Cold, often foggy, sometimes sunny, but always pretty – that’s Zurich in winter. And while most people might be heading to the mountains and ski resorts in winter, the city has quite a few great things to offer during those colder months. Here are 11 things I like to do in Zurich in winter. I also created a little map for you at the end of the post, so you can get all the information on the places in the post and/or use this map when you explore Zurich. Enjoy!
Explore the city by foot
No matter the season, as soon as it’s not raining, go and explore the city on foot. Walk down the Bahnhofstrasse towards the lake and marvel at all the Christmas decorations and expensive shops. As soon as you arrive at the lake, take a deep breath and look out on to the water. The chances are high that you will be able to see those snow-covered mountaintops. And, buy some Maroni on your way! Afterwards turn around and walk upstream along the Limmat, dive into the side streets and get lost in tiny alleyways and discover all those hidden gems Zurich has to offer.
Warm yourself up at the Sukkulenten Sammlung
If you are sick of the cold, head to the greenhouses at the Sukkulenten Sammlung, one of my all-time favourite places in Zurich. Leave your coat at the entrance and explore warmer climates. It is a perfect occupation for rainy or snowy days. And, if you crave some green for your home, you can even buy some small cacti and succulents. There is a bus from Bürkliplatz that takes you directly to the greenhouses. The station is called “Sukkulenten Sammlung”, so you cannot miss it. If the weather is good, I urge you to walk there and enjoy a pleasant stroll along the lake while you’re at it.
Shop and snack at the Viadukt
There are many places to eat and shop all around Zurich, but my favourite place to go in the colder months is definitely the Viadukt in the former industrial part of Zurich. While the trains are still running high above, down below many great shops call the arcs of the structure their home. The heart of this place is definitely the Markthalle, were you can buy super fresh and high quality produce.
It’s super fun to stroll around the small shops and stands and sooner than later you will crave something to eat. I can truly recommend the pies sold at The Pie Shop and anything at Tokyo Tapas. But the restaurant at the far end of the hall is also more than decent. For edible souvenirs and Swiss delicacies, check Berg und Tal and if you are looking for great wine, Südhang is the place to go. Also, look out for the milk vending machine!
Get lost at Neumarkt 17
This shop spans across three historic houses in the old centre of Zurich, and it is quite the experience. Not only do you find beautiful and classic pieces of furniture in the store, but as soon as you enter the store, you find yourself in a labyrinth of rooms. There is even a water basin in the middle of the store with several storeys of exhibition hanging above it from heavy metal chains. It’s hard to put this experience into words, so I suggest you just go there and get lost.
Have hot chocolate at Schober
I have to admit, this is quite a touristy spot in Zurich, but I have to go there at least once every winter. This place is gold and the hot chocolate – as well as all the cakes and sweets – is divine. Imagine a Wes Anderson movie, but top it off with even more Christmas decoration and plush, and you are right inside Schober. There is always a line, but make sure you get seated upstairs in the Salon Rouge. The ceilings are low, and everything is red and gold. You will love it. When you exit the place don’t miss out on Schwarzenbach, a beautiful and old general store across the street. Just like at Schober, time seems to have stood still in this place.
Get your mittens out and go on a long winter walk on the Uetliberg
Zurich is framed by hills on both sides and opens up to its infamous lake. While I will never get enough of those lakeside views, I do urge you also to get a view from one of those hills. The most obvious one is the Uetliberg, Zurich’s so-called Hausberg. While it is not super high with its 871 metres, it does offer stunning views on Zurich and the Alps. There is a train going up the Uetliberg from the central station, so it’s super convenient to reach. There are several hiking trails, and when there is enough snow, you can even go sledging down the mountain.
Hang out at Kosmos
Kosmos is a relatively new addition to Zurich. It’s a cultural centre with a cinema, a bistro, event spaces, a bar and a club, as well as a bookstore. If you feel like watching a movie, there is an excellent selection of films – most of them in their original language with subtitles. Also, the bistro is a great place to hang out with a cup of coffee or a drink and some snacks.
My favourite part of the whole complex, however, is the bookstore. While the selection of books is not large, it’s super well curated. Furthermore, there are nooks and tables that invite you to sit down and dive deeper into the reading material on offer. There is even a small bar offering coffee, cake and even alcoholic drinks. If I were as a student or freelancer, I would spend large chunks of time working and hanging at that place.
Visit the Kunsthaus
Grey and rainy or snowy days do happen in Zurich, and the Kunsthaus is a perfect place to spend those days. Their collection is extensive and ranges from the old masters to modern art. There is a room with two of Monets large water lily paintings to marvel at and a huge collection of Alberto Giacometti sculptures. Additionally, they put on great temporary exhibitions. If your rainy/snowy day happens to be a Wednesday, you are lucky since admission is free for all visitors on this day!
Join the penguins on their walk through the zoo
As soon as the temperatures drop below 10 degrees, the penguins at our local zoo get to go on a lunch-break walk everyday at 1:30 p.m. and you can go and walk with them. While I actually have never made it to this event, it’s pretty high on my to-do list. I know zoo’s are quite a sensible topic, yet I do have to say that the Zoo in Zurich is worth a visit. It’s focussing on the conservation of endangered species and ecosystems; and you can see how they are making an effort at giving the animals as much space and as good a home as possible. While I often left a zoo super depressed because they consisted mostly of animals in tiny cages, I never had the feeling at the Zoo here in Zürich. Also: walking with penguins!!!
Go for a boat ride
When you have seen it all, buy yourself a ticket, hop on a boat and take an excursion on the lake. It’s just a super relaxing thing to do and you can even enjoy it on foggy days. You will drive down the two coasts of Zurich, the so-called “gold” and “pfnüsel” coast, peek into Tina Turners garden and get a glimpse of the beautiful outskirts of Zurich that are located by the lake.
Visit the Christmas Market
If you are in Zurich before Christmas, pay the Wienachtsdorf a visit. It’s a beautiful Christmas market where you can enjoy Swiss and international street food and delicious mulled wine. Apart from the food stands there are plenty of great designers and small stores from Zurich selling their products, so it’s perfect for some Christmas shopping!