Situated at the top of the lake that carries its name and with the famed Alps as a backdrop, the city of Zurich is one of Europe's most picturesque and historically rich locations. It's also relatively compact, making it a fantastic location to explore on foot.
Before we start, Zurich is a city filled with inviting streets and alleyways that seemingly spin off in all directions. This counter-clockwise elliptical "tour" of the city is setup so you can make your own adventure by following your impulses down an alluring pathway or through a quaint platz, then rejoin or skip ahead as you adapt to make your own Zurich adventure.
We'll get started from Sechseläutenplatz, where Lake Zurich outflows into the Limmat. This popular area is easily accessed via the Zurich Stadelhofen train station or the many buses and trams that run through Bellevue Square. Start your trip with a gelato or coffee from one of the many nearby stores, then step across the southern side of the plaza to marvel at the Opernhaus Zurich.
Wander north along Oberdorfstrasse to the historic Grossmünster church and adjoining Zwingliplatz. Continue along Münstergasse, taking in the distinctive architecture and the plethora of book stores, antiques, buzzing cafes and more. Keep an eye out for cues as to the former residences and haunts of some of the city's famous former residents.
Deviate east for a few blocks to the Kunsthaus, the museum of art and Zurich's most popular museum. Add some elevation by walking uphill through the university. Zurich has a beautiful combination of walkable (or bikeable) streetscapes, abundant green canopies, and outstanding architecture in the university and hospital buildings. Wander uphill until you reach the western forecourt area of the main ETH Zurich building, which offers views across the city.
Head downhill toward the pedestrian-friendly Niederdorfstrasse, then cross the Limmat to bustling Bahnhofplatz. Here, on the steps of Zurich's main rail station, you can find cheap eats and then cross onto Bahnhofstrasse, where you can window shop the country's renowned makers of excellent timepieces and Swiss army knives.
Continuing toward the lake you will enter the historic heart and archeologically rich areas around Lindenhof. Cafes, chocolate stores and other fine shops abound, or you can enjoy a scenic picnic from the park at the top of the hill while overlooking the Limmat from one of the old town's best viewpoints.
From Lindenhof you can walk the waterfront or move north via Münzplatz as you meander toward the Rathausbrücke bridge. The giant clock and tower for St. Peter Church comes into view, then the the quiet grandeur of Münsterhof and the Fraumünster Church. This area is also home to the Uhrenmuseum Beyer, Zurich's museum dedicated to the history of clocks and watches.
Close out by following Stadthausquai along the river back to the Lake. From here you can return to the starting point at Bellevue Square by turning left and crossing the river, or turn right and enjoy a lakeside walk to the arboretum and zoo.
There is a huge range of options to explore more around Zurich. Check out the water sport options on Lake Zurich, nearby downhill and cross-country skiing, or hike up the iconic Uetliberg.