Zurich airport is one of the main airports in Europe with excellent international connections. Once you arrive in Zurich, we recommend to take public transport to the city center. You can use the same ticket in Trains, trams and busses, so it does not matter what you choose. The train departing from the lower floors of the airport will take about 10 minutes to the city center, while the tram departing from the upper level will take about 35 minutes (the number 10 tram also passes by ETH Zurich on the way to the station). Of course taxis are also available for those who do not want to deal with public transport.
Zurich is well connected by train, and thanks to the recently finished tunnel, the connection to Milan has improved quite a lot. Be careful about Munich. Although it is quite close (300km), the train connection is complicated and it takes quite some time.
Basel is actually quite close to Zurich (about 1hr by train with a train every half an hour) and there is a bus service from the Basel/Mulhouse airport to the Basel train station making it quite practical to fly to/from Basel airport. It is a cheaper airport, that is why quite a number of low cost flights arrive there. Geneva is the other alternative airport, and while you can find many (and cheaper) flights to Geneva, it is still a three hour train ride from Geneva Airport to Zurich, so we would not recommend you to travel through Geneva.
Zurich is quite expensive to stay. As long as you are within the city zone, you will not have much trouble reaching the WOSH venue. The city is well connected using public transport, and even some places that seem a bit further away on the map may actually have good connections. There will also be several options with services like AirBnB. We recommend booking early.
First rule of Zurich, do not drive in the city, use public transportation. There are not many parking spots avaialable, those that you find are expensive and the access by cars is usually tricky and difficult. For most destinations you will be faster on foot or by public transport.
The main way of getting around in Zurich is using the public transportation (mostly trams). The good news about Zurich is that the same public transportation ticket is valid everwhere busses, trams, boats, trains as well as the few funiculars. The price is dependent on the number of zones you travel. The city is a single zone (110), the airport is an additional zone (121). Unless you want to go to Uetliberg to enjoy the view over the city, you will need a combined Zurich/airport ticket (110, 121) when you arrive and city tickets when you are in the city.
You have basically two ticket classes. A single ride ticket which is valid for 1 hour (costs 4.40 CHF / 6.80 until airport) and a 24 hour ticket (costs 8.80 CHF / 13.60 CHF until airport) which is twice as expensive. For very short distances there is also a 'cheaper' short distance ticket "Kurzstrecke" for thirty minutes (costs 2.70 CHF). This would be valid from the main station to ETH/Universitaetsspital. One additional ticket is for the Polybahn, the very short funicular form Central to the ETH Main building for only 1.20 CHF.
If you want to make a few trips, you have the opportunity to buy them in six packs. You will then have to stamp them before boarding the transport and save about 10% of the price. Note that you can stamp multiple times when travelling for more than one person.
There is also the Zurich Pass for 24 or 72 hours (27/53 CHF). This ticket not only includes public transportation (including the airport), but also rebates for most of the museums and attractions in around Zurich, it might be a very good option for your companions, while you attend the WOSH, they can enjoy Zurich.
If you look at a map, you will see that the ETH main building is very close to the station. However, it is also a bit up the hill. That is why most of us take a tram or Polybahn going up. If you re studying how to get around, beware of the hills.
Switzerland and especially Zurich are not known to be cheap places to visit. This is true, however there are many things in Zurich that you can enjoy for free (and a couple of others that are almost for free).
Zurich is actually famous for its clean drinking water. At one time the city even wanted to brand ZH20 as its city souvenir. There are hundreds of water fountains, all with very clean and drinkable water. Most people would carry a small aluminum bottle to refill at one of these fountains. There is actually no need to buy bottled water in Zurich.
Believe it or not, you can actually rent bikes for free at 'Zueri rollt'. You need to leave a small deposit with them, and take a bike for free.
There is a surprising number of attractions in Zurich that can be visited for free. These include the Botanical garden which is part of the University of Zurich. Another botanical attraction is the succulent garden by the lake side which houses many plants that store water most notably cacti. Finally, a bit further away is the Sihlwald nature park where you can walk around the park and visit deer, bears and lynxes. From the museums, the Focus Terra museum of geology which is part of ETH Zurich is right around the corner from where we have the WOSH. If you wish to see how Zurich looked throughout the time, you can pay a visit to the Baugeschichtliches Archiv free of charge.
Yes, there are many public places where you can just jump into the lake and river and swim. There are also official beaches which have facilities showers/changing rooms, pools etc. that make a visit by the lakeside more convenient, but if you want you can jump into the lake absolutely free. Though, we heard some rumours that there might be crocodiles in the lake.
This one is not completely free but as long as you have a public transport ticket, you can take the boats that start from the Station go through the river and cross around the lake for free. This is one of the best tours of Zurich and you can hop on and off wherever you want.
If the weather is not playing along, you can visit some of the city museums. The Kunsthaus has a good collection of paintings and is very centrally located. The Swiss National Museum is the home of interesting temporary exhibitions, as well as a good exhibition on the history of Switzerland. A small but fine museum is The Rietberg Museum that houses non-European art, situated in a beautiful park and a villa (where Wagner stayed as a guest). The permananent exhibition is small but has some excellent pieces, and once you are there, do not forget to visit the 'Schaudepot', where they have crammed in part of the collection that is not on display.
If you have kids with you, The Zoo can be quite fun. The special attraction is the football field sized Masoala hall which recreates a tropical forest of Madagascar where animals roam free and visitors can walk through. The Zoo is at the top of a hill overlooking Zurich, once you finish your visit we can recommend you to take a walk along the top with nice views over Zurich.
Uetliberg is a hill on the west side of Zurich, with the communication tower on the top. You can take a train that will bring you up the hill (S10 you will need a ticket with zones 110/154/155 costs 17.60CHF for a day). From there you can climb the observation platform for views over Zurich, as well as The Alps. You can follow the hiking path along the ridge all the way to the funicular at Felsenegg, from where you can go down and return to the city.
If you want to see where locals eat, go no further than Rheinfelder Bierhalle. This is not a 'fancy' restaurant: you will have to squeeze yourself at a table whereever there is some room, the waiting staff does not have time for pleasantries, and the menu is full of traditional fare (which also includes a lot of Innereien). It is an honest place, and the food is good. The signature dish here is the 'Jumbo Jumbo Cordon Bleu', a big breaded piece of porc meat with cheese and ham inside. You will notice that roughly half of the patrons will be ordering that.
There are two main cheese dishes in Switzerland. Raclette comes from Wallis (south) and Fondue comes from Fribourg (south west). Although restaurants that specialize on cheese dishes will usually serve both. Although the name of the restaurant Raclette Stube means Raclette room, the Fondue here is one of the best, and they serve it together with potatoes (i.e. the way it should be). It is quite popular, so it would be a good idea to reserve in advance. The same people operate a second restaurant a bit further away so if you can not find a table in one you can try the second one.
Ok, this is not really a traditional Swiss restaurant, it looks and feels more like a busy German restaurant, but it is a popular destination for visitors from abroad. Zeughauskeller used to be an armory for the militia, and the decor still shows many weapons from a bygone era. There are a lot of sausages on sale here, and if you are few, we would recommend the 'Kanonenputzer' sausage you can order for a meter.
A restaurant run by a Turkish family and a Portugeese cook make some of the better Swiss dishes around the area, why aren't we surprised?
You know a place makes good pasta, if your Italian colleagues do not mind coming with you to eat pasta in a restaurant in Zurich. Interestingly enough, Hot Pasta's burgers are also very good, which makes it one of our favorite places to go eat for lunch.
Linde Oberstrass brews its own beer, and is quite close by. Although it has a large menu, the usual thing to order here is the 'Lindeschnitzel'. This restaurant marks allergens.
Here are a few options if you want to spend one quick day in around Zurich.
The Bad in Bad Ragaz comes from Baths. In the Middle Ages, they discovered a hot fountain inside a narrow gorge and established a thermal hotel nearby. Over the time, they managed to transfer the water outside the gorge and created a lively village. You can visit the gorge and the original fountain for a small fee. It is about an hour long easy hike from the village, or you can take the bus that goes there once an hour. The thermal hotel in Bad Ragaz is one of the most expensive hotels in the region, but suprisingly the thermal baths that are open to public are relatively cheap. You can reach Bad Ragaz within one hour from Zurich by train. The way to there will also pass through Walensee, one of the most picturesque lakes of Switzerland, so find yourself a window seat on the left side of the train to enjoy the views.
Luzern is less than an hour away, and there is a train every half an hour to there. Luzern has a charming historical old center, nice lakeside walks and plenty of interesting attractions. On a good day, you could take the funicular up to Pilatus for fantastic views over the lake and The Alps. We would recommend taking the boat to Alpnach and then take the steep railroad to the peak (be prepared for queues here). Taking the old paddleboats on Lake Luzern is also a very nice experience. Another popular thing to do is to take the boat to Buergenstock, take a short hike which ends up with an elevator at the edge of a sheer cliff. If you are with kids, that might also enjoy The Transportation Museum (Verkehrshaus).
The river Rhine starts in Switzerland, travels north, fills Lake Constance and then turns east and just north of Zurich falls down a cliff to create one of the largest waterfalls in Europe. Since the water level is the highest in summer, it is the ideal time to visit it. Believe it or not, a train you take from the main station of Zurich will bring you directly to the waterfall. While you are there, you can take a look at Schaffhausen (home to IWC and SIG) visit its ramparts, or take a bus to the monastery around the bend of The Rhine a few kilometers upstream. Alternatively, take a train to Stein am Rhein, a pretty medieval village with famous painted houses in about 15 minutes.
You can never have enough Swiss Army knives. Even if a friend of yours has several, they will not say no to another one :) I can recommend the smaller ones (midnight commander), they do not look as impressive as the larger ones, but you can carry them everywhere and they are very useful.
Many people associate Switzerland with chocolate. There are many shops where you can go and buy chocolate. You can also find very fine chocolate in big convenience stores like Coop and Migros. One present that will surely impress is the 4 kg giant Toblerone. It is expensive (100-120 CHF), very difficult to carry (the paper handles will tear in a few minutes, you need to take them as carry on, and very impractical to eat. But people will talk about this present much more than any 4kg chocolate you can buy. BTW, Toblerone is owned by Kraft foods, so it is technically not really Swiss chocolate.