Why Go To Zurich
The fairy-tale city of Zurich is set on the banks of both a river and a lake, with the snow-topped Swiss Alps rising in the background. Clean cobblestone streets hug a hilly terrain, and medieval church spires reach heavenward. Despite its reputation for being the center of old-school international banking and a capital for top-notch chocolate confections, Zurich is also a very modern city that chooses to meander through life at an unhurried pace. Travelers desiring an authentic experience should strive to do the same.
Ulrich Zwingli came to proselytize. James Joyce came to write "Ulysses." Bankers came to make money. Dadaists met at Zurich's Cabaret Voltaire to change or ruin art, depending on your position. But you should come for the chocolate, grilled sausages, locally grown wines, amazing museums, medieval architecture, extravagant shopping, breathtaking vistas and the clean, clear water of Lake Zurich. You can spend anywhere from one to three days in Zurich before hitting the surrounding ski slopes or traveling on to Geneva.
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Best Months to Visit
The best time to visit Zurich is between June and August, when average temperatures, which hover in the low 70s, make swimming in the lake possible. However, summer's hospitable climate also makes it the most expensive season to visit. But even in December, January and February (the winter offseason), hotel rates remain high due to the city's proximity to the Swiss Alps' ski slopes. If you visit from March to May or between September and November, you might be able to find some reasonable room rates, but keep in mind that Zurich cools down considerably during this time of year.
Weather in Zurich
Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center
What You Need to Know
- Zurich is expensive Although the Swiss franc and U.S. dollar currencies are fairly equivalent, high living expenses make Zurich one of the world's priciest cities to visit.
- A car isn't necessary Getting around Zurich is easy to do on foot or by public transportation. Plus, a boat ride on Lake Zurich is a lovely way to see the city, and farther locales like Uetliberg Mountain are just a short train ride away.
- Zurichers love chocolate This sweet confection is sold at shops throughout the city, or you can try the tasty treat while on a chocolate tour.
How to Save Money in Zurich
- Buy the Zurich Card This discount card is worth its price with unlimited travel on public transportation and free or discounted entry to dozens of museums.
- Skip the taxi Taxis are very expensive in Zurich, with the meter starting at 6 Swiss francs (about $6.50). Save money by walking instead.
- Visit in the fall or spring If you plan your visit to coincide with one of these shoulder seasons, you'll likely find a reduced rate on your hotel room.
Culture & Customs
When visiting this beautiful Swiss city, don't litter. Zurich still holds on to its 16th-century Protestant past, as displayed throughout the immaculate city. In fact, Zurich is so clean that you can fill your water bottle from Lake Zurich or one of the city's fountains.
Switzerland has four official languages: German, Italian, French and the least commonly spoken, Romansh. In Zurich, the majority of residents speak German, though French phrases like "bonjour" (hello) and "merci" (thank you) are often used here as well. You will probably run into residents who speak English, but come prepared with a German phrasebook or dictionary just in case.
Unlike other European countries, Switzerland does not use the euro for currency. Instead, stock up on Swiss francs before arriving, since American dollars are not accepted here (1 Swiss franc equals about $1.07). Though some shops and restaurants will take euros for payment, change will be given in francs. To ensure you are up-to-date on the Swiss franc to U.S. dollar exchange rate, look up the latest exchange rate before your trip.
Switzerland incorporates tips into advertised meal and service prices. As a result, visitors do not need to tip. However, for exceptional service, it is customary to add a small tip by rounding up to the nearest 5 or 10 francs. Sales taxes are also included in all bill prices.
What to Eat
Much like its languages, traditional Swiss food is heavily influenced by Germany, France and Italy. Because of Zurich's proximity to the German border, most of the city's food has German roots. "Nach Zurcher art" (or dishes cooked in the traditional Zurich style) typically consist of meat, potatoes, mushrooms, butter and cream – much like standard German fare. For classic Zurich cuisine, head to Old Town, where you'll find old-school beer halls like Restaurant Zeughauskeller and upscale eateries, such as Haus zum Ruden and Restaurant Kindli. Quintessential local dishes include "Zurcher geschnetzeltes" (Zurich-style sliced veal in gravy), "rosti" (shredded fried potatoes) and "burli" (crusty bread rolls).
In addition to the city's predominantly German cuisine, Zurich offers several spots for authentic Swiss chocolate and cheese fondue. To sample some of Zurich's best chocolate, visit Teuscher Chocolates of Switzerland, a family-owned chocolate store that's famous for its Champagne truffles. A trip to Confiserie Sprungli's flagship store in Kreis 1 is also a must. Though the shop offers a variety of chocolates, the star of this confectionery shop is the original "Luxemburgerli" (a macaroon named for its inventor, who was born in Luxembourg and worked at Sprungli). Meanwhile, for traditional Swiss cheese fondue, diners can visit Kreis 1's Swiss Chuchi Restaurant or Kreis 8's Chasstube Rehalp. There's also the themed Fondue Tram, which departs from Bellevue station and travels throughout the city every November through February. For more information about Zurich's Fondue Tram, visit Zurich Public Transport's website.
There have been no recent terror attacks in Switzerland, but threats of violence have become more common in other Western European countries. Demonstrations in Switzerland have occasionally turned violent in the past, so it's best to avoid protests and large gatherings. As a whole, Swiss cities are generally very safe to visit. Zurich sees very little tourist-directed crime; however, pickpocketing is common on public transportation and at airports, so keep an eye on your belongings at all times. For more safety tips, check out the U.S. State Department's website.
Getting Around Zurich
The best way to get around Zurich's neighborhoods is on foot or by bike. If you get fatigued, you can take the city's efficient tram system. From Zurich Airport (ZRH), you can also take a cost-efficient Swiss Federal Railways train the 6 miles into Zurich. Though expensive, traveling by taxi to the city center from the airport is a viable option, as is Uber. Driving is not recommended due to Zurich's constant traffic and limited amount of parking.
Entry & Exit Requirements
For visits up to 90 days, Americans do not need a visa to enter Switzerland. If you plan on staying longer, proper visa documentation – which can be obtained from the Embassy of Switzerland – must be completed prior to departure. A passport that is valid for at least three months after your return is also required. To find out more about entry and exit requirements for Switzerland, visit the U.S. State Department's website.
Any visit to Switzerland wouldn't be complete without sampling some world-famous Swiss cheese fondue. To step up your cheese fondue experience, consider hopping aboard Zurich's Fondue Tram, which travels through the city from November to February.
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