Top 20 liveable cities / Zürich
03 - Zürich
In Zürich, small and perfectly formed has turned out to be both a blessing and a curse.
Those who have never been there imagine this Swiss finance capital to be inhabited by grey men wearing ill-fitting suits, shuttling the world’s money around while living off fondue. Perhaps this was the case 20 years ago, but today it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Across the spectrum from high to low culture, the city has become truly cosmopolitan. Bahnhofstrasse is a far more elegant shopping street than Bond Street. The contemporary art market is one of the most prestigious on the continent, with a stronger local collector base than those of Berlin and Paris – which is why so many foreign galleries have recently moved to Zürich. For those with more populist tastes, the nightclub scene brings DJs in from across the globe, especially during Street Parade, the annual electro weekend which can turn the city streets into a million-person party.
The city’s quality of life and internationalism has also attracted technology corporations. An economic development agency empowered to grant attractive tax breaks has helped, but Zürich’s strongest selling-point to business is brainpower. The raw talent pool at ETH Zürich, often called “the MIT of Europe”, was a key factor in Google’s choice to place its European outpost in Zürich. Likewise, IBM and Microsoft have major research facilities in the suburbs.
Yet all this economic development has not detracted from the things that have made Zürich attractive for decades. Drive 20 minutes in virtually any direction and you’ll find yourself in the sylvan Swiss countryside. In the summer, businessmen regularly strip off their suits to dive into the lake at Seebad Enge (others prefer the Limmat river’s see-and-be-seen scene at Oberer Letten); in winter, the closest ski slopes lie less than an hour away.
If it sounds like paradise, there’s one caveat: Zürich still feels like a small town. But it’s easy to escape: the airport is 12 minutes from the centre of town.
International flights: the airport serves 82 European and 42 intercontinental destinations every week.
Crime: murders, 27; domestic break-ins, 2,210 (2006).
State education: ETH University is a major selling-point for corporations. State high schools are highly selective and attended by children of local elite.
Health care: Zürich’s clinics attract the international set for treatment and the city’s hospitals are also world class.
Sunshine: 1,765 hours (2005).
Temperature: in January the average temperature is -1C, in July 18C.
Wired: mobile coverage is perfect except in exceptionally thick or obscured buildings; the system rarely collapses except at midnight on New Year’s or during Street Parade. Wi-Fi points are relatively easy to find: Swisscom has almost 100 in Zürich and many bars and cafés have them.
Tolerance: slight xenophobia towards poorer foreigners, none towards rich. The gay population is active, although the Swiss tendency toward discretion keeps a fair number closeted/discreet. Women often perceive a glass ceiling at work.
Drinking and shopping: bars are open until 02.00, nightclubs open until 04.00 earliest. There is a strong illegal club scene. Most shops close at around 18.00 or 19.00 and are shut all day Sunday; this does not apply to garages and the red-light district or transport hubs.
Transport: taxi prices are steep and the quality low – cars are old and the drivers miserable. Public transport is plentiful and punctual. There are 100km of tramlines and there is a free-bike scheme in operation. Some 160,000 people use Zürich’s public transport system every day.
Local media: Neue Zürcher Zeitung is the top German-language newspaper. All major Swiss media in German is based in Zürich, including Ringier Group and TA Media, so there is an active and competitive media scene.
International media: you can buy all the major newspapers and magazines at the train station and in speciality shops.
Green space: 39 per cent of the city.
Access to nature: within just 15 minutes it’s possible to be in a forest, within 45 minutes a ski resort.
Environmental initiatives: strong recycling laws. Rubbish bags are mandatory and cost about €1.50. A city electricity company offers a solar energy option. Strong mass-transit and car-sharing programme.