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Best things to do in Zurich

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Where in the world: Europe  /  Switzerland  /  Canton of Zurich  /  Zurich
Often associated with international banks, Zurich surprises visitors with its trendy neighborhoods and natural beauty. Its Alpine surroundings make it an ideal destination for nature lovers and passionate skiers, and many of the things to do in Zurich relate to the town's scenic landscapes. The sprawling Lake Zurich lures visitors with its sightseeing boat tours, walking paths, lush parks, and immaculate beaches like Strandbad Tiefenbrunnen. Famed for its well-preserved 19th-century architecture and cobblestoned lanes, the atmospheric Old Town (Altstadt) serves as a convenient starting point for tours around the city. Swiss National Museum and Kunsthaus stand out among the city's renowned galleries and museums.

Zurich is best known for its Bodies of Water, Zoos, and Mountains.

Top 15 things to do in Zurich

1. Lake Zurich

Fed by crisp mountain waters, Lake Zurich once served mostly for passenger traffic and cargo transport. Today the sprawling lake counts among Switzerland's top tourist destinations, luring visitors with its sightseeing boat tours, walking paths, and lush parks, set against a chain of photogenic hills. Used to supply clean water to the surrounding cities, the lake is 40 km (25 mi) long and about 3 km (2 mi) wide. The city of Zurich wraps itself around the northwestern end of lake and provides a base for cycling tours and paddle steamer cruises along the sun-kissed and prosperous "Golden Coast." Zurich's well-developed lakefront areas boast several immaculate beaches, a big draw for active vacationers from all over the world.
Suggested duration: 3 hours
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2. Old Town

The city's historic heart, the atmospheric Old Town serves as one of the area's major tourist attractions, famed for its well-preserved 19th-century architecture and cobblestoned lanes flanked by trendy shops, galleries, and restaurants. A convenient starting point for tours around the city, the district stretches along both banks of the Limmat River. Begin your walk through medieval Zurich at the Old Town's landmark bridge, which connects two monumental cathedrals situated on opposite sides of the river. From there you can easily reach the nearby shopping streets, packed with hip cafes and quirky boutiques. In the evening the neighborhood's bars and clubs become the center of Zurich's lively nightlife.
Suggested duration: 3 hours
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3. Bahnhofstrasse

Indulge your inner shopaholic with a stroll through Bahnhofstrasse, one of the most expensive shopping streets in the world. The elegant avenue runs from the city's main train station all the way to the city's eponymous lake. Largely pedestrianized, the thoroughfare dates back to the 1860s, when city planners decided to fill in and pave a ditch in front of the demolished city walls. Take a stroll and window-shop at upscale stores selling everything from diamond rings and fur coats, to fine chocolates and branded watches. Two of Switzerland's biggest banks have their headquarters on this avenue; the bank vaults below street level allegedly contain huge reserves of gold and silver.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
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4. Landesmuseum

In a city filled with renowned galleries and museums, Landesmuseum stands out with its collection of over a million artifacts, arranged in evocative exhibits designed to present the history and cultural heritage of Switzerland. Narrating the birth and the evolution of the Swiss nation, the museum takes visitors from prehistoric times to the present day. Housed inside one of the Old Town's landmark 19th-century buildings, the collection includes furnishings, household items, handicrafts, liturgical sculptures, panel paintings, and carved altars. Be sure to drop by the galleries displaying a collection of 9th-century art, medieval coins, and weapons and armor.
Suggested duration: 2h 30 min
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5. Museum Rietberg

Admire displays of Asian, African, American, and Oceanian art at Museum Rietberg, the only art museum of non-European cultures in the country. Housed in several historical buildings, the museum's core collection comes from a donation from Baron Eduard von der Heydt. Highlights from the Indian collection include the South Indian bronze of Shiva Nataraja, dating back to the Chola dynasty. The site also offers Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain sculpture and bronzes from the 3rd to 16th centuries, as well as paintings on paper, fabric, and palm leaf from the 12th to 19th centuries. The African collection showcases sculptures from the Dogon region in Mali and masks and figures from the Ivory Coast, as well as other areas. The China collection includes Ming dynasty pottery. You can take a public tour upon entry to the museum. Use public transportation to reach the site, as there are no public parking spaces nearby.
Suggested duration: 3 hours
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6. Museum of Art (Kunsthaus Zurich)

An art lover's dream come true, Museum of Art (Kunsthaus Zurich) houses one of the most significant art collections in Switzerland. Designed by architects Karl Moser and Robert Curjel, the museum opened in 1910. Today, the permanent collection boasts major works by Gauguin, van Gogh, Cezanne, and Monet. The museum also houses a comprehensive collection of works by Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti, including the trademark stick figures that catapulted this artist to world fame. Be sure to leave plenty of time for the galleries displaying classic photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, and Andre Kertesz. Before you set off on a self-guided tour of the collection, check the website for a downloadable museum map.
Suggested duration: 2h 30 min
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7. Lake Lucerne, Lucerne

See the Alps by taking a guided boat tour on , located in the heart of Switzerland. The lake covers a total area of over 114 sq km (44 sq mi), much of its shoreline rising steeply into the surrounding mountains. Most of the visitors choose to experience this picturesque region by taking a trip on one of the paddle steamers linking the tucked-away resorts spread along the lake's shores. You can also circumnavigate the lake by road, which follows a scenic route and passes through several tunnels. However you choose to travel, be sure to visit the mountain meadow on the far southeastern shore of the lake, the birthplace of the Swiss nation.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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8. Zoo Zurich

An oasis of greenery on a wooded hill east of the city's downtown area, Zoo Zurich shelters over 2,000 animals of about 250 different species. In addition to a large aquarium and open-air aviary, the park features special areas dedicated to African animals, as well as large enclosures for red pandas, snow leopards, tigers, lions, and otters. A replica of a tropical rainforest, the zoo's top attraction, provides visitors with a hands-on learning experience about the natural environments of Madagascar. If you time things right, you may be able to catch the daily penguin parade. Check the website for special events and guided tour options.
Suggested duration: 5h 30 min
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9. Uetliberg Mountain

Scale Uetliberg Mountain to admire Switzerland's largest city and its location on the edge of the Alps. At 869 m (2,851 ft) tall, the small mountain rises above the city and is easily accessible from Zurich. Take a short ride on the train to just below the summit, where you can continue your ascent on foot. The mountain is popular for hiking and mountain biking as well as sledding, depending on the season. For the best views, climb to the top of the lookout tower.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
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10. Uhrenmuseum Beyer Zürich

Hidden within the Beyer retail store, Uhrenmuseum Beyer Zürich features an impressive collection of watches, clocks, and other objects related to timekeeping. A leading private museum in the field of horology, the museum houses remarkable pieces that have played significant roles in the history of watchmaking, such as an early marine chronometer by Ferdinant Berthoud, a pocket watch with astronomical indications by Auch, and a rare reproduction of the planetarium by De Dondi. Over a dozen delicate and rarely operated automata find their home in the museum, where film clips display them in full motion for visitors. Peruse the walls of the museum, adorned with unique clocks from many different points in history.
Suggested duration: 1 hour
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11. Mt Pilatus, Kriens

For panoramic views of Lucerne and the surrounding region, take the world's steepest cogwheel railway to the top of Mt Pilatus. During medieval times locals believed that a dragon lived at the summit of this soaring massif; several 17th-century accounts tell of a winged creature flying between the mount's caves. Today the towering mountain draws visitors with its walking trails, which range from extremely steep and challenging scrambles for serious adrenaline junkies, to easy hikes for everyone else. On clear days the hiking paths offer views that stretch as far as the Black Forest in southwestern Germany. You can also reach the summit by riding the aerial cableway or the panorama gondola, departing from the town of Kriens. The cogwheel railway from Alpnachstad to Pilatus Kulm only operates from mid-May till mid-November. The cable-car and gondola from Kriens up to Pilatus operates also in winter.
Suggested duration: 2h 30 min
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12. Friedhof Fluntern

Pay your respects to some notable figures at Friedhof Fluntern. Narrow paths pass traverse lush trees and gravestones in this hauntingly beautiful cemetery. Of particular interest to tourists is the grave of James Joyce, renowned Irish novelist and poet, whose pensive statue keeps watch over the tomb. In addition, two Nobel Peace Prize winners are buried here, Paul Karrer and Leopold Ružička. Reach the site on foot (a bit of a hike uphill) or take the tram from the city and exit at the "Zoo" stop.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
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13. Rigi, Lucerne

Surrounded by three lakes, Rigi once inspired painter J.M.W. Turner to create a series of works studying its changing views and blue sunrises. Known to many as the "Queen of the Mountains," the Alpine massif features a towering summit 1,798 m (5,898 ft) above sea level. A year-round tourist destination served by one of Europe's oldest mountain railways, the idyllic region draws a growing number of nature lovers with an extensive network of walking trails and ski slopes. Gear up and tackle the mountain's hiking paths all the way to the summit, or sit back and enjoy the sweeping views on the cable car that departs from the small town of Kussnacht.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
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14. Titlis, Engelberg

At Titlis you'll have year-round access to a world-class ski resort, including Europe's highest suspension bridge. Ride up the mountain on the world's first revolving cable car; the final station, containing several shops and restaurants, serves as the starting point for hikes to the 3,239 m (10,623 ft) summit--the highest in central Switzerland. Walk across the suspension bridge for unobstructed views of the Alpine mountaintops and surrounding glaciers. If you don't feel like tackling the challenging scramble to the very top, take the chair lift to the nearby freestyle park, where you can ski and snowboard year-round.
Suggested duration: 4 hours
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15. Lindenhof Hill

Climb up to Lindenhof Hill, a quiet park overlooking the city's charming old town. The park draws local chess players to compete against one another amidst large, leafy trees. From your vantage point in the square, take in views of the old town and Limmat River, as well as historical buildings such as Grossmunster Church and city hall. Descend from the park via stone steps leading to the old town to explore little shops tucked cozily into narrow lanes.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
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