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Zurich is a rich and luxurious city in every way, from the elegant boutiques along Bahnhofstrasse, to the unimaginable treasures that are lying in underground vaults in the famous Swiss banks, and not to forget the wealth of its historical and cultural significance to the world. Zurich is the world's banking capital, but as well as being a city of fat cats parading in pin-stripes, glued to their mobile phones and swinging patent leather briefcases, visitors will also discover that this is the city that gave birth to the avant-garde Dadaist movement, and where James Joyce wrote Ulysses. The city's Museum of Fine Arts houses one of Europe's most extensive collections, from 15th century religious iconography to the modern art works of Dali, Arp, Hockney, Cezanne, Monet, Gaugin, Munch and Picasso.
Visitors can spend days exploring Zurich's cobbled streets, wandering through its museums, exploring its flea markets or walking away with free gifts from its chocolate factories. The quays, with their promenades, are made for walking, especially along the shores of the lake. Zurich also lays claim to an active restaurant and café culture that's ideal for people-watching, and a lively, multi-ethnic population to rival any other major European city. The exacting order of the Swiss, with their passion for neatness and precision, may create an impression of rather a prim and staid society, but visitors will discover quite the opposite when exploring Zurich more intimately.
Of the church spires that characterise Zurich's skyline, the thin blue spire of Fraumünster is the most graceful. Overlooking the historic old square of Münsterhof, the former pig market, the church was founded in 853 and its convent inhabited by German noblewomen until the 13th century. Important architectural features include the Romanesque choir and the enormous elaborate organ, but its chief attractions are the five beautiful stained-glass windows designed by Marc Chagall in 1970.
A fascinating exploration of Swiss national history, the Swiss National Museum has an impressive and varied collection of ancient artefacts, providing visitors with a richer understanding of Swiss life and consciousness through the centuries. Housed in an exquisite castle-like building, with a distinctive tower, the permanent collection contains a comprehensive anthology of artefacts from the Stone Age to modern times. First stop is the archaeology exhibit where tools and articles dating back to before 800BC are on display. Highlights at the museum include the Celestial globe of Jost Bürg (1594), a groundbreaking symbol of European thought, religious reliquaries from the 13th to 16th centuries and ancient wheels, considered to be among the earliest ever found. Another major drawcard is the Armoury, where historic Swiss weaponry used in combat between 800 and 1800BC can be found. Visitors can expect to see crossbows, swords and suits of armour.
Devoted for the most part to 19th and 20th century artwork, the Kunsthaus Zurich (Zurich Fine Arts Museum) is a cultural drawcard for any art lover. Holding one of the largest collections of works by Edvard Munch outside Norway, as well as works by renowned modern artists such as Chagall, Picasso, Monet, Rothko and the Expressionists, Kokoschka, Beckmann and Corinth to name a few, there is a whole host of quality artwork at which the visitor can marvel. Visitors can also view the creative talents of cutting edge Swiss artists such as the sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti, and well-known Swiss duo Fischli/Weiss. Situated in a sophisticated building with contemporary exhibitions, a trip to the Kunsthaus Zurich makes for a very rewarding cultural day out.
Trains, buses, trams and bikes are common ways of getting around Zurich. To get above the bustling streets and cobbled walkways, travellers should hop onto either the Polybahn or Rigiblick Funicular for panoramic views of the city and Lake Zurich. The traditional Polybahn was first opened in 1889 to solve the transport problem of students travelling from central Zurich to the University of Technology, which is situated on the towering Zürichberg hill. The Polybahn has maintained its classic Swiss appearance and continues to haul students and tourists to the Polyterasse viewpoint. Serving an attractive neighbourhood north of Zurich, the Rigiblick Funicular rewards travellers with a sweeping panoramic view of the city and the unmistakable Mount Rigi (1797m).
Known for sophisticated designs such as the internationally recognised symbol of the Red Cross, it is no wonder that Switzerland has a museum dedicated solely to design. With four separate collections, visitors can indulge in the designs of the Poster Collection, Design Collection, Graphic Collection and Decorative Arts Collection, spanning the past century or visit one of the temporary exhibits where works of acclaimed industrial designers, photographers, graphic artists and architects are regularly shown. Designed by the progressive Swiss architects Adolf Steger and Karl Egender as a Functionalist manifesto, the Museum of Design Zurich is a great example of modern architecture in Switzerland and is a gallery not to be missed.
Situated in the old town, across from central station, the narrow lanes of Niederdorf wind through towering 14th century buildings revealing small plazas where restaurants spill onto cobbled streets and buskers entertain diners and passers-by with miscellaneous music. This charming district has an interesting array of fashion stores, bookshops and antique dealers as well as superb independent cheese, wine and pastry shops. In the evening the area transforms into one of Zurich's buzzing nightlife venues with a wide selection of bars, restaurants and clubs to be explored.
Unlike the dubious reputation of zoos worldwide, the Zurich Zoo is refreshingly dedicated to nature conservation, maintaining ecosystems and protecting animal species, with many projects of reintroduction into the wild. Offering guided tours and in depth information tools, the Zurich Zoo does its best to educate the public. With over 340 different species and 4000 animals, visitors will get the unique chance to view endangered animal species such as snow leopards and red pandas. Recreating ecosystems from exotic Madagascar to the rugged Ethiopian Highlands and housing the various animals in spacious enclosures, a visit to the diverse Zurich Zoo is a pleasurable and invigorating excursion. Travellers should visit the website to see feeding times and which new pups have been born.
The final work of the renowned Swiss architect who pioneered modernism and laid the foundation for Bauhaus, the Pavillon Le Corbusier in Zurichhorn Park is the epitome of modern design. A conglomeration of his life's work, the former Centre Le Corbusier and Heidi Weber Museum unify Le Corbusier's architecture, paintings, furniture, sculpture and writings, all in one space. Created in the 1960s, the contemporary building has strong references to Mondrian and is a jumble of cubic structures made of coloured panels, glass and steel, protected by a detached angular roof. Initially designed as a private house, the many spaces of the Centre Le Corbusier have fared well as an exhibition and learning centre. While travelling to this illuminating masterpiece, tourists can take a stroll alongside the Limmat River in picturesque Zurichhorn Park and should look out for the sculptures of Jean Tinguely and Henry Moore.
The Alps contain some of Switzerland's most dramatic landscapes, in a country already well endowed with spectacular scenery and fabulous alpine vistas. Situated at the heart of the Alps, Switzerland shares the mountain range with France, Italy and Austria and provides winter and summer time enjoyment for skiers, snowboarders, walkers and climbers. Switzerland boasts the first ever ski resort, and since then over 200 first-class resorts have attracted thousands of Swiss and international downhill and cross-country skiers as well as snowboarders.
The tradition of skiing goes back two centuries. Today, with more than 1,700 mountain railways and ski lifts, renowned ski schools and instructors, the best ski equipment in the world, and outstanding slopes and facilities catering for all levels of ability, it deserves to be called 'Europe's winter playground'. The ideal resort for beginners or families is Grindelwald in the Jungfrau region, while intermediates and snowboarders head for the twin resorts of Davos and Klosters, with miles of excellent ski terrain and acclaimed to be one of the top snowboarding destinations worldwide.
Expert skiers can enjoy the challenge of 7,200 ft (2,700m) vertical drops on the Klein Matterhorn at Zermatt, and the ski valley of Verbier is ideal for shoulder-season skiing as its location provides early snow that lingers late into the spring. The stylish resort of St Moritz offers the most energetic and varied nightlife out of all the Swiss resorts. The ideal ski season runs from January to late March, but is most crowded during the Christmas holidays and the month of February. Climbers and walkers head to the Alps between June and September when the weather is warmer and more settled. There are more than 40,390 miles (65,000km) of well-marked and maintained hiking trails as well as longer treks across the country that will reveal miles and miles of unspoiled beauty.
Grindelwald has long been the capital of summer hiking in the Bernese Alps, and more recently added a network of groomed trails for winter hikers. Climbers have long been lured by the challenges of the Matterhorn and there are some memorable hikes up to the cliffs below the summit. The Swiss Alpine Club (SAC) is the best source of information on mountaineering. The most accessible and visited alpine area is the magnificent Bernese Oberland region in the centre of the country with classic Swiss scenery - picturesque peaks, quaint wooden chalets and charming mountain villages, green pastures, lakes and the tinkle of cow bells. This is a fabulous area for walking and provides exceptional winter sports.
The climate of Zurich is continental, and temperatures are modified by winds off the Atlantic Ocean. Winters are cold, while summers tend to be hot and sunny. In January, generally the coldest month, temperatures range between 14°F (-10°C) and 41°F (5°C), and in July, mid-summer, temperatures range between 59°F (15°C) and 86°F (30°C). The wettest time of year is the summer, between June and August.
Zurich boasts a plethora of eateries catering to just about every nationality under the sun, including, of course, restaurants with strong French, German and Italian influences.
Visitors should try the delicious traditional Christmas snack, Tirggel, which are hard, thin and very sweet biscuits made from flour and honey - popular in other countries too and bound to well up oodles of nostalgia in anyone who has ever tasted one. Zürcher Geschnetzeltes, a veal stew made with mushrooms, white wine and cream is a must while in Zurich, and visitors will notice potato Rösti is a popular local dish. Other famous exports not to be missed are, of course, the decadent and delicious Swiss chocolates as well as Swiss cheeses like Emmental, Gruyère, Vacherin, and Appenzeller. Other famous Swiss culinary inventions include fondue and muesli.
The left bank and right bank areas are where all the best restaurants can be found and it is customary to make reservations in advance. For special occasions, the restaurants at the top of the Uetliberg have fantastic views. A service charge of 15 percent is usually included in restaurant bills and further tipping is unnecessary but leftover change is always appreciated.
Zurich's Festspiele (or Zurich Festival) is an annual celebration of classical music, art, theatre, opera, and dance that presents local and international artists of world renown status in venues around the Swiss capital. Special concerts, exhibitions and performances are held throughout the city in venues such as the famous Opernhaus Zurich, Kunsthaus Zurich, Theater am Neumarkt and some stunning open-air venues.
Be sure to grab a programme so as not to miss some of the cultural highlights of the year.
Every August in Zurich, the most colourful house and techno music parade in the world fascinates hundreds of thousands of dance fans from every continent around the world. Around 30 Love Mobiles, brightly decorated trucks packed with giant music systems, DJs and party people, drive at walking pace through the crowd of people around Lake Zurich.
In addition to these 30 mobile platforms, seven large stages along the route round off the contemporary electronic music selection with top DJs, live acts, multimedia and dance animations. Visitors should be sure to dress the part, in all kinds of colourful attire, to make the best out of their Street Parade experience.
Zurich's gay and lesbian event of the year, Warmer Mai is one of the city's first summer festivals and hosts an action-packed month of festivities. Aimed to showcase the cultural products of the gay and lesbian community, the festival showcases many entertaining theatre pieces, art exhibitions, film nights, talent competitions and sporting events over a 30-day period.
Enthralling themed parties hosted at various bars and clubs throughout the city keep the spirit of the Warmer Mai festival alive, as visitors dance and celebrate into the early hours of the morning.
Not the conservative city it used to be, the nightlife and entertainment scene in Zurich has come into its own, though visitors shouldn't expect it to be rip-roaring wild either. With most clubs closing relatively early, it's best to get a head start with a few early evening cocktails at a watering hole of the traveller's choice.
A good place to start is at one of the open-air bars for a relaxing drink before heading out to the trendy Zurich-West area, home to some of the city's hottest underground bars and nightclubs. The Old Town is also worth checking out, where Paradeplatz features a range of upmarket lounge and hotel bars.
The former red-light district of Langstrasse is the place to go for an edgier night of biker bars alongside strip clubs - just about anything goes in the area. Being more culturally oriented, concerts, theatre, ballet and opera dominate the scene here.
It's worth picking up a copy of the ZueriTipp, the weekly supplement to the Tages Anzeiger newspaper to see what's on when travellers are in the city.
Shopping in Zurich is a fantastic holiday experience. While traditional Swiss products may be watches, cuckoo-clocks and chocolate, there are also many upmarket boutiques and speciality stores (such as the one dedicated entirely to button sales).
The main shopping street is Bahnhofstrasse, home to department stores Globus and Jelmoli, and jewellery shops like Bucherer and Beyer, as well as fashion shops such as H&M. Fine Swiss chocolates (including Frey and Lindt), Swiss Army knives, embroidery, linen, Swiss watches, and handmade clocks are available from shops like Schweizer Heimatwerk and Confiserie Sprüngli. At Zurich Hauptbahnhof, Shopville is a subway shopping centre offering Swiss souvenirs and fine wines. Also close by, there's a flea market at Helvetiaplatz on Saturday mornings.
The Niederdorf district has trendy boutiques, 'modern' antiques and a few bookshops. Nearby, Schipfe is a street where artisans and craftsman offer quality and custom-made products. Elegant boutiques, department stores and speciality shops are clustered in the Old Town. International visitors may reclaim VAT but some conditions do apply.
Zurich is easy to navigate, and a modern, user-friendly network of trams and buses covers the city daily from 5.30am to midnight, with a more limited night service on weekends. Transport works on a zone system, and tickets are valid for an hour. Tickets are transferable but must be bought before boarding; they are also valid on some boats and local city trains. The most useful travel pass is the Tageskarte (one day ticket) that allows travel on all buses and trams for 24 hours; however, tourists should use the ZurichCARD which entitles the holder to unlimited free use of public transport. Travelling by taxi is expensive even by Swiss standards, but they are safe and convenient and can be hailed on the street, found at taxi ranks or ordered by phone. Getting around by car is not recommended due to congestion and expensive or scarce parking. From mid-April to mid-October, bicycles can be hired free from various stations. Walking is also a good option in the city centre.
Brimming with attractions and sightseeing opportunities to suit every kind of traveller, Zurich has wonderful monuments, museums and churches to explore.
Visitors can wander through the cobblestone streets of Niederhof and enjoy a light meal or cup of coffee while being entertained by the street performers and buskers. Culture vultures will love the Swiss National Museum, the Fine Arts Museum and the Museum of Design Zurich and children of all ages will love the Zurich Zoo, where endangered species such as snow leopards and red pandas can be seen.
Visitors keen on doing a lot of sightseeing in Zurich should purchase the Zurich Tourist Card, which includes access to transport services of Zurich Public Transport and offers free admission to over 40 museums, reduced admission to the zoo, a complimentary welcome drink in over 20 restaurants and a number of other benefits. The card can be bought for CHF 27 for 24 hours or CHF 53 for 72 hours.
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