10 things to do in Zurich that Are Absolutely Free
Zurich is one of Europe’s lovely cities. Its beating heart is picture-postcard-like, with a historic town centre on the Rhine surrounded by church spires, a beguiling medieval old town, narrow cobbled lanes, thousands of beautifully sculpted water fountains, linden tree groves, hidden cycling paths along the river, and erstwhile industrial warehouses converted into rocking pubs and bars at night. All these are arranged around the beautiful banana-shaped Lake Zurich. Though it is among the more expensive cities in Europe, there are many things in this city that don’t cost a thing. From walking along the stunning lake to admiring Chagall’s jaw-dropping stained glasses, here are 10 things to do for free in Zurich.
Lake Zurich and its facets
There’s no missing Lake Zurich, a gentle banana shaped water body stretching for 40 km, and 3 km at its widest. But it is most vibrant in the city centre. Walking along the banks is both soothing and exhilarating and there’s no telling what you will find. Cackling swans, rowers practising for races, boats of all sizes and so much more. You can also swim in designated areas. During weekends, buskers and amateur bands put on amazing performances, so you never know what your luck holds.
Churches and Artwork
Though Zurich old town has three towering churches, each distinctive, it is the 12th- century Grossmunster that is striking with its twin towers and stained glass details by Augusto Giacometti and Sigmar Polke. To complete the experience, head to the Benedictine Fraumunster which has five stunning stained-glass panels by Chagall. The third is the Church of St Peter, the earliest Protestant building in the city, its big clock face visible from afar.
Uetliburg summit for a bird’s eye view of Zurich
Just above Zurich, Uetliberg is a peak that offers fantastic panoramic views of the city extending all the way to the Alps. It is great for treks and hikes; the best route is along the signposted path, where one starts from the sun, leading all the way to dwarf planet Pluto, passing the 8 planets. Each metre represents 1 million km, demonstrating the enormous distances of the solar system. During winter, the snow slopes are ideal for sledding.
From Zurich’s main station to the edge of the lake is the city’s main shopping thoroughfare - Bahnhofstrasse. Stretching for 1.4 km, it is full of chic shops, department stores, jewellery stores, and restaurants. But it is also a lovely street to walk, with wide open pavements, ancient buildings, and highlights such as the Paradeplatz, a small square around which Swiss banks have their headquarters.
Lindenhof on the hill (site of an ancient Roman castle)
Set on a hill full of linden trees, Lindenhof is the site of a 4th-century Roman fort and subsequently, several historical events over the centuries. Currently, it is more of a soothing space while also offering excellent vantages of the river Limmat and the main churches.
It is all too easy to spend several hours walking around Zurich’s old town, the Alstadt. While churches tower into the sky and are ideal markers to orient oneself, the area is a warren of narrow cobbled streets, beautiful old buildings, guild houses, historic squares, and hidden corners that reveal fountains or quirky boutique stores.
For nature lovers, the place to head to is the botanical gardens managed by the University of Zurich. With over 7000 different kinds of plants and trees, cacti, ferns, orchids, and much more, three greenhouses, and a beautiful water body, the gardens are made for long walks or an afternoon of quiet contemplation.
Kunsthaus art museum (free on Wednesdays)
Kunsthaus Zürich contains the city’s most significant modern art collection, famous for both its permanent collection and for the magnificent exhibitions it mounts. Among its highlights are some of the masters, such as Giacometti, Picasso, Chagall, and Monet. The museum’s permanent collection is free on Wednesdays, making it all the more accessible.
A police precinct is hardly the place to expect an art masterpiece, but in Zurich, it is just that! Just inside the entrance hall of the regional police headquarters, Giacometti’s bright orange and red ceiling and arches are stunning, to say the least. Visitors are allowed for two hours each in the morning and afternoon to view it, but photographs are strictly forbidden.
Possibly the best way to get oriented with Zurich is through a walking tour, and there are several that are free . From old towns to historic monuments, from street art to universities and banks, there’s something for every soul. Though the tours are free, participants are encouraged to tip the guide as they see fit.