Penned under our expert traveler series, this guest post is written by travel blogger and Swiss native, Anna Timbrook of Expert World Travel, who was born to travel the world having studied languages all her life. She now spends her time writing about her experiences in Switzerland. She will be your guide to showing you the best things to do in Zurich in 48 hours
When you imagine your dream holiday in Europe you are probably picturing that pointy tower in Paris. Or a plate of tapas after a bull fight. Lucky for us the Swiss have kept Zurich all to themselves, but now it’s your turn to see what they have been hiding in those secret bank accounts! From lake water you can drink and hot chocolate to die for, to history at your doorstep and alpine views while swimming, Zurich has it all. Your only choice is: how many days and what not to do while here…
Table of Contents: 48 Hour in Zurich | Zurich Travel Guide
Zurich Travel Guide: Best Things To Do In Zurich in 48 hours
Below that, is another juicy list of attractions and ideas for your second day too.
The Polybahn & Polyterrasse
The Polybahn is a small cog railway that leads up to one of Zurich’s best views, from the ETH Polyterrasse. The ETH is Zurich’s technical university, and also a place where Einstein famously taught. And because it is well-located, high above Zurich, their main terrace offers stunning views all the way down to Lake Zurich.
It’s a great spot to watch sunset and grab some iconic photos of Zurich, and there is a student bar below it where you can grab a quick (and cheap) drink too.
Conveniently close to the main station in Zurich, it’s easy to get to and a ride on the Polybahn up and down is included in any public transport ticket you may have.
The Old Town via Niederdorfstrasse
This is one of Zurich’s most famous streets and for good reason. It weaves it’s way through a large part of the historic “old town” and also has bucketloads of places to stop for food or drink. So, you can stop along the way for coffee, or a meal, depending on when you get here.
Don’t just stick to the actual Niederdorfstrasse though, dive into the little side streets on either side because there are lots of fun bars and shops along the way. This includes one of Zurich’s best hot chocolates at Cafe Schobers, great selections of international beers at the Andorra Bar, and a tasty cupcake shop too!
One end of the street is right by the Polybahn, so you could do them one after the other.
The Grossmunster Church
The famous Salt and Pepper (no, not the rappers) or Grossmunster church, as it is officially known, is one of the most iconic buildings in Switzerland. It’s definitely worth a visit not because of the stunning interior, but because of the views you get from one of the towers. The 5chf entrance is definitely worth the workout you are going to get. And so are the views from one end of Zurich, all the way to the alps at the end of the lake.
Bahnhofstrasse: The Shopping Street (Where You Won’t Actually Shop)
Another road in Zurich that is famous for different reasons is Bahnhofstrasse (The Shopping Street). This road runs straight from the center of the main station all the way to Lake Zurich. But that is not why you are going to fall in love with this street. Bahnhofstrasse is the ultimate in window shopping. The shops on the lake end of the street, furthest from the station, are some of the most expensive in the world. They contain jaw-dropping clothes, watches and jewelry. You will see brands here that most of us will never own, unless it’s a special occasion. Bulgari, Tiffany’s, Rolex, Dior, Louis Vitton etc. Window shop to your hearts content, and shed a tear for the celebrities that have shopped here before you.
Lake Zurich is right in the heart of the city and will end up on radar, even if you had not intended to go there. It’s right at the end of both Bahnhofstrasse and Niederdorfstrasse, so in many ways, you are destined to see it. Take a stroll on either side of the lake, soaking up the breath-taking views of the distant alps and surrounding forests that keep Zurich cool in the summer. The area around Bade Enge is a great place for a picnic. It has a lake area that is perfect for a dip during summer. It’s 8chf to get in, or you can combine a swim and a drink in the evening for 4chf. They also have stand up paddle boards, although at 35chf for an hour, you may just want to go swimming instead!
One of the best things about Switzerland is the proximity of the outdoors to the city. Zurich’s home mountain, the Uetliberg, is a great example of that. Right on the outskirts of town, only 10-15 by tram or train, it is very easy to get to and offers lots of options for those wanting some fresh air.
You can hike up from it’s base, starting near Triemli tram or train station. I only recommend this if you are quite fit, as it’s a steep climb and will definitely take you a couple of hours. For those wanting more of a relaxing walk, you can take the train almost to the top (Uetliberg station) and then do a short walk to the viewing platform. Here you can stop for lunch, a quick coffee or just soak up the views.
If you want to continue to enjoy the greenery that is literally enveloping you, there is a path that continues along the mountain with little elevation change. So, quite an easy walk. And you can combine it with a short gondola ride back down, if you make it all the way to Felsenegg. And the good news is, the public transport ticket for Zurich zones 150/155 includes the ride.
Must Try Foods In Zurich
To be honest, there are not as many mind-blowing foods in Switzerland as you would hope. However, they are the masters of both chocolate and cheese. Below are some of the very best Zurich has to offer:
Meat lovers will have a ball drinking in very traditional settings at the Zeughaus Keller. It’s a place myself and my friends always take visitors because it is just so…Swiss. They have a range of meaty and cheesy food. All very heavy, but worth it for one night in this very old-school Swiss setting.
On most Swiss menus is Zürcher Geschnetzeltes, a dish consisting of small pieces of meat (often veal) immersed in a sea of creamy brown sauce. One of the best, but not cheapest, places to sample this is at Kindli. It’s an upmarket restaurant in the heart of the old town, comfortably nestled in a very old building where time has stood still. The service here is some of the best I have had in Zurich. I once returned a prime steak and got a new one within minutes!
Kindli, Strehlgasse 28, 8001 Zürich,: Hours: 11:30 am – 2 pm / 6 pm – 10 pm (Map here)
Chocolate (and Sweets)
Zurich has two main chocolate shops lining Bahnhofstrasse. The first is Läderach (Bahnhofstrasse 106, Zurich – map here ), a newer kid on the block offering stunningly huge blocks of chocolate that you can take a piece of (or various). They also have other boxes of chocolates. You can’t go wrong either way.
Second is Confiserie Sprungli (located :Bahnhofstrasse 21 – Map here ), who also has both amazing chocolates and pastries, but they are more famous for their Luxemburgerli. These are macaroons of a sort and well worth getting a small hand-picked box to try. They have at least a dozen flavors and I am sure you will find one you secretly want to eat under the covers while no one is watching!
Zurich also has a mind-blowing hot chocolate at the Schoeber Cafe ( Napfgasse 4, 8001 Zürich – map here) just off Niederdorf, which I mentioned earlier. It is mind-blowingly expensive, but worth the damage to your wallet. Plan it into your walking tour, along with the chocolate shops on Bahnhofstrasse, or alternatively in the main station itself.
Cheese and Raclette For Dinner
If you are having dessert you definitely can’t mix chocolate and cheese, right? But you can have cheese for dinner, at least when you are in Switzerland
Two of Switzerland’s most famous cheese dishes are Cheese Fondue (melted cheese served in a communal pot) and Raclette (a Swiss dish of melted cheese, eaten with potatoes.) and you really should try at least one while in Switerland.
If you want a very Swiss experience you should try the Cheese Fondue at the Chäsalp (literally Cheese Alp, Tobelhofstrasse 236, 8044 Zürich) on the top of the Zuriberg above Zurich. It’s not the easiest place to get to, but it’s worth the trek for both the trip to the top of Zurich and the food.
While you are out in the old town, you could pop into the Swiss Chuchi (Swiss Kitchen, Rosengasse 10, 8001 Zürich) for a very traditional Swiss experience.
If you want a choice between real Swiss Raclette or Cheese Fondue head to the Walliser Keller (also near the Niederdorfstrasse) for some true southern Swiss mountain food. The guys down south are born mountain goats, so they certainly know about food!
Getting Around in Zurich
Getting Around Has Never Been Easier! As I mentioned at the very beginning, Zurich downtown is actually quite compact. Depending on where you are staying, you might not even need to take public transport. Yes, it’s that walkable! But that said:
ZVV is the name of the Zurich Publish Transport. The main zone is 110 and covers all downtown (and further – but not to airport). Having said that, if you prefer to be chauffeured by Zurich’s well-trained tram drivers, who love to ring their bells, then you will want to buy a day-pass for Zurich public transport each day. Read more here.
Buying such a ticket in a foreign country can always be confusing, so here is the lowdown. If you are in downtown Zurich and staying there:
– Head to any ticket machine (tram stop, train station, Polybahn etc)
– Set the machine to English down the bottom in the language choices (it will most likely be in German)
– Choose 1 Zone
– Make sure you have the options Day-Pass, 2nd Class, Adult, Full-price
The “downtown Zurich zone” typically covers from the main station (HB) to the lake, and even a few stops beyond, including Bahnhofstrasse, the Polybahn up to the ETH and the old town. You can jump on and off any tram. Just keep your ticket on you at all times. Once you buy it, there is no need to validate it like in some cities.
If heading further afield to the Airport or the Uetliberg, you can go to the ticket machine or go to a ticket office in the main station and ask there. Or, if you are brave, use the machines again. Simply choose your destination and you will automagically get the related zones and price. If you are coming back from the exact same place, buy a return. If not, buy it at the other end when you head back. One way tickets are usually good for 2 hours.
Once you leave Zurich, you are most likely going to use trains (unless you have a car or are on a tour). They all leave from the main station Zurich HB (Hauptbahnhof)) in the main hall. Just look for the big electronic boards in the main hall for information on which platform/time.
Taxi Or Uber
Not surprisingly Uber is a little cheaper than standard taxis (which are insanely expensive). So, if you find yourself in need of a lift, it’s definitely the best option. Just remember, public transport is the best option in 99% of cases, so if you want to really save money, use that instead.
Taxis are very safe and reliable but they can be costly. The Airport to downtown Zurick is around 60-70 francs or more, whereas the train in comparison is about 15 francs.
Where to Stay in Zurich
If you want a great location, with almost no traffic and a historic feel then the Zurich old town, especially around Niederdorf is a great place to stay. There are lots of Airbnb options here as well as a couple of hotels and hostels. Obviously, because of the location, it will usually be more expensive.
Some of the best places to stay though are just a few blocks outside the old town. One such place is Motel One which is located in a stunning building just a few blocks from all the action on Bahnhofstrasse. The interior is decorated with a combination of modern flair and old-fashioned pizzaz. And, they have a great outdoor
seating area you can spend hours relaxing in.
Lakeside (Seefeld and Around)
This is where the richer people of Zurich live. The houses and streets here are stunning. And the location is still very close to downtown, and the lake. It is also usually not super cheap, but it’s worth staying around here.
One great option in this area is the Seegarten Hotel. It’s one block back from the main road in an area full of stunning Zurich architecture. The rooms are quite small, but decked out with modern furniture and huge windows that give you lots of light. It’s only about 10 minutes into town from here by tram, so the location is perfect too.
Near The Main Station
Another great option is right by the main train station. Hard to believe, but Zurich’s main station has undergone huge redevelopment recently, and it’s a great place to hang out.
There are a couple of hotels hidden around the area, but the best and latest option from my point of view is the 25Hours Hotel on Langstrasse. It’s a super-modern hotel, that is part of the 25 Hours chain. It comes not only with brand new, modern rooms, but also has a gym, a great restaurant and a bar that locals come to in droves. So, if you want to eat while you are here, don’t forget to book. I can rarely get in!
Safety Tips For Solo Travelers
Switzerland is one of the safest countries in the world, but that does not mean you should not watch yourself. One thing I have noticed here is that people think it’s so safe they throw all their normal caution out the window. Don’t.
Having said that, violence and robbery are very very rare here. If you are going to find any issues it is normally either late on a Friday or Saturday night on the main drag of either Zurich West or Langstrasse. Personally, I have never seen any problems on either, but it does occasionally happen.
One area people normally avoid late at night is train stations, but my wife has often remarked that she feels safer in Zurich’s main stations than in any other station around the world. It is full of people, enjoying themselves, traveling and just getting on with things. So, you don’t have to fear public transport, even on a weekend night!
Read our Safety Tips for Solo Travelers
There is far more to see, do and experience in Zurich than most people give it credit for. From satisfying your inner-chocoholic to blowing your mind with awesome views, this is actually one of the most liveable cities in the world.
Now it’s your turn to experience why!
What would you recommend for the best things to do in Zurich in 48hours?