Downtown Switzerland. Live it. Love it.

Zurich, Switzerland's largest metropolis, always has a surprise in store for visitors. Cited over and over again as metropolis of choice as far as living standards are concerned, Zurich delivers on all fronts. Far from being the staid business town that many imagine it to be, Zurich is replete with excellent shopping opportunities, world-class entertainment, interesting museums and galleries, dance clubs, trendy bars, and cultural events ranging from the traditional Sechselaeuten to the avant-garde Free Style Event or the Street Parade.

Zurich is located on the Northern end of Lake Zurich, surrounded by forested hills. On a clear day, one can see all the way to the snow-capped mountains. With only 360,000 inhabitants it is hardly one of the world's larger urban centers and yet, Zurich offers everything one expects from a world-class city. Many poets, philosophers, composers and writers enjoyed Zurich's natural beauty and its worldly charm. Composer Richard Wagner, writers Gottfried Keller and James Joyce, to name just a few, spent time here. A stroll through Zurich reveals plaques and statues commemorating these larger-than-life personalities.

Zurich is best discovered on foot. Start from the train station, a focal point thanks to its central location and many shopping possibilities. From there, stroll down Bahnhofstrasse, one of the world's most famous shopping streets, home of many a name-brand boutiques. Then veer off to the Old Town, and climb the hill to arrive at the lovely plaza called Lindenhof. Already the Romans appreciated this vantage point. The Roman settlement here was called Turicum, which slowly evolved to Zurich. The first time Zurich is mentioned as a city in its own right was in 929. In 1336, the city was run by the guildsmasters. Huldrych Zwingli started the Reformation in Zurich in the 16th century and Zurich's fate as business center was sealed in the 19th century, with the advent of the Industrial Revolution.

While Zurich is a thoroughly modern city, the guilds of yore still play a fairly large role in one of Zurich's most traditional events: the Sechselaeuten. It is a typical spring festival, which takes place every third Monday of April. The members of the guilds, wearing historical costumes, organize a parade through the city. By early evening, they gather at the Sechselaeutenplatz, where a huge effigy of winter, called the Boegg, awaits its fate. As a torch is set to the Boegg, the guildsmen galop around the burning effigy.

The Street Parade is another yearly attraction that draws crowds from everywhere in the world. So-called Love Mobiles full of giddy dancers swaying to the rhythm of blaring music ride through the streets of Zurich. Love and tolerance are the order of the day, a true day to let your hair down.

The Old Town is clustered around the River Limmat and extends to the lake. It is punctuated by the spires belonging to three churches: the Cathedral, a gift to the city from Charles the Great, the St. Peter's Church sporting Europe's largest clock face (8.7 meters in diameter or nearly 29 feet), and the Frauenkirche whose valuable stained glass windows are by Marc Chagall. The Old Town is also where art galleries, antique shops, and well-stocked book stores are.

Zurich is a well-known shopping mecca: name-brands abound but it is also known for the high-end art sold at several prominent auction houses. Large department stores offering everything under one roof, small boutiques, and flea markets beckon to visitors.

Museums are a natural in this city. Some of the highlights include the Swiss National Museum, which traces Switzerland's history from the earliest beginnings to contemporary times, the Kunsthaus has a collection which includes works by Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti and painter Edvard Munch. The world-class opera house is in good company with the concert hall Tonhalle and a variety of theaters. Just like many other cities of the world, Zurich proudly presents newly reclaimed areas, such as the Western part of the city where the hip and young reside.

Gastronomy is writ large in Zurich: young and innovative chefs enthrall in the Western part of the city, while more established restaurants such as the Kronenhalle with its invaluable art and the historical guildhouses enjoy continued popularity. But entertainment does not stop there: fortified, one can enjoy a nightlife that includes a plethora of bars, discos, and dance clubs. But life also takes place in the streets: street artists and performers entertain till late in the evening.

Besides being a center for culture and commerce, Zurich also draws quite a few congresses and conventions. The city's congress infrastructure is much appreciated, as are the travel connections to the city.

Visitors tired of the urban life can escape effortlessly: an excursion on a lake steamer or to the local mountain, the Uetliberg are easily arranged. These trips are just as popular as visits to the zoo, to the astronomical observatory or to one of the beautiful villages on the outskirts of Zurich.

November 2002