Switzerland is an expensive country to visit, and it’s no secret that Zurich is one of its priciest cities. It costs a fortune to stay in the city for a few days, especially if you’re not going to survive on supermarket food the entire time. So, it’s perfectly normal to want to save money on tourist attractions while you’re staying in Zurich.
The funny thing is that there’s a plethora of things you can do in the city without spending a cent. Many museums have free entry, as do churches and public parks. You can even visit a bird sanctuary for free, and walk around a 19th-century botanical garden. Those are some of my favorites, and here’s a more in-depth look at all the best things to do in Zurich for free!
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Uetliberg is Zurich’s home mountain that offers dramatic views of the city rooftops and Lake Zurich. The mountain is most easily accessible by mountain trains, but those cost money. So, instead of paying for a train ticket, you can hike to the mountain from the city center for free.
It takes about two hours to reach the top of Uetliberg, and it’s absolutely worth it. The hike is a really good way of getting some exercise into your trip to Zurich and getting to enjoy the splendid sights without spending any money. The trail is well-maintained and easy to follow, and for experienced hikers, this will be a piece of cake.
Once you’re at the summit, there are a bunch of other things you can do for free. My favorite is the Planet Trail, which is easy and very fun to follow.
Old Town Zurich
The old town of Zurich is the best thing about this city, at least for me. The cobblestone alleys, the wonderful architecture, and the towering Gothic churches are all stunning sights to behold.
While there are countless guided tours of Zurich Old Town, strolling through the central city streets doesn’t have to cost you a dime. You can easily organize a self-guided tour and spend hours roaming around Zurich Altstadt, discovering all of its famous landmarks.
The top sights in the old town of Zurich are Grossmunster, Fraumunster, Bahnhofstrasse, St. Peter’s Square, Lindenhof, Paradeplatz, the Swiss National Museum, and the Zurich Opera House. Some of these attractions have free entrances and are mentioned in more detail below.
Tip: Many churches are free to enter and touring them is a must during a walking tour of the Zurich Old Town. And if you try to walk inside a church with paid entrance, the worst that can happen is that you’ll not be let in.
Zurich has several botanical gardens, but the one in the heart of the old town is where you’re going if you don’t want to pay any entrance fees. Situated at the western edge of the city center, the Old Botanical Garden boasts a wonderful collection of trees and medicinal plants.
The garden dates back to the early 19th century, and it is locally famous for its octagonal palm house. The small glass building houses all the plants and trees that have no business being in Zurich, and which wouldn’t survive a day in the harsh Swiss climate.
The Old Botanical Garden in Zurich is open every day from 7 AM until 7 PM. In the garden is also the Ethnographic Museum, another Swiss museum with free entry. Visit the place to see some unique objects in the collocation, and learn something about the Swiss culture and tradition.
Bahnhofstrasse is arguably the most expensive street in Zurich. Lined with luxury shops on either side, this iconic city street is home to some of the priciest boutiques in the city. But walking down the street is entirely free, as long as you’ve got enough self-control to stay on the street and not go inside the shops.
The iconic Bahnhofstrasse is also the most famous street in the city of Zurich. It runs all the way from the Zurich HB railway station down to the lake, featuring many iconic city landmarks. The street can be traversed on foot, which is completely free, or in a tram.
Grossmunster is one of the two famous churches in the city’s old town. It is best known for its twin clock towers, which offer stunning panoramic views of the Limmat River. The protestant church is also famous for being the home church of Huldrych Zwingli, the leader of the Reformation in Switzerland.
Anyone can enter the church for free and tour its immaculate interior. See the beautiful stained glass windows and the ornate sculptures that decorate its walls. Access to the towers is charged, and the panoramic views of Zurich’s rooftops have a price of 5 CHF.
Lindenhof is the hill in central Zurich, situated on the site of a former Roman fort. You can see remnants of the old fort here, and you can also enjoy beautiful panoramic views of the Limmat River and the buildings that line its shore.
The hilltop is also a popular gathering place for the locals, especially the older crowds. Open-air chess is played here, and you can challenge someone to a match, or just observe the veterans in action.
Lindenhof is easily accessible by a short walk in the old town of Zurich.
Fraumunster is an evangelical church on the bank of the Limmat River. The church is most easily recognizable for the green roof of its clock tower.
Touristic tours of the church are usually charged 5 CHF, but you can enter the church for free if you pretend that you’ve come to pray. Also, anyone can attend the Sunday service at 10 AM for free. It’s held in German and you might not understand what’s going on, but it’s a good opportunity to discover the gorgeous stained glass windows by Giacometti and Chagall for free.
The Crypt Museum is accessible only if you’ve paid the entrance fee.
One of the best things about Zurich is that it lies on the shore of Lake Zurich. For anyone who visits the city in the summer, this means lounging on beaches and swimming in the lake.
Head to the shore and walk around for a little while, admiring the panoramic views before your eyes. Lake Zurich is wonderfully scenic, and even just being near the water is enough to put you in a good mood.
But on a warm summer day, jumping in the chilly lake is the perfect way of cooling down. Although there are multiple bathing areas that charge an entrance fee, there are even more spots where you can put down a towel without having to pay for anything.
Zoological Museum of Zurich
The Zoological Museum of Zurich is hands down my favorite free attraction in the city. Situated at the University of Zurich, this natural history museum boasts two floors of exhibits. With so many different things to see here, the museum practically gives away a couple of hours of fun for free.
The museum’s collection includes everything from mammoth skeletons to unicorn models. It’s a fascinating museum and an absolute must for all animal lovers in Zurich. The only downside is that it’s a bit away from the city center, but it’s still easily accessible by bus, tram, and funicular.
Also, the museum is on a hill above the lower city and offers beautiful views of Zurich’s rooftops from its surroundings.
Swiss National Museum
The Swiss National Museum boasts the largest exhibit on the culture and history of Switzerland, and it’s a must for anyone who wants to learn more about this spectacular country. The standard entrance fee is 10 CHF, but it is possible to enter the museum for free with a variety of cards and passes.
So, if you have the Zurich City Card or the Zurich Museum Pass, you can tour this museum without spending a cent. Until recently the museum was also free with the Swiss Travel Pass, but this rule has been changed a few times. Currently, it is still included in the list of museums you can enter for free with the Swiss Pass, and I wouldn’t hesitate to go in and ask.
St. Peter’s Square
Situated in the heart of Zurich Old Town, St. Peter’s Square is a large public space in front of the namesake church. The square boasts charming buildings, cobblestone alleys, and plenty of benches that you can sit on if you ever need a break.
It’s a great place for a quick rest in between sightseeing sessions. St. Peter’s church is free to enter for everyone, but it’s not quite as grand or striking as the other Zurich churches, so you might be underwhelmed if you’re expecting breathtaking artwork and stunning vaulted ceilings.
Zurich Succulent Plant Collection
Head to the Mythenquai beach to see a very interesting greenhouse in Zurich. It houses the city’s succulent collection, which is surprisingly rich for a city with a pretty harsh climate.
The Succulent Plant Collection mostly features cacti and more species than you would expect to see in a desert. The collection is categorized by origin and includes succulents from Madagascar, South America, Africa, and many other places where cacti are native.
The display is impressively large, and it’s a miracle that such a fun place can be toured for free. Expect to spend at least 20-30 minutes here walking around, possibly even more if you read all the info panels to learn something about the succulents.
It goes without saying, but do not touch any of the cacti at this botanical garden because you’ll have regrets. If you get the free bike rental, you can easily cycle from the old town to the greenhouse in about 10 minutes. Otherwise, it’s a 30-minute walk from central Zurich.
Arboretum Zürich is a vast public park on the northwestern shore of Lake Zurich. In it is the Zurich Aviary, a small bird sanctuary with free entrance. This is more than just a zoo in Zurich; it’s a rescue station for wild birds found injured or sick. The Aviary is staffed every day and accepts emergency cases daily.
Anyone can show up at Voliere Zurich and tour the place in 20-30 minutes. You can see many unique bird species here, and learn about each one. It’s even possible to sign up for tours of the bird care station and boarding house, which aren’t normally open to the public.
But this is available only to groups and school clubs, and you would have to try to contact the aviary well in advance to ask for a tour. You’re more likely to be granted a tour of these places if you work with animals or have previous experience caring for birds.
Free Bike Rental
The Zurirollt program offers anyone the option to rent a bike for free. You just need to show your ID and leave a deposit of 20 CHF, which you will get back once you return the bike. So technically, it won’t cost you anything.
Zurich is a fairly big city, and cycling is a great way to get around quickly without spending money on public transport. You can cycle along the shore of Lake Zurich, past the Opera House and the Chinese Garden, and even up to Uetliberg.
The popularity of outdoor bathing in Zurich draws roots from the Roman Era, and there’s a lot to unpack about the bathing cult of Zurich. What’s most important in this context is that the city offers a wide selection of river pools that anyone can access free of charge.
Throughout Zurich, there are various bathing areas on both the Limmat River and Lake Zurich. Many have paid entrance, and those places usually include lockers, bathrooms, and even cafes and restaurants. But the city also has a bunch of places with free entrance, and they’re perfect for travelers who want to experience the bathing cult of Zurich without spending any money.
Tip: In the summer, the free bathing areas get crowded quickly. For the most enjoyable experience, head there early in the morning and get ready to leave when other people’s towels start touching your own.
Situated in the southwestern part of Zurich, Belvoir Park is a vast green space near the lake with free entry. It’s right next to the Rieterpark with the Rietberg Museum, which is one of the museums you can visit for free with the Swiss Travel Pass. But that’s not the point.
Belvoir Park features landscaped walking paths, sculptures, fountains, and playgrounds. Visit to spend an afternoon away from the crowds of central Zurich, relaxing under the shade of a massive tree. In the spring, come here to see some beautiful flowers and enjoy the park in all its glory.
The park is situated on the grounds of a 19th-century mansion, and the villa still exists on the grounds. Nowadays it houses the Belvoirpark Restaurant, which serves classic Swiss cuisine in an idyllic setting.
Zurich West is a city district that often gets overlooked by tourists because it isn’t home to the city’s most famous landmarks. While most people prefer to roam around the old town, Zurich West is a great area for the younger crowd. The trendy neighborhood has increased in popularity over the past few years, after its 180° transformation from an industrial quarter.
A walking tour of this neighborhood is a great way to discover a different side of Zurich. The modern buildings, office campuses, and even the tallest tower in the entire city area are all in Zurich West. The district also has a bunch of free public parks, as well as some of the best nightclubs in Zurich. But those aren’t free.
Langenberg Wildlife Park
The Langenberg Wildlife Park in Langnau am Albis is a top destination for outdoor lovers in Zurich. It’s a vast wilderness area with hiking trails, wildlife, and plenty of barbecue spots. Best of all, access to the wildlife park is free of charge!
I love to go here when I need a break from the crowds of Zurich because it’s such a serene place. I can spend hours watching the bears swim and admiring all the wildcats. There’s a cafe at the park where you can get a bite to eat, but I prefer to bring my own food and make use of the designated BBQ areas because it’s more fun.
If you get a free bike from Zurirollt, you can travel to the wildlife park for free. It takes about 45 minutes to cycle from the old town, and the terrain is mostly flat except for the last stretch from Adliswil.
Map of Zurich Attractions
Frequently Asked Questions
What museums are free in Zurich?
The Zoological Museum, Paleontological Museum, Ethnographic Museum, Archeological Institute and Museum, and focusTerra are free museums in Zurich. Many other museums are free for tourists who have the Zurich City Card and the Swiss Travel Pass.
What is free in Zurich with SwissPass?
With the Swiss Pass, you get free entrance to 24 museums, free use of public transport, unlimited travel on buses and boats, and free rides on panorama trains. Discounts for mountain trains are also a benefit of the Swiss Travel Pass.