. It’s great for a photo-op, although you can always go inside for free as well. 

For the shoppers in your party, Niederdorf is another pedestrian area in Old Town, and this one is lined with quaint shops where you’ll find everything from handcrafted goods to old books. While I recommend going in the morning, if you visit at night you’ll find nightclubs galore. 

One of the best things to do in Zurich is to get lost and wander down some of the quaint side streets to find a hidden coffee shop or artisan boutique. 

When your legs get tired of shopping, head up to the Lindenhof. Once the site of a Roman fort, and now a tranquil greenspace overlooking the Old Town, where you can enjoy a picnic. In the summer months you might find people playing giant chess or enjoying concert on the green. 

In the evening, wander over to the Lakeside Promenade to stroll along Lake Zurich. It’s a great place for kids (there are plenty of parks and room to ride bikes and scooters) or couples wanting a leisurely sunset stroll. 

While I recommend taking a Lake Zurich cruise as part of your Zurich sightseeing experience on your second day, this is a perfect introduction the Lake (note: Lake Zurich is called Zurichsee in German). There are plenty of restaurants in the area where you can grab dinner, too.

After all that walking, you deserve a little rest and relaxation, and what better way to treat yourself than in an ancient thermal bath

The rooftop bath at the former Hürlimann brewery give you gorgeous views of the city (while, of course, relaxing those sore muscles), or you can bathe in former brewery casks underground. They’re open until 1pm, so you’ll have plenty of time to float.  Click here to buy your tickets.


Zurich with Fraumunster.
The twin-towered Fraumunster (Lady’s Cathedral) is another of Zurich’s beautiful churches.

48 Hours in Zurich: Places to visit on Day 2 

On your second day in Zurich, head over to what used to be nothing more than a ditch around the city’s medieval walls, which is now one of the most expensive streets in the world (in terms of goods for sale!). 

Bahnhofstrasse is one of the famous Zurich attractions, and has a storefront for all the most famous high-end designers and brands such as Tiffany and Louis Vuitton. If you love luxury goods, bring your credit card! 

Otherwise enjoy a little window shopping and save your francs for chocolate. 

Step back in time at Cafe Schober, a gorgeous eatery on Napfgasse where you’ll find some of the best chocolate in Zurich and pastry delights of all kinds in a true baroque-style building with a lovely terrace. Order a coffee treat to go with your snack and sit awhile as there are more sweet treats to follow.

You’ll feel important just walking into Cafe Felix on Bellevueplatz, with its ornate displays of chocolates and towering treats, and red-carpeted grand staircase. While in Zurich, you might as well order just one more sweet. 

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But be sure to save some room! You simply can’t come to Switzerland and not taste some famous Sprungli Luxemburgerli – mini macaroons that come in a number of flavours, including a surprise ‘Creation of the Month’. Thankfully there’s a Sprungli store right on Bahnhofstrasse. 

Now that you’ve consumed more sugar than you ought to in a month, walk it off by shopping at Freitag for trendy satchels. These bags, made from recycled materials like truck tarpaulins, bicycle inner tubes and seat belts, were first invented in Zurich, making it a perfect souvenir of your visit to Zurich.

You visited the promenade last evening, but now hop on a lake cruise to get a full appreciation for Lake Zurich, and the city views from the water. 

While there are a number of cruises you can take, from just 50 minutes to all-day, I recommend taking one over to Rapperswil (about 2 hours) if you have the time. You can take a peek at the castle and get something to eat and then take the train back to Zurich in about 40 minutes. 

View of Swiss Alps from Uetliberg.
The views of Lake Zurich and the Alps from Uetliberg are breathtaking.

Finally, one of the best things to see in Zurich is the view from the top of Uetliberg. Although it takes about a half hour to get there via train, it’s worth it for the awe-inspiring views from the look-out point (which is, thankfully, just a brief 10-minute walk from where the train drops you off). 

If you have the time and energy, there are hiking trails for you to enjoy, including the ‘Planet Trail’ which is a scaled-down version of the distance between the planets in our solar system. 

While there is a restaurant and snack bar at the mountain, head back to Zurich proper for dinner.  My recommendation is Zeughauskeller at Bahnhofstrasse 28 which has been serving hearty, Swiss cuisine since 1926.  This is one of the best restaurants in Zurich to try schnitzel – the local specialty, Kalbgeschnetzeltes nach Zurcher Art, panfried veal schnitzel in a creamy mushroom and white wine sauce – is a must-try when in Zurich.

Like to try fondue?  If you are visiting the city from the beginning of November to the beginning of March, you can sample some of the best fondue in Zurich onboard the Fondue Tram. More info here >

Getting around Zurich 

Zurich travel is relatively simple: 

  • By foot: Zurich is not a large city, so with the exception of your train ride to Uetliberg, you could get around the rest of the attractions in Zurich on foot and enjoy everything you might miss bustling around on a tram. All the pedestrian-only areas are generally flat streets which make Zurich a very walking-friendly city. 
  • Trams/trains: That said, there are trams and trains to take you nearly anywhere in the city you want to go, and they’re well marked. Save yourself a lot of headache and get a Zurich Card, which will get you free public transport and discounts to museums and other attractions including the National Museum Zurich and FIFA Museum.  Click here for details.

Holders of a Swiss Travel Pass can travel for free on Zurich’s public transport network, including airport to city trains. 


Day trips from Zurich

If you have more than two days in Zurich, you could consider taking a day trip.  Popular excursions from Zurich include visits to Stein am Rhein, Rhine Falls and Schaffhausen; Jungfraujoch; Interlaken and Grindelwald; and Lucerne and Mt. Titlis

You can find more ideas for day tours from Zurich in this article.


Where is Zurich?

Zurich is in North-Central Switzerland and the official language spoken is German. It is 85 kilometres (52 miles) from Basel, 279 kilometres (173 miles) from Geneva and 317 kilometres (196 miles) from Munich.

Zurich tram
Trams are a great way to get around Zurich.

How to get to Zurich?

  • By air: Zurich is home to a large, international airport. Zurich airport is just about 12 kilometres (7 miles) from the city centre.  
  • By car: Zurich is easily accessible from any major Swiss city via highways, but make sure you have your vignette (road tax sticker) attached to the windscreen. That said, parking is more of a challenge since the rules are strict. If your accommodation doesn’t provide parking, the large park-houses are the best place to park your vehicle (there are 10 of them), but you can also park for a brief time in the white zones (marked for stays between 30 minutes and 4 hours). There is also blue zone parking, but it requires a special permit usually only obtained by Zurich residents. 
  • By train:  Zurich station is one of the busiest in Europe and has excellent connections to cities all over Europe. Depending on the train, it’ll take about 4.5 hours to get to Zurich from Paris, around 4 hours from Milan, 8.5 hours from Amsterdam and then from Munich, around 5 hours. 

How to get from Zurich airport to city centre

You can travel from the airport to Zurich by train, streetcar/tram (line 10), shuttle bus, or taxi. The train is the quickest way, taking about 15 minutes. 

Alternatively, you can pre-book a private transfer from Zurich airport to the city. Click here to check prices.


Best time to visit Zurich

It’ll be most comfortable weather-wise to visit Zurich in the summer months, from June to August, where you’ll enjoy (average) temperatures in the low 20s (Celcius). That said, most tourists will flock to Zurich in the summer, meaning everything costs more and is more crowded. 

Switzerland is beautiful in the winter months with truly brisk temperatures around 2 degrees Celcius, but while Zurich will be less busy, you’ll still pay a premium since it’s close to ski destinations. There are plenty of things to do in Zurich in winter, especially at Christmastime. 

If you are visiting Zurich in late November or December, a visit to a Christmas market should be on your itinerary. Click here for Zurich Christmas market dates.

The true ‘off-season’ in Zurich is the fall (autumn) and spring, when the snow is melting but it’s still cool. May and September are your best bets in terms of better prices, reasonable temperatures, and overall lack of other tourists. 


Where to stay in Zurich

As you’d expect in a large city, there is a great variety of accommodations in Zurich to choose from.  Whether you are looking for budget hotels in Zurich right up to 5* hotels, or prefer to stay in an apartment, there is something to suit everyone.


Airport hotels in Zurich

If you are arriving late at night (or leaving early in the morning), you might decide to stay at an airport hotel in Zurich.  There are numerous Zurich Airport hotels to choose from. Click here to browse and check prices.


5 star hotels in Zurich

When it comes to 5 star hotels, Zurich has them in abundance.  Top picks include:

Baur au Lac in the heart of Zurich Old Town – Click here to check current prices.

Storchen Zurich, a boutique hotel in Zurich Old Town – Click here to check current prices.

The Dolder Grand at Zurichberg – Click here to check current prices.

Atlantis by Giardino at the foot of Uetilberg – Click here to check current prices.


4 star hotels in Zurich

Popular choices for 4-star hotels in Zurich include:

Ambassador Hotel in Zurich, next to Lake Zurich – Click here to check current prices.

25Hours Hotel Zurich (Langstrasse) – Click here to check current prices.

Hotel Schweizerhof Zurich in the Old Town – Click here to check current prices.

Sorell Hotel Zurichberg – Click here to check current prices.


3 star hotels in Zurich

If your budget doesn’t stretch to 4- or 5-star hotels, there are plenty of 3-star hotels and apartments in Zurich to choose from.  Amongst the most highly-regarded are:

Hotel Adler in the Old Town – Click here to check current prices.

Boutique Hotel Ni-Mo, close to the lake promenade – Click here to check current prices.

Hotel Florhof in the Old Town – Click here to check current prices.

iQ130 Apartment Hotel Zurich, a 10-minute walk from the main station – Click here to check current prices.


Now you are armed with all the information to help plan your Zurich visit.  I hope this 48-hour Zurich itinerary has convinced you to spend time in the city. By following the tips above you no longer need to wonder what to do in Zurich in a day or two-day stay as this travel guide has you covered!


Zurich Travel Essentials

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