Heading to Zurich and want to make the most of your time there with a free walking tour? I have planned the ideal walking tour for anyone with half a day or a whole day in Zurich.
There is so much to explore on foot in Zurich, and this tour makes the most of all the highlights in Zurich, with lots of side options for those with more time and energy!
You can start the tour from anywhere on the map, but the following is planned from the main station – Zurich HB, which is easy to reach from anywhere in and outside of Zurich.
Table of Contents
Bahnhofstrasse Shopping Street
Head out of the Bahnhofstrasse exit of the Zurich main station and cross over to Bahnhofstrasse itself. This is the busiest area of town and a place where a lot of people go shopping for clothes and food.
There are a couple of places you might want to pop into here if you like coffee or chocolate. Vicafe makes some of the best coffee in Zurich, and here at the start of Bahnhofstrasse, you can pick up a quick takeaway coffee for your walk. There are a few others around town, so you can always grab one at Bellevue or next to the Fraumünster church too.
The other notable place is the Läderach chocolate store – they sell some of the best chocolate in Zurich and Switzerland. There are actually outlets of this chain all over Zurich and Switzerland, so you don’t have to get your chocolate fix here, but you can if you have time!
Before we start the tour, I know some of you might still want to check out the options for a tour of Zurich with a guide. Sure, you can do this tour and still see everything. The problem is, you don’t get any background or insider info as you go along!
There are some great tours available in Zurich I wholeheartedly recommend, such as:
- A Historic Tour of Zurich (More history focused)
- Zurich City Highlights (All the Highlights)
- Zurich Scavenger Hunt (A unique spin on a tour)
- Zurich by Bus, Lake & Lindt Chocolate Museum Tour (Great Combo!)
Rennweg & Lindenhof Viewpoint
The walk along Bahnhofstrasse is really just a teaser for the stunning old town backstreets and viewpoint you are about to see. Head first up Rennweg, which is a wide shopping street that leads you slowly but surely into the true Zurich old town on this side of the Limmat.
Our first goal here is the Lindenhof park which provides a great spot for a quick break but also seriously epic views of the Limmat River, the other side of the old town, and the crown jewel of Zurich – the Grossmünster. It was also once a Roman fort, back when Zurich was just a baby. And, it was the place where the Swiss constitution was sworn in back in 1798.
You can also take a stroll around the park and check out the chess games that often take place in the back on a sunny weekend day.
From here we head deeper into the old town towards St Peter’s Church. But don’t forget to just look up and around as you walk.
There are lots of amazing old buildings, signs, details, painted rooves, and windows throughout this area.
St Peters Church & Fraumünster
You already get a peak at St Peter’s church as you exit the Lindenhof and head steeply downhill towards it. This is actually the largest clock face in the whole of Europe, so take a moment to be impressed by its sheer size. Of course, the age of this church, founded in the 9th century and being the oldest parish church in town is also something to ponder.
You can head straight to the church from here, or angle left downhill towards the river and the so-called Gemüsebrücke (vegetable bridge) where there were, and still are, weekly fresh produce markets held.
Behind St Peter’s is the next most impressive church, the Fraumünster (ladies’ church). This church was founded back in 853, if you can believe that. It was formerly an abbey for aristocratic women, hence the name.
I love hanging out at the Münsterhof square next to the church here and either taking a coffee at Vicafe or stopping at one of the other terraces for a drink in summer. The buildings around here are stunning, and it pays to take a moment to soak it all up.
Expensive Shops on Bahnhofstrasse
From the Münsterhof square, we make our way out of the old town, arriving again on Bahnhofstrasse. This time, we are at the top end where all the rich and famous do their shopping in Zurich. This is really what Bahnhofstrasse is known for.
If you want a break before continuing your walking tour here, Confissierie Sprüngli is a great stop for a bite to eat, coffee, cake or just a quick drink. They have seats outside in summer, but the main restaurant is upstairs. It’s also where you can grab one of Zurich’s most famous treats – the Luxemburgerli macarons.
The shops on Bahnhofstrasse include the likes of Dolce & Gabbana, Tiffany’s, Versace, and Dior. So, you can certainly empty your Swiss bank account here quite easily. For us mere mortals, it’s a great place to window shop and watch the kinds of people who actually head into these stores.
Lake Zurich Views & Opera Haus
Walking further along Bahnhofstrasse you will come to a small park on your left called Bürkliplatz, but our goal is across the road at the lake. You can cross on the right-hand side of the park here, via a couple of confusing crosswalks. You will arrive at the ferry terminal, but take a quick peak on the right at Zurich’s lesser-known flower clock. It’s quite an unusual creation if you ask me, although there is also one in Geneva by the English gardens.
Now heading left/north back past the ferry terminal, walk towards Bellevue. There is a small elevated park area here where you can take some stunning pictures of Lake Zurich, and hopefully the Alps at the end of the lake. On clear days, when the so-called Foehn winds are blowing from the south, the mountains can be crystal clear here. I sometimes feel like I can reach out and touch them!
Another great spot for a break is on the left-hand side of the lake, just around the corner and right at Bellevue. There are a few small stalls where you can also grab a drink or snack here. Then walk down the stairs to the lake and take a load off, you have walked a lot already today!
Opposite this small park area is the famous Sechseläutenplatz, which is also home to Zurich’s Opera house. When there are no events being held here, Zurich provides lots of metal chairs to sit on and enjoy the hustle and bustle of daily life in this area. This is also where they burn the towering, explosive-filled figure called the Böögg in early April each year!
You can also pop into the Opera House or just take a photo, and continue on your long walk back via the other section of Zurich’s old town.
While I remember: another noteworthy stop on the other end of the square from the Opera Haus is a zany coffee shop called Felix. They have loads of cakes and treats all set in a very old-world interior.
Zurich Old Town & The Grossmunster Church
It’s time now to head back into the streets of Zurich’s old town and make our way to the Grossmünster church. There are lots of fun and unique stores in the old town, so take some time to do a little window shopping along the way to the church.
The Grossmünster stands proudly on a small hill above the Limmat river, with great views towards the other side of the river and the Fraumünster, where you were earlier in the walking tour.
The Grossmüster is known locally as “salt and pepper” because of the huge rounded towers on the top. If you take a look at the image above, I think you will see why! The modern version of the church was begun in the 12th century and completed in 1220. So, this is also a very old church by any standards.
One of the most notable parts of the church’s history is its role in the Reformation. It was here that Zwingli and Bullinger set things in motion dividing the church in Switzerland forever more.
It’s worth taking a peek inside the church. It is actually quite austere, with hard wooden benches and very little in the way of pomp.
There are some unique stain-glass windows from Sigmar Polke on the sides and some other more classic examples at the rear. And, if you are lucky, the Karlsturm church tower is open again and you can climb the 187 steps to the top for some epic views over the old town!
The Grossmünster church is the gateway to Niederdorfstrasse, the most famous street in Zurich’s old town. This is actually the best section of the streets, so spend your most time here, and then veer off later on after the Swiss Chuchi restaurant.
The best part of Niederdorf for me is not only the shops, restaurants and bars on the street but also the pleasure in exploring the backstreets on the right-hand side.
This is where you should spend more of your time. Just duck into the alleyways and small side streets and you will find some amazing and unique shops, buildings and small squares. Places almost no one goes.
There are also a bunch of places to stop for a bite to eat or drinks such as
- Swiss Chuchi for fondue
- Raclette Factory for raclette
- Bodega Espanola for tapas
- Cafe & Conditorei 1842 for cake and hot chocolate
- Andorra for great beer
- Corazon for wine
And this is just a taste of what is hidden in this area.
Giacometti Halls or Views from the ETH Polyterrase
Once you get towards the last part of Niederdorf, it is time to head down to the Limmat River and walk along what is called Limmatquai. It is a lovely part of the city to stroll, stop for a coffee at a place like Gran Café Motta or even have a bite to eat at Franzos Coffee Shop.
This could be the end of your tour, but you have two great choices for a finale to this free walking tour.
- Cross over the river to the Zurich Police Station and discover the hidden gem that is Giacometti Frescos (Blüemlihalle). The painted ceilings in this building are one of a kind and a little nuts that they are in a police station. Just don’t go in while they are attending to a street demonstration as I did :> They might usher you straight out again!
- If art is not your thing, but you love epic views, and 45-degree train rides, then take the ETH Polybahn up from the end of Niederdorf (next to Starbucks). It might cost you a few bucks for the ride (you can walk back down again), but the ETH Polyterrasse offers some of the best views of Zurich, especially at sunset.
Yes, there is a whole lot more to do or see in Zurich, You could spend at least a week here getting to know this city, visiting many of its amazing museums, eating, drinking and more. However, this free self-guided walking tour is the best of the best all in one day!