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As a kid, my dad trav­eled a lot for work, catch­ing flights to far flung des­ti­na­tions like Japan, Ger­many, and Italy.  I thought it sound­ed so glam­orous.  I remem­ber ask­ing him once what his favorite city in the world was.  Zurich, he said.  And he promised he’d take me sometime.

We made that trip to Zurich, Switzer­land a cou­ple years lat­er on a fam­i­ly vaca­tion and I could instant­ly tell why he loved it so much.  It had that city ener­gy but was also very casu­al and laid back.  It was per­haps one of the clean­est cities I’d ever been to.  It had cob­bled side streets and alley­ways that were tight and wind­ing, easy to get lost in as I did a cou­ple times, but I enjoyed it.  And being smack in the mid­dle of Europe, the food scene was a food­ie’s dream — tra­di­tion­al Swiss, upscale French, rich Ger­man, and clas­sic Ital­ian.  Its cen­tral locale also afford­ed us the oppor­tu­ni­ty to take sev­er­al day trips to dif­fer­ent parts of Switzer­land, as well as day trips to Paris, Milan, and Inns­bruck, Austria. 

Years lat­er, I man­aged to con my hus­band into tak­ing me back.  He had been want­i­ng to see this beau­ti­ful city that I’d talked about so much, so we made the trip for New Year’s.  He fell in love with it as well.

If you’re plan­ning a trip to Europe and won­der­ing what cities to vis­it, Zurich is absolute­ly one you can’t miss.  Per­fect for a slow down after vis­it­ing busy Paris or crazy Munich, here is the best list for all the relax­ing things to do in this vibrant city. 

 

 

Walk Around Lake Zurich

 

 

lake zurich in fog

Even fog­gy, Lake Zurich is beautiful.

 

 

The epony­mous Lake Zurich is absolute­ly beau­ti­ful.  I’ve always vis­it­ed Zurich in ear­ly win­ter, so the air is crisp, but not unbear­able (at least not for us Chica­go folk who have adapt­ed to sub zero tem­per­a­tures like polar bears) and the lake itself is qui­et, but the lake­front is bop­ping with cyclists and food ven­dors and peo­ple out for a post hol­i­day stroll.  I can only imag­ine what it looks like in the height of sum­mer, full of sail­boats and sun­bathers.  If you walk far enough south, you’ll hit the Arbore­tum Zurich, which, like every­thing else in Zurich, is per­fect­ly pris­tine even in winter. 

And if you think walk­ing around a lake sounds bor­ing, there’s always the chance you’ll come across one lone swim­mer who has decid­ed to take his laps in 30 degree weath­er with noth­ing but his under­wear on.  It sounds painful and cer­tain­ly looked painful, but much to my fam­i­ly’s amuse­ment, he actu­al­ly seemed to be enjoy­ing it. 

 

 

Visit the Library at University

 

 

Rechtswissenschaftliche Bibliothek University Zurich

Seri­ous study­ing hap­pens at Rechtswis­senschaftliche Bibliothek.

 

If you’ve read any of my pre­vi­ous arti­cles, you know I typ­i­cal­ly include some sort of book attrac­tion in my lists — be it library or book­store.  I make it a point to find the best spots for books no mat­ter where I go. 

In Zurich, there are sev­er­al lit­tle book­stores that are absolute­ly charm­ing, includ­ing Nev­er Stop Read­ing, which was bright and wel­com­ing and one of my favorites (not to men­tion it had a shop name I could total­ly get behind). 

But, I think the most unique expe­ri­ence was vis­it­ing the library at Uni­ver­sität Zürich, also known as Rechtswis­senschaftliche Bib­lio­thek, but let’s be hon­est — who can read that, let alone pro­nounce it?  I’ll be upfront and say that this isn’t real­ly an enter­tain­ing thrill for kids.  It is a work­ing library and is typ­i­cal­ly full of stu­dents study­ing, so whis­per voic­es are kind of required.  But if you’ve got kids who are into archi­tec­ture or books, this is def­i­nite­ly a must see.  The library itself is very mod­ern and breath-tak­ing on the inside, but it’s also fun to see the Uni­ver­sität Zürich cam­pus.  Perched high on a hill, it too offers some pret­ty great views of the city. 

 

 

Kick it around at the FIFA World Football Museum

 

Got a soc­cer fan — or any kind of sports fan, for that mat­ter — on your hands?  Then a stop at the FIFA World Foot­ball Muse­um is a must. It’s got a lit­tle some­thing for every­one.  His­to­ry buff?  They have an entire exhib­it ded­i­cat­ed to the his­to­ry of foot­ball. Fierce com­peti­tor who always has to win?  Peep the World Cup Tro­phy in its new gallery.  Ener­getic and amped kids?  Head to their gam­ing zone to burn off some ener­gy.  Mom who’s maxed out on foot­ball?  There is a bar… And a library. 

The muse­um itself was built in 2016, so it’s very mod­ern and inter­ac­tive.  And the added bonus is its prox­im­i­ty to the city cen­ter, locat­ed only a few blocks west of the Arboretum. 

 

 

Walk Around Old Town

 

 

tight street in Zurich

If only all alleys were this picturesque.

 

 

Zurich is hands down the most charm­ing and quaint big city that I’ve ever been to.  Old Town Zurich, which is the area of Zurich right along the riv­er, remind­ed us of things we see in some of those old school fairy tales.  The streets are cob­bled and tight with stone and tudor style build­ings ris­ing up on both sides.  And they wind and bend and lead to even tighter alleys and back streets that lead to stairs that you just have to go up because you nev­er know what you’ll find when you reach the top.

Though many of the store­fronts have been mod­ern­ized in recent years, boast­ing well known brands like Lul­ule­mon and H&M, if you’re will­ing to explore off the beat­en path a lit­tle bit, you’ll find some pic­turesque bou­tique shops and side­walk cafes, per­fect for casu­al brows­ing on a slow afternoon. 

 

Don’t miss! Walk­ing the Streets of New York City

 

 

Go Play Chess at the Lindenhof

 

 

old town Zurich

Pret­ty great view for chess.

 

 

Perched atop a hill on the west side of the Lim­mat Riv­er, right in the heart of the city, is a quaint lit­tle park called the Lin­den­hof that you might miss if you did­n’t know it was there.  It’s the kind of place locals escape to on a sun­ny after­noon with a good book or a news­pa­per, or just to have a cof­fee and catch up with friends.  There are also chess boards for a friend­ly game, if you hap­pen to find one that isn’t occupied. 

If you cross the For­tu­na­gasse, you’ll see a small door­way that gave me major Secret Gar­den vibes.  Walk through it and it spits you out onto an exten­sion of the park, with a short walk­ing trail and much to my fam­i­ly’s delight, a lit­tle play­ground with swings and a slide.

But the great­est thing about this park is undoubt­ed­ly the view. Built on top of an old Roman ram­part, the park offers a bird’s eye per­spec­tive of Old Town Zurich and the riv­er.  Per­fect for a fam­i­ly shot or two. 

 

Don’t Miss! The Most Fam­i­ly Fun You Could Have at Win­ter Car­naval and Que­bec City

 

 

Enjoy Swiss chocolates and fondue

 

If you go to Zurich and don’t sam­ple the fab­u­lous Swiss food, did you even real­ly go?  As major food­ies, my fam­i­ly and I always look up the food scene in a locale, typ­i­cal­ly right after (or some­times even before) we book our flights and hotel. 

 

 

 

Zurich is a prover­bial melt­ing pot of Euro­pean cui­sine, with influ­ences from France, Italy, Ger­many, and even Spain read­i­ly acces­si­ble.  But you owe it to your­self to try the foods the Swiss them­selves are known for.  Name­ly their choco­lates and fon­due.  And let’s be hon­est.  Who among us does­n’t love choco­late and fondue?

If you’re look­ing for choco­late served in a fun and unique atmos­phere, you absolute­ly have to stop at Cafe 1842 in the Haus Con­di­tor­ei Schoe­ber.  Step inside and you’re instant­ly trans­port­ed to a clas­sic turn of the cen­tu­ry cafe, full of choco­lates, expert­ly craft­ed tarts and pas­tries, and deli­cious cof­fees and teas.  For a kid, it’s noth­ing short of mag­i­cal, espe­cial­ly around the hol­i­days when every­thing is dec­o­rat­ed and the whole store looks like San­ta’s work­shop.  It’s a busy lit­tle place, so expect a bit of a wait if you want to sit down.  But it’s absolute­ly worth it.

And for the ulti­mate Swiss fon­due expe­ri­ence, look no fur­ther than Swiss Chuchi, a casu­al but authen­tic spot in Old Town that is locat­ed in the Adler Hotel.  They offer street din­ing as well, per­fect for peo­ple watch­ing, weath­er per­mit­ting.  As an inter­ac­tive din­ing expe­ri­ence, fon­due is always a fun din­ner option for kids, but be mind­ful that dish­es are often served over an open flame. 

 

 

Climb to the top of Grossmunster

 

 

zurich from the top of grossmunster

View from the top of the Gross­mun­ster Spire.

 

 

When you look at pic­tures of Old Town Zurich, there’s typ­i­cal­ly a very dis­tin­guish­ing fac­tor to its mod­est sky­line — the dual tow­ers of Gross­mun­ster, a Protes­tant church in the heart of the city.  The tow­ers them­selves were erect­ed in the late 1400s, but the church dates back to the 1100s, which seems incon­ceiv­able giv­en the immac­u­late con­di­tion in which it still stands.

The Romanesque inte­ri­or is noth­ing short of stun­ning, with stained glass win­dows and a giant pipe organ at its heart.  You’re also allowed to climb to the top of one of the tow­ers for a tru­ly fan­tas­tic view.  Be fore­warned, though — hav­ing been orig­i­nal­ly erect­ed in the late 1400s, the ascent up the tow­er is at first very tight.  Like two peo­ple can bare­ly squeeze in the wind­ing stair­case at one time kind of tight.  And then once you make it past the stair­case, the rest of the ascent up is on wood­en ladders. 

Is it worth the trek?  Absolute­ly.  But for some­one with mild claus­tro­pho­bia like myself, your heart will be rac­ing the whole way up.  And while it’s like­ly a breeze for old­er kids, it might be a strug­gle for lit­tle legs. 

 

When You Go

 

Most major inter­na­tion­al air­lines fly from L.A. to Zurich, though we per­son­al­ly love SWISS Air and Lufthansa.  We think their air­plane food is slight­ly supe­ri­or (though it’s not a very high bar we’re using to compare).

For the best places to stay, Hotel Hirschen is ide­al for trav­el­ers look­ing for some­thing that is nice and con­ve­nient, but also does­n’t break the bank.  It’s cen­tral­ly locat­ed in the city and also fea­tures a charm­ing lit­tle wine bar.  On our lat­est trip, we stayed at the Mark­t­gasse, a con­tem­po­rary yet quaint hotel just off the riv­er.  Their rooms were cozy and well-appoint­ed, and we loved the cafe that was right next door.  Per­fect for a quick morn­ing mues­li and espres­so before sight­see­ing.  For a tru­ly upscale expe­ri­ence, we rec­om­mend the Storchen Zurich, a lux­u­ry hotel on the riv­er that is eas­i­ly one of the most stun­ning hotels we’ve ever stayed in and offers a tra­di­tion­al Swiss break­fast that sim­ply can’t be beat.

When it comes to Euro­pean cities, few have the laid back, casu­al atmos­phere that Zurich affords.  It’s per­fect for fam­i­lies that love to explore at their own pace, and we can’t rec­om­mend it enough! 

 

Mor­gan is a brand design­er and writer who splits her time between man­ag­ing her cre­ative stu­dio, Atlas + Anchor, and writ­ing about her life­long love affair with trav­el. A wan­der­lus­ter at heart, she’s a big pro­po­nent of explor­ing the roads less trav­eled because they often lead to amaz­ing views, mem­o­rable sto­ries, and the most unas­sum­ing but life-chang­ing restau­rants. Orig­i­nal­ly from Ohio, Mor­gan now lives in the heart of Chica­go with her fam­i­ly and is quite pos­si­bly the only per­son with­in city lim­its who hates deep dish pizza. 

 

 

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If you go to Zurich, Switzerland with kids, you must do these 7 things to make your trip the best!

If you go to Zurich, Switzerland with kids, you must do these 7 things to make your trip the best!