A similar question was posed in the Travel Notes forum, and as I spent a lot of time on the answer I thought I'd post it on the blog; to reach a wider audience.
Basically, kelly wants to fly in to Zurich on a Thursday or Friday morning and fly out again around noon on the Monday. In this time, kelly wanted to know what there is to see in Zurich and aims to travel to Geneva (for a cruise on Lac Leman) and hopes to see The Alps.
If you plan to do a similar itinerary, then this post is for you.
Luckily Switzerland is a fairly small country and the train/bus connections are very good. The downside is, there are no night trains where you could save on accommodation.
With the short amount of time you're allowing yourself, I'm not sure if you'd really want to stay in Zurich or not.
If you do, the Hotel Central is close to the main station and there's a tram hub 'Central' right outside.
Zurich is fairly compact, for the visitor, and 'essential sights' are easy enough to do on foot.
First stop would probably be some window-shopping along Bahnhofstrasse.
The 'old town' is over to the left of here (off Rennweg, near the Baly shoe shop) and the little back streets will lead you up to a nice view of the Limmat (from Lindenhof - a shady square with an outdoor chessboard).
The Schipfe, is a little artisan's street along the bank of the Limmat (below Lindenhof).
Walking along the Schipfe will bring you to the Rathaus and Rathausbrücke (bridge). You could cross over here, but I would continue up past the Münsterbrücke and up to the Quaibrücke. This is where boats leave for tours on Zürichsee.
If the weather is fine, a popular excusion is out to Rapperswil by ship - for a fish lunch - and return to Zurich by train.
Crossing over this bridge brings you to Bellevue.
As you walk back down the Limmat, be sure to look in at some of the back streets on the right; especially after the Grossmünster.
The Münstergasse leads down onto the Niederdorfstrasse (Dörfli); home to trendy shops, bars and pubs - the area is a popular part of Zurich's nightlife.
Niederdorfstrasse then ends and opens out onto 'Central'.
Getting Out of Zurich
The Swiss Pass affords you unlimited travel on Swiss Travel System's public transport network on either 4, 8, 15, 22 days or 1 month.
It costs about 255 Swiss francs for 4 days.
If you do buy the Swiss Pass, you might find yourself spending most of your time on public transport; as you try to get the most out of it. It is a very good way 'to see the country' in just a short time though.
An option here, to save you checking in and out of hotels and travelling around with your bags, would be to use Zurich as your base and make a different train/bus/boat journey every day.
Fastest trains are the Inter Citys.
When you go to Geneva (on the fastest route), you could even stop off at Berne (the capital of Switzerland) for a couple of hours.
Scenic Routes and Excursion Ideas
The more scenic option would be to do the 'GoldenPass Line' (timetable); travelling from Zurich to Lucerne (Luzern, in German) and getting on the panoramic train through Interlaken and Zweisimmen to Montreux (home of the yearly Jazz Festival - in July).
The 08:55 panorama train from Lucerne arrives in Montruex at 14:15 and from Montreux, there are good train connections to Geneva (Genève in French, or Genf in German); with the best connection departing Montruex at 14:19 and arriving in Geneva at 15:24.
Boats on Lake Geneva (Lac Leman):
The cheapest way to 'cruise on Lake Geneva' (free with a Swiss Pass) is to take the boat from Geneva to Nyon and return to Zurich by train from there (if you're doing day-trips).
We're entering the Autumn timetable now (18th Sept to 28th October), so you might find that some services are reduced.
The journey would be possible to do in a day, with a very early start from Zurich (07:35 or 08:04 - arrives Luzern 08:25 or 08:49), but it's probably better to get to Luzern in the late afternoon of day one (after some Zurich sight-seeing) and overnight in Lucerne.
Stay in Interlaken, if you prefer to break up the journey with a visit to Jungfraujoch.
Interlaken even deserves a visit in itself. But if time is limited and you want to see more of the country, then you'll have to see less of the towns.
The last train (best connection) from Geneva (21:45) gets into Zurich at 00:38, while the 20:14 from Geneva will get you to Zurich at 22:56 and the 20:45 at 23:30.
Swiss Train Timetables.
Or you may prefer to stay the night in Geneva; especially if you want to go on a 'proper tour' with the Lake Geneva Cruise Line.
Another option for 'Cruising Lake Geneva on the Cheap' is to use the Mouettes Genevoises shuttle service.
Swiss Boat also offer a number of Lake Geneva cruise options: along the Rhône, of the Castles, of the Mermaid, or of the Parks.
As for the Alps, there are many beautiful spots. Zermatt (The Matterhorn) is one of my favourites. This is in the Valais, where you can get the red, mountain train from Brig. Saas Fe is also nice (Postbus from Brig), but probably for those with more time.
Another popular 'Alpine' area is around Interlaken. Or more to the point, Lauterbrunnen/Grindelwald. Especially for those who want to see the Jungfrau, Eiger and the Revolving Restaurant featured in the James Bond film 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' on the Schilthorn, at Mürren.
The third popular area is Graubünden. Head out of Zurich towards Chur; for Arosa, Davos, Klösters, Lenzerheide and St Moritz.
Postbus - Swiss Alps
A good way to really experience The Alps is to travel by bus; over the mountain passes.
If you're an early riser and would like to get in a good cross section of Switzerland, in just a short time, it is possible to combine St Moritz with Ticino - the Italian part of Switzerland, just south of the Alps.
Departing Zurich at 06:37 (or 07:37), the train arrives in Chur at 07:52 (or 08:32).
Julier Route Express:
You then need to walk across to the Postauto depot for the bus to St. Moritz - departs at 08:00 (or 09:10).
The bus arrives in St Moritz at 10:34 (or 11:34).
Times are valid until 14th October, 2007.
After a light brunch, the bus to Lugano leaves at 12:20 and arrives at 16:10. The journey offers superb views of Lake Como.
If you're lucky with the weather, you'll be able to stroll around Lake Lugano in the late afternoon and eat some Italian cuisine before taking an evening train back to Zurich. The journey takes about three hours. The last train from Lugano to Zurich is at 20:35, although the 19:46 might suit you better - arriving in Zurich at 22:29.
The Glacier Express
Another one of the 'Great Train Journeys in Switzerland' is the Glacier Express; connecting St. Moritz with Zermatt.
Trains leave St. Moritz at 09:02 and 10:02, arriving in Zermatt at 17:04 and 18:04.
Alternatively, trains depart Zermatt at 09:08 and 10:08, arriving in St. Moritz at 16:58 or 17:58.
The shorter option, is to just do the Brig to St. Moritz part of the journey; departing Brig at 11:41 for a 17:58 arrival in St Moritz.
An 08:50 departure from Geneva arrives in Brig at 10:46; or an 08:32 departure from Zurich arrives in Brig at 11:06.
The Grand Tour of Switzerland
Putting this all together, you could do a very grand tour of Switzerland in just 4 days.
Assuming an arrival in Zurich on the Thursday morning, you could see the sights in Switzerland's 'Little Big City' and move on to Luzern; for the night.
Friday could be spent on the 'Golden Pass', with a little early-evening cruise on Lake Geneva thrown in.
If you stay near the station, in Geneva (on Friday night), you'll be nicely placed for an early departure to Brig and across to St. Moritz.
On Sunday, you could take the 'Palm Express' to Lugano and get back to Zurich late in the evening; ready for your flight out at noon on Monday.