Long a commercial and banking destination, Zurich has emerged as one of Europe's hippest cities that is anything but staid. Stunning architecture and culture sit alongside a buzzing art scene and nightlife while the beautiful lakeside setting is an added bonus. Although, not Switzerland's capital, Zurich is the country's largest city in terms of both size and population with a history dating back many centuries. Traces of Neolithic and Bronze Age settlements have been found around Lake Zurich, it was then colonised by the Romans followed by the Germanic Alemanni tribe. It became an Imperial Free City in 1218 and an original part of the Swiss Confederacy which was established in the 14th century. Rapid expansion took place in the 19th century with the arrival of the railway while the transformation of the lake front saw a change from a medieval town to an attractive modern city.
Whether you take a guided tour through the narrow streets of the medieval Old Town or set your own leisurely itinerary, you'll find Zurich never fails to delight. Marvel at the remains of the city's Roman past, slip into shady churches and then enjoy a spot of people watching over a cup of coffee or hot chocolate in one of the stately city squares. Sitting alongside its ancient history is evidence that the city is embracing the contemporary with factories and warehouses converted into cultural centres and entertainment hubs, especially in Züri-West, the hub of the city's nightlife. This is a destination that seamlessly blends the indoors and the outside as the shimmering waters of Lake Zurich are set off by its alpine backdrop.
Zurich's annual calendar is full of events and festivals with something to suit all ages and everybody's tastes and interests. Horse lovers, history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts and fans of film and theatre are catered for while other festivals reveal a colourful blend of religious and pagan ritual. One theme that runs through all the events is food and drink with hearty dishes such as veal geschnetzeltes with noodles, fondues and raclettes in plentiful supply washed down by the pale lagers that the Swiss love.
Things to do
Zurich has enough attractions to keep you busy for many days and probably more than one visit. Wander through the medieval and Renaissance buildings of the Old Town and, if you're an art lover, indulge yourself in its numerous museums and galleries. When a break from culture is needed, hire a bike and take a gentle ride along the shores of the lake or treat yourself to a spa day. Or, better still take to the lake on one of the city's beautifully restored steamboats or hop on a train for the short journey into the mountains.
A cultural feast for the eyes
The Swiss National Museum is housed in a Neo-Gothic extravaganza of a building and showcases Switzerland's history with nearly a million exhibits dating from prehistory to the modern day. The archaeological collection is one of the finest in Europe while the watches and scientific instruments are a testament to Swiss ingenuity.
The most expensive streets in the world
The pedestrianised Bahnhofstrasse is one of Europe's most attractive shopping streets with its public art, fountains and trees as well as one of the most expensive places to shop in the world. If the fashion, jewellery and high-end goods aren't quite within your budget there's no harm in a spot of window shopping.
The home of world football
Whether you're a football enthusiast or not it would be a shame to miss the FIFA World Football Museum with its interactive exhibits and experiences. This huge multi-media space explores every aspect of football from its earliest days and also holds the original World Cup trophy. With its bars, restaurants and shops it's easy to spend a whole day here.
A sweet temptation
Switzerland is known for its chocolate and pastries and since it opened its doors in 1856 Sprüngli has been satisfying the sweet tooth of both locals and visitors. Feast your eyes on the truffles, cakes, bonbons and Luxemburgerli macaroons that fill the windows before entering the genteel surroundings for morning coffee, lunch or afternoon tea.
A visit to the zoo
Zurich Zoo really cares about its animals and that shows in the surroundings. Snow leopards hide in their Himalayan landscape while flying foxes have a huge tropical rainforest to enjoy. A taste of Thailand has been recreated for the elephants in the Kaeng Krachan Elephant Park where babies are successfully reared each year.
Annual events in Zurich
Celebrate the start of Spring alongside the locals and watch a symbolic snowman go up in flames or come to the city later in the year and enjoy al fresco theatre productions on the beautiful shores of the lake.
Sechseläuten Spring Festival: As blossom appears and the daylight hours lengthen in April the citizens of Zurich come out to celebrate. Originally started by the guilds over 4 centuries ago this festival day involves a colourful parade and the burning of a huge "Böögg" or snowman, a symbolic driving out of Winter.
Zurich Theatre Festival: This highlight of the cultural calendar takes place over 18 days in late Summer with 13 stages set up on the shores of the lake, a small artificial island and in an old shipyard hall. Here up to forty productions from around the world are staged.
Street Parade: August sees one of the largest techno-parades in Europe and is the city's largest annual event. Regularly attracting up to a million participants it is a march for freedom, tolerance and love that brings a party atmosphere to the shores of the lake.
Zurich Film Festival: Held in October this festival has firmly established itself on the international film circuit since its beginnings in 2005. It provides large audiences for emerging filmmakers from around the globe as well as providing an important cinematic forum.