Here’s your guide to Switzerland’s largest city, Zurich, which is filled with great places to eat, drink, stay, and play!
Zurich, the largest city in Switzerland with a population of around 400,000 people, is a cosmopolitan showplace for culture, art, food, and architecture. The natural beauty of this city is immediately apparent when walking near Lake Zurich or along the Limmat River. Swiss German is the official language here, but in almost every shop, restaurant, bar, and hotel, English is spoken. Join us as we explore one of our favorite places in the world and experience what makes Zurich one of the best destinations for travelers to Europe.
The Old Town
On a recent visit, I arrived by train from Paris and disembarked in the beautiful Zurich Hauptbahnhof. Right outside the train station is the pedestrian-friendly Old Town, my favorite area in Zurich, which spans both sides of the Limmat River. The original City Hall of Zurich, Rathaus, from the 1300s, was reconstructed in the 1700s, incorporating Baroque and Renaissance architecture. Before exploring the city, enjoy some people watching and a coffee, pastry, or cocktail at Café Rathaus.
I got lost for a few hours on the hilly, cobblestone streets, sprinkled with three- and four-story buildings and homes from the 1300s with colored facades and towers painted with flowers. There are over 600 stone water basins throughout the city and I cupped my hands and splashed water to refresh my face at one of them. There were numerous small boutiques with artisanal merchandise, and I did some shopping, picking up some great local crafts. H. Schwarzenbach is a delightful gourmet shop, deli, and coffee bean purveyor, featuring a giant selection of dried jalapeno peppers, candied fruit, candies, jams and jellies, chocolates, and honey. Fortified with my unique provisions, I set out to explore the lake, which is within easy walking distance to the Old Town.
Measuring a vast 34 square miles, Lake Zurich is sparkling clean, enough so that residents drink the water and eat fish from the lake. In the summertime, certain areas of the lake are designated for swimming, and locals enjoy the brisk water and towering Alps in the distance. There are several parks and pavilions dotting the lake that have restaurants, changing rooms, showers, and towel rentals for a nominal fee.
Located close to the Zurich Opera House is Lago, a dock where you can rent motor and paddle boats. If you are the more sporty type, rent a paddleboard from KiteSwiss/SupSwiss, and glide away on the lake. Cruises are another popular attraction and there’s a large range of voyages, including a “get acquainted” cruise for 50 minutes, a brunch cruise, literary cruise, cheese fondue cruise, and a murder mystery cruise. Zurichsee is the premier company that organizes cruises on the lake. Cycling around Lake Zurich is another fun way to see the sites as well as the luxurious mansions and villas lining the lake. Rent a bike or a scooter and explore at your leisure.
When visiting Zurich, the lyrics to the 80s disco tune “So Many Men,” should be replaced with “So Many Chocolate and Pastry Shops, Too Little Time.” The sheer number of shops, practically on every corner, can be overwhelming even for diehard chocoholics, so best to pace yourself.
During my walk in the Old Town, I discovered an exquisite chocolate shop, Max Chocolatier, which makes some of the finest, artisanal chocolate in the city. The friendly and informative salesperson told me they import top-quality cacao beans from locations such as Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Madagascar. Max creates eclectic flavors and pairings, sometimes in limited editions, which include caramel and chestnut, pineapple and nougat, and most exotic of all, a dark chocolate square flavored with candied rose petals and hazelnuts. I sampled the odd but delicious balsamic vinegar and blood orange infused chocolate which made me swoon. I bought a box to take home to my husband, but almost ate all of it before I got back to Paris!
As a former chocolatier and certified chocoholic, my visit to the Lindt Museum and Chocolate Factory was unparalleled. The enormous 65,000 square foot space, opened in 2020, is the largest chocolate museum in the world. In the white marble entrance hall, an astounding 30-foot-high chocolate fountain drips 1500 liters of liquid chocolate daily from an enormous gold whisk onto a truffle. Exploring the three floors of the interactive museum, I learned how the cacao bean was discovered thousands of years ago and how chocolate was first invented in South America, the history of chocolate in Europe, how the chocolate industry began in Switzerland, and the process of how milk chocolate was invented in Switzerland in 1879. After your visit, check out the restaurant and café with chocolate treats and hot chocolate along with savory lunch dishes. The 5,500 square foot flagship shop offers the complete line of Lindt chocolate, plus you can even customize your own chocolate bar.
Truffle hounds will rejoice when they taste the famous Champagne truffles from Teuscher, extravagantly flavored with a splash of Dom Perignon and lightly dusted with confectioner’s sugar. You can also mix and match a selection of other truffle flavors such as almond and pistachio, coffee, jasmine tea, praline, salted butter caramel, and Bailey’s Irish cream.
One of the few places in Zurich where you will experience large crowds will be at Sprungli, the popular chocolate and confectionary store on the Paradeplatz. The shelves and glass cases are piled high with decorative packages of pralines, caramels, truffles, and milk, white, and dark chocolate bars with varying degrees of cacao percentages. Luxemburgerli, a bite-size macaron, is the signature sweet treat at Sprungli and comes in over a dozen flavors. Next to the shop is the Sprungli café and restaurant, serving savory dishes, pastries, and desserts.
Art & Culture
The magnificent Zurich Opera House is a multi-use theater for opera, ballet, concerts, and music recitals. Recent operatic productions have included Die Fledermaus, Cosi Fan Tutte, Don Giovanni, and Rigoletto. If you are a classical music lover, make sure to attend a concert by the Zurich Philharmonic performing Mozart, Mahler, Bach, Handel, and many others. Lunch and brunch concerts are also performed.
Le Corbusier, the groundbreaking Swiss-French architect, designed his last building, Pavillon
Le Corbusier, before his death in 1964 in Zurich. A Swiss interior designer, gallery owner, and art patron, Heidi Weber asked Le Corbusier to build a museum in Zurich, and she personally financed the construction. Inaugurated in 1967, over the next 50 years Weber maintained its upkeep and curated exhibitions. The stunning steel and glass structure with primary-colored panels is situated on a plot of manicured grass surrounded by tall trees. Leave time after visiting the museum to stroll around the neighborhood and view the handsome Art Nouveau mansions and apartment buildings, cute cafes, and clothing boutiques.
A vast and varying collection of fine art and sculptures, ranging from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, is displayed at Kunsthaus Zürich, the most important art museum in Switzerland. Adding to the collection the Kunsthaus Zürich inaugurated a new wing, featuring art pieces from the 1960s and also exhibits the Emil Bührle Collection, which is one of the most valued private art collections in Switzerland. The combination of both buildings now makes up the largest art museum in the country.
I stayed at the four-star Ameron Zurich Bellerive au Lac Hotel, conveniently located near the opera house and close to many attractions such as the Old Town and the Kunsthaus Zürich. My room on the third floor had a romantic view of Lake Zurich and was luxuriously appointed with a king-size bed, heated floors in the bathroom area, wall-to-wall carpeting, and a Nespresso machine.
For five-star luxury in Zurich, book a suite at the Baur au Lac. Overlooking Lake Zurich and the Alps, the Baur au Lac is set in its own private park only a few steps away from the Bahnhofstrasse, Zurich’s famous shopping street. The location of the hotel couldn’t be more perfect. There’s something quite wonderful about waking up and going for a walk, run, or swim just a few feet from your door with the majestic Alps forming a stunning backdrop. For the ultimate culinary adventure, make sure to have lunch or dinner at the hotel’s Michelin-starred Restaurant Pavillon.
My favorite restaurant during this trip was Razzia, an Art Deco movie theater from 1920 that has been transformed into a chic boite. Razzia offers Asian fusion food with Thai accents. On occasion, they will show classic films on the former screen. While waiting for my table at the restaurant, I sipped one of their signature cocktails at their cool lounge next door and hung out with some friendly locals.
If you are a vegan, vegetarian, or someone who is looking to experience amazing plant-based cuisine, head over to House Hiltl. As the oldest continuously-open vegetarian restaurant in the world, they have mastered the art of creating healthy, delicious meals. With various locations around the city, you can enjoy your food al fresco, or order it to go.
For great cocktails and a great place to meet LGBTQ people from around the world, head to Cranberry Bar. Located in the Old Town, and within easy walking distance to shopping on the Bahnhofstrasse, and an array of excellent restaurants, this may become your favorite bar and lounge in Zurich.
Enjoy excellent craft cocktails and the ultimate selection of rare spirits in the city at Old Crow. Whiskey lovers will rejoice at their incredible collection of Single Malt, Bourbon, Tennessee, Rye, Canadian, Blended Scotch, Irish, Taiwan & other Whiskeys (800 and counting!). Whatever your drink of choice, the mixologists at the Old Crow will create a libation that will dazzle your senses in the best possible way!