Food and activity recommendations for a weekend in Zurich, Switzerland, including New Year’s Eve celebrations and a day trip to Lucerne.
We spent New Year’s Eve 2018 in Zurich, Switzerland, and turned it into a long weekend including three nights in Zurich and a day trip to Lucerne. It was a beautiful, albeit expensive, trip!
We traveled to Zurich via train from Kaiserslautern. It is a drivable distance if you prefer to do that, just remember to purchase a vignette at the border (roughly €40). The train took four and a half hours, including one change in Karlsruhe. Our Airbnb was just one stop past Zurich Hbf (Weidikon).
Where to stay
Hotels in Zurich are expensive, and for New Year’s Eve weekend prices were even higher. We chose to stay at an Airbnb instead, and the one we picked worked perfectly!
It was a studio apartment with a tiny kitchenette, but it worked well for two people who only needed a place to sleep, shower and eat breakfast. It was located right next to several tram stops, very easy to get to the waterfront or the Altstadt within 10 minutes.
Zurich has an excellent public transportation system consisting of trains, trams and buses. You can purchase a day pass or buy tickets separately.
Because our apartment was very central, we found most of what we wanted to do was within walking distance and didn’t rely too heavily on public transportation, just a once or twice a day. We also used Uber when it was late and more convenient than taking a tram.
Day trip to Lucerne
Lucerne is less than an hour away from Zurich via train, and it is definitely a must-see!
The train cost around 90 CHF for the two of us roundtrip, but it was well worth it. This may have been cheaper had we booked in advance, so that’s worth looking into as you are planning your trip.
Pictures of Lucerne simply do not capture how stunning it is in person. The snowcapped Alps in the distance over the water provide a beautiful backdrop.
We spent about an hour walking along the water (a common thing to do there, based on how many other people were doing it) because it seemed like the view got prettier with every step.
Not to be missed is the Kapellbrücke, a wooden footbridge that contains paintings dating back to the 17th century. The bridge suffered a large fire in 1993 but has since been restored and is the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe.
The Lion Monument
Another significant stop in Lucerne is the Lion Monument, which commemorates the Swiss Guards who lost their lives during the French Revolution. The lion has a spear in his side and portrays an expression of pain and sadness as he dies. It is moving and beautiful.
The attraction is easy to find and about a 10-minute walk from the Kapellbrücke.
After these activities we wandered up and down the cobblestone shopping streets and enjoyed the atmosphere of Lucerne. Everything we did was an easy walk from the train station, so we did not need to use any form of public transportation while we were there.
If you want to ride around, there is a cute miniature train that provides a tour of the city – you’ll see it driving around the main areas and shopping streets. We didn’t check the cost of this, as we were enjoying walking around in the (surprisingly) pleasant weather!
Things to do in Zurich
This one is a given for cheese lovers! We ate fondue twice – probably more fondue than someone should eat in three days, but well worth it. When in Switzerland, right? I’ll drop a couple recommendations in the food section below. Just expect to pay around 28-40 CHF per person for a pot of fondue.
Though we didn’t get the chance to ride it, I’d like to mention there is a fondue tram in Zurich! The ride is around two and a half hours long. Sounds awesome, and definitely the type of thing we would do, but it was fully booked for our stay in Zurich.
(Window) shop on Bahnhofstrasse
I was blown away by the selection of stores in Zurich. Just about everything you can think of, even high-end brands such as Tiffany & Co., Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Cartier and several others. I wasn’t surprised to read online that Bahnhofstrasse, the street most of these shops are on, is considered one of the most expensive and exclusive shopping streets in the world.
To our advantage, the Swiss Franc and the U.S. dollar were almost exactly equal when we went, so there wasn’t a crazy conversion to worry about. Still, we only window-shopped here 😉
Shopping or not, the street is worth walking down, as it is lined with beautiful buildings, cafes, restaurants, churches and more.
Enjoy the view from Lindenhof
Lindenhof is a nice viewpoint and spot to hang out. It is right in the Altstadt up a hill – not very steep, but high enough to give a view over the rest of the city. There is a view of the Alps, and even though they are far in the distance, they are very pretty.
Take a boat cruise
We would have loved to take a boat cruise in Lucerne because of the mountains along the water there, but the one we looked at was around 60 CHF and we didn’t have a ton of time in Lucerne.
The 1.5-hour cruise in Zurich only cost 28 CHF, which actually seemed inexpensive after spending 19 CHF on two Starbucks lattes (yikes!).
There was a lovely view from the boat, which had both outdoor and indoor seating areas with large glass windows for sightseeing while staying warm and enjoying food or drinks.
New Year’s Eve festivities
Hundreds of thousands of people gather in Zurich to celebrate New Year’s Eve. There is a huge party zone along the waterfront with food and drink booths and DJs. There are also a couple of limited-access heated tents which require advance booking.
We booked tickets for the Magic Lake Zone, a tent with food, drinks and a DJ inside and a private outdoor area for viewing fireworks. I’m very glad we did! The crowds outside were insane. I was happy to be in a closed-off area with space to stand, sit, walk around and dance. It was warm enough to take off my winter coat in the beginning, but the heater kept going out which made it chilly. It was still warmer than outside, though!
We had a perfect front row view of the firework show, which took place over Zürichsee. It was an incredible show, and lasted for a solid 20 minutes. Note – fireworks start at 12:20 a.m. here. Several folks were confused about that.
Inside, we ate raclette and burgers (grilled cheese with pineapple for me) and enjoyed some flutes of champagne. The DJ played music until 3 a.m., so after fireworks we hung out and danced until it was time to go home.
Trams ran on a special NYE schedule, every 30 minutes until 4 a.m. Loved this – usually we have an issue with public transportation services ending at 12 or 1 a.m. on NYE, which has never made much sense to me.
Where to eat
Frau Gerolds Garten
In the winter, the Winterstube at Frau Gerolds Garten is open, which serves amazing fondue! We had the herb fondue, which was a decent size for two people and tasted delicious.
I recommend making a reservation — this is a very busy spot and we were lucky to get a spot for two on a Saturday evening. There is also a nice outdoor area which looks like cool spot to hang out during warmer months. It was raining hard when we arrived, so we only spent time inside.
Walliser-Keller is more about the experience than the fondue — which was good, but not quite as good as the fondue at Frau Gerolds Garten!
We were walking around the Altstadt looking for a place to have dinner when we spotted the little gondolas outside of Walliser-Keller. I can be a sucker for touristy stuff, so naturally I said, “Ben, we have to eat in one of these gondolas!”
It was cold and snowing outside and the gondolas provided no heat (plus they were stinky from all the fondue that gets served in them), but the restaurant gave us big, warm blankets and the staff were very nice. Overall, it was fun. So, if you want to eat fondue in a gondola, this is your spot!
Coop/Migros are markets to grab food and drinks for your hotel or snacks while you’re on the go.
Staying in an Airbnb allows us the freedom of making our own meals rather than dining out for every meal, so we did a bit of shopping at the supermarket and saved money eating breakfast at the apartment each morning. You’ll see these stores all over the city — one was conveniently located about a block away from our apartment.
Overall, we had a great weekend! Switzerland is a beautiful country, and Zurich and Lucerne are definitely worth a visit.