Zurich Introduction Walking Tour, Zurich

Zurich Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Zurich

Walking around Zurich is a walk through history. The city was first officially settled by the Romans in 15 BC, who called it Turicum. But there were earlier inhabitants–evidence has been found of settlement that dates back more than six millennia. One of the oldest parts of town is Lindenhof Square, an elevated hill that was one of the earliest sites.

Today Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland and is a regional train and airline hub. It’s the headquarters for the Swiss banking giants UBS and Credit Suisse. Getting around Zurich is easy thanks to the Zurich Hauptbahnhof, the historic central train station, and a comprehensive tram system.

The city’s location at the outflow of Lake Zurich and the confluence of the rivers Limmat and Sihl has attracted people for generations. Visiting Zurich Town Hall, or Rathaus, you can see the site of early government. The pedestrian bridge over the Limmat, which is actually a town square, gives you a glimpse into what medieval life might have looked like. It’s an easy walk from there into old Zurich, also called the Altstadt, where you can work your way down one of Europe’s poshest shopping promenades on Bahnhofstrasse. Or you can head into Niederdorf, the shopping, dining, and club district.

Zurich exudes historic continental culture and history at every corner. With so much to see, everyone finds something they love about this town. Take this self-guided walking tour to see the best sights, and find even more things to enjoy in Zurich.
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Zurich Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Zurich Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Switzerland » Zurich (See other walking tours in Zurich)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.9 Km or 1.8 Miles
Author: ellen
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Zurich Hauptbahnhof (Central Railway Station)
  • Bahnhofstrasse (Station Street)
  • Urania Observatory
  • Lindenhofplatz (Lindenhof Square)
  • St. Peterskirche (St. Peter's Church)
  • Fraumünster (Church of Our Lady)
  • Grossmünster (Great Minster)
  • Kunsthaus Zurich (Museum of Art)
  • Kronenhalle Restaurant
  • Bürkliplatz (Burkli Square)
Zurich Hauptbahnhof (Central Railway Station)

1) Zurich Hauptbahnhof (Central Railway Station)

Called Zurich HB for short, the central railway station is the largest in Switzerland. The city's central location in the continent has historically made it a railway hub. It currently serves over 2,000 trains per day, making it one of the busiest in the entire world.

The station is built near the old town part of Zurich, called the Altstadt, at the confluence of the Limmat and Sihl Rivers. The Sihl passes into a tunnel that runs through the station. Zurich HB is built on two levels, with ground level and below-ground level train platforms. The two levels are tied together via the ShopVille shopping mall.

The city's first rail station was built on this site in 1847, but several significant expansions and redesigns have occurred since then. It was originally the end of the Swiss Northern Railway, which linked to Baden. As more and more rail lines connected into Zurich, a new, larger station to accommodate all of the traffic was built in 1871.

The main entrance arches face the Bahnhofstrasse, with a monument to railway pioneer Alfred Escher in front. The building is neo-Renaissance with richly decorated atriums, restaurants, and lobbies. Various features of the station have been modernized over time, including the electrification of all rail lines in the early 1900s and computerized signaling control in the 1960s.
Bahnhofstrasse (Station Street)

2) Bahnhofstrasse (Station Street) (must see)

Bahnhofstrasse is Zurich's main shopping avenue. It is mostly pedestrian-only, with tram access to the city's transportation network. The streets are lined with luxury retailers and fine-dining restaurants.

Bahnhofstrasse begins at the Zurich HB central railway station, which fronts Bahnhofplatz, or "Station Square." From there, it continues southwards until the shore of Lake Zurich at Bürkliplatz.

Along its route, the street passes through several famous Zurich town squares, including Paradeplatz. This is a notoriously expensive real estate zone, where you will find the Swiss banks headquartered.

The street was created at the same time that the central rail station, Zurich Hauptbahnhof, was created in the 1870s. It was built on the moats that protected the original fortified city of Zurich.

Why You Should Visit:
Bahnhofstrasse is the center of old Zurich. From this central avenue, Rennweg and Augustinergasse lead off into the picturesque city. Anything you might be looking for in the town is likely centered off of this area, including dining, shopping, arts and entertainment, and all of the main tourist attractions.

City trams connect the street with the rest of town. Master the tram system, and you can get anywhere you need to go.

Every corner of the street has a special treat to uncover. Don't miss mulled wine or hot chocolates at the rooftop bars during the colder months or strolling the lakeside in the summer.

In addition to the luxury brand shops on the street, check out the ShopVille shopping center under the Zurich HB. Here you'll find less expensive treats and food for any budget.

Most businesses are closed on Sundays, except in the train station and ShopVille.
Urania Observatory

3) Urania Observatory

The observatory, or Urania Sternwarte, is named for the muse of astronomy from ancient Greece. The observatory's 50-meter (167-foot) tall tower catches your eye from nearly anywhere in Altstadt (Zurich's historic district). It was begun in 1899 and began service in 1907.

Inside the tower is a Carl Zeiss-designed, two-lens system refracting telescope, giving up to a 600-power magnification. The 5-meter long telescope is installed on a pillar foundation, which goes straight through the buildings to a vibration-free mount below. Although now well over a century old, the telescope is still considered a technical masterpiece. In 2007, for the observatory's centennial, the telescope was entirely restored by Carl Zeiss AG (the company named after Carl Zeiss) in Germany.

Not only will you see the moon, planets of the Solar System, stars, nebulae, and galaxies, but you'll also be treated to a spectacular view of the city. Guided tours are available on Friday and Saturday evenings, and they host special events throughout the year. There's even a restaurant and bar on-site.
Lindenhofplatz (Lindenhof Square)

4) Lindenhofplatz (Lindenhof Square) (must see)

Lindenhof is a hilltop park situated at the site of a Roman fortification, right in Altstadt on the banks of the Limmat. The Roman settlement here is known to go back to the second century, and the castle was used throughout the fifth and sixth centuries. A citadel was built on the hilltop in the fourth century, which had two-meter wide walls and ten towers. The castle was refurbished for Louis the German in the ninth century, but by the 13th, it had been abandoned, and the stones were being repurposed for other buildings in town.

While the Romans get most of the credit for first settling the area, Lindenhof had been important for the town well before that. As far back as the Neolithic and Bronze Age, from 4,500 to 850 BC, settlements have been centered here. Back then, the Sihl flooded most of the lower land, making the elevated hill ideal for settlement.

Since the 1700s, the area has been used as a public park. Bow and crossbow shooting was the primary draw in the early days.

A large fountain in the park, known as the Hedwig Fountain, commemorates the 1292 siege of Zurich by Duke Albert I of German. During the siege, Zurich's women dressed in full battle gear and tricked the Duke into believing that the city was protected. In reality, all of the men of Zurich were away at the time at another battlefront. The fountain was built in 1912 by sculptor Gustav Siber.

Why You Should Visit:
The Lindenhof is a great spot to capture stunning pictures of Zurich. The elevation means getting a bird's eye view of the rivers and the lake. It's a quiet green space where you can pause in between your other adventures. There are playgrounds for the kids and a giant outdoor chess board for fun.

You can see the second-century Roman tombstone, found on this site in 1747, that bears the earliest record of "Turicum," which was Zurich's Roman name. It's on display at the Swiss National Museum. There is a copy on display in the Lindenhof.

There are numerous festivals and events held throughout the year; check with the tourism office to see if any are planned during your visit.
St. Peterskirche (St. Peter's Church)

5) St. Peterskirche (St. Peter's Church) (must see)

Saint Peterskirche (Saint Peter's Church) was built in the 9th century, which makes it the oldest church in Zurich. It also boasts the fame of having the largest clock face in all of Europe, measuring 8.6 meters (28.3 feet) in diameter. This translates to a minute hand that is 5.7 meters long (18.8 feet)!

The church was significantly altered in the 13th century and again in the early 1700s. Up until 1911, a firewatcher manned the steeple. It was his job to look out the windows four times an hour to look for fires. If he spotted a fire, he was to sound an alarm and point to the direction of the fire with a flag. Apparently, this ended up being an effective strategy because, unlike many other European cities, Zurich never suffered any devastating fires.

The interior of the church features a Baroque nave and a Romanesque choir with some faded medieval murals including a glimpse of a saint. A fascinating sight to see inside Saint Peter's is the name of God in Hebrew above the pulpit, indicating the Reformation emphasis on the original biblical languages.

One interesting fact about the church is that it has split ownership. The City of Zurich owns the church tower, while Saint Peter’s parish of the Swiss Reformed Church owns the belfry and bells, as well as the staircase leading to the tower.

It is very interesting up close, but it is more beautiful from across the river.
Fraumünster (Church of Our Lady)

6) Fraumünster (Church of Our Lady) (must see)

As you may have noticed, Zurich’s skyline is dotted with church spires; however, none are as remarkable as the slender blue spire of the Fraumünster. In 853 Emperor Ludwig founded a Benedictine convent on this site and his daughter became the first abbess of the convent. In 874 a basilica with a crypt was added. The crypt holds the relics of the martyred two Patron Saints of Zurich, Felix and Regula.

The present church on the site dates from the mid 13th century, but the crypt still remains beneath the church. Reformation closed the convent and in 1524, the last abbess donated the church and abbey to City of Zurich. All icons and religious imagery were destroyed.

The church underwent a remodel in the 1970, with the installation of beautiful stained glass windows by the famous Russian-French modernist artist Marc Chagall. The five windows are 10 meters high and each has its own color theme. On the northern side is the red-orange “Prophet” window. On the eastern side, the windows are named “Jacob”, “Christ”, and “Zion”, from left to right. The south wall piece is called “Law”.

Why You Should Visit:
Reasonable entry fee and definitely worth stepping in to admire the lovely Marc Chagall stained glass windows.
Included in the ticket is a very good audio guide that really brings the building and the 5 windows to life.

Be sure to bring Swiss francs as only cash is accepted.
NO PHOTOS of the Marc Chagall windows allowed inside.
Grossmünster (Great Minster)

7) Grossmünster (Great Minster) (must see)

The Grossmunster Church stands proudly in Zurich, boasting a Romanesque architectural style and a rich historical background. Alongside the Fraumunster, Predigerkirche, and Saint Peterskirche, it forms one of the city's four major churches. Legend has it that the church's origins trace back to a commission by the Roman emperor Charles the Great, with construction beginning around 1100 and completion marked around 1220.

Notably, the Grossmunster Church holds significance as the birthplace of the Swiss-German Reformation. In 1520, Huldrych Zwingli, a key figure in the Swiss Reformation movement, initiated reforms from his pastoral office within the church. Zwingli's debates, which he triumphed in before local authorities in 1523, led to the church's separation from papal authority.

The reforms spearheaded by Zwingli and later continued by Heinrich Bullinger left their mark on the church's interior. In 1524, iconoclastic actions saw the removal of religious imagery and the organ. These reforms went beyond aesthetics, impacting various aspects of religious practice including fasting traditions, the Mass, celibacy, and the use of church music. The Grossmunster Church thus stands as a pivotal site in the history of the Protestant Reformation.

A statue of Emperor Charles the Great adorns the southern tower of the Grossmunster Church, commemorating his reign as Holy Roman Emperor from 771 to 814. Known for uniting much of Western and Central Europe, his legacy extends to language, with many European terms for "king" deriving from his name. The statue portrays Charles holding his sword, with his crown seemingly slipping from his head.

Why You Should Visit:
Fairly plain inside, but the sliced agate windows are some of the more interesting and colorful anywhere.
The old statue of Carolus Magnus is definitely worth seeing, and you can't miss the beautiful door as you go in.

A trip to the top of the tower is worth it if you can do 180+ steps straight up. The views are wonderful and you can stay as long as you wish.
Kunsthaus Zurich (Museum of Art)

8) Kunsthaus Zurich (Museum of Art) (must see)

The Kunsthaus is one of the most important museums in Europe. The museum's collection is impressive and diverse, from pieces dating to the middle ages to contemporary with an emphasis on Swiss art through various periods. Some of the Swiss artists represented include Fussli, Hodler, Rist and Fischli. Works by Munch, Lipchitz, Van Gough, Picasso, and Giacometti are a draw as well. The museum also boasts a collection by Monet and another by Chagall.

Special collections include Swiss Paintings, Swiss Realism, Zurich Concrete Art, and collections featuring paintings and sculptures by Bocklin, Segantini, Hodler, and Vallotton. The museum also has a good collection of video art that started in 1979, with the thought that video art is an independent and creative medium. Video artists represented include Acconci, Baldessari, Calle, Graham, Hill, Marclay, Paik and others. In addition to the permanent collection, the museum features temporary exhibits and a library with books focusing on modern art. An audio guide which highlights over 200 of the pieces in the collection is available.

Why You Should Visit:
Super modern with lots of unique perspectives! If you're a fan of modern art and appreciate surrealism and impressionism, this museum is a must.

Free entry to the main collection on Wednesdays, and you can also get an audio guide for no cost. Their library is open-access anytime.
The building might not look massive on the outside, but the collection is extensive, so make sure you leave at least 2-3 hours to visit.
Kronenhalle Restaurant

9) Kronenhalle Restaurant

Located in a Bellevue Square building built in 1862, the Kronenhalle Restaurant is probably Zurich's most famous eatery. Opened in 1924 by Hulda and Gottlieb Zumsteg, it quickly became the town's meeting place of writers and artists. Zurich's rich and famous have passed through ever since.

It's the sort of old-world continental dining experience that you would expect from Zurich. Surrounded by art and history, the impeccable service and outstanding food are nothing short of spectacular. Everything about this experience is about tradition.

The restaurant consists of three galleries. In the brasserie, you dine under chandeliers in their main dining area. The smaller Chagall Room was also the original dining area when the restaurant first opened in the 1920s. It is more intimate and private than the brasserie, and it's adorned with artwork by Pierre Bonnard and Marc Chagall. The Swiss Gallery is a smaller room decorated with all Swiss art.

It's quite hard to get a table in this must-dine restaurant. Book well in advance, or try your luck with your hotel's concierge.
Bürkliplatz (Burkli Square)

10) Bürkliplatz (Burkli Square)

Bürkliplatz is one of the main town squares in Zurich–not only is it a fabulous destination, but it is also a central node in the city's transportation scheme. Many tram lines run through here, and the location connects the downtown with the lake-front promenades.

Directly north of Bürkliplatz lies a tree-lined square known as Stadthausanlage. The park centers around a music pavilion and is the site of a popular vegetable, cheese, flower, and bread markets. Bahnhofstrasse heads north from here, leading into the shopping district.

Bürkliplatz is a picturesque site to see the historic Alpenquai area on Lake Zurich. To the east is the nineteenth-century Quay Bridge, which crosses over the Limmat. The Seeuferanlage is a lake-front park, and there is also a nearby arboretum and aviary. Several lake cruises and water taxis depart from the area for scenic tours on Lake Zurich. There are also several fast-food kiosks in the area.

At the end of the plaza is a lake overlook, featuring a prominent statue of Ganymede. Just east, you will find a large monument called Geiserbrunnen. Built in 1911 by Jakob Brüllmann, the statue features a man taming a bull.

Walking Tours in Zurich, Switzerland

Create Your Own Walk in Zurich

Create Your Own Walk in Zurich

Creating your own self-guided walk in Zurich is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Zurich Gourmet Tour

Zurich Gourmet Tour

Apart from its high-quality watches, Switzerland is famous for its unique delicacies. The secrets of their making have been preserved for centuries and passed on from father to son. In this respect, it is not at all surprising that a global banking and financial center such as Zurich can be also a haven for food enthusiasts seeking gourmet delights. On this self-guided walk, we invite you to...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.1 Km or 1.3 Miles
Zurich's Historical Churches Tour

Zurich's Historical Churches Tour

The history of Christianity in Zurich is duly reflected in the local churches, found here in abundance. Indeed, Christianity has been the dominant religion of Zurich for many centuries. And while, historically, the city was a center of the Protestant Reformation, today it is home to both Catholic and Protestant communities.

The Swiss Reformed Church is the largest Protestant denomination, but...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.2 Km or 0.7 Miles
Zurich Souvenir Shopping

Zurich Souvenir Shopping

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A popular saying goes, "When in Zurich, shop on Bahnhofstrasse." True, in terms of souvenir shopping, this thoroughfare is second to none. Another saying is that “When in Switzerland, buy Swiss-made products.”

Alongside many other things, Bahnhofstrasse is home to...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.5 Km or 1.6 Miles
Old Town Walk

Old Town Walk

The Old Town, or Altstadt (in German), is the historic heart of Zurich which beats on both sides of the Limmat River that runs through it. "Zurich is a city, but Altstadt is a village" – this saying reflects the charming, small-town feel of Old Town Zurich, which stands in contrast to the more modern and cosmopolitan areas of the city.

Bordered by the Bahnhofstrasse, a bustling...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.4 Km or 0.9 Miles

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip

16 Distinctively Swiss Things to Buy in Zurich

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