Visitors to Switzerland’s largest city, Zurich, will find plenty of sights and attractions to fill their days. With its perfect location in the heart of Europe, Zurich is also a great base from which to explore other parts of the country. In this post I share six of the best, and most popular, day trips from Zurich.
1. Schaffhausen and Rhine Falls
The pretty town of Schaffhausen, on the River Rhine, is one of the best-preserved cities from the Middle Ages and is less than an hour from Zurich. Many of the Old Town’s buildings are adorned with oriel windows and beautiful frescoes and a wander along the cobbled streets is a feast for the eyes.
Not far from the town centre are the thundering Rhine Falls (Rheinfall in German), Europe’s largest waterfall. The sheer power and volume of the water flowing downstream is astonishing. The best views of the falls are from Schloss Laufen but you can get close to the falls by taking a boat ride to a viewing platform that has been erected on a large rock beside the falls.
Getting from Zurich to Schaffhausen:
By train - 40 minutes
By car - 40 minutes
On an organised day tour - Click here for prices for the Zurich to the Rhine Falls day tour
Getting from Schaffhausen to Rhine Falls:
From Schaffhausen you can reach the Rhine Falls by a train to Schloss Laufen am Rheinfall (5 minute journey). Then it’s just a two minute walk to the Falls.
After visiting Schaffhausen and the Rhine Falls, you could also include the pretty town of Stein am Rhein in your day trip.
Much smaller than Schaffhausen, Stein am Rhein also boasts a lovely town centre. Built alongside the Rhine where it flows out of Lake Constance, the intricately painted facades of the medieval houses reflect off the river, giving the town a real fairytale feel.
Stein am Rhein is also home to the Monastery of St. Georgen and the Hohenklingen Castle and there are also plenty of activities available on Lake Constance.
Getting from Schaffhausen to Stein am Rhein:
By train - 24 minutes
By car - 20 minutes
On an organised day tour - Click here for prices for the Spectacular northern Switzerland tour from Zurich
One of the lesser-known regions of Switzerland, Appenzell and its capital of the same name, is an idyllic area worthy of a day’s visit. Strong farming traditions are still practiced in the region and it’s here that the delicious Appenzeller cheese originates.
The town of Appenzell is lined with brightly coloured buildings, many adorned with frescoes and wrought iron signs. Surrounding the town are lush green fields and rolling hills - and lots of Swiss Brown cows, with bells, of course!
You can visit the Schaukaserei at Stein (about 10 kilometres from Appenzell) for cheese tastings and sales.
Getting from Zurich to Appenzell:
By train – 2 hours
By car – 1 hour 10 minutes
On an organised day tour - Click here for prices for the Swiss Traditions Appenzellerland from Zurich day tour
3. Lucerne and Mt. Pilatus
As is so often the case when you visit Switzerland, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to excursions. On a day trip from Zurich to Lucerne and Mt. Pilatus you don’t have to choose between the city and the mountains - you can enjoy both.
Allow time to wander around Lucerne’s historic old town with its many attractive buildings, cross the famous Chapel bridge, visit the Jesuit Church and pause in front of the moving Dying Lion statue.
Then head up to Mt. Pilatus for spectacular panoramic views of Lake Lucerne and the surrounding Alps. The summit can be reached by either cable car (from Kriens) or on the steepest cog railway in the world, with connections by train and boat from Lucerne.
Getting from Zurich to Lucerne:
By train - 50 minutes
By car - 40 minutes
Getting from Lucerne to Mt. Pilatus:
By train/boat/funicular – 1 hour 5 minutes
By car - 30 minutes
On an organised day tour - Click here for prices for the Mount Pilatus: the golden round trip from Zurich
Without doubt, one of Switzerland’s most popular day trips is the railway excursion to the Jungfraujoch, home to Europe’s highest railway station - and spectacular views.
The two-hour journey from Interlaken is as enjoyable as the destination itself, with the train passing lush alpine meadows, snow capped peaks and then tunnelling through the mountain before emerging at 3,454 metres above sea level.
At the summit there are an enormous range of activities to enjoy all year round, but the highlight for me is always the view.
Getting from Zurich to Jungfraujoch:
By train - 2 hours to Interlaken, then 2 hours to Jungfraujoch
By car – 1.5 hours to Interlaken, then train to Jungfraujoch (as above)
On an organised day tour - Click here for prices for the Jungfrau Top of Europe full day trip from Zurich
It might be Switzerland’s capital but with a population of less than 500,000, Bern feels more like a big, friendly town and is an excellent choice for a day trip from Zurich. The heart of the city, the Old Town, is built on a bend of the River Aare and features cobbled streets, colourful fountains, pretty arcades and red-roofed buildings.
Pick up a city map from the Tourist Office when you arrive as there’s plenty to see in Bern. The Zytglogge, with its astronomical clock dating back to 1530, is one of the city’s landmarks. Every hour, mechanical figures perform before the clock strikes the hour.
You can also visit the house in which Albert Einstein lived when he developed the theory of relativity, watch the city’s symbol, the Brown Bear, in a specially-built riverside enclosure, or indulge in some retail therapy.
Getting from Zurich to Bern:
By train - 1 hour
By car – 1 hour 20 minutes
On an organised day tour - Click here for prices for the Bern: small group tour from Zurich
6. Basel and Colmar
For a day trip with a French flavour, why not visit Basel and Colmar? The city of Basel dates back to Roman times and has been part of both France and Germany in the past. Now proudly Swiss, it is home to some worthy sites including the Gothic gate, Spalentor, the medieval cathedral (Münster), the Historiches Museum, which traces the city’s history, and the elaborately painted Town Hall.
Getting from Zurich to Basel:
By train - 55 minutes
By car - 1 hour
Less than an hour from Basel is the pretty French town of Colmar, which makes it easy to include in your day trip. Colmar is widely regarded as one of the prettiest cities in France and a stroll through the Old Town, past its shuttered and half-timbered buildings, will leave you with no doubt why.
Enjoy a drink or a bite to eat at one of the restaurants and cafes along Rue de la Poissonerie and the Tanneurs Quartiers. Or hop aboard a gondola for a gentle cruise along the canal to admire the beautiful architecture from another angle.
Getting from Basel to Colmar (France):
By train - 45 minutes
By car - 40 minutes
On an organised day tour - Click here for prices for the Full-Day Discover Basel & Colmar Private Tour
Where to stay in Zurich
Zurich offers a wide range of accommodation styles to suit all budgets. I have stayed at numerous hotels in the city (you can read my reviews here) and loved my recent stay at Sorrell Hotel Zurichberg.
This article is written in conjunction with Switzerland Tourism but all words and opinions are my own.
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