Zürich is a city whose reputation precedes it – and does it a complete disservice, trashes its name, gives it a good kicking. A boring banking capital? ‘Zu Reich’ (too rich), business-minded and uptight? The spotless Singapore of Europe? If Switzerland’s largest metropolis once lived down to those dull descriptions, it certainly no longer does.
Contemporary Zürich might still be home to the world’s fourth-biggest stock exchange and remain Switzerland’s financial engine, but it’s also (whisper it softly) surprisingly vibrant and trendy. Located on a picturesque river and lake whose water you can drink, easy to get around and a stranger to the hassled lifestyle that defines bigger cities, this affluent, fashion-conscious place enjoys the finest things in life.
Hundreds of new bars, restaurants and clubs have opened since the late 1990s and, since its Street Parade overtook London’s Notting Hill Carnival, Zürich now hosts Europe’s largest annual street party. Its former industrial quarter brims with nightlife venues catering to a youngish crowd, and this happening ‘Züri-West’ district has the same buzz as Berlin’s Prenzlauerberg or Mitte. The infamous ‘gnomes’, as the British like to call Zürich’s bankers, are still here, but sometimes they can astonish you by whizzing by on a Segway scooter.
Fortunately, the city’s Protestant modesty saves it from ever becoming too schicki-micki (chi-chi). With church steeples rising against a backdrop of hills and mountains, the medieval old town will also appeal to traditionalists.
Top things to do in Zürich
The 13th-century cathedral is renowned for its distinctive stained-glass windows, designed by the Russian-Jewish master Marc Chagall (1887–1985). He did a series of five windows in the choir stalls in 1971 and the rose window in the southern transept in 1978. The rose window in the northern transept was created by Augusto Giacometti in 1945.
Zürich’s impressive fine arts gallery boasts a rich collection of largely European art that stretches from the Middle Ages through a mix of Old Masters to Alberto Giacometti stick-figure sculptures, Monet and Van Gogh masterpieces, Rodin sculptures and other 19th- and 20th-century art. The museum is free on Wednesdays.
Sit down for cakes, chocolate and coffee at this epicentre of sweet Switzerland, in business since 1836. You can have a light lunch too, but whatever you do, don’t fail to check out the heavenly chocolate shop around the corner on Paradeplatz.