A Perfect 24 Hours in Zurich, Switzerland


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Greetings, Internet Stranger and welcome to 24 hours in Zurich, Switzerland! This is a strange post for me to write because I did not want to spend 24 hours in Zurich. I did not want to spend any time in Zurich at all. And yet I was there.

The only reason I made Zurich a stop on my 15 city, 7 week trip through Europe was that it seemed like I had to stop there in between Salzburg and Geneva. I couldn’t afford any hotels, so I ended up having to share a hostel room with three teenage boys from England who sometimes listened to porn and wanted me to cook for them.

We all shared the common area with an elderly man who appeared to speak neither English nor French and never wore any pants. He would just sit in the kitchen and stare at me as I dried my hair.

Despite all this, I had an amazing 24 hours in Zurich. It’s a beautiful city with excellent art, swans, architecture, and chocolate milk. Once I learned to get over the fact that I couldn’t afford anything, I fell in love with the place. I certainly plan on going back after I win Mega Millions. Join me for 24 hours in Zurich and I’m sure you’ll learn to love it too.

24 hours in zurich

24 Hours in Zurich

How to Get There

Now, I wish I knew where you lived, Internet Stranger, because I could send you a box of cuckoo clocks. But sadly, I do not, and so I can’t tell you exactly how to get from your home to your 24 hours in Zurich.

But I can tell you that you can use a lovely airplane to get from my hometown NYC to Zurich, and I recommend Expedia for the best way to find the cheapest flight to Zurich at the best time of day. There are actually tons of direct flights from New York to Zurich; I assume it’s to accommodate all the fabulously wealthy titans of industry who have appointments in Zurichs.

You can even use Expedia to rent a car so you’ll be all set when you arrive at your destination. (I can’t drive, but if you can, this must be helpful.)

Just click here to start looking for the best possible deals on your flight, so you can head out to the 24 hours in Zurich itinerary ASAP.

24 hours in zurich

24 Hours in Zurich

Where to Stay?

So I think I made it clear from my opening anecdote that I can’t suggest you stay at my hostel. But I can recommend a more convenient neighborhood.

Save as much money as you can and swing a room that is located near downtown Zurich. It will leave you more time for wandering around the historic sights and less time for being glared at by Old Father No-Pants. 

If you want to explore more than 500 great deals on hotels in Zurich, just click here. This search engine will help you find the most affordable and conveniently located hotel that’s available on your travel dates.

24 Hours in Zurich

What to Pack?

  • A great pair of sandals that will keep you comfy all during your 24 hours in Zurich, if it’s sunny
  • Stylish boots because there’s a chance it will rain during your time in Zurich.
  • A cell charger so you can keep your cell phone charged for a full 24 hours in Zurich
  • My favorite travel umbrella is the Repel Teflon Waterproof Umbrella. It is strong enough to stand up to a strong wind or just a powerful piece of Swiss cheese.
  • The best travel adapter so you will be able to use American/Australian/British devices in Swiss electrical outlets.
  • My favorite guidebook to Switzerland.
  • And if you’re interested in learning more about Swiss culture, I recommend the highly entertaining nonfiction book Swiss Watching.
  • I always travel with travel insurance from World Nomads. You never know when something might go wrong, especially in this day and age, and you don’t want to get stranded in a foreign country without help. You never know when extreme weather will strike or some other emergency. But with travel insurance, you’re protected even if you are attacked by a runaway pot of boiling hot fondue in Zurich.

24 Hours in Zurich

Morning: Walking Tour of Zurich Old Town

By any measure, Zurich is one of the most expensive cities in Europe. By some rankings, it is the most expensive city in the world. So that’s why I was thrilled to find this very affordable walking tour of Zurich’s old town for just a few CHF. You can book it easily yourself by clicking on this link.

Sidenote: I do not know what CHF stands for nor how much money it’s worth. I just know it does better than the Euro. Stay crafty, you Swiss bankers!

Our guide was an enthusiastic Swiss miss with a wealth of knowledge about her city. She was happy to share with us more than…

Approximately top 5: 24 hours in zurich

24 hours in zurich
1) Munsterhof

Our guide (I’m obviously calling her Heidi, what do you take me for?) got us started in Munsterhof, which is the largest square in the medieval part of Zurich. She explained that Zurich has always been heavily involved in finance. It started as a Roman trading post and now it is a banking center. I imagine that must explain why a latte at Starbucks in Zurich costs about 10 US dollars.

At this point, one of the people on the tour asked Heidi if Zurich was the capital of Switzerland. Heidi answered, “Well, Switzerland doesn’t have a capital. But the capital is Bern.” I think you might have to be Swiss to understand that concept.

24 hours in zurich
2) Fraumunster

There are so many fun facts about Fraumunster Church, I’d run out of time if I tried to list them all. My favorite was that the doors were intentionally made narrow to discourage ladies from having skirts that were too wide and fancy. (Heidi explained that Zurich was a Protestant city and discouraged elaborate outfits.) The most beautiful objects in the church are the Chagall stained glass windows in the back, but sadly we are not allowed to photograph them.

24 hours in zurich

You are allowed to photograph these frescoes, however, which depict the legend of the founding of the church. The legend has it that two sisters were led to a spot in the woods every evening to pray. Their guide? A deer with lighted horns. You can see him in the background of the fresco, looking kind of like Ghost Rider.

They decided the deer was showing them the perfect spot to built an abbey. I feel like these sisters had the best medieval Swiss life possible. They got to run their own abbey, they had a magical deer for a pet, they didn’t die from plague…nothing but up side as far as I’m concerned.

24 hours in Zurich
3) Saint Peter

Historic Zurich is basically all churches. Saint Peter is the tallest church in Zurich, which meant during medieval times someone had to sit at the top of the tower and look for fires all the time. I feel so sorry for that guy. He has to be stuck in a tower all day with no friends and he doesn’t even get a magical deer for a pet.

24 hours in Zurich
4) The limmat River

Next Heidi took us up to a viewing point where we got most pleasing views of Zurich’s grass-green Limmat River. Heidi told us that every August, they have an event called the Limmat Swim. The event doesn’t sound that complicated. You buy a ticket in advance and then you get to swim down the Limmat.

Here’s one thing that story tells me: the Limmat is not suffering from a pollution problem. If we tried that with the Hudson River back home, we’d all come out with 2 heads.

24 hours in Zurich
5) Lenin’s apartment

If there’s one thing I don’t associate with the Swiss, it’s the Russian Revolution. That’s why I was surprised to learn that Vladimir Lenin lived in Zurich in exile before successfully carrying out the Russian Revolution.

Tom Stoppard even wrote a really weird play called Travesties about the fact that Lenin, James Joyce, and Romanian Dadaist Tristan Tzara all lived in Zurich around the same time, and Joyce got sued in Zurich over a pair of pants and a production of The Importance of Being Earnest. (I’m not making any of that up.) Zurich around the time of WWI sounds like a wild time.

Also, I know Fuhrer is just German for leader, but it’s still really weird to read Lenin being called the Fuhrer of anything.

24 hours in zurich
6) Lunch at Conditorei Schober

After the tour was over, it was time to eat. I followed Heidi’s suggestion and had a light lunch at Conditorei Schober. My bagel with salami and salad on top was quite tasty and filling, but that wasn’t really why I came.

24 hours in Zurich
24 hour treat: swiss chocolate milk

All I wanted was to get my grubby mitts on some of that thick Swiss chocolate milk. It was everything I dreamed of. It tasted just as if that old story about brown cows giving chocolate milk was true and the milk had come directly from one of them. The best part was that it wasn’t too sweet, just full of rich, chocolatey goodness.

24 hours in zurich

24 Hours in Zurich

Afternoon: Kunsthaus Zurich

The Kunsthaus, Zurich’s modern art museum, was probably my favorite thing in my 24 hours in Zurich. I had no idea that Zurich had such a spectacular art collection. If you’d asked me to picture Zurich before I went there, I would probably just have imagined a city full of mole-eyed Swiss bankers in Armani suits counting gold coins stashed away by criminals looking to evade the police or international tax laws.

So I’m very pleased to discover Zurich has just as much, if not more, culture as any city in Europe. I’ll get you started with…

Approximately top 5: kunsthaus zurich edition

24 hours in zurich
1) Giacometti Collection

The most notable feature of the Kunsthaus Zurich is that it has the world’s largest museum collection of Giacometti. Giacometti was a Swiss sculptor, and I guess from his works, he liked his ladies on the thin side.

I was surprised to find that Giacometti was Swiss! I’d always thought he was Italian. But of course Switzerland borders northern Italy, and Italian is one of the official languages of Switzerland, even if it’s not as widely spoken as German or French.

24 hours in zurich
2) Rembrandt

Any museum that has a Rembrandt is okay in my book. This painting is of the Apostle Simon. What I love about Rembrandt is that the subjects of his paintings look so real. Would you have known that this was a portrait of an apostle if I hadn’t told you? To me it looks like a portrait of an ordinary man. But of course that’s the point, that the apostles were ordinary men.

24 hours in zurich
3) Roy Lichtenstein

As an American, I always get excited when I see a work by an American artist in a foreign museum. We haven’t been doing the painting thing nearly as long as the Europeans have, so it’s hard for us to catch up. I almost feel like this is Lichtenstein impression of a Rothko or a Jackson Pollock. It’s just a brushstroke, but it’s done in a very Pop Art way.

In another sense, it kind of looks like Donald Trump’s disembodied hair.

24 hours in zurich
4) black hole by Kandinsky

Zurich has a special relationship with modern art because the avant-garde Dada movement was started in Zurich. The Dadas would create art by performing random tasks like cutting up words from books and then pulling the words randomly out of a hat to create a poem. I think that might be a little too much Dada for me.

I prefer Kandinsky, who just paints simple things like this monster with a black hole for a mouth who is sucking all the world’s music inside the void.

24 hours in zurich
5) Monet waterlilies

The former director of the Kunsthaus was actually allowed to take two of Monet’s works back to the museum directly from Giverny after the artist’s death. This is the darkest and least-recognizable Monet I have ever seen. Usually his works are overwhelmingly white and pink. I imagine this was painted after his blindness had become severe.

24 hours in zurich
6) chagall

I couldn’t show you the Chagall stained glass in Fraumunster, so this painting will have to do. This is a painting of a wedding, and all I can say is it’s the craziest wedding I have ever seen. Why is there a donkey in the corner? Are there angels flying above? Who got the musician a green cello? Why are the people getting married so small?

If I ever get married, can my wedding look exactly like this? At least no one could say my marriage was boring

24 hours in zurich
7) Munch

This is an unusually happy painting from Norwegian Edvard Munch, who is mostly famous for painting a deformed person screaming in agony.

This painting is much more pleasant because it is a portrait of a former director of the Kunsthaus. He and Munch were buddies and so Munch painted his portrait and gave it to him as a present. It’s nice to know that notable depressive Munch was capable of such a friendly and helpful gesture. There’s hope for us all!

24 Hours in Zurich

Evening: Dinner at Le Dezaley

What’s the first food you think of when I say Swiss food? If you said anything but fondue or chocolate, you are lying! Or possibly you are Swiss. Anyway, we had our chocolate for lunch, so now it’s time for the cheese!

I chose to fond my due at a classic Swiss restaurant called Le Dezaley. Though Zurich is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, the restaurant serves food from the Vaud region, which is in the French-speaking part. Well, I don’t really care what language my cheese speaks as long as it’s melty and stinky!

24 hours in zurich

24 hour treat: fondue

There were so many things to love about this fondue. It was hot and bubbly! The cheese was obviously cheese you would actually want to eat even if it were not all melted and gooey on top of pieces of nice bread.

But my favorite thing was that I was given pickles to dip into the fondue. I had never seen that before! I got to dip pickled gherkins, onions, and baby corn right into the flowing cheese lava, like some sort of ancient, cheese-loving volcano god. Man, I just love finding new ways to eat cheese.

24 hours in zurich

24 hour treat: zug kirschtorte

I was already so excited about my fondue, and now you get to have an even more local dish for your dessert. The Zug Kirschtorte was invented in the German-speaking town of Zug. It is made with layers of meringue, butter cream, and sponge cake soaked in kirschwasser.

I could certainly taste the cherry liqueur in this baby! I was a little worried it would get me tipsy. The best part of this cake is the crunchy meringue surrounding the moist sponge cake. More dessert should experiment with texture this way, say I!

24 hours in Zurich

That’s a Perfect 24 Hours in Zurich!

What would you do with 24 hours in Zurich? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Zurich? Have you ever put pickles in a fondue before? And what would you do if a deer with magic lights in his horns came for you in the night? Please leave your thoughts below.

Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Zurich. If you have another 24 hours in Zurich, try this itinerary!

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