The quickest and most convenient way to get acquainted with Zurich is with a 2-hour trolley tour, which rolls through various neighborhoods of interest. There's no live spokesperson pointing out the sights, but you'll be given a headset, which delivers a running commentary in seven languages. Between May and October, for a fee of 29F per person, tours depart daily at 11am and 3pm. The tour takes in the commercial and shopping center and Old Town, and goes along the lakefront for a visit to Fraumünster or one of the historic guildhalls beside the Limmatquai.
At some point during your stay in Switzerland's largest city, you'll want to take a lake steamer for a tour around Lake Zurich. Walk to Bahnhofstrasse's lower end and buy a ticket at the pier for any of the dozen or so boats that ply the waters from late May to late September. The boats are more or less the same, so it doesn't matter which one you take. Most of the steamers contain simple restaurant facilities, and all have two or three levels of decks and lots of windows for wide-angle views of the Swiss mountains and shoreline. During peak season, boats depart at approximately 30-minute intervals. The most distant itinerary from Zurich is to Rapperswil, a historic town near the lake's southeastern end. A full-length, round-trip tour of the lake from Zurich to Rapperswil will require 2 hours each way, plus whatever time you opt to explore towns en route. This trip is the highlight of the boat tours offered, and if you can spare the time, you'll find it a rewarding way to see the area in and around Zurich. Many visitors opt for shorter boat rides encompassing only the northern third of the lake; those trips take about 90 minutes total.
The full-length tour of the lake costs 27F in second class and 42F in first class. The shorter boat ride on the northern third of the lake costs 9F.
You may also want to take a 1 1/2-hour boat trip along the Limmat River for a closer view of Zurich's historic bridges and riverfront buildings. Boats depart daily year round, costing 4.10F per person, from a pier in front of the Landesmuseum, near Zurich's main railway station. The boats travel downriver to the lake as far as the Zurichhorn or the Wollishofen railway station before retracing their paths back upriver to the pier.
For more information on all the boats mentioned above, contact the Zürichsee Schifffahrtsgesellschaft by calling tel. 044/487-13-33, or go online at www.zsg.ch.