Greetings, Internet Stranger! 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 time 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
Where to Stay?
So I think I made it clear from my opening anecdote that I can’t suggest you spend 24 hours in Zurich 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.
24 Hours in Zurich
What to Pack?
The weather in Zurich is unpredictable. I experienced both gorgeous sunshine and horrible rain during my 24 hours in Zurich. So the two most important things you’ll need to bring are an umbrella and some rain boots. My favorite travel umbrella is the Repel Teflon Waterproof Umbrella. It is strong enough to stand up to the sometimes-quite-strong Swiss winds.
For rain boots, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them about a pricey city like Zurich without feeling like some gauche American with gross feet.
Finally, if you’re not from Europe, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. European electrical outlets don’t work with either American or British plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
24 Hours in Zurich
Morning: Free Walking Tour of Downtown Zurich
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 if you find something listed as “free” in Zurich, you jump on it. That’s why I was excited to find this “free” tour of downtown Zurich that leaves at 11 AM every day. I could get an overview of the city and the main attractions without having to pay 10,000 CHF.
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!
24 hour tip
I really don’t like the name “free walking tour” and I’m always torn about endorsing them. But they’re a big part of the industry now, and in a city like Zurich there aren’t a lot of paid walking tours available, so I had to make do.
Free walking tours are not really free. The guide usually has to count the number of tourists who join the tour at the beginning. Then they have to pay the company they work for around 3 Euros per person. So if you walk away without tipping, you’re actually costing the guide money. Please tip your guide generously!
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
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 sentence.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. (Again, 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.
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 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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
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 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 hour treat: zug kirschtorte
I was already so excited about my fondue, and now I got to have an even more local dish for my 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!
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!