Switzerland can often feel as though you’re walking through an extraordinarily well put-together movie set. The fences are perfectly straight, the trains arrive on the minute, and orderliness is everywhere. After getting in and feeling around, you’ll quickly pick up that the set is not a façade — it’s just how the Swiss have always lived, and it’s an absolute pleasure to experience.
The shoulder seasons on either side of summer are the best times to visit if you’re hiking and have warm weather in mind. April to June and September to October are the best weather for the best prices; the peak summer months are noticeably more crowded and expensive.
Arriving in Zurich is straightforward as most direct flights to Switzerland are through the Zurich Airport, and the same goes for most large bus lines operating throughout Europe. From almost all major cities across Europe, you can get return flights to Zurich from $120 Swiss francs, with a more average price of around $200, or roughly the same, in USD.
As a main hub to plan your adventures from, Zurich is a great choice with extensive train lines, a single pass that covers all public transport and incredibly, free bicycle rentals (located just outside Main Station at Velostation Europaplatz — you can’t miss it, bikes are lined up out the front). The Swiss Travel Pass will set you back around 500 francs for around 15 days, but not only does Switzerland’s public transport mean you’ll likely never need a car, it also covers most museum entry fees citywide. If you get stuck reading the extraordinarily detailed timetables for various trains, buses, and ferries, ask one of the helpful locals. Although the dominant language is German, most of the population is bilingual and will happily talk to you in English.
Expect immaculate cleanliness and prompt, kind service with just about any place you choose to stay in the city. The Townhouse Boutique Hotel Zurich is a clean, classy, affordable little stay, within walking distance to just about everything you’d want to see in the city. If you’ve got a bit more of a budget, check out Romantikhotel Florhof hotel just outside the city center.
I recommend first heading up Uetliberg Lookout Tower (crucial to every visit), hosting panoramic views of the city and its pristine Lake Zurich, framed by the snow-capped Alps on the horizon. A single train will take you there right from Main Station.
Uetliberg Lookout Tower also happens to be the starting point for an easy, flat 3.7-mile hike to Felsenegg Lookout; you overlook Lake Zurich the whole hike along a ridgeline (meaning stellar views each side). At Felsenegg lookout, a gondola will take you back down to Adliswil, and from there you can train straight back to Zurich. It’s a neat little day trip.
As for getting out on Lake Zurich, there are a few sunset cruise companies operating, but personally, I’d recommend just taking one of the many regular ferries servicing the length of the lake. It’s well worth the time; each lakefront property will make you wonder if every single one of them isn’t a show-house.
The museums in the city are plentiful and abundant. It’s up to you to visit whatever your tastes drive you to. For an astounding collection of 19th and 20th century European art, check out Kunsthaus, and of course, the Swiss National Museum for the most extensive collection of Switzerland’s earliest beginnings. (Remember, a Swiss Travel Pass will get you in for free.)
As is the nature of traveling, the best antidote to transition from a tourist to a traveler is to go where the tourists aren’t, something I take great joy in discovering. Take the train down Lake Zurich and stay somewhere tucked away, right on the lake for a few days — at an Airbnb or little pub that offers rooms. Check out Hotel Du Lac in Wadenswil and see if you can find an even more low-key place than that.
Take a stroll in the afternoon, find a little local fish and chips shop (which commonly does sunset barbecues), and hang out on one of the many piers overlooking the lake. It’s also incredible for swimming — surprisingly warm, clear, with a mountain backdrop.
This article originally ran in the June 2021 issue of Dockwalk.