Survey the lake’s rippling waters from the front deck of a Zürichsee ferry. To see as much of the area as possible, take the 30-mile trip from Zurich to the medieval town of Rapperswil (two hours one way, from $12) on the lake’s eastern shore. The ferry makes short stops along the way, offering a glimpse of life on the lake, from its charming ports with wooden piers to stately waterfront mansions.
Plan on spending at least a half-day in Rapperswil (to maximize your time, you can also take a train here), which has been better preserved than other historic towns surrounding the lake. Stroll the cobblestone streets and boardwalk lined with outdoor restaurants, climb the hill to the thirteenth-century Rapperswil Castle for great views, and then walk across the Holzbrücke Rapperswil-Hurden, the longest wooden bridge in Switzerland.
Work up a sweat on the 71-mile waterfront Zurich Trail (Zürichsee-Rundweg), which is divided into ten stages. One of the easiest to access is the first stage, which travels from the Zurich Manegg train station (a ten-minute ride from the Zurich Main Station) and south along the Sihl River for the two-and-a-half-mile trek to the town of Adiswil. Here you can catch the Luftseilbahn aerial tram ($8 round-trip) to the Felsenegg lookout for unbeatable sunset vistas.