The largest city in Switzerland is the lakeside retreat of Zurich. First permanently settled more than 2000 years ago by the Romans, this cultural hub is home to a number of museums and art galleries. Despite its small population, it is also one of the worlds largest financial centres. In 2012, the magazine “Monocle” named Zurich one of the 25 top cities in the world for quality of life. As budget backpackers we can completely understand why, as despite its reputation for being expensive, there are an astonishing number of free things to do in Zurich.   Zurich    

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Top Free Things to Do in Zurich

The largest city in Switzerland is the lakeside retreat of Zurich. First permanently settled more than 2000 years ago by the Romans, this cultural hub is home to a number of museums and art galleries. Despite its small population, it is also one of the worlds largest financial centres. In 2012, the magazine “Monocle” named Zurich one of the 25 top cities in the world for quality of life. As budget backpackers, we can completely understand why, as, despite its reputation for being expensive, there is an astonishing number of free things to do in Zurich.    

Picnic in the Botanic Gardens

Despite Zurich being very much a business city, we found the entire city to be a very relaxing place to explore. Hidden all around, you will find quiet spots to relax and enjoy the beautiful architecture. If you are in the mood for some green space, another one of the free things to do in Zurich, which you can easily find, is the city’s Botanical Gardens. To find these gardens, simply catch the tram from Zurich city centre towards District 8. Pack a picnic and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere, completely removed from the concrete jungle of the city centre. This park is especially unique as you will find three, beautiful greenhouse pods. Inside each of these you will find a completely different climate, showcasing the fauna and flora that grows in that climate.  Lose yourself in a rainforest, right in the middle of a city.   Zurich Botanic gardens    

Enjoy the view from Lindenhof Hill

If you think Zurich is a beautiful city at ground-level, just wait till you see it from above. Take a walk through the winding, cobbled streets, uphill to the top of Lindenhof hill, another one of the free things to do in Zurich. Here you will find a fantastic, shaded park, with unbelievable views over the city of Zurich and the Limmat river. Drink in the view of the surrounding countryside and the ant-like people below. There is always a buzzing atmosphere at the top of this hill as well, as fellow tourists enjoy the view, and locals come to unwind from a day at work. This is another perfect spot for a cheap picnic, with incredible views that you just will not get at the expensive restaurants around the city.   Lindenhof Hill    

The FocusTera Museum

Located on the northeastern corner of the city centre is the fascinating FocusTera geography museum. Entry to FocusTera is completely free, and with exhibits ranging from the earths geography to the creation of stars, will keep you entertained for hours. There is a free tour organised on Sundays at 11am, 1pm and 3pm, which will take you around the main exhibits, and also give you a chance to experience what it is like to be in the middle of a real earthquake! You can only use the earthquake simulator as part of a tour, so make sure you either head along at these times, or book a group tour here. Booking.com    

Walk Around and Soak up the Atmosphere

Perhaps the most obvious (and enjoyable) of the free things to do in Zurich, is simply just enjoy the atmosphere that this beautiful city has. The mix of cultures, nationalities and languages is incredible, and thats just with the locals! Tourists flock the cobbled streets and create an atmosphere that is buzzing, vibrant and simply wonderful. Our favourite spot to enjoy the atmosphere sits atop of Limmat river, on a rather unusual bridge. Right in the city centre, you will find a bridge with a building, merry go round and a couple of cute cafes and food shops. Enjoy a swiss hot chocolate as the city buzzes around you.   Limmat River    

Swim in the Lake

Any trip for us is not complete without a local source of water. Whether its a quick dip to cool off, or simply an evening watching the sun set, lakes, lochs or oceans make any place in the world better. Zurich is a perfect example of this. You have the busy city vibes of the business district, and only a short walk away you have the perfect chill out spot to dip your toes. Getting into the water itself isn’t as easy as any regular beach, however there are a number of pontoons and docks which provide access for a sneaky swim.     Arboretum Park sits just outside Zurich city centre and is perfect for a wander to escape the big city vibes. It is easily reachable, a five minute walk from Burkliplatz, and is a highly popular spot for locals to enjoy the sunshine on a warm, summers day. There are also two beaches near the city,  however both are paid entry.  You will find Strandband Tiefenbrunnen on the west bank of the lake and Stranbad Mythenquai on the east. Both are easily accessible by a ten minute bus journey from Birkliplatz.   Sunset over lake Zurich    

Go a Hike

One of Switzerland most famous qualities is the incredible number of stunning mountain ranges it has to offer. Nestled amongst the beautiful Alps mountain range, Zurich is a perfect basecamp for adventure travellers. As a keen hiker, you will find yourself stuck for choice with the range of hikes available. Don’t feel intimidated, however, if you are only a novice hiker. There are plenty of short walks, offering equally beautiful views for those wishing to give hiking a go and experience the great outdoors. Pack a comfortable pair of shoes, a map and compass and give hiking a go! Check out the Zurich website on hikes available, and be sure to perform plenty of research on what to pack and precautions that must be taken. Being unprepared on the hill is extremely dangerous!   Swiss Countryside    

Window Shop

Shopping in Zurich can be pretty pricey, however, getting your window shopping fix is completely free! Zurich has every kind of shop imaginable on offer, from clothing to outdoors, bakeries and chocolate shops, as well as some of the most beautiful jewellery shops imaginable. It is easy to spend an entire day perusing the shops around the city centre.   Botanic Gardens Zurich     Despite its reputation, Zurich does not have to be an expensive city to visit. It is very easy to spend money, with most restaurants costing about £40 per main meal, however these are not a necessary part of the cities full experience. Cut out the high costs and enjoy your time in Zurich on the cheap side!   Check out more of our budget guides and backpacker stories for cities all across Europe right here. If you enjoyed this article then make sure you share it with your friends and family! Why not swing by our social medias and say hi?! Tag us in your Zurich photos so we can share them with our community.   Read Now:    

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This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. eric

    Cant’ wait to visit Zurich one of these years.

    1. Campbell

      It’s such a beautiful city!

    2. W Gunning

      You are making me wish I could visit Zurich. Great article.

      1. highlands2hammocks

        Zurich is wonderful, I hope you make it there one day! Thanks 🙂

  2. Marielle

    Such a beautiful place! Would love to visit sometime!

  3. Marco B

    I really want to go to Zurich, it looks absolutely amazing. I was recently in Interlaken which really blew me away. The only thing I disliked was our currency conversion to the swiss franc, it was like I was poor again haha. Keep up the good work 🙂

    1. Campbell

      That sounds lovely! Yeah haha Zurich was very expensive but we managed it by camping and buying all our food from the Lidl! Would really recommend you visit Zurich though it’s a beautiful city ?

  4. dani

    Lovely! Will be reserving Zurich for summer. =)

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