7 Things to Do in Zurich in Winter

I’ll be honest: this Southern girl has a love-hate relationship with winter in Zurich. Here in Switzerland’s largest city, it can be cold, grey, windy and rainy for weeks on end, causing my soul to die for a drop of sunshine! (Now I understand why people love to visit Florida…) But Zurich can also be a winter wonderland, blanketed by snow or dripping with holiday cheer, making it a lovely place to spend a weekend.

So, if you find yourself in Zurich during the dark months of winter, chin up and enjoy this Swiss city, no matter what kind of weather you encounter.

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7 Things to Do in Zurich in the Winter

1. Visit a museum or two
Zurich has loads of museums that will entertain, educate, and offer you shelter when unsavory weather strikes. Here are just a few top choices to consider:

Kunsthaus Zürich
Zurich’s Fine Arts Museum is a modest but well assembled art program. The permanent collection provides visitors with a pleasant walk through art history, while the temporary exhibitions are usually bold and eye-catching. I recommend visiting on a Wednesday, when the permanent collection is free to the public – woot woot!

Kunsthaus Zurich

The Löwenbräu Areal
The renovated and reinvented brewery from 1897 is one of my favorite buildings in trendy ZuriWest. The stylish residence is home to contemporary art exhibits, such as the Kunsthalle and Migros Contemporary Art Museum, as well as other private galleries and businesses. [Tip: Free admission on Thursday evenings!]

Löwenbräu Areal Zürich

The Swiss National Museum
You can learn all about Switzerland’s history at this newly renovated castle museum next to the train station. With dozens of exhibits to explore, the Landesmuseum Zürich is a good place to roam on rainy days. Make sure to download the museum app from the kiosk inside before you begin your visit!

Landesmuseum

The FIFA World Football Museum
Sports fans, this is the place for you guys! The brand new building and exhibition dedicated to all-things-football will surely pump you up.

The University of Zurich’s Zoological Museum
This free museum is a great place to take young kids, as its home to a large number of (taxidermied) animals! A giant sloth named Meggie will greet you at the entrance; she’s a furry friend to all children. To thrill the kids even more, take the UBS Polybahn funicular from the Central tram stop up the hill to reach the museum.

2. Splurge on yourself
What better way to improve your mood with a bit of spa therapy? For the high rollers, consider a day up at the The Dolder Grand for a luxurious session of relaxation. (I imagine it’s wonderful.) Others might want to consider a soak in the warm waters of the Thermalbad & Spa Zurich, a nice way to spend a winter day. The best part is the views from their rooftop pool!

IMG_11683. Get Cheesey
If there is one advantage to visiting Switzerland in the winter, it’s a free pass to eat all the melted cheese your stomach can handle. And it comes in two ways! Fondue is the iconic Swiss dish; it’s the best Alpine dairy bubbling in a sturdy pot on the dinner table and comes with bread chunks for dipping. I personally enjoy adding pineapple and pear for a bit of sweetness!

And then there is Raclette, the lesser-known Swiss method of devoting an entire meal to melted cheese. The common raclette set-up looks like a tabletop grill where veggies or meat cook away, while individual pans sit under the broiler to melt your cheese slices. When the raclette starts bubbling, you slide it off the pan and onto your pile of potatoes. Simple and delicious.

Katie and Scott Reintgen
Our friends Katie and Scott Reintgen showcasing our raclette grill at home.

I encourage you to enjoy these dining experiences to your heart’s content in the winter. While many restaurants feature fondue and raclette this time of year [click here for the best fondue restaurants in Zurich], the Swiss prefer to have it at home with family and friends.

Pardon the interruption, but are you already planning on visiting Zurich in the winter? If so, you can book your trip with Casey! We are working together to give you a care-free travel experience.

4. Shop like a local
Leave crowded Banhofstrasse behind and slip over to a secret shopping spot at the Zurcher Brockenhaus. This particular Brockenhaus is an upscale, vintage/antique secondhand store. You’re sure to find some fun things as you wander through this museum-for-sale. Even if you can’t bring home a wooden chair from the early 20th century, rambling through this Brocki makes for an enjoyable respite from winter weather.

For more shopping off-the-tourist-trek, stroll down Europaallee, on the Sihlpost side of the train tracks. You’ll find some specialty stores, like jewelry from Tara Style or Swiss clothing designs at Alprausch, as well as bigger brands like outdoor superstore Transa. And then there’s always shopping around ZuriWest

5. Catch a show
Zurich has a wide variety of venues for live performances. Put on your formalwear for a night at the Zurich Opera House. See a show at the Theater 11. Raise your voice at a pop star concert or hockey game at the Hallenstadion. If you’re feeling bold and edgy, see what’s going on at the Maag Music Hall and Schiffbau’s Schauspielhaus in hip ZuriWest.

Schiffbau

6. Be outside anyway
On those days of sparkling winter sunshine, head outside to enjoy those rays of glory!! Grab a chair at the Sechseläutenplatz (in front of the Opera House) to bask in the warm light or take a stroll among the wooded hills lining the city. Just promise me that, if and when you see the sun, you’ll revel in it!!

Walk in the woods
Framing the city of Zurich are three large hills (or small mountains depending on who you ask) that have great walking trails: Uetliberg, Zurichberg, and Kaferberg. They are fantastic places to breathe in the fresh winter air. Leave me a note in the comment section if you want to know where to get started!

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Tour the City with Free Walk Zurich
According to Trip Advisor, the number one activity in Zurich – all year long – is take a walking tour with Free Walk Zurich. Every day, through rain or shine, hot or cold, FWZ guides will meet you at 11am and 3pm for a tour of historic Old Town or a tour of creative ZuriWest respectively. The tours are completely free; however, if you enjoy your tour, consider tipping your hard-working guide. I promise that your generous support will be much appreciated, as I speak from personal experience. I’m a Free Walk Zurich guide, too!

Trip Advisor - FWZ Review

Christmas Markets
If you are visiting Zurich from late November through December, then you just have to get out and enjoy the Christmas festivities! Check out my post Christmas in Zurich for what to expect from this city over the holidays.

7. Get out of town
One thing I love about Swiss culture is their collective desire to enjoy the Alps all year long. (In fact, I have an entire theory about the secret to why the Swiss are happy.) In winter, locals head to the mountains in search of big snow and sunshine! So, if you have time and have had enough of the city life, set your sites on some winter fun at higher altitudes. And remember: I can always offer you a few important lessons on skiing and sledding in Switzerland. :)

If Zurich is on your Winter Travels list and you’d like some assistance planning your time in this Swiss city, then go ahead and get an unbeatable quote from Casey. Yes, we are in cahoots… but in a good way :) Let us handle your travel details while you pack your bags! Cheers!


Hi there! How do you beat the winter blues while traveling? Does the weather affect you as much as it does me? Which Zurich museum looks most interesting to you? Have you ever visited this Swiss city over the Christmas season?

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15 Comments

  1. Dear Hailey,
    First of all thank you so much for the great tips, it really helps and we taking a lot of your suggestions for our visit. We visiting Zurich for the first time from December, 28 to January, 1.
    If you could answer a couple of questions, it will be great!
    1) We are planning to take a couple of free guided tours as you suggested and we wondering how much tips is customary to give at the end of the tour? I understand, it’s a bit complicated and personal, but please tell us at least an average amount, is something around 5-10franks per person will be enough?
    And in general, is it ok to tip in the restaurants etc.. around 10% of the check?

    2) We looking at menu in Chaesalp Restaurant website and there is some strange currency, please take a look: http://chaesalp.ch/food_and_drink-2/?lang=en#Menu
    For example:
    FRIBURGER FONDUE MOITIÉ-MOITIÉ, the famous, creamy Vacherin-Fondue
    Price 2990 Rp.
    All the prices in “Rp” currency. Is this some local money name? :)

    3) And the last question about restaurants. In Italy and Spain we experienced a kind of specific behaviour – you ordering something from menu, then the waitress brings you bread that you didn’t order, without asking if you want it or not (even if you ordered a pizza) and then at the end of the dinner they charge you for this bread. Is this the same thing in Zurich? If so, what is the right thing to do – we should tell the waitress we don’t want this bread? We always feeling lost in such situations… :) Interesting how locals reacting to such things.

    Thank you again and have a great Holidays!
    Victoria

    1. Hi Victoria,

      Happy to answer your questions!
      1) In my experience as a walking guide, the average tip for a walking tour is about 5 Swiss fran per person. Some people pay less, some people pay more. I would recommend that you start the tour thinking of giving 5 CHF per person, and if you think your guide did an outstanding job, you could consider giving a little more. It’s totally up to you, but it meant a lot to me when guests would tip me above the average – because it illustrated their appreciation of the time and effort I would put into my tours. Again, completely up to you… but a very thoughtful question!

      2) Great choice with the Chasalp! And good for you for noticing the currency on the menu! The Rp stands for “Rappen” which is the German term for the “cents” part of the Swiss franc. I have no idea why they have it like that on the menu (maybe for nostalgic reasons?). So, for example, the Chasalp Fondue of 2990 Rp. means 29.90 Swiss franc (and usually fondue is a per person charge).

      3) I totally know what you mean about the “cubierto” charge in Spain and Italy! (I lived in Spain for two years after uni, and man, I ate a lot of bread as a result of that special service – ha!) They don’t really do that here in Switzerland, so you don’t need to worry about that experience happening on your Swiss travels. What you will have to convince your servers to do is bring you free tap water… it’s customary here to buy bottled water at restaurants, even though there are HUNDREDS of drinking fountains across the city.

      Please let me know if you have any more questions. I hope you enjoy your time in Zurich!
      Merry Christmas,
      Hailey

  2. Hi Hayley,

    My friend and I will be in Zurich for 3 days in January, we are Mum’s travelling without kids, I’m Aussie and she is Italian, I was thinking of doing a day tour to the alps or some other towns as I don’t really want to spend over $200pp could you recommend a place, town, tour company to use. We arrive on a Friday so I was thinking of touring the city and maybe going to the Lindt factory and that big beer hall/sausage place on the Friday. Then maybe a Racelette* restaurant on the Saturday night and on Sunday the thermal springs. Then on Sunday my friend leaves and I travel to Winterthur for 1 week for a course. Any tips recommendations would be welcome :)

    1. Hi Amber! Thanks for sharing about your trip.

      Spending Friday in Zurich is a good idea. You can walk around the Old Town and enjoy free time in the city. If this is your first trip to Zurich, I wouldn’t recommend the Lindt factory, as it’s just a giant superstore and you can’t tour the factory itself anymore. (But Maison Cailler near Gruyeres is a different story!) The beer hall Zueghaus Keller is a fun place to be if you want a Bavarian-inspired meal. I’ve got some other restaurant recs on the blog.

      For an easy day trip from Zurich, I recommend going to Lucerne by train. It’s a really cute city and close to the mountains, and from there you could go up Mount Pilatus. I’ve written about both of those!

      Sunday at the Thermal Bad is a good idea, as almost all shops are closed in Switzerland. Many restaurants are open though, so you don’t have to worry. But if you have a particular place in mind, call ahead and make a reservation.

      I hope this is helpful. Let me know if you have any more questions!
      Warm regards from SNOWY Switzerland :)
      HD

  3. Hi Hailey!

    My partner and I will be visiting Zurich (loved you post!) in December and we were wondering how we could get to one of the walking trails, either Uetliberg or Kaferberg. Kaferberg seems nearer to the Hauptbahnhof so it looks more accessible to us :) Do let us know what you think!

    Edward

    1. Hi Edward! I’m glad to hear that you and your partner are up for a good walk in the woods during your visit to Zurich.

      Kaferberg is nice because it’s less touristy than Uetliberg. From Zurich HB, you can take Bus 46 (direction Rütihof) to the Kemphofsteig stop and then walk uphill through the Wipkingen neighborhood until you reach the Restaurant Die Waid, which has spectacular views of the city and is worth sitting out on their terrace to enjoy a drink or some nibbles in good weather. From the restaurant, I recommend to just start wandering! All of the trails are marked on Google Maps, and even if you don’t have cell service, your phone can track you offline.

      Uetliberg can have some great views of Zurich, the lake, and on clear days, the Alpine range. You can walk up it, but most people catch the S10 train from Zurich HB to the top station, where you can start a walk of your choosing. The Planet Trail (also called the Panoramic Walk: https://www.myswitzerland.com/de-ch/panoramaweg-vom-ueetliberg-zur-felsenegg.html) is a 2 hour walk along the ridgeline that ends at the Felsenegg gondola, which you ride down to Adliswil and then catch a train back to ZHB. And there are a number of trails that do end up back in the city that you can just follow and see what happens. (For example, my parents and I turned downhill at the Jupiter marking on the Planet Trail to walk the Föhreneggwegg down to the Albisgütli tram stop when I was 40 weeks pregnant!)

      I hope this helps and I hope you have a great time in Zurich!

      1. Oh! Also, if you happen to be dog lovers and are here on a weekend, a great place for a FLAT walk with some entertaining company is along the Sihl River in “the Allmend Park”. From the Sihl City train stop, cross the street and follow the footpath on the other side of the sport fields. This is a gravel walkway in a large open space where dogs can roam off-leash. It’s great fun for them and for pet lovers! Plus, it will put you close to one of my favorite restaurants, Fork & Bottle, next to the river and across the highway from the Brunau train stop.

  4. Myself and my sister plan on visiting Zurich early December any ideas on tours, restaurants, accommodation or Christmas Events in the city, much appreciate any suggestions

    1. Hi Mary,

      Early December is a great time to visit Zurich, as the Christmas spirit is everywhere! The Christmas markets are in the Main Train Station, down Bahnhofstrasse, and (my favorite) in the plaza in front of the Opera House.

      Free Walk Zurich gives walking tours at 11:00am of Old Town and 15:00 of ZuriWest. They are free, but be sure to tip your guide. And there are other tours now too… just check out the website to learn more.

      I do have a list of my favorite restaurants in the city: http://www.globalheartbeat.co/zurich-eats/

      But since I live here, I don’t have any experience with the hotels in the area. If you have a couple of specific ones you are considering, I might be able to help you compare them.

      I hope you and your sister have a great time in Zurich! Let me know if you have any more questions.

      Best wishes,
      Hailey

  5. hi Hailey
    my husnaband and I plan to to come in mid january to exoerirnperience the winter. could you help us skiing options? your post mentioned that you are an instructor?also.. where to meet for the free walking tour?
    appreciate your help.
    thank you
    Riddhi

    1. Hi Riddhi,

      There are many places to ski in Switzerland – from big resort areas list Zermatt or Davos-Klosters to small mountain villages with a few runs. What is your level of skiing?

      If you’d like to take a walking tour in Zurich, visit the Free Walk Zurich website to learn about all our tours. We have two every day, one of the Old Town at 11am and one of the ZuriWest neighborhood at 3pm. They are great ways to enjoy the city… just don’t forget to tip your guide!

      All the best, HD

  6. Hi Hailey!
    Thanks for the post. Excelents tips. As Jan, i’m going to Zurich in February 2018, but i’m thinking to stay in Zurich for two days and go to Grindelwald for another two days. Well, what do you thing about that? Is it a good idea? is it difficult to go to Grindelwald from Zurich in winter?
    Thanks for your help.

    1. Hi Mauricio – good questions!

      Visiting Zurich and Grindelwald over four days is certainly doable – even in the winter. All of Switzerland is well connected by train, and the journey from Grindelwald to Zurich takes a little over 2.5 hours.

      If you are a skiier or a winter sports fan, you may want one less day in Zurich to have one more day in the mountains. But if you are traveling to Switzerland from overseas, having a day in Zurich to adjust to the time zone is helpful.

      Personally, I love the Bernese Oberland, as I shared in my post “In the Heart of Jungfrau” (http://www.globalheartbeat.co/jungfrau/). However, I have not visited that region in the winter… but I can imagine its beauty!

      Please let me know if you have any more questions about your trip.
      Best wishes, HD

  7. Hey Hailey,
    That’s a nice post, I definitely would love to be in Zurich. Is February a good time to visit Zurich or is it too cold to bear? I am planning for February 2018 but a bit reluctant as the temperature is in minus…

    1. Hi Jan!

      Thanks for dropping a line. From my expat experience, I’d say that Zurich is not at its best in February. Generally, it’s a cold month (not sure what your tolerance for “cold” is…) and the city isn’t nearly as lively as it is when the weather is warm. However, there are still things to do and fondue to be eaten in winter, so you wouldn’t be without activities. Plus, the mountains aren’t too far away, and you could easily escape to some winter wonderlands nearby :)

      Let me know if you have any more questions!
      Bests,
      Hailey

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