A Stopover Walk Through the Old Town of Zurich

In this destination report, we take a walk through the old town of Zurich and visit some of the city’s sights during a stopover.

Zurich stopover

The gorgeous arrival views from my LOT Polish Airlines flight into Zurich were quite promising for my stopover in the city.

My flight had landed at 10am and my onward train connection would not depart until 6.40pm, which left me with plenty of time to explore Zurich during this stopover.

As it was a sunny spring day, I decided that I wanted to spend as much time outdoors as possible during my stopover to soak up the sunshine and views. Fortunately, Zurich is quite compact and has a walkable city centre, making this easily doable.

From the airport, I took one of the frequent suburban trains to Zurich Hauptbahnhof (main station) where I started my walk through town.

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Zurich Airport arrival view. ©Paliparan
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A Swiss Airbus A321 at Zurich Airport. ©Paliparan
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Zurich Hauptbahnhof (HB), the city’s main train station. ©Paliparan

Into the city centre

From Zurich’s main railway station it’s a short walk into the old town (called ‘altstadt’ in German). The shortest route is by exiting the station through its southern entrance and walking down the Bahnhofstrasse (train station street).

The Bahnhofstrasse is one of Zurich’s main shopping streets and quite inviting for a stroll since its almost fully pedestrianised apart from the trams running up and down the street.

About two thirds down the Bahnhofstrasse you find another important Zurich square, the Paradeplatz. This square is the historic financial heart of Zurich and some major Swiss banks such as UBS and Credit Suisse still have their headquarters here.

On the corner of Bahnhofstrasse and Paradeplatz you can find Confiserie Sprüngli, a luxury confectionery manufacturer which is a Zurich institution. This area being the heart of banking operations you can find plenty of more luxury shops and restaurants around here.

Although some of these restaurants looked inviting I decided to walk on as the prices are so high that you need to sell a kidney to be able to afford to dine here.

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The Bahnhofstrasse connects the train station with the city centre and the shores of Lake Zurich. ©Paliparan
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Paradeplatz. ©Paliparan
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Zurich’s trademark blue-and-white trams running down the Bahnhofstrasse. The café on the right is Confiserie Sprüngli, a luxury Swiss confectioner. ©Paliparan
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Around the Paradeplatz you can find plenty of appealing cafés and restaurants such as this outdoor eatery on the Zentralhof square. ©Paliparan

St. Peter’s Church

If you would walk further down the Bahnhofstrasse, you will eventually end up at the Bürkliplatz square on the shores of Lake Zurich.

Instead of walking directly to the lakeshore, I however walked into one of the side streets which led up a hill to the Church of Saint Peter, one of the four main churches of Zurich

The Church of St. Peter, a Protestant church, is famous for having the largest church clock of Europe.

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Walking up the hill to the Church of St. Peter. ©Paliparan
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Zurich houses. ©Paliparan
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The square in front of the Church of St. Peter. ©Paliparan
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The Church of St. Peter has Europe’s largest church clock face. ©Paliparan
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Looking over the rooftops towards the Grossmünster, one of the other main churches of Zurich. ©Paliparan

Along the Limmat

The old town of Zurich is situated on both banks of the River Limmat. The River Limmat has its source at Lake Zurich and streams right through the centre of Switzerland’s largest city, eventually flowing into the River Aare (itself a tributary of the Rhine) after 35 kilometres.

There is a promenade along both sides of the River Limmat and with its fine views over Zurich’s old town it’s a great place for a stroll.

The Münster Bridge is perhaps the most famous of all the River Limmat bridges as it connects the Fraumünster Church on the western bank with the Grossmünster Church on the eastern bank.

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The River Limmat streams right through the city centre of Zurich. In the background you can see the Grossmünster Church. ©Paliparan
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The old town (altstadt) of Zurich can be found on both banks of the rivers. ©Paliparan
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The banks of the River Limmat. ©Paliparan
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The banks of the River Limmat. ©Paliparan
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The Münster Bridge with the Fraumünster Church visible at its end. ©Paliparan
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The Fraumünster Church. ©Paliparan
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Limmat River. ©Paliparan
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Boats docked at some jetties in the River Limmat. ©Paliparan
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I was certainly enjoying my sunny walk through Zurich so far. ©Paliparan

Squares and markets

Directly behind the riverside Fraumünster Church you can find Münsterhof, the largest of the old town squares in Zurich. This square is surrounded by several magnificent Medieval guild houses.

Just to the south of the Münsterhof is the lakeside Bürkliplatz square, which is home to a farmers’ market on most weekdays (Tuesday to Friday).

Each Saturday a flea market is held on Bürkliplatz and on this sunny weekend day the market was full of Zurich locals taking a stroll between the stalls.

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Zurich city centre. ©Paliparan
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The Münsterhof is the largest old town square and surrounded by fine Medieval buildings. ©Paliparan
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Bürkliplatz flea market. ©Paliparan
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Bürkliplatz flea market. ©Paliparan

Lake Zurich

One of the main attractions of Zurich is the city’s picturesque setting at the far northern tip of Lake Zurich. Across the street from Bürkliplatz you can find a large observation deck from where you have some panoramic views over the lake.

This is also the place from where Lake Zurich passenger shuttle boats and cruises depart.

On this spring day the weather and visibility was so good that you could easily see the mountain peaks of the Alps across Lake Zurich.

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The Bürkliplatz lakeshore. ©Paliparan
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Sculpture at the Bürkliplatz observation desk. ©Paliparan
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The Bürkliplatz lakeshore is the departure point for lake cruises and shuttle ferries. ©Paliparan
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The Bürkliplatz ferry terminal. ©Paliparan
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Going on a lake cruise is a popular tourist activity in Zurich. ©Paliparan
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The Zurich lakeshore. ©Paliparan
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Great views over Lake Zurich from the Bürkliplatz observation deck. ©Paliparan
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The Alps are clearly visible on the other side of Lake Zurich. ©Paliparan

A walk along the lakeshore

On a sunny day, it is a pleasure to walk along the western shores of Lake Zurich. There is a footpath along this side of the lake and it leads you through some lovely parks far away from the traffic and street noises of Zurich.

When you start your walk at Bürkliplatz, you will first come across a large park and botanical garden called the Zurich Arboretum. Further down the lake you will find several yacht clubs and swimming beaches.

There are pleasant picnic and swimming spots all along the western shore of Lake Zurich and on this weekend day there were plenty of people locals around in the parks enjoying the sun.

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Walking along the lakeshore. ©Paliparan
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Lake Zurich yacht club. ©Paliparan
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It’s a lovely walk along the western shore of Lake Zurich. ©Paliparan
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Yachts on Lake Zurich. ©Paliparan
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Yachts on Lake Zurich. ©Paliparan
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On this sunny spring day it was an absolute pleasure to walk along the lake. ©Paliparan
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Lake Zurich fountain. ©Paliparan
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The path along the western shore of Lake Zurich. ©Paliparan
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Walking through the lakeshore park. ©Paliparan
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Walking along Lake Zurich. ©Paliparan
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Back at the Bürkliplatz lake observation deck after a nice walk along the eastern lakeshore. ©Paliparan

Quaibrücke

If you are after some fine views of both the city and Lake Zurich, you should definitely take a stroll over the Quaibrücke, which translated from German simply means Quay Bridge.

As the main lakeside road as well as plenty of trams go over the Quaibrücke this bridge can be full of traffic but the views on both sides are worth it. Especially the view towards the old town is great as it takes in all of Zurich’s big churches.

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The Quaibrücke. ©Paliparan
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View from the Quaibrücke towards the old town of Zurich. ©Paliparan
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The Grossmünster Church as seen from the Quaibrücke. ©Paliparan
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View from the Quaibrücke over the eastern shore of Lake Zurich. ©Paliparan
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Lake Zurich as seen from the bridge. ©Paliparan

Eastern shore

Although it’s different in character, the eastern shore of Lake Zurich is just as pleasant as the western shore. Where you find parks and grassland at the western shore, you can find a wide lakeside promenade here.

It’s a perfect place to sit down for a while on the quays and to enjoy the views, which was exactly what I did. With a quartet playing some traditional Swiss music, it certainly made for a wonderful atmosphere.

There is a Migros supermarket just behind Zurich’s neo-baroque Opera House which stocks cold beer and wine in the fridge. Plenty of locals seemed to have the same idea as me, buying a drink and a snack in the supermarket and enjoying it at the lakeshore.

Migros supermarkets are anyway a lifesaver as they have a good selection of relatively cheap ready made meals and drinks, ideal for those who are on a budget in expensive Switzerland!

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Zurich Opera House. ©Paliparan
Sechseläutenplatz
Sechseläutenplatz, the square in front of the Opera House. ©Paliparan
Stadelhoferplatz
Flowers on Stadelhoferplatz, another square on the eastern shore of Lake Zurich. ©Paliparan
Stadelhofen station
The Santiago Calatrava-designed Stadelhofen railway station is just one stop away from Zurich’s main station by suburban train. From this station, the eastern lake shore is just a few hundred metres away. ©Paliparan
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The Quaianlagen – the quays on the eastern lakeshore in the city centre of Zurich. ©Paliparan
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Locals enjoying the sunshine on the quays. ©Paliparan
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Fabulous view from the quays on the eastern lakeshore. ©Paliparan
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Passenger boat on Lake Zurich. ©Paliparan
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The Quaibrücke as seen from the quays. ©Paliparan
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Enjoying a cold Feldschlösschen beer at the quays. ©Paliparan
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Swans in Lake Zurich. ©Paliparan

Grossmünster

After relaxing a bit in the sun with a beer it was time to slowly head back in the direction of the train station, this time walking on the eastern (right) bank of the River Limmat.

The main sight here is arguably the Grossmünster (Great Minster) Church, which is clearly recognisable by its twin towers making it one of the most iconic landmarks in the Zurich skyline.

The Romanesque Grossmünster Church was founded by Charlemagne according to legend and used to be a Catholic monastery church. Cleric Huldrych Zwingli initiated the Swiss Reformation from the Grossmünster in the early 16th Century and the church has been Protestant since.

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Underneath the Quaibrücke at the point where the River Limmat flows out of Lake Zurich. ©Paliparan
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Zurich’s old town as seen from the right bank of the River Limmat. ©Paliparan
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Street on the right bank of the River Limmat. ©Paliparan
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The eastern bank of the River Limmat is dominated by the Grossmünster Church. ©Paliparan
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Grossmünster Church. ©Paliparan
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Zwingliplatz, the courtyard in front of the Grossmünster Church. ©Paliparan
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From the Zwingliplatz you have a fine view over the River Limmat and the Fraumünster Church at the other side,. ©Paliparan

Old town streets

Personally, I much prefer the old town streets on the eastern side of the River Limmat over those at the other side.

Where the streets to the west of the river are mostly commercial and dominated by shops, those on the eastern bank are full of attractive cafés and restaurants.

The eastern part of Zurich’s old town is a nice area to explore and the further away from the river you get, the more picturesque the cobbled streets become.

If you are looking for a nice terrace to have a drink or a meal, this certainly is the area to look for it.

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The picturesque streets of the old town of Zurich. ©Paliparan
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Old town fountain. ©Paliparan
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The eastern half of the old town is full of appealing cafés and restaurants. ©Paliparan
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On a sunny and warm day, the terraces in the old town quickly fill up. ©Paliparan
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Zurich old town. ©Paliparan
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Old town street. ©Paliparan
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Full terraces in the old town of Zurich. ©Paliparan

Lindenhof

There was one main sight remaining which I wanted to see in the old town of Zurich – and fortunately it was right on my way back to the train station.

From the Lindenhof, located on the west bank of the River Limmat, you have perhaps the best views over the old town of Zurich.

The Lindenhof used to be the site of a Roman castle as well as a Carolingian imperial palace (‘Kaiserpfalz’), not a surprise given the strategic hilltop position.

Throughout history, the leafy tree-lined squared was commonly used as an assembly place for the local population, including in 1798 when the inhabitants of Zurich swore an oath of loyalty here to the newly created Helvetic Republic.

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The Lindenhof as seen from the other bank of the river. ©Paliparan
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The Lindenhof is a leafy hilltop square from where you have some stunning views over the old town of Zurich. ©Paliparan
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The Grossmünster Church as seen from the Lindenhof. ©Paliparan
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View from the Lindenhof. ©Paliparan
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Looking out over the east bank of the River Limmat. ©Paliparan
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View over Zurich’s old town centre from the Lindenhof. ©Paliparan

Back to the station

Having walked around almost the entire city centre of Zurich, it was time to head back to the station as my feet pretty much had enough of it despite the fabulous views and glorious weather on this day.

To turn back, I simply walked along the picturesque right bank of the River Limmat until the station building appeared on the other side.

Still having some time left until the departure of my onward train to Austria, I searched for a quiet corner in the station to sit down and do some work on my laptop.

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Walking back down from the Lindenhof. ©Paliparan
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Heading back to the east bank of the river. ©Paliparan
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Catching some last glimpses of Zurich’s old town from the picturesque eastern bank of the River Limmat. ©Paliparan
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River Limmat view. ©Paliparan
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View towards the left river bank. ©Paliparan
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Old town houses on the River Limmat. ©Paliparan
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View over the River Limmat. ©Paliparan

Conclusion

I had a fabulous day walking through the old town of Zurich on my city stopover. Although the gorgeous spring weather certainly played a big role, Zurich’s old town is generally a very pleasant and highly picturesque place to visit.

The picture-perfect old town of Zurich has a couple of interesting sights to see, among which the four main churches and the Lindenhof with its panoramic views are perhaps the most important ones.

However, most of the attraction of Zurich lies in the fact that the city is so walkable and just has a calm and relaxed vibe to it.

Even though Zurich is an important financial and business centre, you will easily forget about this when you walk along the quaint shores of Lake Zurich.

If you happen to visit on a sunny day, nothing beats sitting at the lakeshore with a cold beer and admiring the lovely views – with the Alps as a stunning backdrop.

Given that the city centre is just a short train ride away from the airport – and that the train station is located right at the edge of the old town – you’d be mad not to go for a walk through Zurich if you have a few hours to kill during your stopover or layover.

Trip report index

This article is part of the ‘Across Europe by Train: Interrail in the Age of Corona‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:

1. Review: LOT Polish Airlines Economy Class Bucharest to Warsaw (Embraer ERJ-175)
2. Walking Through an Empty Warsaw in Corona Lockdown
3. Review: Four Points by Sheraton Warsaw Mokotow
4. Review: LOT Polish Airlines Economy Class Warsaw to Zurich (Boeing 737 MAX)
5. A Stopover Walk Through the Old Town of Zurich (current chapter)
6. Review: Railjet Train Zurich to Feldkirch
7. An Evening in Friendly Little Feldkirch
8. Review: Nightjet Train Feldkirch to Graz
9. A Short Walk Along the Sights of Graz
10. Review: Emona EuroCity Train Vienna – Ljubljana – Trieste
11. Zidani Most: Europe’s Most Picturesque Train Station
12. Review: Ljubljana to Zagreb by EuroCity Train EC 1211 ‘Sava’
13. Flying With Trade Air on a Let L-410 Turbolet Across Croatia
14. Review: Palace Derossi, Trogir, Croatia
15. A Visit to the Tranquil Island City of Trogir, Croatia
16. Cycling on Ciovo: A Trogir Day Trip by Bike
17. Split: Croatia’s Bustling Seaside City Full of History
18. Review: Croatian Railways ICN Train Split to Zagreb
19. Review: Esplanade Hotel, Zagreb, Croatia
20. Zagreb: A Guide to Croatia’s Underrated Capital City
21. Review: EuroCity Train “Croatia” Zagreb to Vienna
22. Review: Dacia Night Train Vienna to Bucharest

koen paliparan rhodes rodos

Koen

Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

One thought on “A Stopover Walk Through the Old Town of Zurich

  • December 11, 2021 at 1:38 pm
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    It’s years since I’ve been to Zurich but you seem to have done most things in a day Koen except one! Did you not have a hot chocolate at Sprüngli in Paradeplatz? I always think it’s a must when there and for Zurich, their cafe is, or was, surprisingly affordable.

    Reply

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