- on Mon 13 May 2013
From the airport, take the S-Bahn (train) into Zurich, it drops you right in the center at the main train station (also called Hauptbahnhof or HB). Zurich has an excellent tram/train/bus system. It's easiest to buy the 24 hour Zone 10 pass because that'll take you almost anywhere in the city without worrying about tickets.
It might be worth inquiring at the airport train area if there are any discounted 5-day passes or somesuch.
In Zurich the best thing to do is walk South on the East side of the river through the old town (called Niederdorf), have a snack at Sternen Grille, and walk back north down Bahnhofstrasse to the main train station.
The food in Switz is relatively unexciting but this is 1 place you should hit: Sternen Grille (Theaterstrasse 22, 8001 Zuerich). It's a walk-up sausage stand where you get a bratwurst and chunk of appropriately-named "burli" bread for ~8 CHF. I'm sure your conference hosts will take you to other places but be sure to hit that.
Probably my favorite restaurant in Zurich is Linde Oberstrass (Universitaetstrasse 91, 8006 Zurich). They have this giant Cordon Bleu (fried pork chop stuffed with ham and cheese!) that is awesome (ask Steve). They also make their own beer.
If you really want to get that fondue (Swiss don't eat it in summer) you could do a lot worse than Raclette Stube, Zaehringerstrasse 16, 8001 Zurich.=20
Zeughauskeller (Bahnhofstrasse 28A, 8001 Zuerich) is a fun place to eat; it's the old armory and has all the traditional standard Swiss food (beef in mushroom sauce, rosti, misc. sausages, etc.)
For vegetarian food there is a great place called Hiltl (Sihlstrasse 28, 8001 Zuerich) that is like Indian++ smorgasbord (you pay by weight).
Be prepared for sticker shock when eating out, 30 CHF per person for a bowl of hot cheese. :) Hey, at least service is included; you don't need to tip. By the time you get drinks and such expect to drop 50+ CHF for a decent dinner.
Don't get your hopes up about Swiss beer. :)
Everyone speaks English.
OK so you're in Switzerland and you want to see mountains. The best thing you can possibly do is take the train to Luzern and then up to Pilatus.
It's about 2:10 1-way, a fun & scenic train ride. If the weather is nice you can hike around up on the mountain. If not you can walk around old town Luzern. Lake Luzern is a glacier-made lake so the water is really pretty and surrounded by great foresty mountains.
Regarding hiking: There are little yellow signs everywhere that tell you how far in hours it is to the next place, and if there is a bus/train/boat there. So just pick a direction that looks pretty, how long you want to walk, and find your way back via the excellent public transit.
If you've got enough time you can even see the mountain, hike around the lake for a while, then take a boat back to Lucern. That is exactly what I would do if I had 1 day in Switzerland.
BTW if you do this day trip, get the ~$60 1-day pass that will get you on all public transport in the country. It's just easier; then you can just go anywhere without worrying about tickets.
Wirsthaus Taube (Burgerstrasse 3, 6003 Luzern) is a good place to eat in Luzern.
If you really don't have time to get to Lucerne, go up to Uetliberg for a nice view overlooking Zurich. From there walk South about ~1.5 hours along the ridge to the Felsenegg cable car, that down to Adliswil and then train back to Zurich.