Greetings, Internet Stranger! Before coming to Zurich, I knew nothing about the city except what I had seen in The Bourne Identity. I assumed it was a city made entirely of banks and international spies. How wrong I was! Spending 24 hours in Zurich and Zurich West taught me that the city is full of history, mystery, and even factories. This One Day in Zurich Itinerary is the perfect way to learn about everything Switzerland has to offer.
We’ll spend the morning of the One Day in Zurich Itinerary learning about Zurich’s past in the Swiss National Museum. Then we’ll move to Zurich’s future with the up-and-coming neighborhood of Zurich West. We’ll even dine in a restaurant that is going to open only for us! I can hardly wait, can you, Internet Stranger?
One Day in Zurich Itinerary
Where to Stay?
I can’t suggest you spend 24 hours in Zurich at my hostel. It was a terrible place, and I was menaced by an elderly gentleman who refused to speak or wear pants. 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.
One Day in Zurich Itinerary
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.
One Day in Zurich Itinerary
Morning: Swiss National Museum
The Swiss National Museum‘s mission is not a mystery. They are looking to educate you about the wonders of Swiss history. “What wonders?” you might be asking. Isn’t Swiss history just a bunch of blond people with braids sitting on top of mountains drinking hot chocolate and yodeling at goats.
“Mais non!” a Swiss person might respond. Or perhaps, “Aber nein”. Or even “Ma no!” You might even hear them say, “Ma na!” They speak a lot of different languages in Switzerland, this is what I’m saying.
24 hour tip
You can’t bring your bag into the National Museum. They definitely have lockers for your bags, but if you have any valuables with you, leave them at home.
Three fun facts about swiss history
A) how old is switzerland?
In one sense, Switzerland is incredible aged because there have been people living in the area since prehistoric times. Yet Switzerland didn’t officially become a nation until the 1840s. How is this possible? Well, Switzerland is made up of different state-like entities called cantons. Each canton is used to having a fair amount of autonomy. Throughout medieval times, some cantons were allied with each other in the Old Swiss Confederacy, but other cantons were separate.
As a non-Swiss, the whole history of Switzerland from medieval times to the 19th century looks like something out of Mean Girls. There’s a lot of alliance changing and jockeying for allies and positions, but in the end everyone decides to be friends and celebrate Girl Power! I mean, Swiss Power. Or should I say, Swiss Neutrality?
B) How Neutral is Switzerland?
I was tickled to learn that the Swiss army was legendarily mighty and fearsome during the 1400s. Other countries used to hire the Swiss to fight for them! Now of course the Swiss spend all their time banking, eating chocolate, and making cuckoo clocks, sometimes all at the same time.
Even though Switzerland was officially neutral in WWII, they cooperated with Hitler’s government in certain ways. Unfortunately many Jewish refugees were turned away because Switzerland refused to accept refugees who were being persecuted on the grounds of race or religion. (This fact started out fun with the might of the Swiss army and has quickly taken a dark turn.)
I bring this up not to denigrate the Swiss for not doing enough to stop Nazis because which country did as much as they could to stop them? But it makes me think about my own country and whether we are doing as much as we can to help refugees today. (Spoiler! We are not.)
C) when did women get the vote?
Switzerland is a fairly liberal country when it comes to social issues. That’s why I was surprised to read that women did not receive the right to vote in Switzerland until the 1970s. That’s not a typo! The 1970s!
In fact one canton did not give women the right to vote in local elections until 1990. THAT IS AFTER I WAS BORN! The first canton to grant women the right to vote was Vaud, where Lausanne is located. Good on you, Vaud! Your fondue is delicious and you support women’s suffrage.
24 hour treasure
Of course it’s not possible to talk about Swiss history without getting into a discussion of banking. I very much enjoyed this display of Swiss currency throughout the years. The Swiss have a tendency to put artists, scientists, and philosophers on their currency. More countries should adopt this policy!
Noted sculptor of freaky thin people, Alberto Giacometti is on their 100 franc note. This is very chic of Switzerland. But I guess when your country is the tops at banking, you can afford to be creative with the design of your currency.
One Day in Zurich Itinerary
Afternoon: Zurich West
Since I had spent the previous One Day in Zurich Itinerary entirely in Zurich’s historic district, I was interested in learning more about where contemporary Zurich life was at. That was why I was glad to discover that the company Free Walk Zurich offers a walking tour of Zurich West.
This pay-what-you-wish tour takes you to the formerly industrial part of Zurich that, like many other industrial areas in cities around the world, has turned into a hipster paradise. It would not be possible for me to share with you all the trends and wonders of Zurich West, but I can pique your interest with…
Approximately top 5: zurich west edition
1) lunch at Miyuko
Before the Zurich West walking tour starts, we are definitely going to want some lunch. My recommendation is an adorable Japanese-Swiss cafe called Miyuko. I strongly recommend making a reservation because the pastries here are insanely popular. The cafe is the brainchild of a Swiss pastry chef named Sara Hochuli, and the little paradise she has created is both adorable and vegan-friendly.
Of course I was squealing with delight at the little Hayao Miyazaki characters hidden around the cafe. And I really don’t know what says Japanese-Swiss fusion better than an anime character sitting on top of a cash register. But as charming as the decor is, the food is even better.
My lunch was an apple and cheese sandwich served with a dissolve-in-your-mouth miniature chocolate cake. It doesn’t get any more Swiss than having cheese and chocolate in the same meal. I loved all the grains in the bread. It made eating the sandwich a rich and complex experience. My only regret is not getting another dessert because the pastries at this place are exceptional.
2) Prime Tower
Now that we are fed, we are ready for the tour to start! It meets at Prime Tower, that green glass skyscraper pictured above. This actually used to be the tallest building in Switzerland until 2015. Now it’s just the tallest building in Zurich. I think the moral of this story is that Switzerland doesn’t have that many tall buildings.
The Prime Tower is only 126 meters high. In New York City we have over 110 buildings that are taller than that. But I say this not to knock Switzerland! Let NYC be NYC and Zurich be Zurich, as I always say.
3) zurich west Street Art
My favorite part of any hipster neighborhood is the street art. You don’t have to gain acceptance into some snooty academy or sell your paintings to a gallery in order to find an audience! Just get your paint brush, your giant claw, your inflatable tube, and get started!
Even a seafood restaurant is not immune to the wonders of street art! Enjoy some graffiti with your fresh crab legs.
Our guide (I’ll call her Martina) explained that some of the street art in Zurich West was political. For example, artists in the neighborhood had wanted to protest the building of this luxury hotel called the Renaissance in the area. In order to build the hotel, some artists were being forced out of their homes that were scheduled for demolition. So the artists erected a sign that mimicked the Renaissance sign, but instead it said Resistance. If you look closely, you can see the Resistance sign on the side of the small brown house in the picture above.
4) Frau Gerold’s Garten
Slowing gentrification isn’t the only way these Swiss hipsters in Zurich West attempt to use their powers for good instead of evil. They have also created their own community gardens. The most famous is Frau Gerold’s, which is a lovely place to come to learn about sustainable gardening and composting or have a beer on a sunny Swiss day. I definitely recommend getting the gardening lesson first and then the beer. It’s always harder for me to absorb a lesson on botany if I’m tipsy.
5) Im Viaduct
The theme of Zurich West is re-purposing formerly industrial spaces, and Im Viaduct is a prime tower example of this. What used to be a 19th century railway viaduct has been converted into a tres chic shopping center. You can buy everything here from fresh oysters to bikes to something called Nudie Jeans.
My favorite store name is a place called Fashionslave because I like that quote by Hamlet, “Show me the man who is not fashion’s slave and I will wear him in my heart of hearts as I do thee.”
What do hipsters love even more than recycling and protesting the man? Shopping! And we don’t just convert train aqueducts into shopping centers here in Zurich West. We also convert old factories into shopping centers. As you can probably tell from looking at the photo above, Puls5 used to be an operating industrial building. With just a little bit of silver polish, it has been converted into a spiffy place to find a fitness center, get a haircut, or even just sit and read on a rainy Swiss day.
What I don’t understand is, why didn’t those factory owners back in the 19th century realize what a chic design concept they had going on with all those exposed pipes! They could have turned this back into a hipster meeting ground long ago! And I’m sure back in the late 1800s they were already rocking appropriate hipster ‘staches, so they would have fit right in.
One Day in Zurich Itinerary
Evening: Dinner at Hummer and Austernbar
I try to have at least one upscale meal and one more casual meal in every city I visit. For my fancier pants, I wanted to check out Hummer and Austernbar, the Michelin-recommended seafood restaurant attached to the Hotel St. Gothard. Everyone from Placido Domingo to Arnold Schwarzenegger has dined here, and I have to say, I don’t think those two guys have many fans in common.
I emailed the restaurant to request a reservation and was all set to get my lobster on. Unfortunately, the restaurant responded that they would be closed the days I was in Zurich, but they could still serve me their famous lobster dishes at the Hotel St. Gothard bar. Of course I considered this an offer I could not refuse. I had never had a restaurant offer to open just for me before!
24 hour treat: hummer and austernbar lobster salad
I could see why this dish is so famous! Look at that beautiful lobster staring at me right in the eyes. I almost feel guilty about eating him. (I said almost. He was very delicious, so I’m sure he understands.) Switzerland is a landlocked country, so the restaurant needs to have its lobster flown in twice a day from places that are actually underwater!
Even though the H and A is hardly a hipster restaurant, I was stoked to find that my lobster was accompanied by a fresh avocado ice cream. What food is more hipster than avocado? You can’t find one! I dare you! So this was the perfect end to my hipster day in Zurich West.
That’s a Perfect One Day in Zurich Itinerary!
What would you do on a One Day in Zurich Itinerary? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Zurich? What is the tallest building in your hometown and is it taller than the Prime Tower? Are you now or have you ever been afraid of the Swiss army? 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 have a One Day in Zurich Itinerary. If you have another One Day in Zurich Itinerary, try this itinerary!