Zürich is the largest city in Switzerland and the capital of the canton of Zürich. The city is located in north-central Switzerland at the outflow of the Limmat River on the northwestern side of Lake Zürich. The city is located at 408 meters above sea level at the lower (northern) end of Lake Zürich in the valley of the Limmat and in the lower valley of the Sihl, nestled between the heights of Uetliberg in the west and Zürichberg in the east. The Limmat rises from the lake, while the Sihl, which flows west of the lake, empties into the Limmat north of Zürich's Old Town near Platzspitz. The old town stretches on both sides of the Limmat, which first flows northwards and then gradually turns west in an arc. The former town did not extend as far as the Sihl but had as its western boundary the Schanzengraben, which was built in the 17th and 18th centuries. At that time, part of the water was diverted from the lake and led back to the Limmat in a ditch outside the bastions and bulwarks.
The main attraction of Zurich is the well-preserved old town to the left and right of the Limmat. A visit starts best at Central-Platz opposite the main station, leads to Bellevue-Platz on the lake, where the Limmat is crossed, via Münsterplatz to Bahnhofstrasse, via Urania to Lindenhof, via Peterskirche back to the town hall, from where you can get back to the lake or back to the train station via the Limmatquai.
In the old town on the right-hand side, the old town hall in Renaissance style, the Romanesque Grossmünster, the starting point of the Reformation under Zwingli, and the guild houses along the Limmatquais are particularly noteworthy. The tower of the Grossmünster is accessible and offers a good view of the old town. Furthermore, a model of the medieval city of Zurich can be viewed in the city archive at Neumarkt, at Spiegelgasse 14 is the temporary domicile of Lenin. On Zähringerplatz, next to the Central Library, stands the Gothic Predigerkirche with the Predigerchor, which, however, is separated from the church and divided with intermediate floors. The best way to discover the sights is to stroll through the Niederdorf and the Oberdorf. In the Niederdorf there are many pubs, snack bars, and cafés. The old town on the left bank of the Limmat also offers interesting alleys with medieval houses. Noteworthy are the Fraumünsterkirche for its windows by Marc Chagall and the painted cloister by Paul Bodmer as well as the Peterskirche with the largest tower dial in Europe (diameter: 8.7 meters). The Gothic Augustinian Church has been the parish church of the Christian Catholic Church since 1873. Worth seeing is the Lindenhof, from which there is a beautiful view of the old town. The municipal offices, which were built by Gustav Gull in the early 20th century, dating back to more recent times.
Around the old town lies the city of the 19th century, built in the style of historicism, which has replaced the former baroque city buildings of the 17th and 18th centuries between Bahnhofstrasse and Schanzengraben. Internationally known is the Bahnhofstrasse, which leads from the main station to the lake. It is flanked by upper-class houses and newer commercial buildings. Traditionally, numerous banks, exclusive boutiques, and jewelry shops can be found here. Particularly worth seeing is the Paradeplatz on the upper Bahnhofstrasse with the dominant headquarters of the major bank Credit Suisse from 1873 and the headquarters of the famous Confiserie Sprüngli. The main station itself is also worth a look because of its preserved old station hall. In front of the station is the monument to Alfred Escher, a Swiss economic pioneer, and initiator of the construction of the Gotthard railway. Behind the station is the castle-like building of the Swiss National Museum and behind it the Platzspitz Park between the rivers Sihl and Limmat. On Bärengasse near Paradeplatz, there is also – a remnant of the former Baroque buildings of this quarter – a branch of the National Museum of the History of the City of Zurich; another branch is the Zunfthaus zur Meisen (porcelain and faience collection) in the old town. Worth seeing is the Blüemlihalle at the entrance of the police station in Amtshaus I on the Limmat not far from the main station, designed between 1923 and 1925 by Augusto Giacometti.
On the lakeshore is the headquarters of the Swiss National Bank and numerous representative buildings from the turn of the century. The lower lake basin of Lake Zurich, i.e. the section that lies within the city limits, is lined with parks, on the left side of the lake on the Mythenquai the Landiwiese and the Engewiese, on the right bank of the lake the Park am Zürichhorn there and at the front of the lake are company headquarters of renowned companies, important hotels such as the Baur au Lac and cultural buildings such as the Kongresshaus with the Tonhalle or the Opera House.
Above the old town on the right-hand side is the university quarter. This is dominated by the main buildings of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) by Gottfried Semper and the university. From Central Platz you can take the Polybahn to the Polyterrasse in about two minutes, from where you can enjoy a particularly spectacular view over the whole of Zurich. Numerous institute buildings in the vicinity of the main buildings are also worth seeing, especially the observatory of Semper and the old chemistry building of the ETH. Near the ETH is the Catholic Church of Our Lady with remarkable interiors in neo-Romanesque style. If you follow Rämistrasse from the university towards Heimplatz, which is popularly known as "Peacocks", you will reach the university's Institute of Law, in whose courtyard a library building by Santiago Calatrava was opened in 2005. On Heimplatz itself is the Schauspielhaus, a theatre with international appeal, and the Kunsthaus, with changing exhibitions and a permanently accessible collection with a focus on Picasso, Munch, Monet, Giacometti, and Chagall. On the Hirschengraben are, as a remnant of the older buildings, the baroque palaces «Haus zum Rechberg» and «Haus zum Kiel». as well as the "Neuberg" group of houses with Empire furnishings worth seeing.
The main attraction of the zoo on Zürichberg is the Masoala Rainforest Hall, which is unique in Europe. Of the various city parks, the (new) Botanical Garden of the University and the China Garden, a gift from the twin city of Kunming on the shores of Lake Zurich, are particularly worth seeing. Somewhat hidden is the rose garden of the Muraltengut in the narrow. In the same quarter is also Belvoir Park, which is one of the earliest landscaped gardens in the region and stands out with its views of the lake, the city, and the mountains among Zurich's parks. Right next to it is the Museum Rietberg in the Villa Wesendonck and Park-Villa Rieter with a focus on Asian and Islamic art. Close to these museums is also the Zurich Succulent Collection.
In addition to cultural and historical sights, the city also has extensive green areas with original vegetation just a few kilometers outside the city center, which are also suitable for challenging mountain hikes. On the Albis chain is the Fallätsche, an erosion funnel that is slowly overgrown with vegetation again and often makes a name for itself with larger breaks. A hiking trail worth mentioning is the Denzlerweg on the slopes of the Uetliberg, which leads through dense forest from the Kolbenhof in an almost direct line to the Uto-Kulm and lets the visitor forget the nearby city in a short time. On the other side of the lake on the Zürichberg, there are also longer hiking trails, for example, the path from the mill Hirslanden to the Trichtenhauser mill.
As of January 2020, the municipality of Zürich had 434,335 inhabitants, the urban area 1.315 million (info for the year 2009), and the Zürich metropolitan area 1.83 million (info for the year 2011). Zürich is a hub for railways, roads, and air traffic. Both Zürich Airport and Zürich's main railway station are the largest and busiest in Switzerland. The municipal area of the city of Zürich covers an area of 91.88 km², of which 4.1 km² is on Lake Zürich. It covers the upper part of the Limmattal natural settlement area, a section of the northern Swiss plateau. The canalized and partially straightened Limmat does not flow in the middle of the valley, but always along the right (northeastern) edge of the valley. At 392 meters above sea level, the lowest point of the municipality is reached on the Limmat near Oberengstringen.
On its western side, the Limmat valley is flanked by the wooded heights of the Albis chain, the Uetliberg, and the Buechhoger, on which the western municipal boundary runs. The Uetliberg, the local mountain of the city, forms at 870 meters above sea level the highest elevation in the surrounding area. Its summit can be easily reached with the Uetlibergbahn. From the platform of the Uetliberg observation tower, there is an impressive panorama of the city and the lake and, on a clear day, as far as the Alps. To the south, the municipal soil extends into the lower Sihl valley.
To the northeast of the Limmat valley is a chain of hills marking the watershed between the Limmat and the Glatt. From northwest to southeast, the height of the mostly forest-covered peaks increases: Hönggerberg (541 meters above sea level), Käferberg (with Waidberg, 571 meters above sea level), Zürichberg (676 meters above sea level), and Adlisberg (701 meters above sea level). Between the Käferberg and the Zürichberg is the completely covered saddle of the Milchbuck (about 470 meters above sea level), an important transition from the Limmat to the Glatt valley. The northernmost part of the municipality extends into the plain of the Glatttal and into the depression, which connects the Glattal and the Furttal. Part of the Katzensee (nature reserve) and the Büsisee, both of which are drained by the Katzenbach to the Glatt, also belong to the municipal area.
Permanently settled for over 2,000 years, Zürich was founded by the Romans, who called it Turicum. However, early settlements have been found dating back more than 6,400 years (although this only indicates the human presence in the area and not the presence of a town that early). It became a free imperial city in 1262 and a member of the Swiss Confederation in 1351. During the Middle Ages, Zürich gained the independent and privileged status of imperial immediacy and, in 1519, became a primary center of the Protestant Reformation in Europe under the leadership of Huldrych Zwingli. To this day, it is regarded as the starting point of the worldwide Reformed Church and the Anabaptists. In the industrial age, the city experienced its rise to today's economic metropolis of Switzerland.
The official language of Zürich is German, but the main spoken language is Zürich German, the local variant of the Alemannic Swiss German dialect. 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.
Zurich is considered the economic center of Switzerland. The entire economic area in and around Zurich is also referred to as the Greater Zurich Area. Internationally, it is characterized in particular by low tax rates and high quality of life, which is why some international corporations have their headquarters in Zurich. In 2018, 5.4% of the population were millionaires. This makes Zurich the city with the third highest density of millionaires in the world, behind Monaco and Geneva. Due to its international economic importance, the city of Zurich is often counted among the global or cosmopolitan cities.
Zürich is home to many financial institutions and banking companies. With its main railway station, the largest railway station in Switzerland, and the airport (which is on the territory of the municipality of Kloten), the city of Zürich is a continental transport hub. Due to its major banks (including UBS, Zürcher Kantonalbank, and Credit Suisse) and insurance companies (Zürich Insurance Group and Swiss Re), it is an international financial center and the largest financial center in Switzerland, followed by Geneva and Lugano. In addition, the city is home to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zürich and the University of Zürich, the two largest universities in Switzerland. Despite the comparatively small number of inhabitants, Zürich is counted among the cosmopolitan cities. Zürich is the most important center of the Swiss media and creative industry. With its location on Lake Zürich, its well-preserved medieval old town, and its wide range of cultural activities and nightlife, it is also a center of tourism. For years, Zürich has been listed alongside Basel and Geneva as one of the cities with the highest quality of life in the world and at the same time next to Geneva with the highest cost of living worldwide.
The economy is very strongly oriented toward the service sector, in which almost 90% of Zurich's workforce work. Around 10% is employed in the industrial sector and less than 1% in agriculture today. With an employed resident population of 200,110 (as of the 2000 census), the city has 318,543 jobs. The majority of employees (56%) were commuters from other municipalities. In addition to the approximately 178,000 commuters, there are around 39,000 commuters from the city.
The most important economic sector in Zurich is the financial services sector, which has its center on Paradeplatz. The two big banks UBS, the world's largest asset manager, and Credit Suisse, the Swiss National Bank, the Zürcher Kantonalbank, the traditional private bank Julius Baer, and several smaller banking institutions are based in the city. More than 100 foreign banks are also represented in Zurich. Around 45,000 people are employed in the Zurich banking center, almost half of all bank employees in Switzerland. Private banking is of great importance, as more than 25% of the world's cross-border assets are managed in Zurich (around one-third in Switzerland). The SIX Swiss Exchange also plays an important role internationally and reinforces the importance of the Zurich financial center. It is one of the technologically leading stock exchanges in the world. Zurich also represents the world's third-largest insurance market. Swiss Re, one of the world's largest reinsurers, and Swiss Life, Switzerland's largest life insurance group, have their headquarters in Zurich. Another insurance company of international importance is the Zurich Insurance Group. The entire financial services sector generates almost 50% of the City of Zurich's tax revenue.
The second most important economic sector is business-related services such as legal and management consulting, IT, or real estate management. Worth mentioning is the company IBM Switzerland, which operates an important research laboratory in Rüschlikon. Since 2004, Google has also been operating the European research center in Zurich. On the former site of Hürlimann AG, the company's second-largest location after Mountain View was established.
As a result of structural change, the importance of the manufacturing industry and construction industry has declined. However, major industrial companies still have branches in the city of Zurich, such as Siemens. The electrical engineering group ABB also has its headquarters in Zurich.
Among the other sectors of the economy, the following should be mentioned in particular: the largest Swiss retail group Migros, the world's largest chocolate producer Barry Callebaut, the two largest automobile dealers AMAG Group and Emil Frey Group, as well as the largest Swiss travel group Kuoni.
Not least thanks to Zurich's cultural diversity, tourism has also become an important economic factor in recent years. Every year, the city of Zurich receives around nine million day tourists and two million overnight guests, the majority of whom also stay in Zurich on business.
The Limmat Valley is almost completely overbuilt (residential and industrial areas, commercial zones). Also densely built-up are the sun-exposed and preferred residential areas on the Zürichberg and Waidberg as well as the lower slope sections on the western side of the valley on the Uetliberg. Over the Milchbuck the development extends into the Glattal and the adjacent areas.
The green lungs of the city include the extensive forest areas of Adlisberg, Zürichberg, Käferberg, Hönggerberg, and Uetliberg. Important green areas are also located along the lakeshore (Zürichhorn and Enge). Furthermore, the built-up area is loosened up by parks and gardens. Larger contiguous agricultural areas lie in the area of Affoltern and Seebach.
In the 1996 survey, 45.4% of the total area of the city of Zürich (excluding the lake) was attributed to settlements, industry, and commerce, 15.5% to transport, 26.5% to the forest, 11% to agriculture, and 1.2% to water. In 2004, around 93% of the area designated as a building zone was overbuilt.
Zürich is located in the temperate climate zone. Characteristics for the climate of Zürich are on the one hand the winds from western directions, which often bring precipitation, on the other hand, the Bise (east or northeast wind), which is usually associated with high-pressure locations and brings cooler weather phases in all seasons than would be expected on average. The foehn wind, which is important in the Alpine valleys and on the edge of the Alps, normally has no special climatic effects on Zürich.
The annual mean temperature for the normal period 1991–2020 at the measuring station of the Federal Office of Meteorology and Climatology (MeteoSwiss) in Zürich-Affoltern at 443 meters above sea level is 9.8 °C, with the coldest monthly mean temperatures measured in January at 1.0 °C and the warmest in July at 19.2 °C. On average, around 105 days below 0°C are expected here. There are around 51 summer days on average per year, while normally there are 11 to 12 hot days. The Zürich-Affoltern measuring station has an average of 1662 hours of sunshine per year. The 1022 mm of precipitation falls throughout the year, with higher amounts measured in the summer half year and especially during the three summer months due to the convective precipitation than in winter.
From a geological point of view, Zürich is located in the Molasse Basin of the Swiss Plateau. In the course of the Tertiary, the basin was filled with the erosion debris of the resulting Alps, whereby the sediments can be divided into different layers. Deposits under marine conditions are referred to as marine molasses and those under fluvial conditions as freshwater molasses.
Of importance for the Zürich area is the Upper Freshwater Molasse, which was deposited in a period about 16 to 5 million years ago. It consists of an alternating layer of hard sandstone banks and soft marl layers and is particularly evident on the Uetliberg and on the hills east of the city. By means of a deep borehole, a layer of molasse deposits more than 1000 m thick would be found in the subsoil of Zürich before the sediments of the Jurassic period would be encountered.
The region received the decisive landscape overstamp from Zürich through the advance of the Rhine-Linth glacier during the various ice ages. The glacier deepened and widened existing valleys and created new valleys. The Limmat Valley and the Glatt Valley are filled with gravel from the Ice Age as well as with other sediments from the post-glacial period. The traces of the Würm glaciation are still most clearly visible. During the so-called Stadium of Zürich (about 20,000 years ago), the moraine wall was formed, which closes Lake Zürich in the north. It is marked by the ridge between the lake and the Sihl valley, by the height at the Lindenhof in the old town, and by the Burghölzli, while the Sihl valley absorbed the meltwater flow at the edge of the glacier.
Literature and sources:
Duncan J. D. Smith: Only in Zurich – A travel guide to unique places, secret places, and unusual sights. Vienna 2012,
Max Schultheiss, Andreas Motschi, Nicola Behrens: Zürich (Gemeinde). Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz. URL: https://hls-dhs-dss.ch/de/articles/000171/2015-01-25/, 9. January 2022,
Michael Pause, Ulrich Tubbesing: Zürcher Hausberge. AT Verlag, Aarau 2000,
Stadt Zürich, Präsidialdepartement, Statistik Stadt Zürich: Statistisches Jahrbuch der Stadt Zürich. Zürich 1905–2017,
Susanna Heimgartner: Zürich komplett (Regenbogen Reiseführer). Regenbogen, Zürich 2005,
Stadt Zurich, URL: https://www.stadt-zuerich.ch/portal/de/index.html, 9. January 2022.