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Zurich might not be the capital of Switzerland, but it is the largest city and arguably one of the most cultural and historic cities in the country – although, in a country as diverse as this, that can be a tough argument to win!
It’s a modern, international city, and there’s much to discover in Zurich, from visiting medieval churches to exploring national museums. One of the best things about Zurich though is its location within Switzerland and its excellent transport links to the rest of the country. That means that day trips are very much a must for anyone staying in the city for more than a few days!
The Swiss Alps and the incredible mountainous scenery that the country is so famous for can be reached easily from the city. A short journey and the skyscrapers and streets of Zurich will be far behind you, replaced by towering, snow-capped mountains and unbeatable views!
Even easier to reach by train are the rest of Switzerland’s cities, and you can test out the theory that Zurich is the best in person by visiting famous destinations such as Berne, Basel or even Geneva, far away on the border with France to decide for yourself.
It’s a beautiful city, and it’s a beautiful base to explore the rest of Switzerland from! To get you excited, here are our best day trips from Zurich!
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Bern is just one hour on the train from Zurich, and it’s one of the best day trips to make from the city! Trains depart from Zurich every half hour, and they return back from Bern until late in the evening, ensuring that you really can make the most of a trip here!
Watch the fantastic Swiss scenery flash past you, before alighting in Bern to begin your tour of the city. Bern, like Zurich, is predominantly German-speaking, and in many ways is very similar culturally. The first thing you’ll notice though are the old charms of the city. Whereas Zurich hosts an array of modern architecture, Bern is very much still medieval!
Bern also has the honour of being the country’s de facto capital, and this is where the federal assembly meets – although intriguingly, the country has no ‘official’ capital city, given the range of languages and people that call Switzerland home. You can visit the Bundeshaus, where the assembly sits, to see where all the action happens.
Start by strolling through the UNESCO World Heritage listed Old Town of Bern, which is a marvel of 15th-century architecture. Check out the towering medieval cathedral, and if you’re interested in learning more about the city, then head on over to the Bern Historical Museum. The museum also cares for the former apartment of one of the world’s most famous scientific characters, a certain Albert Einstein, who lived here for a few years at the turn of the 20th century.
Basel is the third largest city in Switzerland – after the two most well known, Zurich and Geneva, of course! The city is found just an hour by train from Zurich, nestled on the northern border of Switzerland, with Germany on one side and France on the other.
That gives Basel an unbeatable level of diversity, and while the main language of the city is German, you’ll find plenty of French influence too. Its location at the crossroads of western Europe has often led Basel to be cited as the ‘Cultural Capital of Switzerland’, due to the unique array of museums and heritage that has formed from centuries of intermingling influences.
Start by taking a walking tour of the Old Town, and stroll through the medieval streets. You might want a local tour guide to point out all of the quirky and intriguing history hidden under the cobblestones! Basel, for example, was the home of the famous professor, Erasmus, who most European university students know of, as his name was given to the programme that funds study abroad terms!
You’ll also want to visit the more modern Tinguely Fountain, an iconic symbol of the city. The ‘Carnival’ fountain was designed by artist Jean Tinguely – you can visit a museum dedicated to his life and work too! – and it’s a fountain that’s full of unique sculptures.
From Zurich, you can also take day trips into the French-speaking regions of Switzerland. An easy day trip by train is to visit Lausanne, which is found on the beautiful shores of Lake Geneva, just a little over two hours from Zurich.
This is the fourth largest city in Switzerland, but also has the distinction of being the Olympic Capital of the World, as it’s home to the International Olympic Committee. Given the sporting history of Lausanne, a great place to begin is at the Olympic Museum, where you can learn about the history of one of the world’s most prestigious athletic events. The museum takes you on a journey from the games’ ancient origins through to its modern reincarnation.
Like all Swiss cities, Lausanne also has a fabulous Old Town, and you can spend hours strolling through the medieval streets. Visit the cathedral and enjoy the charming atmosphere. There’s a great culinary scene in the city too, and you’ll want to explore the wonderful cafes and restaurants in Lausanne when you begin to get peckish!
Of course, no trip to Lausanne would be complete without admiring the magnificent lakeside views on offer from almost any vantage point in the city. If you fancy, you could even head out for a boat cruise before returning to Zurich on the train in the evening.
Further reading – These are the BEST things to do in Zurich, Switzerland!
If you really want to experience the heart of French-speaking Switzerland though, then you’ll have to make the journey to Geneva. It’s a long train ride from Zurich, but you can make it there and back in a day with plenty of time to explore the attractions still!
After Zurich, this is the second largest city in Switzerland, so rest assured that you’ll be having an action-packed day out! Start in the Old Town, to get a feel for the immense history that shaped the city into the modern metropolis you see today. Visit St Pierre Cathedral, and make sure that you climb to the top of the steeple because from here, you can see all across the city and across Lake Geneva.
Enjoy the local food and wine at lunchtime, duck into a few chocolate shops for some truly authentic Swiss chocolate, before spending the afternoon on Lake Geneva. One of the most iconic sights on the lake is the Jet D’Eau, the enormous water fountain that’s become somewhat of an icon of the city. Take a boat across the waters and enjoy views of Geneva from afar.
If you have time, you can even head just outside of Geneva to visit CERN, where you can tour through the research facilities that are home to the Hadron Collider, where physics is being studied in intimate detail!
P.S. – Save a bit of cash in Zurich with our insider guide to the most amazing hotels in Zurich!
Lucerne is a charming city that makes for an easier day trip from Zurich because it’s just a short 45-minute train ride away. The small city is found in a supreme location on Lake Lucerne, and despite its size, it’s packed with history and medieval architecture.
The location is much of the joy of a train ride here, as the city is also surrounded by high mountain peaks, making it a fantastically aesthetic destination. The colourful Old Town is remarkably well preserved, while the highlight of a trip to the city is walking across the 14th-century wooden Chapel Bridge which extends across the local river.
It’s a wonderful day trip from Zurich by train, and you can leisurely enjoy the historic sights and the spectacular scenery before returning in the late afternoon!
Editor’s Note – Have you seen our guide to the most underrated and COOLEST neighborhoods in Zurich?
What could be more romantic than a day trip from Zurich to the beautiful, snow-capped mountain tops of the Swiss Alps? From the city, you can be whisked away into the heart of the Alps, as you travel deep into the mountains through unending, glorious scenery.
This is what visiting Switzerland is really about, and you’ll be swept away by the views and vistas, as you sit back in comfort on the drive through mountain passes. You’ll be heading north, as you take on the Brunigpass to reach the Bern Uplands. Here, you look out over the Aare Gorge, a breathtaking canyon that’s filled with churning alpine water.
If that’s not enough, then the next stop is the Grimsel Pass, where you have spectacular views over the Totesee, a lake in a glorious location, where the water will shimmer ahead of you. From here, this romantic day trip from Zurich gets better still, as you visit the Rhone Glacier.
Here, you visit an ice grotto, as you walk through icy caverns and tunnels to reach the icy caves beneath the glacier. This is one of the largest glaciers in the Alps, and it feeds the mighty Rhone River and Lake Geneva.
This is truly a fantastic day trip from Zurich, and you’ll spend the day in awe of the natural beauty that’s found in Switzerland, ready to return again to delve deeper into the mountains!
From Zurich, a wonderfully romantic day trip from the city will bring you to Rigi, known as the ‘Queen of the Mountains’. Mount Rigi is a towering mountain peak that’s part of Central Switzerland’s alpine scenery. The mountain overshadows the city of Lucerne and the surrounding lakes, in one of the most dramatic locations imaginable.
You travel from Zurich to the small, lakeside town of Weggis, which is on the beautiful shores of Lake Lucerne. The drive alone will have you in awe as you journey through mountain passes before emerging onto the lake, in the shadow of Mount Riga.
From Weggis, there is a cable car that whisks travellers up the mountain slopes, to the summit of Riga. Here, you will stand atop the Queen of the Mountains, and the views will be quite unbelievable! You’ll have a panoramic of the Alps, of mountain towns and cities below, and of the lakes arrayed out across the landscape.
To descend, you’ll again ride in style, but this time on the world’s oldest mountain funicular. Dating back to 1871, the mountain railway will take you down the slopes to the town of Vitznau, which is again on the lake shores.
From Vitznau, the romantic day trip has yet to end, and you board a boat for a cruise across the water to the city of Lucerne, where you can enjoy the rest of the day walking through medieval streets, before travelling back through the mountains to Zurich.
Another romantic and mountainous day tour from Zurich is to visit Mount Titlis, where you can enjoy cable car rides and ice grottoes, alongside incredibly scenic views.
Mount Titlis rises well over 3000 metres in height, and it’s dramatic, icy and beautiful. From Zurich, you pass through the lakeside city of Lucerne, and you can stop to admire the colourful Old Town, before travelling to Engelberg, a small village at the base of the mountain. Engelberg is the launching platform for the rotating cable car that takes visitors high up the slopes, passing over incredible scenery on the way.
At the summit, there is the chance to walk through an ice grotto in the glacier, before then spending the rest of the trip enjoying a romantic meal at the Panorama Restaurant atop the mountain.
Treat the kids to an energetic day of cycling, as you head by bike to explore lakes and rivers around Zurich. You’ll start in the city itself, giving you the chance to ride through the historic centre of Zurich, before you enjoy the beautiful landscapes and countryside that surround Switzerland’s largest city.
Cycle along the shores of Lake Zurich, with the city in the background, and then move out into the countryside as you follow the course of local rivers. You’ll cross over both the Limmat and Sihl rivers, the confluence of which is by Zurich itself, and before you know it, the whole family will be out of the city and in rural Switzerland!
It’s a great opportunity to get the kids out into the fresh Swiss air, and you can stop off in small riverside towns and villages as you see the often overlooked countryside that surrounds the city. It’s a great day out from Zurich, and a great chance to get in a spot of exercise for the family while you are on holiday in Switzerland!
The whole family can enjoy the experience of seeing Europe’s largest waterfall, on a day trip from Zurich to the epic Rhine Falls!
The falls are incredibly powerful and will leave even the most proficient waterfall aficionado in awe, as they stretch to over 150 metres in length. At only 23 metres in height, they aren’t the tallest falls in the world, but they are the widest on the continent!
The Rhine Falls are located in Neuhausen am Rheinfall, along the River Rhine, just one hour north of Zurich. You can even take a boat onto the river to get up close and personal with the crashing water! The town itself is well worth exploring too, and you won’t want to miss the dramatic Worth Castle, a historic castle built on a small island in the river that’s been standing here since the medieval days.
The drive to and from the Rhine Falls are great too, with plenty of opportunities to stop off in the countryside to explore charming rural communities and to enjoy the Swiss landscapes.
It’s a great day out, and an experience your children aren’t likely to forget anytime soon!
Take a day trip from Zurich with the kids to one of Switzerland’s best-loved theme parks. Conny-Land is just one hour away from the city, and is a great family attraction! It’s not the largest theme park in Europe, but there’s still plenty of rides and attractions to keep everyone having fun for the day, and the smaller scale of the park makes it easier to traverse and explore.
Conny-Land is home to the largest roller coaster in Switzerland, and there are plenty more rides and attractions that will give you an exhilarating thrill on your excursion from Zurich. For the smaller kids, there are lots of smaller rides too, from simple teacup rides to bumper cars.
If you don’t mind a drenching, there’s even a white water ride too! It’s a fun-filled day out, and all the family will find something to keep them amused at Conny-Land.
Zurich is a great city in itself, but it’s worth taking more time to enjoy not just the sights here, but the opportunity to explore the rest of Switzerland. With such an efficient and extensive train network, you can easily cross the country in a matter of hours to visit any of the other major cities. Geneva is the longest day trip, but even this is under three hours each way!
Day trips by train are almost endless, as almost every city and town is connected on the rail network, and the journeys themselves are as spectacular as the destinations. You can visit Bern, Basel, Lausanne and Lucerne, and when you arrive, there’s so much to do and to see everywhere!
If you’re travelling as a couple and are looking for romantic days out, then Switzerland is perfect! What could be more awe-inspiring and breathtaking than dining atop a mountain peak in the Swiss Alps after riding to the summit on a rotating cable car?
And if you have the family along with you, then there are some great day trips from Zurich too. Visit the spectacular Rhine Falls, go cycling, or take the kids to the theme park for the day. Zurich really is a great city for day trips!
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Gin lover. Coffee addict. Nicola has traveled the world for 7 years and is a staff writer for Hotel Jules. Born in London, Nicola first got the taste of travel studying abroad in Barcelona. Since then she's been hooked - traveling the world non-stop. Passionate about green travel and vegan lifestyle, Nicola spends more of her free time staring at maps wondering where she will head to next!