The largest city in Switzerland
(though not the capital – that’s Bern) and the country’s major economic and transport hub. From a dark-tourism perspective it’s less significant, but a couple of attractions make it worth spending a day or so in the city.
More background info:
Zürich is an ancient place going back to before Roman times. It became part of the early Swiss confederacy in the Middle Ages and in 1848 part of the new federal state of what is modern Switzerland
. Zürich is the capital of the canton of the same name. It was very briefly the federal capital too, in 1839/40, but has long since yielded that title to the smaller city of Bern further south-west.
From the mid-19th century Zürich grew, both through immigration during the industrial revolution and through the incorporation of surrounding communities. The city’s status as a transport hub began with the first Swiss railway line from Zürich in 1847, and the present grand Hauptbahnhof (main station) building dates back to 1871 and remains the biggest of its kind in the country to this day.
Waterway transport has also played an important role, both on Lake Zürich and on the Limmat River that flows out of it. Today, Zürich’s international airport is also the busiest in Switzerland. In addition to being a transport hub, Zürich is also major financial centre – as you would expect in a banking country like Switzerland.
Zürich has long ranked as one of the cities with the highest quality of living in the world, according to ranking lists by various magazines and the asset management firm Mercer
(occasionally even topping such lists – against competitors such as Vienna
, Vancouver, Copenhagen and Auckland).
However, this comes at a price, as the cost of living here is also very high. This is also why tourists find the city extremely expensive. Although: that does not apply across the board. Relatively affordable hotel accommodation can be found, for example, whereas eating and drinking out do indeed slash a traveller’s budget in Zürich fast – even more so than in much of the rest of Switzerland
with its generally high price levels.
What there is to see: Not all that much from a dark-tourism perspective. But the following two places within Zürich warrant their own separate chapters here:
Other than those there isn’t much to see for the dedicated dark tourist. However, when I was there I felt obliged to make the pilgrimage to the grave of James Joyce
in the Fluntern Cemetery
to the east of the city centre near the zoo at the end of the No. 5 and 6 tram lines. Why did I feel obliged to visit this particular grave? It’s because my middle name is Ulysses, chosen by my father because of Joyce’s principal work of that title at a time when my Dad would treat that book almost like a personal bible. I’ve never actually managed to read that very modern novel in its entirety, but I still make my little pilgrimages when I’m in a place with a connection to James Joyce (see e.g. also Pula
in the central northern part of Switzerland
, so within the German-speaking part, at the northern end of the large lake called Zürichsee.
Google Maps locators:
Access and costs: easy to get to; can be quite expensive
Details: Getting to Zürich is easy by train from all directions. If you’re coming from far away and have to fly to Zürich’s international airport, then you can get a train from there to the central station. Driving to and in Zürich in your own vehicle is not recommended because of the limited parking in the city centre.
Getting around is easy by tram and/or bus – if you have a Swiss Travel Pass, public transport in Zürich is included.
Accommodation options are plentiful, and around the central train station various comparatively affordable places can be found. But of course you can also splash out.
Eating out is inescapably quite expensive in Zürich, and having wine with dinner in a restaurant costs so much that it can bring tears to your eyes. It must be licensing taxes – because in the supermarkets bottles of wine aren’t that much more expensive than in neighbouring countries. But in hostelries you have to hold back and be careful.
For just the places specified here, a single day could be sufficient if you time it right (note the very limited opening times of the Moulagenmuseum
!). But you may want to add another day or two for seeing some more of the city at a leisurely pace.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
see under Switzerland
Combinations with non-dark destinations: The old centre of Zürich has plenty of charm and is compact enough to be explorable on foot. This Old Town stretches along both banks of the Limmat River south of the central train station down to the shores of the Zürichsee lake. The narrow cobbled alleyways are a delight and in between there are four main churches of considerable antiquity (going back to the Middle Ages), with St Peter’s Church featuring the largest clock faces in the country on its tower (also fitting for a country so obsessed with watchmaking and clockmaking).
A superb spot for a good view over the city is the Lindenhof park high above the western banks of the river affording sweeping views over the eastern side of the Old Town.
Within the eastern Old Town you can find the reinstated Cabaret Voltaire art centre – which a century or so ago was one of the birthplaces of the Dada art movement.
Some attractions are further away from the centre and require public transport, such as the Le Corbusier House south of the centre on the eastern banks of the Zürichsee. More art can be found in the former industrial quarter to the north-west of the central station, such as the Migros Museum of Contemporary Art, the Kunsthalle Zürich and the design museum (Museum für Gestaltung).
The university quarter on the hillside to the east of the Old Town has more specialist museums in addition to the Moulagenmuseum
, e.g. the Palaeontological Museum and the Zoological Museum. And to the south of this there is yet more art at the Kunsthaus Zürich.
An alternative art and cultural centre can be found on the western banks of the lake south of the centre in the form of the converted former factory “Rote Fabrik”.
- Zurich 1 - Limat River and city centre
- Zurich 2 - view down from Lindenhof
- Zurich 3 - view down to the Limat River and the city hall
- Zurich 4 - the lake and the opera
- Zurich 5 - biggest clock face in the country
- Zurich 6 - the Swiss really love their clocks
- Zurich 7 - Swiss flags galore
- Zurich 8 - painted Uni building
- Zurich 9 - grave of James Joyce