Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland and a year-round draw for tourists. The best time to visit the city depends on your interests. July and August have the most pleasant weather but are the most crowded, as is December when the city is aglow with Christmas markets and festivities. Spring and fall are shoulder seasons, meaning crowds are thinner and prices are somewhat lower, but the weather can be iffy.
Thanks to its position between two relatively low mountainous areas, Zurich's climate is mild compared to many places in Switzerland. While temperatures in the city are rising due to climate change, there is no unbearably warm season—even July and August temperatures seldom go above 80 degrees F (27 degrees C). Winters are cold and rainy. Snowfall can and does occur, but the city is not blanketed in snow all winter. It can be rainy at any time of the year, and daytime and nighttime temperatures can vary widely, meaning it's best to pack layers, water-resistant outer gear, and a sturdy umbrella.
Crowds in Zurich
Summer and winter are the most crowded seasons in Zurich. In the summertime, visitors come to Zurich to enjoy its waterfront recreation, including bars, restaurants, and beaches. In the wintertime, snow-sports enthusiasts use Zurich as a base for hitting Alpine skiing areas. While high-season crowds in Zurich never approach those of Venice, Barcelona, and other over-touristed cities in Europe, you will find higher hotel and flight prices and it will be harder to get reservations. By comparison, spring and fall are less busy and less expensive. Both are both ideal times to visit the city provided that you're not bothered by overcast skies and possibly rainy days.
Seasonal Tourist Activities
Choose the time of year to visit Zurich based on what you want to do while you're there. If swimming in Lake Zurich or the River Limmat, hiking in the hills and mountains outside of the city, or just sitting at an outdoor cafe or restaurant are priorities for you, plan your visit for between June and September. If you want to see one or more of Zurich's many Christmas markets and other holiday festivals, then plan to visit between late November and the end of December.
Key Holidays, Festivals, and Events
There are outdoor concerts and one-day festivals all summer long in Zurich, and the month of December is given over to Christmas markets and festivities. Here are a few events you might want to plan a trip around:
- Food Zurich: This 10-day festival in May at the Europaallee event center celebrates all things food. It includes more than 100-food related events, from cooking classes to chef-led cook-offs, demonstrations, and lots of sampling.
- Street Food Festival: From early May to early June, this international festival draws the top street food purveyors from all over Europe and the world to set up trucks and stalls in a Zurich West location.
- Zurich Festival: For most of June (on even-numbered years), Zurich celebrates its visual and performing arts with a series of concerts, theater, opera, dance, and special exhibitions all over the city.
- Theater Spektakel: Theater-lovers will want to visit the city in August for this two-week, open-air theater festival held on the shore of Lake Zurich. Performances for all ages and interests, plus a food village and lakeside activities add to the appeal.
- Christmas Markets & Events: Zurich takes on a magical air beginning around the last 10 days of November when its many Christmas markets open, holiday lights go on, and a slew of festivities begin, including a singing Christmas tree, a Santa Claus-driven tram, a polar bear swim in the river and, on New Year's Eve, fireworks over Lake Zurich.
The first month of the year sees Christmas markets closing down and crowds thinning out—but only a little. Once the post-New Year's lull has passed, visitors return to Zurich for skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing in the neighboring Alps. In the city, there are several ice-skating rinks, including the Dolder Open-Air Ice Rink, one of the largest in Europe.
January temperatures will hover right around freezing, and precipitation may result in a wintry mix—so pack accordingly!
Weather-wise, February is only slightly warmer than January, and there's a greater chance of snow. If you're not hitting the slopes near the city, February is a great month for exploring Zurich's many museums and for enjoying one of Switzerland's most beloved foods—fondue. Cozy fondue chalets and stuben (rustic taverns) all over the city offer this bone-warming dish of bread dipped in melted cheese. There's even a seasonal fondue tram, which allows for sightseeing while you dip.
While March temperatures start to shake off winter's chill, this can still be an unpredictable month, weather-wise, with temperatures ranging from right around freezing up to 50 degrees F (10 degrees C). Take advantage of pleasant weather when it comes, and spend some time walking along the Limmat River or Lake Zurich, or on a hike outside of the city.
April offers reliably springlike weather, which in Zurich means chilly temperatures and rainy days interspersed with sunny ones. Flowers will be starting to bud and bloom, and Zurichers anxious to welcome spring will be enjoying outdoor restaurant terraces and waterfront bars and cafes. The Lake Zurich Navigation Company opens for the season, offering a number of lake tours.
With high temperatures in the mid- to high 60s Fahrenheit (around 20 degrees C) and lows around 50 degrees F (10 degrees C), May is a great month to enjoy the outdoors in and near Zurich. Make sure at least a few of your daytime meals take place on an outdoor terrace, preferably one with a view of lake, river, or mountains. May can still be quite rainy, but a sunny day during this month is perfect for a day trip outside the city.
June picks up where May left off, with warmer temperatures—typically around 70 degrees F (21 degrees C) and similarly rainy skies, especially at night. Still, despite the possibility of rain, you'll see Zurichers out taking advantage of pleasant weather and longer days by biking, walking, swimming, kayaking, and stand-up-paddleboarding right in the city.
Warm, sunny and busy, July is among the most popular months to visit Zurich. High temperatures reach around 75 degrees F (24 degrees C). While July is also a rainy month, most rainfall is in the evenings, meaning days are free to enjoy the great outdoors in and around the city. Zurich has a long tradition of outdoor pools and bathing areas in its lake and river, and July is a great month to discover these.
August's weather is more or less identical to July's, meaning warm, sunny days but the ever-present possibility of a thunderstorm. As with other warm-weather months, you'll see locals and tourists alike really taking advantage of the pleasant temperatures and Zurich's splendid locations for waterfront dining, socializing, and picnicking. This is in addition to swimming, which you'll see people doing in droves in Zurich's clear, clean lake and river.
Autumn makes itself felt ever-so-slightly in September when daytime highs and evening temperatures start to edge downward. This is a great month to visit, as daytime temps are still pleasant and crowds have thinned out. You'll find a lot more elbow room on the many hiking trails around the city, as well as at restaurants and bars.
October is the driest month in Zurich, and chilly fall air—the average high is 56 degrees F (13 degrees C)—lends a crispness to the scene. Take advantage of sunny skies by spending time outdoors, maybe even jumping on one of the city's many rental e-scooters, which can be found all over town.
Winter weather starts to creep in in November, and snow is possible. This is also a damp and foggy month in Zurich, and highs only reach a chilly 45 degrees F (7 degrees C). If you're visiting in November, be sure to program plenty of indoor activities, such as museum-going, opera, theatre, and shopping.
For as cold, damp, and dreary as Zurich can be in December, the ambiance of the city during the festive Christmas season more than makes up for it. While temperatures seldom rise above 39 degrees F (4 degrees C), the city's Christmas markets—and the crowds attending them—warm the scene with glittering lights and decorated trees, fondue and gluhwein (hot, spiced wine) stands, and an overall celebratory mood. This continues until around the first of the year. If you're planning to visit in December, book early and expect to pay a premium for your hotel, especially the closer you get to Christmas.