Switzerland may be known for the Alps and small mountain villages, but that doesn’t mean you should miss cities like Zurich during your trip. Although a powerhouse of the financial industry, Zurich is not without attractions and sights that will have you seeing the city in a new light. With a 3-day trip to Zurich, you should have no problem finding out for yourself what’s so intriguing about this mecca of banking. But if you want to make sure that you don’t miss anything, then you’re best off following our 3-day Zurich itinerary.
Best Time to Visit Zurich
Simply put, there is no bad time to visit Zurich. Instead, the best time to visit Zurich will depend on what you plan to do in the city and Switzerland as a whole. Zurich experiences all four seasons, and each comes with its own benefits.
Now, if you hate the cold, you’ll likely want to pick May through September as your time to visit. That being said, Zurich is quite low-lying for Switzerland and doesn’t experience the same blistering cold found up in the Alps.
With the warmth of summer comes crowds, which can be a bit annoying when sightseeing around the city. The shoulder season of April – May and September – October offers the best compromise, with fewer visitors and nice walking around temperatures.
Honestly, December isn’t a bad pick either. You get to see Zurich decked out in Christmas lights and Christmas markets are found everywhere, even inside the main train station.
How to Get Around Zurich
Although a major city, Zurich is quite an easy one to navigate. Most of the best places to visit in Zurich are centrally located in and around the city’s Old Town. This means in the city centre, you shouldn’t have a problem walking most places.
Still, there are quite a few hills around the centre and walking everywhere can take its toll. That’s why it’s so handy to have Zurich’s tram network that provides easy transport throughout the inner city. Combined with the city’s local trains, seeing Zurich in 3 days is a cinch.
Tickets are the same for all the types of public transport, from the local train to trams, buses and even the cable cars. They come in single fares, off-peak passes and day passes, with the cost based on number of zones and time period. You can find the different ticket types here.
Accommodation in Zurich
Compared to many destinations, searching for accommodation here can be quite simple. Once you accept that you’ll be paying Swiss prices for things, finding somewhere to stay becomes less of a mad scavenge.
When looking for neighborhoods to stay in, it’s probably best to aim for somewhere as central as possible. Areas like the Old Town or District 4 (the downtown area around the main train station) mean you’re never far from public transport, restaurants or the city’s main sights. This Zurich travel itinerary will work wherever you stay.
If you’re going all out with your Zurich visit, then somewhere like Hotel Storchen with a riverfront view will be appealing. Right in the heart of the Old Town, rooms and suites come with classic decor and amenities like air-conditioning.
For a more balanced option that combines style and comfort without the price tag, consider Motel One Zurich. Don’t let the name fool you, the chic interior and nice outdoor spaces of this mid-range hotel make this somewhere you’ll be happy to relax.
Budget travelers aren’t going to have it too easy in Switzerland, but one of your best bets is the Youth Hostel Zurich. It has some of the most affordable dorm beds and private rooms. Even with simple rooms, the hostel emphasizes cleanliness and communal spaces and has good connections to the city centre.
For even more hotel options in Zurich check out Booking.com.
The Perfect 3-Day Zurich Itinerary
Knowing full well that Zurich can be an expensive place to visit, this Zurich travel itinerary will emphasize many of the free landmarks available to you.
To see the best of Zurich, we’ll be exploring the very centre of the city. While a modern city in many respects, at the core of Zurich is the city’s Old Town. Both the east and west banks of the Limmat River house landmarks and attractions, which this Zurich itinerary will take you through. Not to be forgotten are the views from the Uetliberg, plus all the different day trip ideas open to you.
However, before we get to the best things to do in Zurich in 3 days, we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and, trust us, you do not want to get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it.
SafetyWing offers travel insurance for only about $10 a week, making it a no-brainer to get. You can get a quick, non-binding quote below:
With that out of the way, let’s dig into the best places to visit in Zurich. Hopefully, you’ll come away from your 3 days in Zurich with a newfound appreciation for what makes this Swiss city special.
Day 1 in Zurich
Given that it’s your first day in the city, it only makes sense to start with the best of Zurich, much of which can be found across the western side of the Old Town centre.
Start your visit on the right foot by finding your way up to the small hilltop park known as the Lindenhof. Once the sight of a Roman castle, the spot has enjoyed quite a lengthy history but now remains a popular public space.
As a park it’s fairly unremarkable, still nice of course, but it is the views from the Lindenhof that keep drawing people up here. From here, you can admire the buildings along the riverfront as well as the city as it fades into the opposite hills. Along with admiring the cityscape on either side of the Limmat River, the park views do a good job of helping you get your bearings.
Old Town Streets
From the Lindenhof, it’s a gentle walk downhill into the web of sloping streets that meander through Zurich’s Old Town. Mostly full of boutiques and stores, many are found inside of wonderful traditionally painted houses.
Allow yourself some time to freely wander around this small maze, since it’s all too easy to find your way. Be sure to walk through to Augustinergasse and the rows of flags that line its delightful old buildings.
Even a dense Old Town like that of Zurich has its hidden spots, one of which is the Centralhof. Found within a block of buildings, this beautiful courtyard centres on an elaborate fountain monument. It’s a great little spot for photos, and a cup of coffee or hot cocoa.
There is no escaping historic churches in Europe, and Switzerland is no different. On this side of the river, one of the city’s most important churches is the Fraumünster. Part of an old abbey, this church has a history dating back to 853 AD. The rest of the abbey was destroyed just before the turn of the 20th century, but the Fraumünster remains. The church is quite easy to identify from afar thanks to the golden clock face on its bell tower.
Having spent so much time walking through the uphill section of the Old Town, it’s time to wander along both banks of the Limmat River. Besides admiring the various impressive and historic buildings that line the river, make sure to take in the quiet spots where you can sit in peace by the river.
Eventually make your way down to the lakefront and on the western side of the river you’ll find the Bürkliplatz. By the statue of Ganymede, here you’re able to enjoy your first proper view out over Lake Zurich. Even from water level, the view of the landscape out to the mountains is quite impressive.
Follow the lakefront to the west and you’ll arrive at one of the few large green spaces in the city centre – the Arboretum Park. After spending all day walking through city streets, a park like this with a view of all the boats on the lake makes for a nice change of pace.
If you’re not in the mood for greenery, head back to the main streets nearby and admire the lavish buildings of Zurich’s many insurance companies. As you do, several luxury sports cars are bound to roll by. After all, Zurich is a city with money.
With all that walking throughout the day, you’re sure to have worked up quite the appetite. Unless you’re dead-set on having fondue your first night, why not enjoy a big traditional Swiss meal at the restaurant and beer hall of Zeughauskeller. Here you can indulge in hearty Germanic cuisine and a variety of beers on tap, including the house beer.
Day 2 in Zurich
Today we properly cross the river to the sights of the east bank of the Limmat River as well as head up into the hills for some superb scenery. Depending on your preferences, this may be a good day to include a museum, like the highly lauded Swiss National Museum.
As with the first day, why not start with one of the city’s best viewpoints. Found on the campus of Zurich’s technical university, the Polyterrasse is a great counterpart to the Lindenhof. The big difference here though is that there ought to be far fewer tourists around. You can even take a small funicular, a favourite of Swiss transport, to reach the viewing terrace.
Once back down in the Old Town, seek out the long pedestrian street of Niederdorfstrasse. This atmospheric street is packed with restaurants, cafes and bars and seems to go on forever. Take note of any places that look interesting as you may want to return here in the evening.
Before continuing on too far, I recommend a stop at the pleasant little Conditorei Schober. Nestled away in a crook off the extension of Niederdorfstrasse, this café is ideal for people watching while you treat yourself to some classic coffee and cake.
After your break, continue on until you reach the towering landmark of the Grossmünster. This large Romanesque church is unmissable in Zurich’s skyline and one of the city’s most important churches. A protestant church, it has strong ties to the Reformation that took place in Switzerland under the hand of Ulrich Zwingli. It’s also said that the original church on this site was actually started by none other than Charlemagne himself.
Staying parallel to the river, you’ll eventually reach the elegant sight of the Zurich Opera House. A later addition than many others in the city, its Baroque design gives it a sense of showy grandeur that isn’t particularly common here.
The square in front of the Opera, the Sechseläutenplatz, is a common spot for seasonal markets. Depending on the time of year, you could find it full of Christmas stalls or people sitting in an open-air cinema.
Over the road from the Opera you’ll find one of the city’s most popular lunch spots, the Quaianlagen. A small sliver of waterfront boulevard, this area seems to get busier as the temperatures rise and the closer you get to lunch. In summer, the park is bursting with people looking to sit in the sun and unwind. It’s also a great vantage point to look off enviously towards the people partying on private boats just off shore.
Watching over the city of Zurich to the southwest lies a range of hills that are a popular recreational spot with locals. The forest and fields that run over these hills are linked up by walking trails and scenic viewpoints. The most popular spot of all though is the peak of Mount Uetliberg.
A visit to Uetliberg can be as simple as taking the special train that climbs its way up to the Uetliberg Lookout Tower. However, if you have an interest in gentle hikes, then you could easily spend half a day or more up in this local nature spot.
While there are nice viewpoints in the heart of Zurich, none can truly rival what Uetliberg provides. From up here you get unparalleled views not only of the city but of Lake Zurich, looking all the way out towards the Alps. On a clear day the snow-capped peaks to the southeast are a majestic sight. Truly a picture-perfect spot.
Day 3 in Zurich
As nice as it is to continue exploring the city of Zurich, you may be itching to see more of Switzerland, which is where day trips come in. Thanks to the Swiss roads and public transport, the sky’s the limit, but some ideas to get you started include:
If you’ve been looking at Lake Zurich longingly, then hop aboard a ferry and spend the day on the water. While it stops at various points along the lake, the endpoint of your ferry ride is the delightful town of Rapperswil. Known as the Town of Roses, Rapperswil is home to charming houses, most of which are sporting rose bushes.
Wandering through the town centre you’ll soon find yourself by the classically charming town castle. From the castle you can enjoy views down over vineyards to the lake. There’s even a deer enclosure on the castle grounds. Best of all, once you’ve seen Rapperswil, you have the calm journey back up to the lake to look forward to.
Stein am Rhein
Switzerland has no shortage of picturesque little towns, one of which is certainly Stein am Rhein. Resting on the banks of the Rhine River near the German border, this small walled town packs plenty of beautiful houses in its tiny confines.
Not content with just classic half-timbered houses, many buildings include multi-storey painted murals, telling complete stories on their own. A gentle walk through Stein am Rhein is like walking through an open-air art gallery. The true highlight in this regard is the vibrant Town Hall with its artwork.
It’s also worth going for a walk around the outside of the town to admire where the town walls once were, not to mention the two town gates. Stein am Rhein may be pint-sized, but it’s mighty pretty.
Rhine Falls and Schaffhausen
Much of Switzerland’s northern border is made up of the Rhine River, and another attraction along the river is the majestic Rhine Falls (German: Rheinfall) – the largest waterfall in all of Europe.
When it comes to viewpoints for the Rhine Falls, you have two great options open to you. The first is admiring this natural sight from the walls around Laufen Castle, which is quite a striking landmark on its own. Alternatively, venture down to the various view decks that are staged along the waterfalls. On some, the angle of the river makes it feel like you’re below the falls and about to get drenched.
Only a short distance from the falls is the city of Schaffhausen. You can easily spend some time exploring this small city as part of your visit to the Rhine Falls. A visit to Schaffhausen is bound to include a trip up to the great round Munot Fortress that overlooks everything.
Tour Recommendation: Rhine Falls Coach Tour from Zurich
One major destination in Switzerland that you can reach in under an hour from Zurich is the lovely city of Lucerne. Set by a lake of its own, Lucerne is nestled within a whole host of mountain peaks, so you couldn’t ask for a better setting.
A visit to Lucerne is bound to start with the city’s beautiful lakefront, before moving onto the Reuss riverfront. It’s here that you’ll find the iconic wooden Chapel Bridge that is the centrepiece of so many postcards.
Away from the river, other enticing landmarks include the Old Town walls with their wonderful views and the moving Lion Monument. Lucerne could easily warrant its own stop on your Switzerland trip, but if you’re short on time, a day trip from Zurich will do.
Tour Recommendation: Lucerne and Mount Titlis Day Tour from Zurich
There you have it – the perfect Zurich itinerary. By now, the question of what to do in Zurich in 3 days should be well and thoroughly sorted but if you have any other questions just leave a comment below.