Zurich is not really known for must-see attractions, but its central area is pleasant enough, deftly combining pretty sights with the opulence of a major center of finance.
The town is neatly separated into two halves by the Limmat River, with some of the most pleasant medieval streets on the east bank and some of the most imposingly monumental on the west one. The former exudes hip café culture, the latter the loftiness of high finance. Both are worth a leisurely stroll through, as is a walk along quays on the river and a visit to the main street, Bahnhofstrasse.
Grossmünster ♥♥ is austere and does not really impress on the inside as it does on the outside, but if you walk up one of its towers you’ll be rewarded with excellent views over the city, the lake, and the mountains. Fraumünster ♥♥ is famous for its Chagall stained-glass windows, and well worth a look. Kunsthaus has a reasonable if unexceptional collection of Old Masters and Impressionists; special exhibitions take place with regularity.
A curious place to visit is Uhrenmuseum, at the Beyer store (Bahnhofstr 31). Downstairs, in a single room, it displays hundreds of interesting clock pieces from throughout history.
One other museum potentially worth considering is Schweizerisches Landesmuseum.
As far as eating out is concerned, whether you reserve a table in advance based on online ratings or just pick a restaurant at random, it is hard to have a truly disappointing meal in Zurich. I personally prefer local vibes in less touristy areas, but sometimes sitting down in an eatery on a crowded square can have its rewards.
One place worthy of a specific recommendation is Le Dézaley (by Grossmünster), a well-known and popular fondue eatery that boasts an extensive menu beyond fondue which is still overshadowed by the Swiss classic; despite attracting a steady flow of tourists, the atmosphere of a traditional Swiss meal remains throughout.
Switzerland is not a huge country, and everything is within day-trip distance from Zurich, despite its seemingly not central position. Most of these destinations can sustain longer than intraday visits, although practically none are home to must-see major sites.
Geneva ♥ is primarily about its lakefront, headlined by the iconic 140-meter high water jet stream. The Old Town is an agreeable cluster of pretty streets lined up with well-maintained buildings, centered on St Peter’s Cathedral.
The town of Nyon, down the shore from Geneva, has its own pleasant waterfront that is Geneva’s miniature sans Jet d’eau.
Bern ♥♥ has one of the most homogeneous and pretty city centers, understatedly commercialized, which is easily traversed on foot along several parallel streets. Among the main attractions are the brilliant stained-glass windows at the cathedral ♥, the bears walking the slopes of Barenpark ♥, and the former town gate, Zytglogge, with an astronomical clock built in the 16th century, which provides a somewhat underwhelming moving-figures display on every hour. The imposing Bundeshaus may be worth a tour.
The fine historic houses of the Old Town of Luzern ♥♥ have their façades painted with frescoes or covered with sgraffito decoration. Coupled with the surviving ancient city layout, it makes for a very enticing locale. Chapel Bridge ♥ is an iconic sight to see and walk across.
Solothurn ♥♥ reaches for the crown of the most beautiful Baroque city in Switzerland. Its compact historic center is full of architectural delights. Both St Ursen Kathedrale ♥♥ and Jesuitenkirche ♥♥ are lavishly decorated and impressive.
Lake Maggiore ♥♥ is simply spectacular, with atmospheric resorts and little villages surrounding it. I spent some time in Locarno ♥ and Ascona ♥, both of which must be bursting with crowds during summer, as well as drove along the lake shore for some of the most fantastic views anywhere.
Lake Lugano ♥ is another incredible locale in the south of the country. Explore it by taking a boat ride ♥♥ from the pier of Lugano town.
In some aspects similar to Bern’s, Fribourg‘s ♥ historic core is smaller, but still quite attractive, with steep cobbled streets, well-preserved Gothic houses, and many fountains. The cathedral ♥ is relatively bright and well-decorated, with radiant stained-glass mosaics and paintings.
The village of Gruyere is well-preserved, headlined by a castle that is reputedly worth a visit. At the bottom of the village sits La Maison de Gruyere dairy. An audioguide-enabled tour of the production floor sometimes coincides with active operations and becomes slightly more than just mildly curious. Keep in mind that the smells are strong, for those sensitive.
The Nestle’s Maison Cailler chocolate factory ♥ on the outskirts of a small village of Broc offers an interesting tour, which starts with the animated history of cocoa and chocolate and proceeds to introduce Swiss chocolatiers and their contributions. The tour then continues with a look into the chocolate-making process, finishing with a tasting of various products.
A stroll through the largely pedestrianized and rather commercialized city core of Lausanne is pleasant enough, as is walking up the steep streets to the cathedral, if only for the expansive views of the city’s rooflines.
The tiny Duchy of Liechtenstein should be included in this list, as this independent country is just as easily reachable from Zurich via car. I am not aware of truly worthy sights in the tiny principality.
It is not at all likely – although not impossible either – that you would include visiting a skiing resort during a stay in Zurich. Instead, you may decide to pay Zurich an intraday visit while being based at a skiing resort, which is what I once did from Villars-sur-Ollon, a place decidedly less glamorous than the famous Alpine areas of Zermatt, or Chamonix, or Kitzbuhel. Nonetheless, Villars is an archetypal Alpine resort village that fully supports a multi-day skiing-centric stay. In addition to its multitude of slopes, there are plenty of restaurants, several nightlife options, and a few close-by attractions such as a spa complex of Les Bains de Lavey ♥ or the indoor Aquaparc ♥ that is sure to delight children but also offers an adults-only spa.