Expats can expect a well-balanced and fun lifestyle in Zurich, despite the stereotype that it's a sedate banking capital. The city has great shopping, excellent nightlife and some superb restaurants. Its lakeside location and surrounding countryside provide expats with a number of exciting opportunities for outdoor activities.
Shopping in Zurich
Zurich’s shopping scene mostly consists of boutiques and speciality stores. Bahnhofstrasse is the main shopping street, and it houses department stores and jewellery shops such as Bucherer and Beyer. The street is known as one of the most elite and expensive shopping areas in the world.
For a glimpse into the city's sweeter side, expats should visit famed chocolate confectioners such as Confiserie Sprüngli or Teuscher. Well-crafted Swiss hallmarks, like Swiss Army knives, cuckoo clocks, watches and embroidery, can be found at the Schweizer Heimatwerk cooperative.
The Helvetiaplatz flea market is a worthy Saturday morning excursion, and the Hauptbahnhof station also features ShopVille, which has numerous stores. The Niederdorf district and the narrow streets of the Old Town have eclectic offerings for expats who prefer trendy boutiques and speciality stores. Artwork is sold in Schipfe Street.
Nightlife in Zurich
Zurich’s nightlife is better than many expats expect. The eclectic Niederdorf area becomes a bustling hangout at night, with many alternative joints. Clubs and bars are clustered in the Zurich-West area, while the area around Paradeplatz has a good selection of upmarket lounges and hotel bars. The former red-light district of Langstrasse retains an edgy appeal and is worth checking out for something different.
Outdoor activities in Zurich
Active expats can hit the slopes for a spot of skiing, enjoy hiking in the Swiss Alps or simply relax watching the day go by while enjoying a coffee by the lake. Some of the best outdoor attractions that Zurich has to offer centre around the city's surrounding natural beauty.
See and do in Zurich
There’s plenty to see and do in Zurich, and some of its best sights and activities are free. Expats planning on doing a lot of sightseeing should consider buying a Zurich Card, which gives the bearer free use of local transport, admission to museums, and free drinks at several bars for up to 72 hours.
Below are some of the most popular attractions in Zurich.
The distinctive blue spire of Fraumünster is one of Zurich’s most emblematic sights. Founded in 853 AD, it stands sentinel over the old Münsterhof square. Look out for the Romanesque choir and its Chagall-designed stained-glass windows.
Famed for its Munch, Chagall, Picasso, Monet, Rothko and Expressionist collections, the Kunsthaus holds many treasures within its attractive premises and is the perfect outing for a rainy day.
The traditional heart of Zurich is home to intimate cafés, old bars and street performers. Some of the buildings date back to the 15th century and host fashion stores, bookshops, boutique stores and antique dealers.
Take a day trip to the little town of Schaffhausen, home to the spectacular Rhine Falls – Europe's largest waterfall. This natural spectacle is at its most impressive after the snow melts in late spring. On the hill above it is the medieval Schloss Laufen, and it’s one of the best places to watch the fireworks on Swiss National Day.
Swiss National Museum
The Swiss National Museum provides an illuminating study of Swiss life over the centuries. The building itself is impressive and, once inside, visitors will find Stone Age tools, medieval treasures and gilded weaponry.
This eco-friendly centre is dedicated to nature conservation and protecting endangered species. The zoo houses hundreds of species and several thousand animals within authentically recreated ecosystems, such as the exotic Madagascan Rainforest and Ethiopian Highlands.
What's on in Zurich
The calendar of events in Zurich is surprisingly diverse, and expats are sure to find a few exciting events to their taste. Visiting international performers and other events are anchored by annual classics. Here are a few of the best annual events in Zurich.
Art on Ice (February/March)
A sell-out ice show which is held at the Hallenstadion Arena brings together the best international skaters to perform spectacular routines accompanied by world-renowned musicians. It is one of the biggest events of its kind globally, and people come from all over the world to see it.
Zurich Marathon (April)
Every April, thousands of runners take to the streets to tackle the city's marathon. It's an event worth experiencing, even as a spectator.
Theatre Spectacular (July to September)
A festival of performances across the fields of classical music, art, theatre, opera and dance from world-renowned performers. The festival is held at Landiwiese, a space which is transformed into several venues, bars and cafés every year.
Zurich Open-Air Cinema (July to August)
Every summer, Zurichhorn Park is transformed into a cinema under the stars for classics, cult movies and indie new releases. Expats should be sure to check when tickets go on sale, as they sell out quickly.
Langstrasse Festival (August/September)
Held each year in the heart of Zurich, this festival features a mix of culinary delights and international music, with improvised stalls and music stages spread through the city. Food stalls offer a range of delicacies, from local Swiss specialities to international dishes. Visitors can also enjoy Swiss music alongside blues, jazz and contemporary pop music.
Zurich Film Festival (September)
This annual event attracts over 70,000 film buffs and is a chance to view the work of new directors and producers from across the globe. It's a great event for expats interested in the arts.
New Year's Eve (December)
Lake Zurich becomes the venue for one of Switzerland's largest New Year's Eve parties. The event attracts around 200,000 people who come to see a spectacular fireworks display at this most scenic of locations.
►What's On in Zurich lists the city's top festivals and events
"I can easily walk to most everything I want to do in Zurich: my children’s school, the shopping mall, the local farmer’s market, the lake, the woods, etc. My children have access to many beautiful and clean parks and playgrounds, filled with potential playmates. The city provides many services specifically targeted to children and families, including lively community centres in most neighbourhoods and a wide variety of sport classes and holiday camps."
For more about American expat Tanya's experiences in Zurich, read our interview with her.
Are you an expat living in Zurich?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Zurich. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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