The old part of the city sits where the Limmat River flows into the lake, at its north-western end. There are several historic churches here though more spartan than elsewhere in Europe. The Romanesque Grossmünster contains a 15th century statue of Charlemagne in the crypt and its contemporary, but now more Gothic looking, Fraumünster was originally an abbey or convent for aristocratic women. The baroque St Peter’s is older than both and boasts the largest clock in Europe. For museum lovers, there’s the Art Gallery (Kunsthaus) and the Swiss National Museum, by the railway station.
- Zurich Altstadt
Over the years, the Zurich suburbs have encroached down both the east and west sides of the lake. Fortunately, the areas immediately adjacent to the water are mostly parkland and the east shore in particular is very cycle friendly. The Quaianlagen stretches south and broadens at the elegant Chinese Garden. This ‘strip’ is perhaps the main outdoor recreational area for the city and on a sunny Sunday it Is a joy to see so many people out enjoying the lakeside.
- Seefeld parklands
This smaller sibling to Lake Zurich is just a few kilometres east of the city and can be a pleasant day ride itself or an alternative route that is quieter and more rural than the Lake Zurich one. Many will find it more enjoyable riding and the bike paths are excellent. Lake Greifen is certainly more intimate and peaceful and although it looks like a diversion the route really is only a few kilometres longer. Also most of the shoreline is a nature conservation area.
- Lake Greifen
You only need to be a few kilometres from the lake (north or south shore) to be riding through picture book Swiss countryside with lovely traditional buildings, houses, barns or even a combination of both! The countryside is gently undulating which means there is always more pretty scenery, a farm or village just over the hill or around the corner. More than likely your image of rural Switzerland includes cowbells - well it’s true! You don’t have to look (or listen) too hard to find the distinctive bells with their melodious tones. It certainly makes for an even more romantic and memorable countryside ride.
- Swiss countryside
This gorgeous medieval town is about 40km south-east of Zurich on the narrowest part of the lake – the Seedamm causeway across the lake now includes a highway and railway line. Rapperswil is known as the rose city with several beautiful rose gardens that are best seen anytime between June and October. There is an early 17th century Capuchin monastery here and a much more modern university – both in beautiful lakeside settings. You can rent e-bikes from the tourist office although the compact foreshore area and old town are easy to get around with no shortage of cafés and restaurants to tempt you to stop.
Dominating the old town of Rapperswil is the castle, the first incarnation of which dates from the 13th century. As well as being on hill, this is a peninsula with breath taking views in all directions. There has been much remodelling over the years with an 1870 restoration being the start of the castle’s life as a Polish National Museum which has continued almost uninterrupted ever since. Surprisingly the peninsula also houses a lovely deer park.
- Rapperswil Castle
The pedestrian only bridge crosses the lake to Hurden and is the latest incarnation of a neolithic bridge from around 1500 BC. There were long standing Roman and later Medieval wooden bridges, and in the Middle Ages the bridge was a key section of the pilgrim’s route to Santiago de Compostela. The completion in 1878 of the Seedamm causeway and road led to the bridge being demolished.
- Holzbrücke (Wooden Bridge)
However, in 2001 it was reconstructed and is now the longest wooden bridge in Switzerland – no mean feat as wooden bridges aren’t uncommon. Cycling the bridge isn’t advisable or particularly safe although seemingly not prohibited.
The ‘upper’ lake is the section of Lake Zurich above the Rapperswil causeway. The Obersee shoreline is probably less accessible and certainly less developed (and therefore quieter) with a good bike path all around. There are also a couple of small towns on the edge of the lake, Schmerikon and Lachen. The main inflow is the Linth canal from Lake Wallen.
Weather dependant, going for a swim is a major attraction for both locals and tourists. There are lots of swimming places along the lakeside - closer to Zurich more facilities are available as paid swimming baths. These are even more common along the river and canals in the city itself – often turning into trendy bars at night.
- Swimming in the lake
However anywhere you can get down the lake easily is good for a swim and very refreshing on a hot day – usually with stunning views. Just watch out for boat traffic as it can get quite busy on the water.
Through the city and heading north-west following the Limmat there is a great bike path and some lovely riverside views. The Limmat is the lifeblood of Zurich and flows quite quickly. You can keep going for a lovely day ride to Baden. On a hot day, it was surprising to see so many swimmers in the river on rubber rings being carried along with the flow downstream from the city.
- Ride alongside the Limmat
It is perfectly possible to circumnavigate Lake Zurich by bike in one day. It’s about 90km around but you can cut about 25-30km by using the Seedam causeway rather than cycling around Obersee. The excellent Swiss railway runs down both sides of the lake which also gives lots of options, particularly if you want to spend time exploring. There is also a pretty good boat service – especially between Zurich and Rapperswil or you can just join a lake cruise.
The author visited and cycled around Lake Zurich in August 2016. He travelled and stayed at his own expense.