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Bank on a good time in prosperous Zurich
Populated by prosperous, hardworking citizens and filled with fancy restaurants, swish hotels and big banks, expensive and orderly Zurich bears the hallmarks of an international financial powerhouse enjoying some of the world’s highest living standards. But there’s more to Switzerland’s largest metropolis than high finance and five-star luxury. Visitors can discover excellent museums, taste fine Swiss chocolate, experience a thriving nightlife scene, stroll around Lake Zurich or explore narrow streets in the well-preserved old town, where the Reformation unfolded. Further afield, travellers can enjoy breathtaking beauty spots in this Alpine land of milk, money and four languages.
A city for all seasons
Zurich has something for everyone as the seasons change. Handmade gifts, mulled wine and festive foods are on offer each December when Christmas markets open. An outdoor market is held in the attractive Niederdorf quarter of old town, where many popular hotels are also found. Meanwhile, an indoor market known locally as Christkindlimarkt fills the concourse at Zurich Hauptbahnhof, which is the city’s bustling main train station, offering regional, national, international and citywide services, including regular trains to the airport. Boasting a jumbo Christmas tree centrepiece lavishly bedecked in sparkling crystals, it hosts about 150 stalls in the heart of one of the world’s busiest yet most efficient transport hubs. A highlight for cinema lovers is the Zurich Film Festival. Usually held in the autumn, it showcases the work of emerging international directors.
Summertime visitors can cool off in public open-water swimming areas that appear around Lake Zurich and along the River Limmat, which bisects the city centre. Known as badis in the local Züritüütsch dialect of Swiss German, some of these waterside haunts feature wooden piers, saunas and bars. A must for party people is the Street Parade, usually held in August. This colourful event characterized by ravers in revealing outfits and a relentlessly pumping soundtrack of techno, trance and house music regularly attracts more than a million people to Zurich for one of Europe’s largest public shindigs. Even the post-party clean-up operation is an impressive sight. Demonstrating typical Swiss efficiency, a well-drilled squad of street cleaners emerges to restore the pristine cleanliness of the lakeside parade route with military precision once the fun stops.
Explore Zurich old town
Not only is Zurich wealthy, but it’s also rich in history. The old town, known locally as Altstadt, occupies much of the city’s core. If your hotel is in District 1, this maze of narrow, snaking streets lined with lovingly preserved medieval buildings will be nearby. It boasts distinctive guild houses which once hosted powerful trade associations representing craftsmen and merchants in the textile and silk businesses in the Middle Ages.
Seismic change came to Zurich in the early 16th century when Huldrych Zwingli emerged as a key figure of the Reformation in Switzerland. His pointed sermons challenging papal authority found listening ears among citizens, and soon Zurich became a centre of the movement. In Kirchgasse street, travellers can see Zwingli’s house and the imposing grey Grossmünster church where he was pastor. The church interior embodies the austerity Zwingli favoured, but there are beautiful, modern additions like stained-glass windows by Swiss artist Augusto Giacometti. Visitors can also climb the southern tower for marvellous views of Zurich and the Alps. Across the Limmat, the old town boasts more impressive churches like St Peter’s, which has the largest church clock face in Europe, measuring 8.7 metres in diameter, and the elegant Fraumünster. This medieval place of worship features stunning stained-glass windows designed by Russian-French artist Marc Chagall.
Lakes, mountains and museums
Switzerland’s stunning scenery is never far away in Zurich. Boat trips on Lake Zurich offer holidaymakers a hassle-free way to enjoy views of Alpine meadows and snow-capped mountains at a leisurely pace. Another popular outing from Zurich is Uetliberg mountain. At 869 metres tall, this peak offers walking trails plus rewarding panoramas of Zurich and its hinterland. Thanks to the marvel of Swiss engineering, there’s even a railway line taking passengers from Zurich Hauptbahnhof to just below the summit in about 30 minutes.
Art lovers can marvel at major works by Monet, Van Gogh, Mondrian, Picasso and Rodin at the Kunsthaus Zurich museum in District 1. Elsewhere, the Pavillon Le Corbusier is a must for fans of modern architecture. Located on the eastern lakeshore in Zurich’s suburbs, this colourful house constructed of glass and steel represents a 1960s vision of future living. It is the last building designed by the renowned Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier, and was built shortly after his death.
Foodie haunts and nightlife hotspots
Diners with deep pockets can enjoy upscale dining experiences at posh lakeview eateries in Zurich. There are also affordable dining options serving international cuisine plus Swiss restaurants offering local specialities like fondue, rostis and raclette. Chocoholics will love Confiserie Sprüngli on Paradeplatz in Bahnhofstrasse. Once tied to Lindt’s chocolate empire, the luxury cafe and confectioner opened in 1859 and makes its own colourful macarons called Luxumburgerli. Smooth and silky Swiss milk chocolate is also on sale.
Zurich’s thriving night-time economy offers party animals more than just cool bars in the Niederdorf district or waterside watering holes by the lake and river. Post-industrial Districts 4 and 5 in the vibrant Zuri-West area reveal a grittier side of the city where former factories have been transformed into art spaces and buzzing nightclubs attracting top DJs.