12 Things Zurich is Known and Famous For

The capital and crown jewel of German-speaking Switzerland, Zurich is one of the country’s favorite destinations for travelers from all over the world. But how much do you know about the largest metropolitan area in the Alps?

Zurich is famous for its excellent quality of life, elite universities, and stunning views from across the lake. Zurich is also known for its distinctive dialect and historical significance throughout European history.

Want to know more about what Zurich is known and famous for? Let’s take a look and find out everything there is to know about Zurich!

1. Scale

Beautiful view of historic city center of Zurich with famous Fraumunster Church and Munsterbucke crossing river Limmat

Zurich sets many physical records for Swiss, and to some extent for European towns as a whole. It is by far the largest city in the country, despite never having been the capital.

This puts things into perspective about just how compact most other places in Switzerland are – even metropolitan Zurich covers just about a tenth of the land area of New York!

2. Finance

Entrance of historic bank building of Swiss bank Credit Suisse at Parade Square at City of Z├╝rich.
Editorial credit: Michael Derrer Fuchs / Shutterstock.com

Another big record set by Zurich is its importance to the global financial system.

Plenty of other places in Switzerland vie to compete with it in this regard, along with other European big cities like Frankfurt, Milan, and London.

But it’s really hard to overstate just how much influence this industry in Zurich holds over the banking, insurance, real estate, foreign exchange, and other fields around the globe.

From Credit Suisse to UBS and countless other famous names, plenty of the world’s most important financial institutions are Zurich-based companies.

Ever wanted to be ‘in the thick of it’ and see how globalized capitalism works from behind the scenes? You could do a lot worse than checking out Zurich, that’s for sure.

3. Uetliberg

Aerial view of Uetliberg mountain in Zurich, Switzerland

Flanking the city from the Southwest, Uetliberg is a major mountain peak that has for decades served as one of the area’s main attractions due to its stunning views of the city down below.

Sitting at an elevation of about 870 meters (2,850 feet) above sea level, climbing to the peak of Uetliberg is quite a feat – but rest assured it’s very much worth it.

Once there, you’ll be able to kick back and relax at one of Zurich’s most prestigious Michelin-starred hotels. You’ll also get a good close-up view of the city’s famous telecom tower!

4. A Gateway to Europe

Bombardier SBB Twindexx Vario InterRegio train at Zurich Airport railway station in Switzerland.
Editorial credit: Markus Mainka / Shutterstock.com

Since Zurich is situated near the Northeastern edge of Switzerland, reasonably close to Bern and Basel, it makes for an excellent home base to use as a springboard for discovering the European continent.

Germany, France, Italy, and Austria are as accessible as from just about anywhere else in the country – but what makes Zurich stand out are the excellent international transportation hubs you will only find here and nowhere else.

Zurich is famous for hosting Switzerland’s largest and busiest airport and railway station, meaning both travel by air and land are equally feasible and common.

Save for Paris and Berlin, there are hardly any other cities that are as interconnected with the rest of Europe as Zurich is.

5. Wealth

Well-dressed woman in Zurich

It might sound like an exaggeration, but there are very few places in the world that can compete with the kind of purchasing power, wealth, and income level that exists for the average person living in Zurich.

Thanks to a strong currency, the presence of those aforementioned global financial institutions, and excellent public infrastructure, your money goes farther in Zurich than almost anywhere else worldwide.

It’s actually more difficult to find a job here that doesn’t pay a sustainable living wage than one that does! It goes without saying that even some of Europe and North America’s most well-developed locales would kill to have a slice of that quality-of-life pie.

6. Z├╝richdeutsch

Road sign attention pavement, translation of text Trottoir (Swiss German) ist pavement, at City of Zurich, Switzerland.

Zurich is the capital of the canton of the same name, which in turn occupies much of the heartland of the German-speaking region of Switzerland.

Despite that, the most widely-spoken language here is not Standard High German, and it isn’t the kind of Swiss German you’d hear in other cantons either.

Instead, Z├╝richdeutsch is a unique dialect that only really exists within and around the Zurich area.

Considered tricky for foreigners (even from other parts of Switzerland) to master, it has traditionally created a barrier between native Z├╝rchers and the millions of expats who have moved here over the years for work or study.

As someone who speaks Standard High German myself, Z├╝richdeutsch carries a very unique and strangely foreign sound with fewer similarities than you might expect – I’d compare it to Cajun English, or perhaps Haitian Creole for French speakers.

7. Protestant Heritage

Zurich Great minster (Grossm├╝nster) church towers at summer.

Almost all of Switzerland is majority-Protestant today, unlike many of its neighboring countries, and that’s no coincidence.

Switzerland gave birth to important figures of the Protestant movement, such as John Calvin who would later go on to define the doctrine known as Calvinism.

Calvin may have spent most of his life in Geneva, but have you heard about Ulrich Zwingli?

Perhaps lesser-known today though no less important historically, Zwingli was one of the foremost champions of the Reformation during the 16th century, helping spread the revolutionary sentiment of Martin Luther (who also spent a long time living in Zurich) and his contemporaries.

Today, Protestant churches and memorials to Zwingli dot Zurich’s old town – a sign of his enduring impact.

8. Educational Excellence

View of the ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich), a world-famous science and technology university in Zurich, Switzerland where Einstein studied.
Editorial credit: EQRoy / Shutterstock.com

Perhaps a bit unconventionally, the aptly named Zurich University is not the most distinguished educational institution that Zurich is known for worldwide.

Instead, the campus that keeps drawing in some of the world’s best and brightest year after year is the ETH Zurich – a polytechnical college dedicated mostly to engineering, mathematics, and other fields relating to STEM and the natural sciences.

Within its scope of research, the ETH has topped global university rankings for decades – and if that’s an indication of future success, you can expect it to remain on top for a long time to come.

9. Luxury Shopping

Shopping street at Zurich old city center, Switzerland.
Editorial credit: Bitkiz / Shutterstock.com

Close to the aforementioned main railway station you’ll find the Banhofsstrasse (literally “train station street”).

One of the busiest and most revered places to be in Zurich, this boulevard houses just about every example of Swiss opulence you can think of.

You have your fine watchmakers, your $1,000-a-bottle wine, priceless jewelry – and, of course, plenty of chocolate.

All that in addition to the household international brands no high street would be complete without makes Bahnhofsstrasse a top destination for both dreamy window-shoppers and connoisseurs for whom money is no object.

10. Lake Zurich

Boats on Lake Zurich in Switzerland, summits of the Alps in the background

The city of Zurich is situated right at the edge of the lake of the same name, offering stunning views (especially during the warmer months) and plenty of opportunities for watersports, a very popular local pastime.

Blissfully clean and usually warm waters make that one of the most pleasant experiences you can have in the country.

Lake Zurich actually extends so far that there are dozens of towns that have formed on its banks – though Zurich is by far the largest of them all.

Zurich is known among locals for its vibrant, if unpredictable nightlife. To get a glimpse of what that can look like, I only have one advice: stay out late, and keep to the lake. If you’re lucky, you’ll see.

11. The Old Town

Scenic summer sunset view of the Old Town pier architecture and Limmat river embankment in Zurich, Swizerland

Despite the modern, cosmopolitan appeal of contemporary Zurich, the beating heart of the city where most people go to have fun and enjoy themselves remains the historic Old Town.

Called Niederdorf by the locals, it’s a bit of a clash of worlds. On the one hand, you have the cobblestone alleys and beautifully restored historic churches, and just about everything else you’d expect from any major European tourist destination.

On the other hand, just around the corner you can find nightclubs, movie theaters, restaurants and bars of every genre, and more.

Niederdorf might have started out as a historic town center, but it’s become so much more for Z├╝rchers.

12. The Street Parade

Street Parade in Zurich. Crowd of visitors from all over Europe celebrating freedom, love and tolerance
Editorial credit: Alexander Chaikin / Shutterstock.com

Remember the Love Parade? That celebration of rock, electronica, and libertine, progressive attitudes might have come to an end in 2010, but it’s birthed a spiritual successor in the form of the Street Parade.

Apart from a change of location – from Berlin to, where else, Zurich of course! – the Street Parade still follows much of the same formula today. Traveling alongside Lake Zurich, the scenery’s only gotten more picturesque, and the festival itself has grown tremendously.

Every single year, the equivalent of three to four times the permanent population of Zurich travels here from all over the globe to witness the parade! It goes without saying that Zurich is now quite famous for its role in hosting this event alone.

And that concludes this list. Do you know anything else that Zurich is known for? Share it in the comment box below.

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