Lake Zurich, Switzerland: The Site of Prehistoric Pile Dwellings

Lake Zürich is located southeast of the city with the same name, which is the most important financial, industrial and communication center in Switzerland.

Lake Zürich Stats

Lake NameLake Zürich
Surface area83.000
Maximum depth143.0
Average depth18.1
Lake typeNatural lake
Catchment area1837.80
IslandsLützelau, Ufenau
Shore length101.55
Mixing typeMeromictic
SettlementsZürich, Thalwil, Horgen, Wädenswil, Richterswil, Pfäffikon, Lachen, Küsnacht, Meilen, Stäfa, Rapperswil-Jona, Schmerikon, Uznach
Residence time237.6
Frozen1929, 1962/1963 (last)
Average discharge73.000
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The lake basin was excavated by the Linth and Rhein glaciers, flowing northwest, towards the area that the city of Zurich occupies today. It was here that the moraine created the lake by damming. Another moraine between Pfaffikon and Rapperswil separates the navigable lower portion of the lake from the upper area. The moraine used to be an important route for pilgrims en route to the monastery of Einsiedeln on the island of Ufenau. The breach in the moraine was first bridged in 1358. The bridge located here today has a swing bridge in the center to allow smaller vessels to pass below it.

Geography, Hydrology and Damming

The almost banana-shaped lake is bordered by the Pfannenstel chain of hills to the north, the Albis and Zimmerberg hills to the south and the city of Zurich to the west. The lakeshore is mainly made up of gentle slopes, often covered by vineyards and orchards, with hills and views of the Alps lying in their background. Two smaller lakes can be found east of the lake, Greifensee and Pfaffikersee. Zimmerberg and Etzel regions can be found west of the lake.

The Linth River flows into the lake and emerges as the Limmat River. The Linth River rises in the glaciers of the Glarus Alps and was diverted by the Escher Canal (constructed in 1811) into Lake Walen, from where its waters are carried to the eastern end of Lake Zurich by the Linth Canal (finished in 1816). Its outflow exits at the northwestern end of the lake, passing the city of Zurich. The culminating point of the lake’s drainage basin is the Todi Peak at an altitude of 3614 meters.

The lake's water is generally clean and can reach temperatures up to 20 degrees Celsius during the summer months. The lake is purified, is fed into Zurich’s water system and is potable.

The Seedamm is a partially artificial causeway and a bridge, which runs through a narrow part of the lake, having a railway line and a road leading from Rapperswil to Pfaffikon. West of the dam Lutzelau and Ufenau islands can be found, where Ulrich von Hutten took refuge in 1523 and eventually died.

Depending on context, Lake Zurich can either refer to the lake as a whole, or just a part of its downstream area of the Seedamm at Rapperswil, while the upstream area of Rapperswil is often called Obersee, or Upper Lake.

Communities and Transportation

The lake has three main centers: Zurich, Pfaffikon and Rapperswil. Nuolen, Hurden, Horgen, Wadenswil, and Au are located on the lake’s left banks, whilst Stafa, Zurich, Meilen, Jona, and Feldback are located on the right bank. With the exception of Seedamm and Burkliplatz in Zurich no bridges cross the lake. Local lake navigation companies ensure touristic services on numerous passenger ships. Regular auto and passenger ferries travel between the towns of Horgen and Meilen.

Archaeological Finds

11 out of the total of 56 prehistoric pile dwellings around the Alps in Switzerland can be found in the Lake Zurich region. Some of these are Freienbach-Hurden Rosshown, Meilen-Rorenhaab, Erlenbach-Winkel and Wadenswil-Vorder Au. Besides being part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, these historic pile dwellings are also listed as a Class Object in the Swiss inventory of cultural property of national and regional significance.

Recreation and Leisure

The lake is a popular beach destination, having the best weather in the month of August. The famous “golden coast” is along the northern side of the lake, ranging from Zollikon to Feldmeilen. Rapperswil, the “rose town” is located on the eastern end of the lake. It has a large public beach with 15,000 rose bushes in 600 different varieties. Its Old Town boasts an impressive medieval castle, and the local Knie’s Children’s Zoo is a must-see for families with small children.

The largest covered aquapark in Europe, the Alpamare can be found in Pfaffikon. There’s an impressive baroque church in Lachen, whilst the famous Lindt and Sprungli chocolate factory is located in Kilchberg. The Au Peninsula is also a frequented tourist attraction, concentrating mainly on the village of Au between Wadenswil and Horgen.

Zurich’s wealth in history, architecture and culture is bound to attract plenty of tourists each year. Its Old Town area made up of winding alleyways, 16th and 17th century houses, guildhalls and impressive courtyards along with more than 1000 fountains serve as an impressive site. The city and its surroundings are home to the biggest number of museums and exhibits in Switzerland.

The local Opera House and Tonhalle Concert Hall are frequently visited by renowned artists of the classical music world. There are more than 70 parks and green areas where one can get away from the busy business centers. Numerous picnic areas, rollerblade routes, and floating pontoons with decks can be found on the lakeshore. Surrounding forests and meadows serve as an outdoor-lovers’ paradise with tens of various trails open to hikers and mountain bikers.

Lake Zürich Map