The tourist attractions of Zurich can be found in many guidebooks and blogs. But every so often, it is worth going beyond the clichés and looking at this beautiful city from an entirely different perspective — it will be an active three days, delicious and full of activities. Shall we go?
A hike to Europe’s largest waterfall and an afternoon city walk
From Zurich’s main station, we set off on the Intercity train for about a half-hour ride to Schaffhausen. We then enjoy a short walk from the town centre to the Rhine River and on to the waterfall. The Rheinfall (Rhine Falls) can be seen from many perspectives, for example, from the old historic railway bridge. For a closer look, climb to the lower platform, from where you can almost touch the falls. Those who like water adventures will enjoy a short boat ride taking you to the cascade. If you prefer to admire the wonders of nature with a coffee in your hand, you can also enjoy a perfect view from the surrounding, beautifully situated cafés. Rheinfall, also called the European Niagara, is a bagatelle, 600,000 litres of water fall per second during the summer. While here, it is impossible not to visit Laufen Castle, which houses both a museum and a restaurant. This castle once served as a studio for many painters who wanted to eternalise the waterfall and the surrounding area. It was also liked and visited by Empress Elisabeth of Bavaria, known as Sisi, and the writer and poet Johann Wolfgang Goethe.
In the afternoon, we return to Zurich for a city tour. For football fans, a must-stop is the FIFA World Football museum — a modern and interactive 3,000-square-metre space showcasing the history of the International Football Federation – a fantastic place for young and older football lovers. Here you can watch the transmission of spectacular goals on a giant plasma, championship cups, jerseys of legendary footballers, the most important souvenirs from each championship, or the mascots of each event.
The next point on our itinerary is to relax with a glass of champagne or hot punch in one of Europe’s most famous literary cafés. The famous Odeon Café was founded in 1911 and has hosted such celebrities as Erich Maria Remarque, Kurt Tucholsky, James Joyce, Arturo Toscanini, Lenin and Benito Mussolini. Nowadays, it is a meeting point for Zurich residents, and tourists are in the minority there. The restaurant has undergone subtle changes in style over the years, from late Art Nouveau to art déco. Note the beautiful crystal chandeliers and sconces, the marble tabletops, the comfortable leather armchairs and the mirror-lined walls. While we’re in the Old Town, it’s worth making the short city climb to the Lindenhof viewpoint. A steep staircase will take us up to it, giving us a charming view of the river and cruise ships sailing on it; and in the distance – the buzzing Limmatquai business district.
Right in the centre of Zurich, at Schokoladenplatz 1, is the Lindt Home of Chocolate museum, which all lovers of sweets should visit. There is a gigantic 10-metre-high fountain with as much as 1500 litres of chocolate flowing down it! The interactive exhibition of the House of Chocolate leads us through “7 Chocolate Worlds”, telling us about the history of the factory itself and about where and how this product reaches our tables. In addition, under the supervision of masters, we can learn how to prepare sweet masterpieces or visit the largest chocolate shop in the world!
A cycling tour to Lake Constance and Flower Island
We take a trip to Lake Constance by bike and see it from the shore by riding on one of the famous Euro Velo 15 cycle routes. The total length of the cycle route is almost 473 kilometres, but we will only cover 24 kilometres along the lake. It takes about an hour and a half. We can rent bikes for free at Zurich’s Züri rollt, and pay a 20-franc deposit, which we get back when we return the vehicles (paid electric bikes are also available, priced at 20 francs per day). There are several bike hire shops in Zurich itself — we choose the one at the Central Station, by Europaplatz (open every day all year round, from 8 am to 9.30 pm). We pack our bikes on the train to Zurich Hauptbahnhof, and after about 90 minutes, we get off at the main station in Romanshorn. When we reach our destination, we can either turn right to Arbon, where Rudolf Diesel’s factory is located, or immediately head towards Konstanz, passing the charming towns of Uttwil, Kesswil, Güttingen and Münsterlingen on the way.
Lake Constance lies on the border of three countries: Austria, Germany and Switzerland, and is one of the largest bodies of water in Central Europe. It has a surface area of 534 km² and a coastline as long as 273 km. After about an hour of cycling, we arrive in Konstanz, where we stop to take in the sights for a moment. Konstanz is the largest town on Lake Constance, and it lies on the German side. Situated on the border with Switzerland, it had the status of a Free City during the Holy Roman Empire. During a short walk through the old town, we can see some beautiful historical buildings, including the 15th century Old Town Hall (Altes Rathaus) and the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Münster Unserer Lieben Frau).
We take a ferry from Konstanz to the Isle of Flowers, where we can take our bikes. The private island of Mainau, open to the public, belongs to a foundation named Bernadotte — after Count Wisborg and former Prince of Sweden. The story of Count Lennart Bernadotte has an undeniable romantic theme. The prince, while getting married, committed a misalliance, for which he was deprived of the right to the throne of Sweden. He moved to the island of Mainau, where he lived with his partner in a beautiful baroque palace (where he also died in 2004). The warm and humid microclimate of this corner of the island proved ideal for plants, including those exotic. This is how the 45-hectare garden was created, in which, depending on the season, you can see many species of tulips, roses, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, and in the large palm house you can admire more thermophilic plants and birds, butterflies and even turtles.
Relax with a glass of Swiss wine at the Wine Library
After such an active and eventful day, we come back to Zurich, return the bikes and catch our breath during a wine tasting in the Wine Library. This is another unique place on the city map, which is a combination of a wine bar and a library. The Wine Library is located in the B2 Boutique Hotel, and apart from its original décor (e.g., beautiful chandeliers made of beer bottles), you can admire more than 33,000 books stacked on shelves up to the very ceiling, three storeys high! The wine bar is well-known for its fine selection of Swiss wines, the famous Hürlimann beer, and the breakfast and lunch served.
A trip to Zurich’s home mountain and a farewell tour of the city’s most original corners*
For the last day, we go on a short scenic excursion to the surrounding mountain. We take the train from the main station to Uetliberg station, and from there we walk (approx. 650 m) to the top of the mountain of the same name (871 m). Here we have a wonderful view of Zurich, Lake Zurich, the Limmat valley and – in good weather conditions – the snow-capped Alps. There is also an observation tower and the restaurant UTO KULM on the summit. We can have a good coffee here while enjoying the impressive view. For the return journey, we choose the short option — the one we arrived in, or the longer one, about two hours, on the hiking trails down.
In the afternoon, we take a farewell tour of the city. If we are tired of the bikes, we may take a walk or use the excellent public transport. Distances between Zurich’s other urban gems are short. For fans of city markets with an atmosphere like that of London’s Borough Market, the first destination should be Markthalle im Viadukt. Here you will find fresh regional produce, specialities of Swiss cuisine and more — basically a complete overview of local treasures: from cheese to sushi to chocolate. From there, 4 minutes by bike and ten on foot separate us from another brilliant spot in town. The atmospheric and eclectic Freitag Flagship Store is a food truck and street art hub. A city within a city, with an ambience reminiscent of London’s Camden or Berlin’s Markthalle Neun – the difference is that there’s more to eat in Zurich. If you go to Freitag, take your wetsuit or at least your bathing suit and swimming trunks with you, and make sure to try Urban Surfing. In Freitag, Urban Surfing combines a pool with a special Citywave®, a cosy bar, a restaurant with healthy regional food and a surf shop. Freitag closes at 7 pm, so for an evening cocktail (a 20-minute walk or in 7 minutes by bike), we arrive at Raygrodski – a local bar in the urban heart of Zurich. It’s a special place and much-loved by locals, where you’ll taste homemade cocktails made with fresh ingredients and listen to live music on weekends. Raygrodski is said to have one of the largest selections of spirits in the world; at least, that’s what the owners like to claim. You’ll be leaving with a heavy heart because Zurich is a fantastic city — rich in beautiful corners and with full access to chocolate, dry cheeses and crystal clear water.
* ATTENTION! Some attractions offered on day three are closed on Sunday, so if you’re going for a typical weekend, you can swap the order of days two and three.
Good to know
Where to eat
The Haus Hiltl is, according to the Guinness Book of Records, the oldest vegetarian restaurant in the world (it was founded in 1898), so just for this tradition alone, it is worth a visit. If you like an atypical culinary atmosphere, you must also visit Blinde Kuh - a restaurant where meals are tasted in total darkness, and the staff consists of blind and visually impaired people. Fresh fish lovers will not be disappointed with the many restaurants located right on Lake Zurich.
FIFA MUSEUM -
Admission for adults costs 24 francs, children 14 francs, and the youngest football fans under the age of 6 get in free.
To quench your thirst
One of the city's 1,200 fountains and springs, where the water is considered the cleanest in Europe.
Isle of Flowers
Admission price: 22 euros (adults), 14 euros (students), kids under 12 — free admission, and family tickets: 45 euros.
Wine fans will undoubtedly be interested in knowing that Swiss vineyards are famed for their excellent light and mineral wines. Wines from the Valais region owe their uniqueness to the glacier water used in their production. The famous wine regions in Switzerland are mainly Lavaux and Salgesch.
Lindt Home of Chocolate
Tickets to the museum for adults and young people over 16 years old cost from 15 francs, children from 8 to 15 francs, and the youngest get in free.