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Cities in the Spotlight: Zürich, Switzerland

Updated: Mar 11

In today's installment of cities in the spotlight we will be looking at Zürich, Switzerland.


Zürich City Information

Zürich is the largest city in Switzerland and the capital of the canton of Zürich. It is located in north-central Switzerland, at the northwestern tip of Lake Zürich. As of January 2020, the municipality has 434,335 inhabitants, the urban area (agglomeration) 1.315 million (2009), and the Zürich metropolitan area 1.83 million (2011). Zürich is a hub for railways, roads, and air traffic. Both Zurich Airport and its main railway station are the largest and busiest in the country. Many museums and art galleries can be found in the city, including the Swiss National Museum and Kunsthaus. Schauspielhaus Zürich is considered to be one of the most important theatres in the German-speaking world. Zürich is among the world's largest financial centres despite having a relatively small population. The city is home to many financial institutions and banking companies.


Zürich Historical Significance

Permanently settled for over 2,000 years, Zürich was founded by the Romans, who, in 15 BC, called it Turicum. However, early settlements have been found dating back more than 6,400 years (although this only indicates human presence in the area and not the presence of a town that early). During the Middle Ages, Zürich gained the independent and privileged status of imperial immediacy and, in 1519, became a primary centre of the Protestant Reformation in Europe under the leadership of Huldrych Zwingli. The official language of Zürich is German, but the main spoken language is the local variant of the Alemannic Swiss German dialect, Zürich German.


Travel to Zürich

*taken from Lonely Planet*

Culturally vibrant, efficiently run and attractively set at the meeting of river and lake, Zürich is regularly recognised as one of the world's most liveable cities. Long known as a savvy, hard-working financial centre, Switzerland's largest and wealthiest metropolis has also emerged in the 21st century as one of Central Europe's hippest destinations, with an artsy, post-industrial edge that is epitomised in its exuberant summer Street Parade.

Much of the ancient centre, with its winding lanes and tall church steeples, has been kept lovingly intact. Yet Zürich has also wholeheartedly embraced contemporary trends, with the conversion of old factories into cultural centres and creative new living spaces. Nowhere is that clearer than in Züri-West, the epicentre of the city’s nightlife.


Must See Sites

Fraumünster; This 13th-century church is renowned for its stunning stained-glass windows, designed by the Russian-Jewish master Marc Chagall (1887–1985), who executed the series of five windows in the choir stalls in 1971 and the rose window in the southern transept in 1978. The rose window in the northern transept was created by Augusto Giacometti in 1945. Admission includes a multilingual audioguide.

Zoological Museum; Dinosaur skeletons, giant mammoths, sloths – the hands-on Zoological Museum of the University of Zürich is home to 1500 stuffed animals, with interactive exhibits that allow visitors to listen to whales singing or get close up to insects with a magnifying glass. It hosts a permanent exhibition, plus varying one-off events. The in-house cinema also shows free nature films twice daily.

Sukkulenten-Sammlung; Zürich is home to one of the largest collections of succulents in the world: more than 4500 species from more than 78 families. With seven greenhouses, an outdoor rockery, plus cacti, agaves, aloes and pennyworts in all manner of shapes, spikes and stature, the Succulent Plant Collection is free and full of surprises.

Focus Terra; This hands-on university museum reveals the treasures of the earth, explaining what makes volcanoes erupt, where gems come from and what fossils tell us about the origins of life. It even has its own earthquake simulator.


Must Try Food & Drink

Zürcher Geschnetzeltes; Traditionally prepared with sliced veal strips, cream, beef stock, white wine, and often with the addition of mushrooms, Zürich-style veal – popularly known as Zürcher geschnetzeltes – first appeared in cookbooks in 1947, but nowadays it is considered one of the classic dishes with origins in the Zürich region. The dish is typically seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika, and lemon juice. Although potato rösti is the most common accompaniment, it can also be served with rice, mashed potatoes, or tagliatelle pasta on the side.

Tirggel; Tirggel are traditional Swiss Christmas cookies made with flour, honey, and sugar. They are thin and very hard, characterized by images on the top which are usually associated with the Zürich Canton, romance, and Biblical stories. It is believed that the name tirggel is derived from the word torggeln, which refers to stirring a thick dough. The first written mention of tirggel can be found in 1461 witch trial court documents. The cookies were a luxury item in the 15th and 16th centuries, and before 1840, only city bakers had the rights to bake them. After 1840, all bakers could bake them, and they gained popularity over the years, so nowadays everyone can enjoy these crunchy festive treats.

Fondue; Fondue is Switzerland's national dish, a melting pot of different flavors and aromas, similar to the country itself–a melting pot of people and different cultures. Its name comes from the French word fondre, meaning to melt, and it was first described in Homer's Iliad as a mixture of goat cheese, flour, and wine. Fondue's key ingredient is cheese that is melted over a fire, with a lot of regional varieties and flavorful additions such as cherry brandy, white wine, or a sprinkle of nutmeg. It was invented out of necessity, when the alpine locals and traveling herders relied only on cheese, wine, and bread to get them through the winter. As the summer cheese dried out and bread became stale during the winter months, the people started to melt cheese with wine and dip pieces of stale bread into it. Traditionally, fondue is prepared in a flameproof casserole called a caquelon. The dish varies from region to region: fondue Neuchatel uses Gruyére and Emmental, fondue Vandois adds a lot of garlic, while fondue Fribourg is prepared with ripe Vacherin cheese. Pieces of bread are placed on traditional, long-handled fondue forks used for swirling the bread in cheese. According to local customs, if one loses a piece of bread in the pot, he or she has to buy a round of drinks for everyone involved in this unique and cheesy communal affair.

Glühwein; Glühwein is a type of mulled wine enjoyed in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. It is a staple at Christmas markets and is often enjoyed as an après-ski drink. This German version is a classic, combining red wine, citrus zest, and spices such as anise, cinnamon, and cloves. It is usually sweetened to taste. The ingredients are mixed and heated and should never be boiled. Variations sometimes use white instead of red wine, and some versions come with a liquor shot (mit Schuss). First bottled versions of German mulled wine appeared in Augsburg in the 1950s, and often these pre-sweetened and pre-spiced versions are reheated and served at Glühwein stands. One of the most interesting variations of the drink is called Feuerzangenbowle. It is made with a rum-soaked sugarloaf that is suspended over mulled wine and set on fire. The sugar then melts and slowly drips into the wine.


Travel Guide Books

Lonely Planet

Rick Steves

Rough Guides


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