Zürich isn't just Switzerland's largest city; it's also the country's nightlife capital. As such, the city has its share of long-established bars and clubs—including Einstein's favorite café—as well as a constantly changing roster of new "it" places. Options here really run the gamut, from riverside pop-up bars where you can soak your feet while you sip to dimly lit jazz bars and thumping dance clubs.
Clientele, like the city itself, is young, attractive, and prosperous. And also just like the city, a night on the town is expensive, with double-digit drink prices and cover charges. However, it is a safe city for late-night outings, and there's a nighttime network of trams and buses to get you back to your lodging. So whether your tastes run from tame to tawdry, here's a look at where to find the best Zürich nightlife.
Zürich's bar scene is diverse and widely dispersed. For those staying in or near the city center, you can concentrate your nightlife efforts in three areas: Neiderdorfstrasse in the Altstadt area east of the Limatt; Langstrasse, Zürich's red-light district and a hub for dive and trendy bars; and Zürich West, the reclaimed industrial area west of Zürich Hauptbahnhof station. Note that happy hour isn't really a thing in Zürich, and a lot of patrons order beer because it's cheaper than mixed drinks.
Here are a few traditional bars to check out:
- Olé-Olé-Bar: Right on Langstrasse, this bar is friendly and unfussy, with lots of beer and booze, an eclectic jukebox, and memorabilia covering every square inch of the place.
- Tina Bar: Adjacent to Brasserie Louis on the Neiderdorf, Tina Bar is retro-y and old-school, with a skilled barman, a cigar-smoking lounge, and occasional live music.
- Café Bar ODEON: Located on the far end of the Altstadt near the mouth of Lake Zürich, this bar owes its fame to its past clientele, who included Einstein, Lenin, and the Dadaists. Today, it's still a stylish and welcoming place for a drink or a meal.
- Jules Verne Panoramabar: Location, location, location is what you're paying for at Jules Verne Panoramabar, set high above Zürich in a 48-meter (157-foot) observatory. Still, as a classy bar with a view, it's hard to beat.
A beloved tradition in Zürich, summer-only outdoor bars pop up all over the city, especially close to the river or lake. At Zürich's historic bathhouses, "Badi-Bars" open in the evenings to let patrons chill out at the water's edge.
- Barfussbar: No shoes are allowed at Barfussbar, which occupies a Frauenbad (a women's only bathhouse) on the Limatt. In the evenings, the Art Deco venue is open to all.
- Bauschänzli: Near the Barfussbar, a shady summer beer garden pops up on Bauschänzli, an artificial island in the river that once protected the city.
- Kleine Freiheit: On a green corner where Weinbergerstrasse and Leonhardstrasse intersect, Kleine Freiheit keeps it casual with a bar crafted from a shipping craft. Plus, there's a leafy patio.
- Frau Gerolds Garten: In Zürich West, you'll find a large summer beer garden surrounded by stores and galleries.
On any given night of the week, there's live music happening somewhere in Zürich, from big-name concerts to jazz and experimental music. Larger clubs with stages tend to be outside the center of town, and there are a number clustered around Zürich West and further out. In the Altstadt, you're more likely to find jazz music and lounge singers that often serve more as background music to accompany bar chatter.
- Splendid Bar: Connected to the Neiderdorf hotel of the same name, head here for smooth jazz piano in a classic setting.
- Cabaret Voltaire: Keep it weird at Cabaret Voltaire, the birthplace of Dada in Switzerland. Here, you'll find spoken word performances, poetry, jazz, experimental performance art, and just about everything in between. Be sure to wear a black turtleneck and look contemplative.
- Moods: In a former shipbuilding factory in Zürich West, Moods is a top European venue for live music of all sorts, especially jazz. The party stretches on into the wee hours, long after the band's gone home.
- Papiersaal: Set in a former paper factory in the Alt-Wiedikon quarter, Papiersaal features live pop, rock, folk, and indie.
Clubs or Dance Clubs
Dance the night away at Zürich's late night clubs and discos, where the party doesn't get rolling until after midnight and lasts until the crack of dawn at most places. Many of these venues are in Zürich West, where former industrial spaces are remade into cavernous dance halls.
- Mascotte: This Altstadt venue bills itself as Zürich's oldest club—so old that Josephine Baker once performed here. Today, Mascotte is a hub for live music, DJ sets, and dancing in a classy setting.
- Exil: Dance beneath the disco ball at this industrial-chic venue in Zürich West, where you'll find DJs and live rap, rock, and folk music.
- Club Zunkunft: Lovers of electronica groove here in the edgy Langstrasse district. The club is known for its eclectic decor, DJ sets, and loud, loud music.
- Gonzo Club: At Langstrasse 15, this unmarked club is a gritty underground space for those who want to dance to rock music. No EDM here!
Open-minded and egalitarian Zürich has a thriving LGBT scene and a host of bars that proudly fly the rainbow flag. Among them, Barfüsser, now a sushi bar, still celebrates its historic role as one of the first European gathering spots for gays in the 1950s and 60s. Elsewhere in Neiderdorf, Platzhirsch and Cranberry are longstanding gay or gay-friendly establishments, while Daniel H. is a LGBT mecca in the Langstrasse.
Tolerant Switzerland is equally tolerant of sex workers, who are taxed, regulated, and mostly self-employed. There are a number of strip clubs and legal prostitution businesses along the Langstrasse, as well as very discreet, high-end sex clubs in the Neiderdorf. While the vast majority of clients are men, some establishments also cater to women.
Zürich's biggest festivals take place from late spring to fall, when the weather is suitable for outdoor events. Watch for the Food Zürich in May, a street food-focused festival, and the four-week long Zürich Festival in June, which showcases a broad range of the city's performing arts. Zürich Pride Festival is also in June, while Zürich Openair is a multi-day, outdoor music festival near Zürich Airport.
Tips for Going Out in Zürich
- The drinking age in Switzerland is 16 years for beer and wine, and 18 for hard liquor.
- Open containers are permitted, but you are expected to clean up after yourself in this über-tidy city.
- Bars and clubs stay open late—bars as late as 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. on weekends, and clubs going strong until 5 a.m.
- A reduced schedule of trams and buses runs all night, to transport tipsy revelers to their pillows.
- Ride-sharing scheme Uber operates in Zürich, and there are apps for calling taxis.
- Zürich is a very safe city, but exercise reasonable caution late at night and in crowded bars, especially in the still somewhat dicey Langstrasse zone.
- In bars and restaurants, it's standard to tip around 15 percent on food, but not on drinks, which are expensive enough!