The largest city in Switzerland with 380,500 residents, Zürich is also one of the oldest, with 7,000 years of a settlement under its belt. Just one look at the city’s beautiful surroundings on the northwestern tip of Lake Zürich and you’ll see why. The city is also a Mecca for shoppers, lovers of culture and those who appreciate fine cuisine. Zürich is a skier’s paradise in the winter with the slopes being easily accessible directly from the train station. According to several surveys Zürich is the wealthiest city in Europe and the city boasting the best quality of life in the whole world. Which I think might have something to do with the chocolate. Here’s a list of five of the most popular destinations in this beautiful and historical lakeside city.
The most imposing figures on Zürich’s skyline are the twin towers of the Grossmünster, a church whose construction began back in the year 1100. A lot has been done to this Romanesque-style treasure during the centuries that followed, but one thing remains the same: Climbing to the top of the tower still gives you the best view of the city in the city. Just be warned that the stairs are quite small and quite steep. The legend goes that the original church on this site was founded by none other than Charlemagne, whose horse fell to its knees over the tombs of Zürich’s patron saints Felix and Regula. Before that it was a burial ground for the Romans. Whatever the true origins of the church, it now offers an amazing look at the past, from its great carved portal featuring medieval columns and grotesques to its Romanesque crypt dating back to the 11th. Richard Wagner famously compared the church’s appearance to two pepper dispensers. The three-star Altstadt Hotel is right down the river bank from the Grossmünster.
Directly on the other side of the Limmat River is the Grossmünster’s perpetual competitor, the Fraumünster. Though smaller than its neighbor, the Fraumünster is also older, dating all the way back to the year 853 CE. Like the Grossmünster, the Fraumünster once boasted a convent, granted by King Henry III in 1045, so as you can imagine, the rivalry hit its stride throughout Medieval times. The monastery buildings were destroyed in 1898 to make room for the new Stadthaus, and Münsterhof, the town square in front of church, is named after the abbey that once stood there. the Fraumünster’s most famous feature dates back only to the year 1970 when Marc Chagall created five stunning stained glass windows for the church, comprised of, 1. Prophets, depicting Elijah’s ascent to heaven, 2. Jacob, displaying his combat, and dreams of heaven, 3. Christ, illustrating various scenes of Christ’s life, 4. Zion, showing an angel trumpeting the end of the world and 5. Law, with Moses looking down upon the suffering of his people. If you want to stay in a classic hotel right across the street from the Fraumünster, there’s the four-star Hotel Savoy Baur en Ville.
Set in a vintage 1898 French Renaissance Zürich building, the Swiss National Museum (Landesmuseum) is one of the most important art museums of cultural history in Europe and the rest of the world as well. Set right next to the Hauptbahnhof, the museum features exhibits showing the complete history of the city, from prehistory through ancient times and the Middle Ages to the 20th century. You’ll be amazed at all the Gothic art, the comprehensive collection of panel paintings and carved altars and the porcelain and faience collection. In fact, the Landesmuseum boasts a dizzying collection of over 820,000 objects, making the largest collection of Swiss cultural history and handicraft. Don’t miss the Swiss Furniture and Interiors exhibition or the eleven paneled period rooms dating from 1898. The Hotel Arlette Beim Hauptbahnhof provides three-star luxury right across the river from the museum.
Zürich’s contribution to the great art museums of the world is one of the best places in the world to see the work of modern Swiss sculptor Giacometti and the surrealist 18th century Swiss painter Fuseli. And that’s only the beginning. The Kunsthaus Zürich houses one of the most important art museums on the continent, with vast holdings including over 4,000 paintings and sculptures running from the Middle Ages to contemporary art. Here you’ll find work by Edvard Munch and Jacques Lipchitz, along with work by Swiss artists such as Johann Heinrich Füssli and Ferdinand Hodler. Dutch Old Masters like Rembrandt, Ruisdael, van de Cappelle and Kalf can be found on the museum walls, as well as Impressionists and Post-Impressionists like Géricault, Manet, Cézanne and van Gogh. More recent artists like Pipilotti Rist and Peter Fischli are also well-represented. One block away from the Kunsthaus is the 1835 manor housing the four-star Claridge Swiss Quality Hotel Zürich.
New York has its Fifth Avenue, Berlin has its Kurfürstendamm, and Zürich has its Bahnhofstrasse. One of the world’s most expensive and exclusive shopping avenues and some say the third most expensive street for retail property in Europe, the 1.4 kilometre Bahnhofstrasse runs from the railway station at the Bahnhofplatz, past Rennweg, Augustinergasse and Paradeplatz and on to the Bürkliplatz on Lake Zürich. Along the way, you can get anything from diamond rings to fur coats. Globus and Jelmoli are two fiercely competitive department stores, Swatch is there, along with many more traditional watch stores and the two biggest Swiss banks, UBS and the Credit Suisse Group, have their headquarters there. You can also do some shopping at the Apple Store, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Giorgio Armani, Cartier, Bvlgari, Prada, Hermès and so many other premium stores. But the street’s sweetest location must be on the Paradeplatz where you’ll find the crème de la crème of chocolate shops, Confiserie Sprüngli. For a classic Zürich hotel experience right across the street from the train station, there’s the four-star Hotel Schweizerhof Zürich.