Zurich is undoubtedly one of the most visited cities in all of Switzerland. This upmarket financial capital is home to many of Switzerland’s most luxurious. That’s saying something for a country known to be relatively more expensive than anywhere else. Don’t let Zurich intimidate you, however. Despite its high-end reputation, there are lots to do for any kind of traveler. From amazing restaurants and crazy nightlife to quirky hotels and fun activities, it’s no question that travelers continue to flock to this city. But if all else fails, it’s also the perfect jump-off point for amazing day trips.
One of the closest and most popular day trips from Zurich for locals is to the lakeside town of Rapperswil. It is a quaint historic town, complete with its own castle, perched right on the shores of Lake Zurich.
Not only is a great spot to do a boat ride from downtown Zurich, you can also get up close(r) to the Alps there. The far end of Lake Zurich, where Rapperswil is located, gives you a complete other perspective on the Alps.
It is also a great spot for lunch, going for a stroll, or just sunning yourself on the shores of the lake. There are other options as well, such as swimming and stand up paddling in summer. Or heading out on the lake to one of the nearby islands for a quick jaunt.
By Boat: The best and most scenic way to get to Rapperswil is by ferry boat from the downtown end of Lake Zurich.
By Car: It is possible to go by car, although parking is somewhat limited, like in most of Switzerland. And unless you do it on a weekday, it is super busy.
The most popular day trip from Zurich, or from anywhere in Switzerland for that matter, is the Jungfraujoch. At an impressive height of 3,454 meters (11,332 feet), it’s the highest train station in Europe, earning it the nickname “Top of Europe”. There are many activities to do here, but the biggest draw is its location in the heart of the Bernese Oberland. From here, guests can take in impressive panoramic sights of the three famous peaks of the Jungfrau massif: the Jungfrau, Mönch, and Eiger.
With snow-capped peaks throughout the year, skiing and snowboarding are the top adventures here. There are also several exhibits to explore, including the Ice Palace where artists carve sculptures into the walls made of ice. There are several restaurants and shops to visit as well, but take your time at the viewing decks. The Sphinx Observatory is an international research station that is most ideal for you to get your bearings. From here, you can see stunning rock formations and panoramic views of the Bernese Oberland. On a cloudy day, you can also head to the Jungfrau Panorama where 360-degree views on the mountain are projected on the walls.
By Train: Unsurprisingly, the journey to Jungfraujoch is beautiful. The coach ride from Zurich to Interlaken moves along the Brünig Pass and the shores of Lake Brienz. From Interlaken, you can go through Lauterbrunnen via train or through a cogwheel ride in Grindelwald to Klein Scheiddeg, which is also a great pitstop for amazing views. Once done exploring, you can ride the Jungfrau Railway to Jungfraujoch. The whole journey takes over 4 hours.
By Car: The drive from Zurich to Interlaken will take a little less than 2 hours. Once in Interlaken, take the train ride to Jungfraujoch.
If you want to visit the Bernese Oberland but not all the way to Jungfraujoch, then prepare for an adrenaline-filled trip to Interlaken. Known as the adventure capital of Switzerland, Interlaken is perfectly situated between Lakes Brienz and Thun, surrounded by breathtaking views of the Alps. The town may be small in size but very big on experience.
A day trip from Zurich to Interlaken is a day for outdoorsy adventures. The most popular of which is paragliding – jumping off a cliff and gliding with the wind. From Interlaken, it’s also easy to reach some of Switzerland’s most beautiful waterfalls, like Trummelbach Falls and Reichenbach Falls. There are many ways to enjoy the great outdoors without breaking much of a sweat, too. You can take a cable ride to Harder Klum for panoramic views of the valley, or take an easy trek through the Interlaken-Harder Alpine Game Park. If you’re more of an easygoing kind of traveler, you can always wander around Unterseen, Interlaken’s Old Town.
By train: There are two trains that leave from Zurich Main Station to Interlaken with a train change in Bern via the SBB. The journey is an hour and 50 minutes.
By car: There are 123 kilometers to cover between Zurich and Interlaken, which will take an hour and 30 minutes. You can bring your own car or hire a private driver via daytrip.
By organized tour: Due to the popularity of Interlaken, there are many organized day tours from Zurich to Interlaken. These tours usually include passes or guides to some of the many adventures in the town. Since Grindelwald is nearby, the packages also include a stopover at this beautiful town. Check out the packages from GetYourGuide, Viator, or Klook.
Going up against Zurich on the “Best City to Visit in Switzerland” race is Lucerne. So if you can do both, why don’t you?
Lucerne is widely known as Interlaken’s rival in terms of accessibility and attractivenes. It has an incredibly-preserved Old Town, the pristine Lake Lucerne, and the backdrop of the Alps just outside the city. There are many things to do in Lucerne that one day is hardly enough to enjoy the city. However, if you can’t spare more than a day, make sure to include the Chapel Bridge in your itinerary. It’s the most iconic landmark of the city, built in the 14th Century and adorned with artwork and paintings. Once done, wander around the Old Town to see more landmarks like the Altes Rathaus (Town Hall) and the St. Peter’s Chapel, which is the oldest in the city.
Obviously, no visit to Lucerne will be complete without a trip to the banks of Lake Lucerne. It’s the fourth largest lake in Switzerland, offering a myriad of activities. You can rent a boat, go on an evening cruise, visit the parks, or simply find a spot and enjoy the view with Alpine peaks in the background.
By Train: Take a direct train from Zurich Main Station to Lucerne via SBB. The journey takes around 50 minutes to an hour.
By Car: The drive takes around an hour as well, traveling over 50 kilometers from Zurich to Lucerne.
Rhine Falls is the mightiest falls in Central Europe. The water leaves Lake Constance and enters the Rhine River, where the water plunges down 21 meters over a 150-meter wide Jurassic limestone ledge. The water surge is strongest throughout June to July when snowmelt feeds into Rhine River.
There are several great viewpoints to choose from. From the top, the falls are visible from either side. There are also 30-minute boat tours to view the falls from the bottom. At night, floodlights illuminate the falls, which is another good time to visit. From the Schlössli Wörth, which used to be a shipping and reloading area from the 13th to the 19th century, guests can view the grandeur of the Rhine Falls while enjoying dinner at a fine-dining restaurant. It’s set on a tiny island at the bottom of the falls and the views from the terrace are spectacular.
By train: Take the S9 from Zurich to Neufhausen Rheinfall for the 50-minute train ride.
By car: Drive 50 kilometers via A1/A4, taking around 45 minutes.
By organized tour: Most tours from Zurich take half a day and already include the boat ride to see the falls. This package from Viator also includes a stopover at Schaffhausen.
Hit two birds with one stone when you take a day trip from Zurich to Schaffhausen. It’s one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Switzerland and just under an hour away from Zurich.
One of the main spots is Fronwagplatz, lined with beautiful timber-frame houses with oriel windows and coats of arms. A single-tower Munster built from 1087 to 1150 stands, formerly the church of a Benedictine abbey with delicate 12th-century arcades. It currently houses the All Saints Museum with exhibits featuring prehistoric artifacts, religious art, period rooms and artwork by modern Swiss artists. You can also visit Kastell Munot, distinct with its circular structure with five-meter thick walls.
From Schaffhausen, take a 5-minute train ride to Schloss Laufen and a two-minute walk to Rhine Falls.
By train: There are hourly trains that leave from Zurich to Schaffhausen. There are different timetables, but the fastest one takes 38 minutes via SBB.
By car: The drive to Schaffhausen is around 40 minutes covering 50 kilometers.
From Switzerland’s financial capital, head over to its real capital, Bern. Unlike many of the world’s capital cities, Bern is quiet and calm with a population of 500,000.
Bern’s Old Town is its crowning glory, named a UNESCO World Heritage for its streets of 17th- and 18th-century houses and establishments. Many of the city’s main attractions can be found in the Old Town, made more dramatic with its location atop a high ridge surrounded by the Aare River. Its pretty arcades and cobblestone streets with a backdrop of river and Alps is something worth seeing.
There are several landmarks to check out, all marked on the tourist office’s city map. Some of the must-visits are the Zytglogge, an iconic astronomical clock built in 1530, or even the house where Albert Einstein was born.
By train: Many trains in Zurich travel to Bern. Travel time is a little bit over an hour.
By car: There are 123 kilometers between Zurich and Bern. Via the A1 motorway, you can reach Bern in an hour and 20 minutes.
Vaduz is more like a town than a city, but its position on the banks of Rhine River gives it a trademark European charm. A walk through the town center brings you landmarks like the Town Hall where intriguing statues line the streets all the way to the National Archive. The neo-gothic architecture of the Vaduz Cathedral is also a sight to behold.
There are five castles to see, two of which – Schloss Vaduz and Burg Gutenberg – are still fully intact while the others are romantic ruins.
By train: There are several trains that leave Zurich to Vaduz. The fastest one leaves from Zurich Main Station with a transfer at Sargans before heading to Vaduz. This trip takes an hour and 21 minutes, while the longest trip via Feldkirch can take up to over 2 hours.
By car: The drive to Vaduz from Zurich will take a little over an hour covering 110 kilometers.
Appenzell isn’t a very popular place to visit, but that’s part of this small town’s charm. It’s a great introduction to rural Alpine life. Farming traditions are still very strong in the region, resulting in their famous Appenzell cheese. It’s a postcard-worthy place with brightly colored houses backed by green meadows and Alpine peaks.
Hiking is the most popular activity in Appenzell. There are several hills like Hoher Kasten, Saxer Luke, and the Marwees that offer breathtaking views. Don’t be deceived by the term “hill” though as these hikes can still be very taxing and are meant for true hiking enthusiasts. Otherwise, take in this iconically Swiss experience through the town, passing through houses proudly waving Swiss flags and banners. There are many shops for visitors to sample local baked goods and cheeses and of course the Museum of Appenzell to know more about local customs and culture.
By train: There are many trains that head to Appenzell, at least two leaving every hour. The fastest train is via IR13 with a switch in St. Gallen and will take a little under 2 hours.
By car: The driver covers 90 kilometers and will take around an hour.
By organized tour: It’s easy to head to Appenzell by yourself, but since most people know little about this town, a guided tour can help visitors understand and appreciate the trip a lot more. There are several packages from GetYourGuide or Tours4fun.
There is definitely a lot to do in Zurich for any kind of traveler. The city successfully marries tradition with modernity, preserving its history while keeping up with the modern times. However, part of the appeal of Zurich is its centrality, making day trips to different parts of Switzerland very easy and convenient. Whether it’s your first time or your nth time in the city, why not go beyond Zurich and find more places to explore?
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!