Spending 48 hours in Zurich certainly does not do this historic city justice, but when my wife and I needed a place to stay for a couple of nights in between our time in Venice and a week in the Loire Valley in France, Zurich seemed like the perfect city to fit in to our itinerary. Neither of us had ever been to Switzerland, and Zurich turned out to be an excellent introduction.
From Venice, Zurich is easily accessible by inexpensive direct flights, as well as the train if you are willing to spend a little more travel time to get there. With daily trains from Zurich to Paris, it was also nicely situated for our journey into France later.
We planned far enough in advance that it made more sense to fly to Zurich than take the train. From the main airport in Zurich getting to the city center is very quick and easy. It is a simple 10 minute train ride (not to be confused with the streetcars, which take 35 minutes) directly from Kloten airport. Look for the line going to HB, which is the abbreviation for the main train station called Zurich Hauptbahnhof.
Since we were only in Zurich for 48 hours without a car, we focused our exploration in the “Old Town,” or Altstadt, which is very walkable. For the few times we didn’t feel like walking, the area is serviced by an outstanding public transportation system that was straightforward to use.
When visiting a place for the first time, I love to take some kind of walking tour early in the trip. We have done various types of tours in other cites (food, architecture, sweets), some of which have been the highlight of our stay. In an unfamiliar city, a guided tour is a great way to get oriented geographically and learn a little about the place you are visiting.
In Zurich, we did a historical walking tour right after we checked in to our hotel. Unfortunately it was pouring rain during most of the tour, but it was still enjoyable and allowed us see which parts of the city we wanted to spend more time in later. (Zurich Tourism provided us with the tour for free through our food blog Love & Olive Oil.)
In addition to the tour, Zurich Tourism also provided us with Zurich Cards. The cards are available for 24 or 72 hour periods, and allow for unlimited rides on the tram, bus, train, boat, and cableway within the city. They also have other area perks including either free or a reduced rate admission to 41 different museums. With transportation covered, and all of the museum discounts, the cards are definitely a good value and something to consider if planning a trip to Zurich.
We only had time for one museum, and decided to go to the clock and watch museum, Uhrenmuseum Beyer. Our Zurich cards got us in free, but I would have happily paid to see this place. There were tons of amazingly intricate clocks and watches on display, showing just how ingenious humans are when it comes to engineering devices to mark the passage of time. If you have any interest in clocks and watches, I highly recommend checking this museum out.
The map below has some of the highlights of our short stay in Zurich. When planning a trip I love to see recommendations for things to do and see in geographical context. Hopefully this is helpful to others as well. This map is a little sparse, but we managed to cover a lot of ground in just two days. Clicking on the arrow icon in the upper left hand corner will show a list of the things I added to the map.
I was very impressed by the number of people who spoke two, three, and four different languages including German, French, English, and Italian. Maybe this is because Zurich is a major financial center, or maybe its location in the middle of Europe necessitates knowing how to communicate with lots of different people. Other than learning how to say “thank you” in German, we knew zero German and had no language barrier issues during our stay.
Our home base was the Marktgasse Hotel. The location was perfect, situated right in the middle of Old Town, and a short walk to public transportation, the river, and lots of shops and restaurants. They also have a cool library and reading room available to guests, as well as a nice cafe called Delish for a meal or snack throughout the day. (The Marktgasse provided us with a media rate and meal at their other restaurant Baltho through our food blog Love & Olive Oil).
One of the things I loved about the Marktgasse Hotel was this drinking water feature. When we needed to rehydrate after a long day of exploring, taking a carafe of cold water back to our room was convenient, and a welcome alternative to having to buy lots of bottled water.
Speaking of “hydration”, the hotel had an excellent bar on the ground level that I wish I could have spent a little more time at. I managed to try at least one drink on our last night. This rum/gin concoction called La Vie en Rose was fantastic.
The Limmat River cuts right through the middle of the city and then empties into Lake Zurich on the edge of town. We must have crossed it a dozen times in two days. The river and lake are absolutely gorgeous, and provide lots of great views as well as places to hang out. We went down to the lake on a Friday night and there was a huge public gathering along the shore. Lots of people brought food and drinks. Others were playing instruments and dancing as the sun went down.
My last tip is to visit the observation tower at the Grossmünster church. One of two towers at the church is accessible for a small fee. There are a lot of stairs (no elevator) and the initial climb is a bit cramped for anyone who gets claustrophobic, but the views are worth the effort to get to the top. You can take in this spectacular city from all four sides of the tower.
Seeing just how pretty Zurich is, and how little we saw of it, makes me want to come back to visit soon.