After more than two years without a single passport stamp, there was no better feeling in the world than settling into our standard economy seats for an eight-hour flight. Our knees pressed firmly into the seatbacks in front of us as we shuffled our feet around the carry-on items below them. Before the plane even pushed back from the gate, we were mildly uncomfortable and slightly remorseful as we glanced ahead of us at the passengers with more spacious seating. And then, the engines roared to life, and our plane hurtled toward the end of the runway. As the wheels lifted off the tarmac, neither of us could stop smiling: we were finally off on another adventure. One short night later, our plane touched down in Zurich.
We visited Switzerland briefly a decade ago, and our stop afforded us only enough time to explore Geneva before it was time to move along to our next destination. This time, we planned a long weekend in Zurich to play tourist and eat all the fondue we could manage. Although it would be easy to find experiences to fill a longer trip, Zurich is perfect for a weekend visit if maximizing your vacation time is important to you. If you only have a few days to explore Zurich, here are some fun things to consider adding to your schedule!
Zurich is absolutely filled with indulgences, and if you enjoy a terrifically decadent meal, it’s a food destination worth prioritizing. Here are a few of our favorites and where to find them!
► FondueThe Swiss have been eating fondue for more than 300 years, and cheese lovers will be hard-pressed to find a better place to indulge. The simple act of melting cheese is elevated to an art form throughout the country, and despite our short stay we picked fondue for dinner twice while in Zurich. Our favorite fondue meal was at Raclette-Stube, where we ordered half-and-half fondue (half Gruyère, half Vacherin) that was served with bread and tiny cooked potatoes; we also ordered a side of pickles and pickled pearl onions. Each of the accompaniments brought out different characteristics in the fondue, from highlighting the nuances in the cheese mixture when enjoyed with bread and starchy potatoes to balancing the sharpness with the salty brine of the pickles. You’ll find fondue throughout Zurich, but reserving a table at Raclette-Stube is an experience worth having.
More Information: Raclette-stube.ch
Known as “herdsman’s macaroni,” alpermagronen is a hearty macaroni and cheese with cubed potato and onion. We found it to be a filling treat after a long flight that caused us to miss breakfast due to our arrival time; many restaurants serve it with a side of applesauce that serves as a nice accompaniment.
Famous throughout Switzerland, rösti is a potato dish not too dissimilar to hash browns, and it is served both as a main course and a side dish. We had a simpler rösti at Zeughauskeller, served with Zwingli sausage and onion sauce; we also had a more savory rösti at a restaurant during our visit to Jungfraujoch that included ham and egg to make it a bit more of a substantial meal.
More Information: Zeughauskeller.ch
► Swiss ChocolateOur visit to Europe for New Year’s Eve in 2019 explored some great chocolate in Belgium and Luxembourg, so we couldn’t wait to try some authentic Swiss chocolate while visiting Zurich. We found our favorite at Läderach, which has stores throughout the city and exclusively produces chocolate in their two Swiss locations. During some free time we made it our mission to walk through the city, stopping into some of the larger and smaller chocolate shops to purchase a few samples, and if your visit to Zurich wouldn’t feel complete without Swiss chocolate you might enjoy putting together your own chocolate scavenger hunt like we did!
Considered by some to be a boring breakfast choice in the United States, muesli was invented in Switzerland and it’s a popular meal in Zurich, so we sought some out before meeting our Jungfraujoch tour. Admittedly, the muesli we ate was worlds apart from what you might find in the cereal aisle; prepared fresh, we visited a storefront that sold a few different types of muesli featuring a mix of fruit, seeds, and nuts that added crunch and sweetness. As a bonus, it was filling enough that we didn’t even think about food again until sitting down for our late lunch at the top of the world—minus a quick stop for chocolate during the morning portion of the tour!
Trying different beverages around the world can be a fun way to experience local culture, and the Swiss are partial to a local soft drink called Rivella that is made from milk whey. In fact, Rivella is the second most popular soft drink in all of Switzerland, and it was invented here in 1952. Boasting an almost herbal flavor profile with slight licorice notes, Adam enjoyed it much more than I did; it drinks like a soda without tasting at all like a soda, and while it’s refreshing on a hot day it’s also fair to call it an acquired taste. It’s like nothing else!
We have certainly enjoyed a glass of wine or two during our travels, but little compares to the balkenprobe at the Oepfelchammer, a tavern that got its start in the 17th century and is home to the city’s most unique drinking ritual. To participate, a patron climbs their way up to a ceiling beam, where they hang, inverted, and drink a glass of wine. If they manage to consume the entire glass without spilling a single drop, they are allowed to carve their name into the wall of the Oepfelchammer. Should someone be unsuccessful—which is a frequent occurrence given how hard it is to drink wine while upside down—they can try up to twice more before admitting defeat. We didn’t try the challenge ourselves, but we visited the tavern to see just how hard it looked. Although it looks fun, we agreed we’re happier when drinking wine right side up.
You can check out this video on YouTube to see a successful attempt at the Oepfelchammer beam challenge.
St. Peter’s ChurchSwiss watches have the same popularity and notoriety as their chocolate, and St. Peter’s Church of Zurich is worth visiting for its connection to time pieces: it is home to the largest tower clock face not just in Switzerland, but in all of Europe. Stretching more than 28 feet in diameter, all public clocks throughout the city once synced to it. The church itself is historically impressive; some parts of the building date to more than 1,000 years ago, making it the oldest church in Zurich. Originally constructed between the 8th and 9th centuries, the current church was consecrated in 1706. It’s worth visiting the church, which is in the Old Town, for the clock face alone, although its place in history is just as important a headline.
Swiss National Museum
Immersing yourself in local culture and history can be a big part of an enjoyable vacation, and the Swiss National Museum is the perfect place to do just that. Housed in a castle-like structure at the convergence of two rivers, it houses a huge permanent collection as well as visiting exhibits. From historic currency to medieval armor to a full exhibit on Swiss architecture, there’s almost certainly an exhibit or two that will pique your interest. Our visit coincided with a temporary exhibition about Anne Frank’s connection to Switzerland, which began when her father settled there after World War II ended and he discovered he was the only person from the family that survived the Holocaust. In total, the museum has close to a million artifacts that tell the story of Zurich and of Switzerland in general, and it’s a great place to spend an afternoon.
Old Town Zurich
Old Town Zurich, known as the Altstadt, has more to offer than St. Peter’s Church; it’s a vibrant place filled with sightseeing options, shopping, and great food. Visit Grossmünster, a church with two towers and a surprising origin story. According to local legend, Charlemagne discovered the graves of Felix and Regula, the city’s patron saints, and built a church over them. Dozens of boutiques dot streets, and it’s easy to find anything from souvenirs to Swiss-designed clothing as you wander through Old Town. A short walk away, the Bürkliterrasse is a beautiful spot to look out over Lake Zurich as you enjoy some peace away from the crowds. We made Old Town our first stop after landing in Zurich, and it provided a great orientation to the city and what we hoped to experience during our short time there.
Lindenhof HillOne of the very best viewpoints in Zurich awaits you at Lindenhof Hill, where panoramic views showcase the city’s history and beauty. The same spot where tourists and locals gather for a relaxing moment also witnessed some of the city’s most important moments in history. In the 4th century, a Roman fort was constructed at Lindenhof. 500 years later, Charlemagne’s grandson built a palace there. In 1798, the oath sealing for the Helvetic Republic’s constitution took place there as well; although the Helvetic Republic was short-lived, its moment in history remains part of Zurich. We spent time at Lindenhof primarily for photos, but many people made it a picnic destination as well; grab a to-go snack from the Old Town before visiting to create a picnic of your own!
Getting Around Zurich
We found public transportation to be very convenient during our time in Zurich. The city is well-connected by a tram network that extends all the way to the airport, and we used the tram to get from the airport to our hotel. Zurich is also a great walking city, and we had no problem navigating on foot once we had stored our luggage safely at our hotel. If riding a tram, you can purchase a pass from a machine at each boarding location. Ticket machines have a few language options, including English, and they are straightforward to use.
Day Trips from ZurichThere is a lot to do in Zurich, but it’s also a great base for a day trip or two if the city provides a launching point for other vacation destinations. We visited nearby Liechtenstein as well as Jungfraujoch, the highest point in Europe. Liechtenstein is less than two hours away from central Zurich, which meant we had plenty of time to explore while ensuring we were back in Zurich for more fondue that night. Jungfraujoch required a full day trip but was convenient to reach via tour buses that departed from near the central train station. If you want to add an additional destination to your Zurich trip, Liechtenstein and Jungfraujoch are great options!
Hotels in Zurich
We really enjoyed our stay at the Royal Hotel Zurich, which is conveniently located right at a tram stop on the same line as the airport. We were warmly greeted and promptly sent to our room hours before it was promised to us, which was welcomed after a long flight from Washington, DC. Our room was well-sized, especially for Europe; the only issue we noted was that the sliding door separating the bathroom from the bedroom had some stylized clear glass that made it easy to see in—perhaps not an ideal feature if you stay with a friend. That wasn’t a deal breaker for us; we really enjoyed our nights there and look forward to a return stay when we are in Zurich again.
More Information: Booking.com/royal-hotel-zurich
If you are looking for hotels in Zurich, Booking.com is a great option; we found it to be very convenient when comparing various properties and amenities as we made our decision on where to stay. Take a look to see if Booking.com has a great hotel for you, too!
After just two days, we found ourselves back in another economy seat for another long flight—this time much fuller thanks to a steady diet of chocolate and cheese. Zurich did not disappoint. We thoroughly enjoyed our days of sightseeing and exploring and our evenings of delicious meals and walks through the beautiful Old Town. If Zurich is on your vacation list, start booking your flight—we think you’ll love it as much as we did!
Want to read about more interesting European cities we’ve written about? Check out these posts from our archives!