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In Switzerland’s most affluent city, a relaxed spirit focuses on the water

Zurich's Pride festival and parade takes place each June. Credit:

The largest, most affluent city in Switzerland, Zurich has long ranked among the world’s best cities in terms of quality of life. It takes just a day or two of walking the pedestrian-only shopping districts, relaxing at the sidewalk cafés, or getting safely around town on the ubiquitous trams to feel quite at home.

On the surface, Switzerland is quite neatly divided, almost Balkanized, into its German, French and Italian pieces. The marriage has its squabbles, but the confederation, officially dating from Aug 1, 1291, endures and has kept Switzerland, in its mountainous redoubt, out of much of the warfare that ravaged Europe since then. English, as a second language, is spoken by almost everyone.

Much of the city’s relaxed spirit focuses on the water. Zurich is situated on a lake surrounded entirely by lush parks. Fresh, clear water flows into the lake from glaciers in the Alps, which provide a picturesque backdrop to the city. Boats are plentiful. The Limmat, the river that flows from the lake through the historic city centre, is banked by pedestrian promenades with outdoor bars and cafés.

Zürich Airport is one of the busiest in the world. It’s located about seven miles north of the city. Swiss International Airlines, the national airline, is exactly what you’d expect from its namesake: an efficient and comforting way to make your way across the ocean. Service is meaningfully engaging, and details are managed properly. Tyler Brûlé, the gay founder of Wallpaper and Monocle magazines, oversaw the airline’s makeover a few years back.

Getting to the main station in the city centre is easy and takes only 10 minutes, with departures every 10 minutes during peak periods. This is the best link for anyone staying in the city’s core.

Much of Zurich’s gay scene is in Altstadt — or Old Town — along and around the picture-postcard cobblestone streets and alleys around Niederdorf Strasse. Situated between Zurich University and the Limmat River, the area is full of cafés, bistros, restaurants, bookstores and boutiques. It’s a short walk from the Hauptbahnhof, the city’s main train station. Besides being a transportation hub of trains, buses and trams, this main station has an underground shopping centre that’s open on Sundays and holidays, when most other shops close.

Zurich Pride organizes celebrations that take place each year in June.

Many visitors may never get beyond Old Town, as there are so many things to see and do there, but a number of other gay businesses can be found around Langstrasse, a short distance from the tourist haunts. Great foreign cuisines and bargain shopping can be found hereabouts, too.

Popular attractions in Zurich include the Alter Botanischer Garten, the unique botanical gardens by the university district; the pedestrian-only Bahnoffstrasse, a shopper’s heaven; and the Fraumünster Church, with its Chagall windows.

For the most up-to-date travel information on gay Zurich, see our City Guide, Listings Guide, Events Guide and Activities Guide.