Zurich, also known as "Downtown Switzerland", is the little big city that has it all. More than the fabled bank vaults under Bahnhofstrasse, Switzerland's largest city is both quaint and cosmopolitan, with, in correct Swiss fashion, public clocks displaying the correct time.
Displacing the Helvetii Celts, the Romans built a customs station on the Limmat River and called Turicum, thus giving Zurich its name. After the Romans stuck around for a few centuries, Charlemagne was the next big name presence in town. He is said to have done the groundbreaking at Grosssmünster Church where a statue of his likeness is still found today. Later, the Austrian Habsburgs tried to dominate the city, but were kicked out by Rudolf Brun, the guild leader who would become Zurich first mayor in 1336. Those guilds managed to hold onto to their independent power until modern times, and still run the unique-to-Zurich April holiday Sechseläuten, a day of refined medieval pageantry topped off with a proper goodbye to winter: an exploding snowman.
Today's Zurich is a multifaceted place, with a three-dimensional personality sure to charm any visitor. Just as the traditional Sechseläuten fits in with Zurich's fine art museums and galleries, alternative culture thrives in city landmarks like the Rote Fabrik, while the now-revamped former industrial quarter Züri West is home to Switzerland's trendiest nightlife and other offbeat hot spots. August's Street Parade is further proof that Zurich embraces its duality. The annual techno music celebration takes over the city center with a tour de force that is as infectious as the thumping beats coming from the speakers.
Zurich packs a lot of punch into a small space. Compact and well organized, the city is easily navigated on foot, by public transport, or by bike. Many of Zurich's main attractions are located within walking distance of each other within the pedestrian friendly Old Town. The area also has plenty of good restaurants and charming cafes when you need to take a break from seeing the sites. Zurich's public transportation system is amazing. Efficient and dependable, the city's trams and buses can get you to any city or suburban destination on time. Another great way to see Zurich is by bike. The Züri Rollt program offers a selection of bicycles that can be borrowed for free during the day or for a minimal charge over the course of several days. During the summer months, Züri Rollt has bike stations all over the city in addition to the main one by the train station.
Zurich is a green city that takes the environment seriously. The Limmat River and Lake Zurich are so pristinely clean that you can see all the way to the bottom. Both bodies of water are awash with public swimming opportunities that make Zurich feel like a beach resort in the summer. Sandwiched between Uetliberg and Zurichberg, Zurich also has forest-hiking trails within the city limits and a short train ride away. Otherwise, the best of Swiss outdoor life is easily accessible from Zurich's Main Station. As one of the major travel hubs within Switzerland, it is possible to catch trains out to Switzerland's world-class ski resorts and top notch hiking trails. The Swiss even make it financially attractive to do so with special Ski n' Rail tickets that offer discounted lift tickets when you travel to the slopes by train.