Free Things To Do in Zurich Switzerland For The Budget Backpacker

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be rich to enjoy Zürich. In facts, I’ve discovered that the free things to do in Zurich are also most definitely the best!

Located in the north of Switzerland, this glorious city boasts a rich variety of activities that won’t drain your bank account. With a population of 1.2 million and commonly recognized as having the highest standard of living in the world, Zürich is a cultural mecca surrounded by spectacular nature.

To start you off, and yes this does involve spending a few Francs, invest in the ZürichCARD which offers unlimited 2nd class travel on all buses, trains, boats, cableways and trams in the city, including the Limmat River cruise. Also included with this pass is free or reduced entrance fees at 41 museums in the city.

You can choose a 24-hour pass for $27 USD (£20 GBP) or one for 72 hours, costing $53.40 USD (£35 GBP). Children under 6 go free, and kids between 6 and 16 receive the pass for discounted prices. The ZürichCARD can be purchased online in advance (https://www.sbb.ch/en/home) or at various locations around the city, including the airport and train stations.

Free Things To Do in Zürich

The following are just some of the free attractions in Zurich to check out in this vibrant, picturesque and truly unique city.

Parks and Gardens

For nature and animal lovers, most of the parks and gardens are free to enter and bird lovers can visit the Voliere Zürich bird sanctuary.

The Zoological Museum of the University of Zürich is filled with over 1500 animal specimens and exhibitions, including dinosaur skeletons and giant mammoths. Nature films are shown twice a day in their in-house cinema. Be sure to check out the archaeology and palaeontology collections too.

Free Museums in Zurich

To enjoy some of the city’s best art, visit the Künsthaus Fine Arts Museum for free on a Wednesday. Here you will see some amazing exhibits from incredible artists such as Rembrandt and Giacometti. 

The Mirgos Museum of Contemporary Art offers free entry on a Thursday between 5 and 8pm.

The Rietberg Museum is free for anyone holding a ZürichCARD and houses an extensive collection of non-European art, including works from Africa and Asia. Please note that it’s closed on Mondays. Usual price without the pass is $14 USD (£10 GBP).

Football fans can visit the FC Zürich Museum, filled with photos, film clips and trophies accumulated since this football team was established in 1896. A great opportunity to follow the club’s rich history without costing you a penny. As you can see, many of the free attractions in Zurich aren’t always free, just on certain days. For a full list of museums and opening times, check this post.

Window shopping in Zurich

If you promise only to window shop, be sure to take a stroll along the Bahnhofstrasse. High-end shopping brands such as Gucci, Prada and Chanel are located here and you can also expect to see some rather luxurious cars whizzing past, or cruising slowly for the purpose of being admired.

Swim in the Zurich’s lakes

If you are visiting during the hot summer months, a dip in one of Zürich’s many freshwater lakes and rivers is a wonderful way to cool off. One of the most popular is the Limmat River, as it has a long swimming channel, a couple of volleyball courts and allows you to consume your own snacks if you wish to avoid the pricey local kiosk refreshments.

For avid readers, you can also borrow a book from the “Book Box” located on the sun terrace here – such a lovely idea. Open May to September from 9am. Like I said at the start, the free things to do in Zurich are also probably the best!

free things to do in zurich

Free festivals in Zurich

Saturday 11th August 2018 will see Zürich enjoy its 26th Street Parade from 1pm until midnight. It’s the most colourful house and techno parade in the world, with around 25 brightly decorated trucks driving around Lake Zürich with massive sound systems for you to dance to.

Looking ahead to next year, the Zürich Festival takes place on 5-7 July 2019 and is only held once every three years. Located along the Limmat River, this extravaganza brings food, music, fireworks displays and a wealth of entertainment over the 3-day celebration.

The city is expecting approximately 2 million visitors at this exciting, fun and hugely enjoyable festival – don’t miss it Summer in Zurich is a truly magical time of year, and for those on a budget, this is when you’ll find the highest number of free activities in Zurich to save your bank account from imploding.

Read here for more info on Zurich’s best festivals.

free festival zurich

Get active and go hiking

For those of you wishing to get active, put on your hiking boots and head out of the city to walk a stunning 2-hour hiking trail from Uetliberg to Felsenegg. Of all the free things to do in Zurich, hiking is probably the most fun and will get you some epic photos! There are so many great day trips from the city which are totaly free and involve the great outdoors.

This hike is known as the Planet Trail as each meter it covers represents one million kilometers and shows the enormous distances between the sun and Pluto, and the eight planets between them.

At the start of this easy-graded hike, enjoy a break-taking view of the city, before setting off along the relatively flat trail.

Fun and educational at the same time, your reward at the end of this hike is a stunning view of Lake Zürich and the surrounding mountains.  

Travel time from Zürich to Uetliberg is just over half an hour by train, and there are restaurants at the start and end if you don’t wish to bring refreshments with you. Remember that all train travel for this hike is free if you have a ZürichCARD. Or, if you have the Swiss Travel Pass, the best way to travel around Switzerland.

hiking in switzerland

train stein am rhein

Urban Exploration in the city

Fans of recycling and architecture will love the 17 shipping containers stacked to make the Freitag Tower, which is also a retail store. The containers were sourced from Hamburg and the building stands 85 feet tall. Their recycled bags are extremely popular if you do fancy a bit of retail therapy.

urban art zurich

street art zurich

City viewpoints

Take a trip to the historical viewpoint of Lindenhof to take in sites such as the City Hall, the Limmat River, the Old Town, Grossmünster Church and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, which was built in 1864. This peaceful and picturesque location is also a local hangout for passionate, competitive chess players, should you fancy a game.

Whether you are a fan of the great outdoors, spectacular scenery and landscapes, food, art, science or nature, or all of the above, this cosmopolitan city will entice and delight you – without having a huge effect on your pocket.

We truly hope you enjoy your time in the stunning city of Zürich, and if you have any more suggestions on fun things to do in Zurich for free, please let us know!