Zurich for Free

Posted on June 1, 2010


– on how to enjoy Zurich, Switzerland for free

Let’s face it – Since most of us are not really millionaires, we are all on some kind of budget when travelling. In the case of Zurich, a city always ranking in the top spots of the places in the world with the highest standard, but also highest cost of living, it’s not like you’re going to stumble into it and be showered with opportunities for free things (I mean, people here pay dog taxes and for public parking, even in villages)…unless, that is, you research a little. Guess what? You don’t even need to do that. Having been living in Zurich for the past 8 months, I’ve decided to dedicate this post to those of you who simply plan on passing through it during your travels, in the hope that, unlike me at the beginning of my stay here, you can see beyond the fact that there seems to be a price on everything and instead enjoy the city’s beauty, and better still, do it for free.


Free transport

Zurich’s transport system is efficient, consistently punctual, and you guessed it, not cheap. Having said that, the city is definitely bite-sized, and the trick to saving transport costs is doing what the locals do – cycle. Cycle, you say? Yes, cycle…for free. You can get your free ride (for a period of 6 hours which can be extended by allowing for pit stops) from various points around the city. Most of them only rent out between May and October, but the Velogate  branch next to the Swiss National Museum (Landesmuseum) and the Zurich Main Station is open all year round. Visit here for more information, or if, like me, you find an only-German website slightly annoying, drop by the information centre at the main station.

Free Museums and Art Galleries

The University’s archaeological collection  and prints and drawings collection are free, as is the delightful toy museum. Daros, a gallery hosting contemporary Latin American Art, is free for students, and the world-famous Kunsthaus, a collection of old and modern Swiss art, does not require the purchase of an entry ticket on Wednesdays. If you wish to take a peek into the kunsthalle modern collection with works by relatively unknown artists and the  Migros Museum of contemporary art, simply visit on Thursdays between 5 and 8 and you won’t have to pay the usual 8 CHF.

Free drinks

You will find this tip as effective at helping save the environment as it is at conserving your cash – Bottled water from kiosks in Zurich could end up setting you back as much as 4.50  CHF and expect to pay the same or more in restaurants. Not only is tap water perfectly safe to drink, but Zurich is also conveniently dotted with around 1200 fountains, which, unless otherwise stated by an appropriate sign, are great for refills.

Free nature

Zurich’s natural spots are best enjoyed in the warmer months, but are most spectacular in Spring when a frenzy of flowering trees and plants flood them with colour. There is no price to pay to enjoy a sunbathing siesta at the old botanical gardens, or a barbeque and a beer with friends on the lawns of the arboretum. If you want to meet a few local featured and fury friends but don’t want to pay the admission ticket for the admittedly exceptional Zurich Zoo, head to Voliere for a close encounter with over 150 species of birds. If larger beasts are what you’re looking for, it is perfectly possible to cycle to the Wildnis Park Langenberg and feast your eyes on wild boar, European bison, brown bear, moose, and if they’re not acting too shy, a couple of lynx too. And you guessed it – no entry fee.

Free sightseeing

Zurich is similar to Amsterdam – you feel like you’re doing something just by walking around and enjoying the wonderful and beautifully preserved architecture and its narrow lanes and streets which provide constant surprises as you navigate through them. They also make for a unique window shopping experience, as you will regularly find yourself coming across little shops selling specialised items ranging from bespoke shoes to the best tea selection in the city. Wonder through the architecturally splendid Zurich Main Station for some free art, walk along the western bank of the Limmat and make sure to take in the view from Lindenhof, go for a quick spin around the Grossmunster and the Fraumunster and remember not to forget to visit the latter’s silent and fresco-decorated courtyard, and finally, take it easy below street level as you stroll along the schanzengraben.

Free Street Culture

There is nothing like visiting a city when something is happening in its streets. For events you can enjoy with the rest of the Swiss crowd, I’d suggest the infamous Street Parade and the mellow and much more traditional sechselauten,  featuring, amongst other things, an exploding snowman. During this festival some of the parade participants have been spotted throwing bread buns and whole raw fish to the crowd, so that’s your lunch sorted too (please note my joking tone).

Free Swimming

It took me a while (being an island girl) to fully grasp the idea that I could actually swim in a landlocked country since its rivers and lakes are amazingly clean. While if you’re looking for a proper deck with umbrellas and all you’ll need to pay a small fee, there are numerous no-frills yet beautiful spots around the city’s water bodies where all you’ll need is your own towel to spread on grass (or concrete) and a generous amount of sunblock. If you’d like to investigate the river’s temperature, head to the little Werdinsel island, the Flussbad Unterer Letten (for strong swimmers) or the Flussbad Oberer Letten . If you’re a man, you can enjoy the Mannerbad on the schanzengraben (gents only) for free and welcome your female companions after 5 pm, when its Rimini bar opens its doors to both sexes alike. And then of course, there is the Zurich lake itself, where you can take a dip while enjoying the sight of the Alps in the distance, something which is, above everything else, priceless.


-Text and Photography by Denise Pulis @ www.travelwithdenden.wordpress.com

Posted in: Zurich