Free things to do in Zurich

By Andreas Gerster
If you’re new to Zurich, as I was a few years ago, and not exactly rolling in money, you might be wondering what you can do in Zurich that doesn’t cost money and is more exciting than window shopping. Even if you’re not so new to Zurich, you still might be interested in things that are a bit off the beaten track. All of the tips on this list have been tested and approved by a select committee of experts (i.e. me). Enjoy!


1. Visit James Joyce’s grave

To start us off on a tour of wonderful free things to do in Zurich, I’ve got something with a bit of sophistication. James Joyce – yes, the James Joyce, the famous Irish author – lived and died in Zurich. His grave is in the Kirche Fluntern graveyard. The grave is a nice memorial to Joyce and is certainly a must see for any student of Literature who studies in Zurich. (Just imagine a horrified Irish person saying “You studied English Lit in Zurich and you didn’t visit James Joyce’s grave?!”) You can get there by taking tram 6 and getting off at the last stop (Zoo). The cemetery is right next to the tram station. While you’re up there why not ….

2. Look at Zurich’s ruined fortifications against a Russian invasion

If you walk up towards the woods above the cemetery with James Joyce’s grave and follow the sign posts to the “Schlachtdenkmal” you will find a large stone commemorating two battles, in which the French (who were more or less occupying Switzerland) fought with a coalition of European nations with mainly Russian and Austrian troops. The Swiss didn’t really get involved (staying neutral as always). The ditches and walls in the woods near the “Schlachtendenkmal” on top of the Zurichberg were used in those battles by the French to defend Zurich. They were successful in the end after the first battle ended in a stalemate. For those of you who like mountain biking, there’s a mountain bike course there too.

3. Relax in the Grossmünster Kreuzgang

This quiet spot in the heart of Zurich is quite something special. It is the historic cloister of Zurich’s Chorherrenstift (a kind of monastery), which is now the Theological seminar of Zurich University. It is attached to the Grossmünster church. There are some steps and a big wooden door right next to the main entrance of the church leading into the old monastery’s inner sanctum, the cloister with a cross-shaped garden. It’s open to the public and nice and quiet even on weekdays. As the heavy doors close behind you, all the noise and bustle of Zurich will fade into the background, while the gentle sound of water and hushed footsteps softly fill the cool air. Built in the style of the Roman atrium with its over 2000 year old cooling technology, it’s especially pleasant in those hot summer months.

4. Play garden chess at the Lindenhof

Besides inventing the atrium, the Romans are also responsible for the Lindenhof, an ancient Roman fortification above the river Limmat and on the opposite side to Grossmüster. Now it’s a peaceful park with beautiful, old trees, commanding a lovely view of the eastern side of Zurich. There are a few garden chess sets in regular use at the Lindenhof, at lunch time it can be hard to get a place to play. Next to the chess ‘board’ there are biggish boxes with the wooden chess pieces. The boxes are never locked, so if you fancy a midnight game of garden chess, head up to the Lindenhof. The amazing thing is, that there none of the pieces are ever missing!

5. Go to the bazaar at Helvetiaplatz

Every Saturday, come rain come shine, there is a bazaar (officially a flea-market, but bazaar sounds better) in the park opposite Helvetiaplatz. You can get there with tram 8 or bus 32. Kreis 4 is a wonderfully colourful and vibrant district in Zurich, and so is the bazaar held there. You’ll find books, clothes, toys, musical instruments, old records, decor stuff and all you ever wanted to buy at a bazaar, but it isn’t just the diversity of wares to be looked at (I said this list would be of free things) that attract people, but the atmosphere, the friendly banter and the interesting people to be met.

6. Visit the University’s free museums/cinema

The Zoological Museum in the main building has an excellent permanent exhibition, perfect for a rainy day or if you’ve got time to kill at Uni. And even if you’re not a huge animal lover, who can resist dinosaurs, mammoths and giant sloths?! The attractively presented and interactive exhibits are worth seeing and also ideal if you’ve got kids to occupy. Besides being a good museum, it’s also got a cinema showing nature films twice a day for free (Mon-Sat 11.00 and 15.00, Sun 11.00 and 16.00). You can find the schedule by clicking on the link below.

There are other museums too that are worth visiting. You can find out more about them by clicking on this link

Originally I wanted to get 10 things to do, unfortunately I ran out of ideas, which  doesn’t mean that the possibilities of  free things to do in Zurich are exhausted. If you think you know more interesting or just more free things to do, why not write your own list up and send it to

5 thoughts on “Free things to do in Zurich

  1. Zurich has a lake and it is possible, legal, and free to be inside it. And when the weather is nice, it’s even pleasant. I’m surprised that slipped by you 😉

  2. not to forget, the free bath in the river limmat, the old and new botanical gardens, bäckeranlage and Josefswiese… greetings from rainy zurich today, verena

    not to forget: the bath in the river limmt, the old and new botanical gardens, bäckeranlage and Josefswiese. greetings on rainy day in wonderful zurich, verena

  3. Frances

    What about the Zurich James Joyce Foundation (Augustinergasse 9)? Why would you visit Joyce’s grave and not the Joyce Foundation as well? There are free reading groups to attend and very cool Joyceana to contemplate. There is also the world renowned Joyce scholar Fritz Senn to chat with. If you weren’t a Joyce enthusiast before, you will be after.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s