It’s not called Switzerland’s trend-setting city for nothing…
As Switzerland’s largest city and a major global banking and finance hub, Zurich is often mistaken as the capital of Switzerland. But while Zurich may not take out the top title (that would be the country’s fifth largest city, Bern), this vibrant and dynamic city is considered the commercial, cultural and political capital of Switzerland, and for good reason.
With its location right in the heart of Switzerland, Zurich is a modern, cosmopolitan hub that is regularly ranked as one of the world’s top cities for quality of life. A city of just 400,000, its boutique size grants its locals and visitors all the convenience of city life with the kind of charm and natural beauty usually reserved for Europe’s smaller, countryside towns.
It’s also considered Switzerland’s trend-setting city thanks to its highly innovative arts and creative scene. Quintessentially avant-garde, Zurich was not only the birth place of Dada, widely thought of as the most iconoclastic movement of all time, but also the place where the Freitag bag and world-renowned Helvetica typeface originated.
Creativity is the blood that runs through Zurich’s veins, and it’s no coincidence that Zurich is home to one of the biggest universities in Europe devoted to creative expression – the Zurich University of the Arts.
But what exactly makes Zurich so cool? While all 12 of Zurich’s neatly divided districts (this is Switzerland, after all) are worth seeing, there are a few areas in particular that are must-sees for fans of art, design and architecture, and one of those miss-it-and-you’ll-regret-it neighbourhoods is the ever surprising Zurich West…
District 5: Zurich West
Once an industrial wasteland to the west of Zurich where ships and cars were built, this district has transformed over the past ten years, becoming a trend-setting pocket of bright lights and colourful urban culture. Always changing, Zurich West’s creative-focused lifestyle is quickly unfolding and attracting more locals and visitors to its footpaths and parks every year.
The blue-green shimmering Prime Tower is Zurich’s tallest building, a sparkling, glass-clad construction soaring 105.5 metres above the fashionable Zurich West district. This is also where you’ll find Clouds restaurant, located on the 35th floor and offering diners spectacular views over the city, lake and mountains.
Frau Gerold’s Garten
‘Mrs Gerold’s Garden’ opened in the summer of 2012 at the foot of the Prime Tower, as a modular city garden with its own garden, kitchen, art marketplace and collection of boutique shops. A popular place for social hangouts and events, the ‘garden’ sheds its skin each season, with the area a sun-drenched terrace, lush garden and open-air bar haven in the summer, and a cosy winter bolthole in the winter, replete with a wooden pavilion and specialty restaurant.
Freitag Flagship Store
Just next door to Frau Gerold’s Garten is the iconic Friday container tower – the flagship store of cult Swiss bag brand, Freitag (Friday) and a rusty, architectural marvel that attracts people from all over the world to Zurich West. Made from 19 stacked shipping containers that once made their way all over the world by sea, the 26 metre-high building is fondly known as the ‘Bonsai Skyscraper’ and houses four floors of individual recycled freeway bags from the renowned Zurich label, Freitag. At the ‘summit’ of the recycled skyscraper is a commanding view of the former industrial quarter that is Zurich West.
The 500-metre-long area under the arches of the railway viaduct that was built in 1894 is one of Zurich West’s must-visit spots. With the district’s burgeoning urban culture breathing new life into this long under utilised space, the viaduct arches have become a ‘leisure and pleasure mile’ of delicatessens, studio galleries, sport and fashion boutiques, restaurants and event spaces. An urban meeting place to stroll, shop, eat, drink and socialise, at the heart of it all is the Market Hall where 20 farmers and food vendors from the area offer their produce.
Still in the hipster haven of Zurich West is the architectural marvel that is the Löwenbräu Areal, a small art district in Zurich with plenty on offer. A former brewery converted into a cultural centre, the traditional, industrial building is juxtaposed with two, modern high-rises that stretch overhead. You’ll find museums, galleries and art publishers, making it a favourite destination among international artists, tradespeople and art enthusiasts. Don’t miss the Migros Museum of Contemporary Art, where you’ll find 1300 modern works by Swiss and international artists the likes of Urs Fischer, Yoko Ono and Ugo Rondinone.
Museum für Gestaltung Zürich (Museum for Design)
Switzerland has long been a world leader in the fields of design and visual communication, and Museum für Gestaltung is Switzerland’s sole institution dedicated to documenting the evolution of design since 1875. Located in a listed building that’s a perfect example of Swiss modern architecture, the museum shows Swiss design through four collections: Poster, Design, Graphics and Applied Art encompassing more than 500,000 objects. This trailblazing museum is also one of the leading institutions in Europe, known for its experimental exhibitions.
Other areas to meander in Zurich West include the large atrium of the new University of the Arts, the sprawling Josefwiese meadow with its outdoor café and the impressive hall with trendy bar, Nietturmbar, in the old ship building establishment.
Just next door in District 4, once the area’s red-light district, you’ll find The Langstrasse, where, like District 5, many artists, architects, designers, fashion designers and innovative gastronomes have settled over the past decade. As a result, it has emerged as a cool and cosmopolitan playground for trendsetters. There’s a plethora of second-hand stores and markets selling food and handicrafts, indie cinemas showing art-house movies, laid-back cocktail bars and casual global eateries that reflect the area’s vibrant mix of old and new, and exotic and early Zurich influences, combined with historical and modern elements. Also home to the city’s biggest nightlife scene, the Langstrasse is considered one of Zurich’s most multicultural, diverse and vibrant districts.
The Kunsthaus Zürich
This museum in District 7 has Zurich’s most extensive collection of modern art and is a must-see for all art lovers. It has the largest collection of work by Munch outside Norway, the most comprehensive museum holdings of art by Alberto Giacometti, and important paintings by Monet, Picasso, Chagall, Kokoschka, Beckmann and Corinth. The New York School – Pollock, Rothko and Newman – is also represented, along with Pop Art from Europe and America.
National Museum Zurich
Switzerland’s most frequently visited museum of cultural history traces the country’s past from its origins to the present day. Showcasing everything from legacies of art and crafts to ordinary everyday objects, the museum reveals the life of the Swiss, from prehistory to the present. The 100-year-old building recently received a modern extension, but the museum building itself, set between the main train station and the Platzspitz Park, is reminiscent of a fairytale castle. You won’t be disappointed.
MuDA – Museum of Digital Art
Situated on the ground floor of Zurich’s first high-rise building, the MuDA is Europe’s first museum dedicated to digital art and presents stunning exhibitions of international and Swiss artists using programming language to bring their works of art to life.
Bruno Weber Park
Move over, Gaudi. The Swiss have their own obsessed, eccentric architect, and his name was Bruno Weber. The artist, specialising in fantastic realism, spent more than 50 years building a universal artwork on the edge of the forest above Dietikon and Spreitenbach in Zurich. His walkable art space embodies the interplay between physical architecture and nature, and is regarded as Switzerland’s largest sculpture park creation by a single artist. The dreamlike world created by this dedicated artist conveys a personal understanding between mankind, nature and the living environment.