What to see and do when in Zürich
Grab your passport and let’s go!
The well preserved Old Town can look back on a history spanning 2,000 years. Stroll through narrow and winding Old Town alleys, over cobblestone streets and by medieval residential towers, past houses surrounded by legends, picturesque bay windows, ruins of Roman baths and much more.
The most distinctive landmarks on Zürich’s skyline are the Grossmünster and Fraumünster churches, standing tall on each side of the Limmat River. They are without doubt the city’s main points of attraction for anyone who is interested in history and art. Two highlights, in particular, should not be missed: the Christmas stained-glass window by Augusto Giacometti in the choir of the Grossmünster, and the early Romanesque crypt and five stained-glass windows by Chagall in the choir of the Fraumünster. Both churches the Grossmünster as the nucleus of what is now the University of Zürich, and the Fraumünster as the most important educational center for female members of the aristocracy until 1524 played a key role in the Reformation after 1519. The oldest parish church in the city is St. Peter’s Church, which dates back to the 9th century. In particular its clock face attracts a great deal of attention as, with a diameter of 8.7 meters / 28.5 feet, it is the largest in Europe.
The Kunsthaus Zürich (Museum of Fine Arts) houses one of the most important collections of modern art in Zürich and is renowned for both its permanent art collection and its temporary exhibitions. Besides important exhibits of Swiss and international art, the Kunsthaus accommodates an extensive collection of works by Alberto and Diego Giacometti, as well as an exclusive documented collection relating to the Dada movement. In addition to paintings, the permanent art collection includes sculptures dating from the Middle Ages thorough to the present day.
The city alone is home to over 50 museums, some 14 of which are devoted to art. In addition to the Kunsthaus, another highlight is the Rietberg Museum, one of the leading centers of non-European art in the world. Just a stone’s throw from Zürich’s main station, the Swiss National Museum housed in a 100-year-old building reminiscent of a fairytale castle contains the country’s most comprehensive collection of exhibits relating to Swiss cultural history. A typical feature of Zürich is its high concentration of art galleries; along the Rämistrasse ‘art mile’, the galleries are just a few minutes walk apart, while at the site of the former Löwenbräu brewery they even stand side by side. In addition to renowned art galleries, the world-famous auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s have branches in Zürich.
Zürich offers a rich variety of cultural venues and events. The Opera House, one of the leading such establishments in Europe, enjoys international acclaim for both its opera and ballet productions. The Tonhalle concert hall boasts some of the best acoustics in the world. The Schauspielhaus, Switzerland’s largest theater, stages performances of a world-class caliber. In a sophisticated blend of old and new, the historic shipbuilding halls in the trendy Zürich-West district have given way to a cultural center complete with Schauspielhaus theater auditoriums, a restaurant, the Turm Bar and a jazz club. Numerous smaller theaters also enchant the public.
On Zürich’s dining scene, creative ideas are implemented swiftly and effectively. The entire world of cuisine is at home here. Every quarter has its own culinary highlights, be it the wine selection at the Altstadtkeller, the traditional veal specialty, ‘Zürcher Geschnetzeltes’, in one of the city’s time-honoured guild houses, trendy cuisine tucked away within former factory walls, experiential dining high above the rooftops of Zürich, or gourmet menus surrounded by greenery. In the legendary Kronenhalle, a popular haunt among Hollywood stars, guests can even dine below a genuine Picasso or Miró. At the other end of the scale, the best bratwurst in town is to be had at the sausage stand at the Vorderer Sternen. A place in the gastronomic annals has been accorded among others to Hiltl, the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Europe, and to the Blinde Kuh, the first restaurant in the world to be run by blind people in complete darkness.
Zürich boasts the highest density of clubs in Switzerland; here, you can never turn up too late. From a house music party in the legendary Kaufleuten, to Greatest Hits from the Eighties at the oldest club in the city, the Mascotte, to a gay event at the Labor Bar parties don’t really get going until after 11pm and continue into the wee hours of the morning. Here, there are no official closing times. In summer, nightlife can be found not only in the clubs, but also outside in the open air; the venues where visitors bathe and relax during the day are ideal places to flirt and dance at night.
The clubs in the trendy district of Zürich-West have turned Zürich into the European party metropolis. Moreover, at the gateway to Zürich, the Grand Casino Baden tempts with the highest jackpots in Europe.
Horsemen clad in period costumes, a traditional parade and hopes for a fine summer characterise what is probably Zürich’s most traditional festival: Sechseläuten, the spring festival of the guilds that is held every April. Here, the ‘Böögg’ snowman, an effigy stuffed with fireworks, is perched on top of a huge bonfire, and the quicker its head explodes, the longer and hotter the summer will be ? or so tradition has it.
A quite different kind of festival is the Street Parade, one of the largest house and techno parties in the world, where hundreds of thousands of colourful, energetic and tireless ravers dance to the beat of the music, generally in temperatures normally more associated with Mediterranean climates. If you leaf further through the festival calendar, you are guaranteed to find something to suit each and every taste. One of the absolute highlights is the Zürich Festival in June and July, a unique combination of opera performances, concerts, plays, dance and fringe theater. Moreover, the Theater Spektakel, one of the most important European festivals for contemporary performing arts, offers a high-caliber event in September to round off the open air season.
In Zürich, you can get to the countryside within just 10 minutes from any point in the city. Lake Zürich, which extends right into the city itself, is a popular place for boat trips. On Zürich’s local mountain Uetliberg, visitors can look forward to a hiker’s paradise and a panoramic view over the city, Lake Zürich and the snow-covered Alps on the horizon. Indigenous animal species such as deer, squirrels, hares, foxes, woodpeckers and owls can be seen in the Sihlwald forest. A quite different world of flora and fauna is to be found in the indoor Masoala Rainforest at Zürich Zoo; here, even in the depths of winter, visitors can observe exotic species of animals and plants that thrive in a tropical climate.
For centuries, Zürich has served as the departure point, home base and stopping-off place for avant-garde writers and artists. The Dada art movement was founded in 1916 in the Cabaret Voltaire, on Spiegelgasse, as a ‘protest against the madness of the times’. Nowadays, the Dadahaus, with its exhibitions, events and bar, as well as its small specialized lending library, is open to the public; in this vibrant cultural center, bridges are built between Dada and modern social and cultural trends.