This post was written in collaboration with Chur Tourismus. I’m so thrilled to be able to share what to do in Chur with you, as this is one of my many past homes.
The first thing I noticed about Chur, stepping out of the car, was the air. It just smelled so fresh and pure. The second thing I took in were the snow-covered mountaintops, no matter which direction I turned.
And so began 6 months in Switzerland‘s oldest city, before I became a blogger, before I could even fathom that I would return to Chur, a year-and-a-half later, as a guest of the local tourism board.
But life takes us in incredible directions and now I’m so very happy to be posting about what to do in Chur on my blog!
In a Rush? Keep What to Do in Chur for Later
A Brief Intro to Chur
Before we get into what to do in Chur, let me share a bit of background information. Many people know Chur as the departure point for the Bernina Express, one of the iconic Swiss panoramic trains that winds through the Alps. However, the city itself has much to offer visitors in its own right.
Set in the canton of Grisons (or Graubünden, in German), Chur is an hour’s train ride from Zürich and about 50 km from the Italian border as the crow flies. Home to 40,000 inhabitants, it is the largest city between Zürich and Milan.
Pro Tip: if you’re planning to explore more than just Chur on your Swiss trip, you’ll be able to save A LOT of money and enjoy unlimited public transport throughout the whole country when you buy a Swiss Travel Pass.
Chur was first inhabited in the Neolithic period (some 3,500 years BC). Archaeological evidence further shows that humans occupied this part of the Rhine Valley during the Stone Age. The Romans eventually conquered the area at the dawn of the Christian era, giving their settlement the name Curia Raetorum, which, over time, was germanized to Chur.
So when you visit, you’ll be standing on over 5000 years of human activity – always something that makes an impact on me.
Why Should You Visit Chur?
If you like any of the following, I definitely recommend adding Chur to your Swiss itinerary:
- Old towns with cobblestone lanes and colourful historic homes
- Walking straight out of your accommodation into the Alps
- Sampling local dishes prepared with pride and dedication
- Beautiful photo spots at pretty much every corner
Curious? Read on for the top tips on what to do in Chur!
What to Do in Chur: 17 Unmissable Experiences
What to do in Chur really depends on your interests, but rest assured: you’ll have plenty of activities to choose from.
Amble About the Old Town
If you can only pick one activity and ask me – or probably just about anyone – what to do in Chur, the first thing that pops to mind is to head to the Old Town. Chur’s historic core is a wonderful web of little alleys and squares, lined by perfectly preserved buildings; a mix of private homes, restaurants, bars, shops and art galleries.
Chur’s Altstadt is compact enough to discover in an afternoon, yet intricate enough to spend days browsing if you can afford to take your time. It is often considered one of the most beautiful Old Towns in Switzerland, with examples of architecture dating back 800 years.
Highlights include towering cathedrals and churches, remains of the city wall, original guard towers, and clusters of narrow, colourfully-painted houses interrupted by the occasional half-timbered home.
When I lived in Chur, I would spend many afternoons aimlessly wandering around, coffee or smoothie in hand, always discovering a new little nook. Buildings of historic significance have little red plaques outside for orientation.
To get your bearings and dive deeper into Chur’s history, I suggest joining an express 1-hour walking tour. A local guide will show you the best of this lovely city. That way, even if you’re pressed for time, you won’t miss out!
What to Do in Chur: History and Culture
As you might have guessed by now, visiting Chur is like travelling back in time, with plenty of testimonies to yesteryear popping up as you explore. Therefore, for many visitors, what to do in Chur definitely involves cultural and historical elements.
Roman Remains in Chur
Chur, or Curia, was an important Roman settlement, at the crossroads of several trading routes. Today’s travellers can experience a bit of Chur’s Roman Era by visiting the remains of a 2000-year-old road station just steps from the Old Town.
The ruins have been encased in a shelter built by award-winning Swiss architect Peter Zumthor to resemble the original structure. The space is open to the public, however, you need to get the key from the tourism office at the train station for access.
Chur’s Rhaetian Museum is set within a 17th-century baroque villa at the heart of the Old Town. It tells the Canton of Grisons’ story throughout the ages, from Neolithic times to today, with 4 floors of permanent exhibits.
The manor itself is of historic significance: it has housed a collection of rare artifacts since the 19th century, when local leaders decided to regroup the canton’s historically relevant items under one roof to prevent them from leaving the Grisons.
Graubünden Art Museum
Culture lovers will find themselves at home at the Graubünden Art Museum, which hosts works from the 18th century to modern times.
You’ll find unique pieces by Chur-born artists and works by world-famous sculptors like Giacometti. To truly immerse yourself in the art world of the Grisons and other Swiss cantons, make sure to join a guided tour.
Graubünden Natural History Museum
Flora and fauna are also an important part of life in the Grisons, so it’s only natural (no pun intended) that plants and animals get their own museum in Chur. Here, you’ll delve into the biodiversity that makes up the Rhine Valley and surrounding mountain range. This family-friendly museum offers many activities and exhibits for visitors of all ages.
What to Do in Chur: Active Holidays in the Alps
Being at the heart of the mountains, Chur allows for a wide range of active experiences year-round, with options to suit each fitness level.
Hike in the Alps
What impressed me the most about Chur was the fact that I could reach scenic hiking trails in about a 15-minute walk from my apartment. I would often go on casual, 2-hour adventures through the pine-clad forests around town, turning back to catch glimpses of the city’s historic core getting ever smaller.
Indeed, a multitude of hiking trails run close to Chur’s Old Town, making it easy to just get on a path and wander for as far as your legs can take you – or as long as time permits.
My favourite trail leads to St Luzikapelle (St Luzi’s chapel), a beautiful little chapel built into a cave. Locals worshipped here from the 1300s until the 1700s, when the spot was abandoned and forgotten. Local theology students rediscovered the cave in the 1970s, though, and built the chapel that stands there today.
At a leisurely pace, I was able to reach the chapel in roughly an hour (departing from Chur’s city center).
Cycling & Mountain Biking
Chur is a great base for cyclists, whether you are looking for an Olympic-style workout or prefer a more leisurely (aka flat) riverside outing.
Actually, here’s a fun fact: on the drive from Chur to St Moritz one day, I remember catching a glimpse of Uzbekistan’s national team training for the Tour de France. That gives you an idea of just how challenging the terrain can be!
But since I’m assuming most of my readers are more interested in exploring Chur’s flatter trails, I’ll throw in this alternative: a few kilometres on the banks of the Rhine River.
Although many people associate the Rhine with Germany, the source of this major European waterway is actually not far from Chur – and a biking trail runs alongside it. Technically, you could cycle all the way from Chur to the North Sea along the Rhine.
Rent an E-Bike
If relaxed cycling is more your thing, the answer to what to do in Chur is very straightforward: hire an e-bike and cover more ground, faster and with less sweating! You can get your gear at Outside Chur, the city’s new e-bike and ski rental shop recommended to me by the tourism board and conveniently located in the city centre.
This makes it easier for us untrained people to conquer the summits close to Chur, such as the Churer Joch at 1500 meters above sea level. Imagine comfortably riding up into the Alps, to be greeted by green pastures and views of snow-covered peaks. Hiring an E-bike makes this 20 km journey much more accessible.
What to Do in Chur: Foodie Edit
After being active all day, you’ll need to refuel! Fortunately, Chur boasts over 300 cafes and restaurants offering all types of cuisine. Below are a few examples of how travellers can get to know Chur and the Grisons through food.
Try the Bündner Trilogie
While you can go about your holiday in Chur eating everything from Thai dishes to Italian classics, there are local specialties you should really sample while in the region. The best way to do so is to order a Bündner Triolgie at the historic Hotel Stern’s restaurant, which has been serving local fare for over 300 years.
What is the Bündner Trilogie? Simply put, you’ll receive 3 small plates with bite-size (yet still filling!) regional dishes. Your meal will consist of:
- Maluns – fried potatoes topped with apple sauce and cheese from the Grisons.
- Capuns (stuffed cabbage rolls that simmered in locally-sourced, milk-based bouillon)
- Pizzocheri Neri (buckwheat pasta mixed with vegetables).
Vegetarian and non-vegetarian options are available.
Culinary Cycling Tours
What to do in Chur that combines exercise and eating? Join a culinary cycling tour! These day-long excursions offer a glimpse into some of the area’s best scenery and regional dishes with a chance to meet locals along the way.
The 5 Dörfer Tour (or 5 Villages Tour) showcases the area’s rich wine-making heritage as participants cycle through picturesque villages between Chur and the neighbouring hub of Landquart. A 3-course meal is a part of the program.
Meanwhile, the Rhine Valley Tour introduces visitors to the culinary delights of the riverside villages near Chur, through 3 courses at 3 restaurants in different spots. You’ll cycle in the shade of nearby forests and along the water, looping back to Chur’s Old Town at the end.
Culinary Hiking Tours
While in Chur, it is also possible to join a culinary hiking tour. Some offers include a packed lunch brimming with regional fare and a picnic pitstop in the mountains around the city. Others are more structured, and just like the cycling tours, include 3 courses at different restaurants along the way.
In either case, beautiful views over Chur and the surrounding area are guaranteed. You can find out more about Chur’s culinary hiking tours on the tourism board’s website.
Bonus Chur Activity: Ride the Cable Car to Brambrüesch
Wondering what to do in Chur on a clear day? Residents are very proud of their local mountain, Brambrüesch, and would recommend a visit.
A cable car will ferry you from town up 2174 metres into the Alps. As you ascend, you’ll be able to get sensational views over the Rhine Valley, city, and, of course, mountains. Once at the top, a number of bike and hiking trails await.
What to Do in Chur for Instagrammers: 5 Unmissable Chur Photo Spots
As a blogger who got her start on Instagram, I’m always on the lookout for the most scenic spots during my travels. And Chur offers photo ops in spades. To quickly get oriented and see the city from a local photographer’s perspective, book an Instagram highlights tour to capture the most Instaworthy Spots of Chur.
Find out more about some of Chur’s most instagrammable locations below.
For some of the best views over Chur’s Old Town, vineyards, modern towers and surrounding mountains, make your way up to Haldenhüttli, a wooden hut perched high in the hills.
From this lookout, you’ll be able to get some stunning shots that capture the dichotomy of the city: testimonies to human activity across the ages at the heart of nature.
You don’t have to wait until you’ve reached Haldenhüttli to start snapping away, though – you’ll be privy to beautiful vineyard views as you ascend.
The Plessur River meanders through Chur on its way to merge with the Rhine, making for lovely waterside strolls on the outskirts of the Old Town. To best capture the river, parts of the Altstadt, and mountains in the background, step onto geranium-covered Metzgerbrücke.
If you enter Chur’s Old Town through Obertor, one of the city’s remaining original guard towers, you’ll immediately find yourself in a charming little street of the same name.
You’ll be surrounded by cafes with outdoor seating, traditional homes with brightly coloured shutters, and a pretty fountain (with drinking water – as is the case for all of Chur’s public fountains). You might only be steps from a major intersection, but the world fades away along Obertor.
Across town from Haldenhüttli, you’ll find another lookout with sweeping views over Chur. From this angle, you’ll be able to perfectly capture the Old Town’s characteristic church spires sprouting up above the other buildings.
Here’s one more for the Instagrammers looking for what to do in Chur. A favourite spot amongst locals, Fontanapark is a little haven of peace at the heart of town. Stroll amidst the rose bushes, relax with a good book or sit on one of the benches for a short break after all that exploring. This little inner-city garden is also a fantastic spot for colourful photoshoots amidst the blooms.
Where to Stay in Chur
Upscale Vacation: Hotel Stern
When I visited Chur, I stayed at the lovely Hotel Stern, charming 4-star yet completely unpretentious accommodation (where I also enjoyed my Bündner Trilogie).
Wood panelling was reminiscent of Swiss chalets, adding to the rustic-chic ambiance. My room was right next to a large terrace, which offered views over the roofs of the Old Town to the Alps.
Atmosphere aside, Hotel Stern is the perfect spot to call home in Chur. At the heart of the Old Town, under a 10-minute walk from the train station, offering a full-service, complimentary breakfast. I would definitely stay at Hotel Stern again.
In Conclusion: Put Chur on Your Swiss Roadmap
I hope these 2000+ words adequately answer the question of what to do in Chur! As you’ve read, there are so many experiences to be had in and around the alpine city, with plenty to offer foodies, adventure seekers, hikers, cyclists, photographers and history buffs.
If you fall into any of the above categories, make sure you spend a few days in Chur when you’re next in Switzerland.
Loved discovering what to do in Chur? I’m sure you’ll also enjoy these articles in my Swiss collection:
- How to Plan a Scenic Train Ride Through Switzerland
- How to Spend 24 Hours in Zürich
- 10 Reasons Switzerland Should Be on Every Traveller’s Bucket List