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Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland, with a population of some 390,000 in the city proper and 1.2 million in the agglomeration area. Zurich is on Lake Zurich, where the lake flows into the River Limmat , in the north of Switzerland.
Zurich is the largest city of the Swiss Confederation (Switzerland) by land area and population. It is the financial centre of Switzerland and houses the stock exchange and the headquarters of a large number of national and international companies, and also home of FIFA's headquarter. German Swiss national and international media agencies as well as the German Swiss national TV channel company are also located here. Its two major universities, ETH Zürich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, 21 Nobel Prize laureats) and University of Zurich (12 Nobel Prize laureats) are listed among world's 15, or 50, respectively, best universities. You also find Google's world-wide second largest development center in Zurich.
Because Zurich is the central node of the Swiss-wide train network and also runs the biggest and busiest international airport in the country, it generally is the first place where tourists arrive. Because of the city's close distance to tourist resorts in the Swiss Alps and its mountainous scenery, it is often referred to as the "portal to the Alps".
Contrary to a generally wrongly made assumption, Zurich is not the capital of Switzerland -- the Swiss are very much a confederation of Cantons and avoid naming any one city as capital in order to prevent that Canton from seeming more important than the others. Still, the federal government is headquartered in Berne and not Zurich. Zurich has long been known for being clean and efficient. Due to this, it has been continuously ranked as the city with the highest living standard world-wide for many years. However, only for the last fifteen years it has truly become a fascinating and worthwhile travel destination. This is mostly thanks to the liberalization of the party (more than 80 clubs are open at weekends) and gastronomy sectors (over 500 bars and more than 1500 restaurants). An increasingly cosmopolitan population has helped (every third inhabitant is a foreigner), as well, though more button-down Geneva remains Switzerland's most culturally heterogeneous city. Zurich always used to be well known for a demanding audience in opera/ballet, classical concerts, and theater. You find more than 50 museums and over 100 galleries in a inner city circle. Traditionally, the majority of all 59 movie showrooms show a diversity of international and arthouse cinema productions mostly shown in their original languages with German and French subtitles.
The official language is (the Swiss variety of) Standard German, used in all official publications and announcements, or in any formal writing, and practically everyone can speak it, but the native spoken language of the masses is Swiss German. The most common dialect is called Züridüütsch (Zürich German), though quite mixed up with any of the many Swiss German dialects, because of Zurich's central importance and hence its high fluctuation. English and French are also quite widely spoken and often used in official publications and announcements alongside German. Any of these languages will do easily. Note that if you are a native German speaker, it is often wiser to speak Standard German rather than attempting to speak Swiss German unless you have a strong grasp on the dialect. Otherwise, some Swiss Germans will think you are trying to make fun of their language. If you are clearly a non-German foreigner, people will appreciate your effort and then switch to English, Standard German, or French.
Get in to Zurich
Zurich Airport (ZRH) (German: Flughafen Zürich-Kloten) is Switzerland's largest and busiest airport run with Swiss efficiency. The airport is actually part of the municipality of Kloten and a brief 12 minutes train ride from central Zurich. Trains run every few up to 12 minutes. Early in the morning and late at evenings trains run a bit less frequent, so if you travel at these times check the schedules here (ZVV: Zurich's city and suburban public transport system), or here (the Swiss country-wide integrated ticket and public transport system by the Swiss Federal Railways SBB-CFF-FFS).
Regular trains to and from other Swiss and European cities leave from and arrive at Hauptbahnhof (HB), the main railway station, conveniently located in the city centre at the beginning of Bahnhofstrasse, with easy access to mass transit. The Zurich Hauptbahnhof is served by suburban (S-Bahn), regional (RE) and long-distance trains (IR, IC and ICN) with connections throughout Switzerland, Germany's ICE, France's TGV, and various other direct (night) train services to/from as far as Amsterdam, Hamburg, Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Essen, Hanover, Munich, Stuttgart, Rome, Lecce, Milano, Paris, Barcelona, Salzburg, Linz, Vienna, Budapest, Zagreb, and Beograd.
Zurich's Main Station is an extremly high busy passenger node. There are between 350,000 to 500,000 commuters daily taking usage of this central network node. Put this into relation to Zurich's amount of inhabitants: around 400,000. Regarding the amount of trains daily entering and leaving a single railway station, Zürich's Hauptbahnhof is the world's most frequent railway station: 2915 trains every day!
Get around in Zurich
Zürich is famous for its highly efficient, clean and safe public transport system, owned by the several municipal transport agencies and managed by the Zürcher Verkehrsverbund (ZVV), which covers the entire canton of Zürich, plus some municipalities in bordering cantons for the passenger's convenience (in fact the 18x fare zones and some stops in zone 155). The network includes trams, buses (local city/municipality buses as well as the yellow bright Swiss PostAuto buses), suburban trains (S-Bahn), regular trains (SBB), cable cars and boats. The size and complexity of the network may be daunting at first, but you will soon realize that there are dozens of ways to get from one place to another and following any of them will still be efficient. ZVV's transport system is coherently and comprehensively integrated (fare-wise and timetable-wise) into Switzerland's Federal Railways system SBB-CFF-FFS, Swiss PostAuto bus network, and any cities/area's local bus and tram system of the covered area.
What to do
Take the Polybahn, a 19th century funicular, up the steep hill for a fine view. Starts at tram station Central and goes up to the ETH. Zone 110 ZVV ticket is valid. Nice terrace up there. During the week, the student cafeteria below the terrace is also open to the public.
Go skiing by train — Buy a snow'n'rail ticket (train & skipass) at the Hauptbahnhof during winter months, train out in morning, back in evening. Flumserberg is the closest large ski-resort, popular with people from Zurich, with a good range of runs for beginners and experts. Retreat to the right side of the resort if the rest gets busy.
Take a trip on the Zürichsee with one of the two old steam ships. There are a few different routes you can choose from, which will vary mainly in the distance. Or rent a small rowboat.
Go up Üetliberg, a hill overlooking Zurich. You can hike up, or take a train from the main station. Enjoy the 360 degree view from a tall viewing tower (not for vertigo sufferers!). This is also the start of the planetenweg (planetary walk), an 8 mile walk along the ridge with models of the planets along the way. These are scaled down in true proportion to the solar system. To look at Zürich from the other hills, go to the Irchel (Tram station Milchbuck) or Käferberg (Bucheggplatz, walk up the hill and keep right of the forest).
Go club-hopping — Zürich has proportionately the largest number of clubs per capita in Europe. Pick up a free copy of the 20 Minuten (20 Minutes) paper and start exploring.
Go for a bike ride! You can get free bikes, skates or other fun transport at several stops throughout town. Beware though that biking within the city is only for the experienced, as trams and buses frequent the roads and tram tracks are a serious hazard to inexperienced cyclists.
Go to a "Free Walk Tour Zurich" around the downtown of Zurich (every day at 11:00, Saturday and Sunday also at 13:00, meeting point before UBS building at Paradeplatz) or Zurich West. They usually offer to try out Swiss food and take visitors to places with restricted access.
The Grossmünster sometimes has organ concerts in the evenings. Check the front door for notices.
Take a 45 min train ride to see the largest waterfall in Europe, the Rhine Falls. Take the train from the Zurich Airport or Zurich HB (central station) to either Winterthur then transfer trains to Schloss Laufen (from April-Oct) or Schaffhausen then take the city bus #1 or #6 to Neuhausen Zentrum.
Buy in Zurich
Swiss clocks and watches
You may be disappointed to know that most of the cheap watches and clocks in Switzerland are imported from China and Japan for their cheap quartz movements (including most of the wall clocks and alarm clocks sold at department stores, for example). Don't purchase a "Migros Budget" clock for 8CHF thinking it is a Swiss clock! Nevertheless, real Swiss-made clocks are still well-known for their quality and reliability, and intricate mechanics. The following are true Swiss-made watches:
Swatch, possibly your best bet for a "cheap" Swiss watch (40-100CHF) and perhaps better suited for the younger generation. Available in their stores on Bahnhofstrasse and various other locations, or in department stores.
M-Watch, based on both Mondaine and Migros and available in Migros Electronics stores such as the one on the 2nd floor of the Lowenplatz location. Also relatively inexpensive (40-100CHF). Do not confuse this with "M-Budget" which is an imported cheap watch.
Mondaine is known for their use of the famous SBB railway clock face. You can buy a replica of the SBB clock as a watch or a wall clock in most major railway stations, among other locations. However, you should note that most of them do not replicate the hallmark smooth movement of the second hand for 58.5 seconds followed by the 1.5 second pause that is characteristic of real SBB railway clocks, but they do replicate the clock face. They are quartz, and the price may seem a little inflated to you (130-180CHF). The vast majority of SBB railway clocks are actually produced by Mobatime (Moser-Baer AG), not Mondaine, even though Mondaine's name appears on some of the larger clocks such as the Treffpunkt in Zurich HB. Mondaine's wall and desk clocks, however, are only of "Swiss design" and are manufactured in China and Taiwan.
Mid-range brands (100-500CHF) can be found at clock and watch stores throughout the city. Just walk in and have a look if you're interested. The upmarket Globus department store near the railway station also has a good selection.
Upper-end watches and clocks, such as Rolex, are also sold, but you should probably do more research into them than you can find here. If you just want to stare at some of the most expensive watches for sale, take a look at the Bucherer store window at Bahnhofstrasse and see what a 25,000CHF watch looks like.