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Nine Zurich life hacks to help you feel like a local

Sandra Sparrowhawk
Sandra Sparrowhawk - [email protected] • 26 Feb, 2023 Updated Sun 26 Feb 2023 08:54 CEST
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Life hacks for living in Zurich. Photo by Victoria Prymak on Unsplash

Zurich is continuously ranked as one of the world's top cities for quality of life, so it is little surprise that Switzerland’s largest city has established itself as a firm favourite among foreigners. Here are a few tips to help you conquer the city like a local, from travel tips and bargains to iconic festivals.


Try your hand at Swiss German

While many a foreigner has lived a successful life in the city without ever attempting to master the local dialect - or Hochdeutsch for that matter - relying solely on English could mean you miss out on some of Zurich’s best insider tips and the chance to truly connect with locals in the place you now call home.

According to an analysis by Zürich’s Statistic Office, around 79 percent of Zurich residents speak Swiss German or standard German at home, while 81 percent use Swiss German and 56 percent speak standard German at work. If you’re looking to ease into the somewhat intimidating Zurich dialect, we recommend starting with standard German instead.


Keep in mind that though children in Zurich’s schools are taught in standard German from the first grade, the language is very much a foreign language to the Swiss. So, if you’re looking to form a genuine connection, learning at least some Swiss German is key.

Remember: Formality still applies. So, don’t get carried away greeting strangers with a well-meant “Hoi!” just yet.

READ ALSO: Swiss German vs Hochdeutsch: What are the key differences?

Seize any opportunity to make friends

With around 32 percent foreigners, Zurich is Switzerland’s most popular destination for immigrants. On the surface, the city has everything one’s heart desires: safety, high salaries, a low crime rate and fantastic public transport links. Yet, according to InterNations’ Expat City Ranking 2022, foreigners living in the city tend to be unhappy with their social life as they struggle to make local friends. The good news is there are many ways to avoid this fate and kick loneliness to the curb – even in a city as fast-paced as Zurich.

If you enjoy spontaneity and are looking for likeminded individuals, a great way of making new connections is through a website like spontacts which let’s you meet people – and get to know Zurich - by choosing to partake in interesting indoor and outdoor activities all over the city. You can also meet new people while on the job, for instance, by opting for co-working spaces such as the popular Tessinerplatz. The latter even offers a free community membership with free coffee and beer – so why not strike up a chat with the person sat across from you?

READ ALSO: ‘Suspicious of the unknown’: Is it difficult to make friends in Switzerland?

Leave the car in park

The best way to get around the city and not miss out on any of its fabulous sights is by tram, bicycle or on foot. If you don’t have your own bicycle, you can borrow one for free from the “Züri rollt” bike rental. Simply pay a 20 francs deposit and pick up/drop off your bike from several locations throughout the city.

Cars, however, should be reserved for those with private parking spaces as those are not only scarce (especially on weekends!), but also rather narrow and extremely expensive.

Tip: in the summer, go for an eco-friendly ride on an entertaining and super informative rickshaw instead. You won’t regret it.

READ ALSO: Why parking spots in downtown Zurich are disappearing


Hop on the train from the airport

If you’ve just landed in Zurich, be it for a short or long-term stay, hitch a ride on the S-Bahn train which will carry you to the city centre several times an hour, so no need to panic run if you miss it. The ride takes around 10 minutes and at 3.30 francs is very affordable. A real steal.

When relaxing in summer, do as the 'Zürchers' do

Lake Zurich is considered the meeting point for locals in the summer. Whether it’s simply sitting on a bench and watching the swans swim by – and nip the odd local - as you eat or jumping in the icy water to cool off, the Swiss love to spend time by the lake during the warm summer months. And the good news is, you can do so entirely for free at the Flussbad Unterer Letten.

In cold weather, you can also enjoy a swim and a round of relaxation in the thermal baths in the city’s Hürlimann area which have their own pool on the roof offering jaw dropping views over Zurich and the mountains in the distance.

Tour Zurich on the cheap

The 9 O'Clock day pass from the Zurich Transport Network (ZVV) allows you to travel through the entire canton of Zurich for only 25 francs a day. The card is valid from 9am to 5am on weekdays and even earlier on weekends and public holidays – but that’s not all. You can also use your day pass to take the Obersee tour on Lake Zurich.

Snag a bargain

One way to feel like a true local is to shop like one and that means knowing where to get the best deals. So, forgo the pompous shops scattered along Bahnhofstrasse - as tempting as they may be, they are better left to tourists. You can find better and more unique alternatives on Niederdorfstrasse in Zurich’s Old Town. The street is quite literally laden with unusual shops offering quirky clothing for a special occasion to more traditional work attire. In addition, you can also find shops selling spices and national delicacies.

Remember: the common census is that the closer to the lake, the higher the prices.


Enjoy coffee and beer on the house

If you’ve consumed your fair share of fountain water but aren’t looking to spend money on beverages, there are some places locals like to go to for a free drink. Every Saturday morning, the Zurich brewery sBier offers its very own beer for (free) tasting, and if that’s too early for alcohol, you can grab a free coffee at the SchuhCafé instead. The only hang-up: you have to buy a clothing item first.

Don’t miss the Knabenschiessen

There is little point in calling yourself a true local if you’ve never had the pleasure of witnessing the Knabenschiessen, one of Zurich’s largest public festivals. The Kabenschiessen is a shooting competition for teenagers and is held at the Albisgütli on the slope of Üetliberg every September. While adults may not participate in the competition, they can enjoy the fun fairs (Chilbi) which offer various rides and food stands.



Sandra Sparrowhawk 2023/02/26 08:54

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