Zurich and "free" do not exactly go hand in hand.
But if you look closely and are a bit flexible with your planning, there are plenty of free things to do in Zürich. Museums, parks, and botanical gardens are open year-round, many with free admission.
Free bicycle rentals in Zurich are ideal during spring, summer, and autumn. During winter, try ice-skating at one of the city's free skating rinks. And finally, please share your favorite free things to do in Zürich with your fellow Newly Swissed readers.
Learn about the Canton of Zürich at Einfach Zürich
Inside the permanent exhibit of the Swiss National Museum, there are three rooms about the history of Zürich. Think short films by local filmmakers, an archive of sixty significant artifacts, and a video installation featuring virtual tours...
Enter the Swiss National Museum any day and ask for a free ticket to Einfach Zürich at the welcome desk. The museum is open daily except for Mondays.
(Photograph copyright Schweizerisches Nationalmuseum)
Phone +41 44 218 65 11
Visit the Kunsthaus Museum
The Kunsthaus Zürich is Switzerland's largest art museum. It hosts a collection of world-renowned art, including pieces by Chagall, Giacometti, Monet, Munch, Picasso, van Gogh, and Warhol. The recent extension building by David Chipperfield Architects houses even more contemporary art.
Children below 16 years of age are free, and adults enjoy free admission to the permanent collection every Wednesday.
(Photograph copyright Kunsthaus Zürich)
Get inspired at the Graphische Sammlung ETH Zürich
Here is the perfect admission-free museum for those interested in design and photography. The Graphische Sammlung of ETH Zurich is a collection of 160'000 artworks on paper, including many maps. Important Swiss and international artists from the 15th century to modern times include Albrecht Dürer, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, and Silvia Bächli.
The museum is generally open daily from 10 AM to 4:45 PM, except on Mondays and on Zurich holidays. Consult the exhibit page before your visit, as the museum is only open during the three or four temporary exhibits every year.
(Photographs copyright ETH-Bibliothek Zürich Bildarchiv/Frank Blaser)
ETH Zurich Graphische Sammlung
Phone +41 44 632 40 46
See the stained glass windows at Fraumünster
There is a proper entrance for tourists to see the five stained glass windows by Marc Chagall. The windows are a staggering 10 meters tall, and the best time to visit is during the morning hours when it is bright. The admission fee is 5 francs, but those who genuinely wish to enter the church for worship can skip the tourist entrance and get in for free.
Phone +41 44 221 20 63
Visit the Giacometti Hall
How often would you voluntarily check yourself into a police department? At the Zurich City Police Amthaus 1 branch, it is well worth depositing your ID for a visit.
The magnificent Giacometti Hall, or "Blüemlihalle" in the local dialect, is a vaulted cellar with 14 cupola ceilings and five murals. It is considered one of the most significant Swiss artworks of the 20th century. Swiss artist Augusto Giacometti used a medley of colors ranging from yellow to grey and from olive green to pink. Apart from the semi-geometrical, semi-biological shapes, you will find human subjects such as craftsmen, an astronomer, and even a magician.
The Giacometti Hall is open daily from 9 to 11 AM and 2 to 4 PM.
Amtshaus I - Stadtpolizei Zürich
Phone +41 44 221 20 63
Read books and magazines at the Zurich Public Library
The central branch of the Zurich Public Library serves as a city, county, and university library. There is a collection of about six million books, e-books, maps, magazines, and movies, making this one of the largest libraries in Switzerland. Consider doing the free escape game Schnebelhorners Vermächtnis in the library's attic, although it is offered in German only.
The reading hall at Zähringerplatz in the old town is open daily. Residents and foreigners can register for a free library card that entitles them to borrow books and publications from the vast catalog.
Phone +41 44 204 96 90
Work at the free Büro Züri co-working space
The Büro Züri co-working space is located inside the Zürcher Kantonalbank on the prestigious Bahnhofstrasse. This hip office offers everything a digital nomad requires: free WiFi, free coffee, and an online booking engine to reserve your free desk.
Visit the Migros Museum of Contemporary Art
A changing exhibit showing often eclectic contemporary art awaits in the brick buildings housing the Migros Museum of Contemporary Art. The art is often displayed in large installations that leave you feeling stunned and refreshed at the same time.
Every Thursday night from 5 to 8 PM, the Migros Museum of Contemporary Art offers free entries to their current exhibit.
(Photograph copyright Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst)
Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst
Phone +41 44 277 20 50
Visit the Zukunft Club for free
Are you ready to travel to the future? Every Thursday, one of Zurich's hottest clubs waives the cover charge. That's a deal you cannot refuse, especially given that Zurich is one of the most expensive party towns. Check out the line-up at Club Zukunft.
Join a free Zurich walking tour
From illegal graffiti to murals and artworks: the Zurich Street Art Tour is a walking tour highlighting a different side of Zurich. It is held during afternoons, giving you enough light to take some impressive photographs for your Instagram feed. The meeting point is under the blue angel inside Zurich's main station. The tour takes two hours and is free of charge, but tips are encouraged.
Join the free walking tour of downtown Zurich which starts at Paradeplatz at 11 AM. This tour is in English and gives a great overview of the main sights. Tip the tour guide at the end because walking off without paying a rappen is not cool.
(Photograph copyright OneTruth)
Pick up a free rental bicycle
During summer, bicycles and e-bikes can be picked up for free at Pestalozziwiese and Velostation Europaplatz. Simply bring an ID and a 20 franc refundable deposit, and off you go with Züri rollt...
Meet Samichlaus at the Samichlaus Einzug in Zurich
Every year in late November or early December, Swiss Santas from near and far will congregate in downtown Zürich. This tradition is called Samichlaus Einzug.
The best place for you and your family to meet St. Nikolaus and his sidekick, Schmutzli, is on Bahnhofstrasse. During the parade, they will hand out free gingerbreads and treats to the little ones.
Try ice-skating at the free rinks in Heuried and Oerlikon
Practice your spins or participate in a pick-up match with the locals. During the cold months, ice-skating in Zürich is a great way to stay fit. While there is no regular "free" day, keep an eye out for special events at two of Zürich's public rinks. The best way to do this is by Googling "after work on ice zürich" or "gratis aufs glatteis zürich" and you will find the latest offers.
Sportamt Heuried (trams 9/14 to "Heuried")
Sportamt Oerlikon (trams 10/14 to "Sternen Oerlikon", tram 11 to "Messe/Hallenstadion" or bus 63/94 to "Hallenbad Oerlikon")
Active Sundays at ETH Hönggerberg
On select Sundays during winter, the ETH opens its sports facilities to the public. On designated Active Sundays and under the supervision of their parents, children up to eight years of age may burn some excess energy through play and exercise.
The sports center is open from 10 AM to 5 PM on select Sundays, and admission is free of charge.
(Photograph copyright Renate Zekveld/Google)
Sport Center Hönggerberg
Phone +41 44 633 33 88
Learn about currency at the MoneyMuseum in Zürich
Every Friday, the MoneyMuseum opens its vaults to those eager to learn about currency. From Romain coins to cryptocurrencies, this museum covers it every aspect of money from the past to the future. Call the number below to make an appointment for a free tour by Mr. Stephan Koncz.
The museum also offers a digital vault containing no less than 2095 coins. Try searching for your country, and you will likely find an ancient coin in this vast database.
(Photograph copyright MoneyMuseum)
Phone +41 44 242 76 80
Zoological Museum of the Zurich University
It is hard to fathom that this museum is free of charge. The Zoological Museum of the Zurich University showcases more than 1500 animals from around the world. This is your chance to get up close and personal with everything from hyenas to whales. Thanks to the interactive exhibits, this is a hands-on museum suited for all ages, although the information is largely in German.
The museum is open daily from 10 AM to 5 PM, except for Mondays and Zürich City holidays. Families should look out for the free workshops held Sundays at 2 PM and 3 PM.
(Photograph copyright Tze Horng Tan/Google)
Zoological Museum, University Of Zurich
Karl Schmied-Gasse 4
Check into the cactus nursery (Sukkulenten-Sammlung)
Suppose art exhibits and museums have left you breathless. In that case, Zürich's Succulent Plant Collection featuring more than 4400 species of cacti and other succulent plants, is sure to provide a calming experience.
Open daily from 9 AM to 4:30 PM, this special kind of museum charges no admission. Take buses 161/165 from Bürkliplatz to "Sukkulenten-Sammlung" or tram 7 to "Brunaustrasse".
(Photograph copyright Sukkulenten-Sammlung Zürich)
Phone +41 44 412 12 80
Feel the heat at the botanical garden of the Zurich University
The three iconic domes of this botanical garden are open daily from 9:30 AM to 4:45 PM. Whether you forget the flow of time inside the tropical mountain forest, the low-land rain forest, or the drylands, this is the ultimate escape from the winter's cold!
Imagine a tropical rain forest complete with ferns and lush greens... All of this and weekly public tours on various topics (held in German) come at a zero price tag.
(Photograph copyright University of Zurich)
Botanischer Garten Universität Zürich
Phone +41 44 634 84 61
How about these things to do in Zurich in winter?
While some of these will require admission tickets, others are also gratis.