Switzerland’s largest city is also one of the most liveable in the world, with its clean and safe streets, rich cultural life and location on Lake Zurich.

Zurich is Switzerland’s largest city and the country’s banking and financial centre. It is also one of the most liveable cities in the world -- rarely out of the top spot in quality of life rankings -- with its entirely clean and safe streets, rich cultural life and providential location on the sparkling blue Lake Zurich.

What is it known for?
Zurich was once considered a buttoned-up banking town, and it is still a world financial centre that attracts multinational corporations and big businesses (Google’s largest engineering office in Europe is there), but the city shed its stuffed shirt reputation long ago. It has a hip arts district, groovy nightlife and bars, and is home to Street Parade, the world’s largest techno party, which attracts nearly a million people to the shores of Lake Zurich every August.

The city sits on the north point of Lake Zurich, where it flows into the River Limmat, and in the summer residents and office workers flock to the swimming areas on the river and beaches on the lake, such as the Frauenbad Stadthausquai (for women only) and Seebad Enge. “Swimming in the deep blue waters of Lake Zurich and the river is sublime,” said Adam H Graham, an American journalist who has lived in Zurich for a year. “Few cities offer such pristine water and swimming conditions. And at night, the spots turn into bars and clubs.”

The Altstadt, or Old Town, is bisected by the river, and the tidy cobblestone streets are lined with medieval buildings and Gothic church spires. Many lead into Banhofstrasse, the main shopping street, considered the most expensive in Europe, and where banking giants UBS and Credit Suisse have their headquarters.

Where do you want to live?
Zurich has 12 kreis, or districts, many of which contain multiple neighbourhoods. Once the city’s industrial zone, Zurich West in Kreis 5 attracts the city’s hip denizens with its cutting-edge design stores, art galleries, nightclubs and burgeoning culinary scene, as well as the 36-floor Prime Tower, the tallest in Switzerland, and new tram lines. Farther away from the centre and down the lakeshore, Wollishofen in Kreis 2 and on the other shore, Seefeld in Kreis 8 and Zurichberg in Kreis 7, are very popular. “Wollishofen and Seefeld are beautiful residential areas close to Lake Zurich, while Zurichberg is high above the city in woodlands with great views of the lake and the Alps,” said Casha Frigo Schmidiger of Engel and Völkers estate agents. The large villas in Zumikon and Küsnacht on the northeast Gold Coast of Lake Zurich are popular with wealthy buyers, and south of the lake, the cantons (states) of Zug and Schwyz have great transport connections to Zurich.

New construction is going on in the north and western part of Zurich and high property prices in the rest of city mean people look there for value. Near the main train station, an entire new development called Europaallee is set to be completed by 2019, with residential towers, hotels, restaurants, retail and offices. In Kreis 3, the areas around Idaplatz and Goldbrunnenplatz have become increasingly popular. “This is the sweet spot,” said Graham of these areas. “The creative classes ride their bikes to work, shop for organic food in Migros and have great views of Uetliberg, the local mountain.”

Side trips
Unsurprisingly, many Zurichers spend their weekends in the mountains. “Sometimes it seems like every Swiss person has a family chalet in their home canton,” said Graham. “But if you really want to find Swiss weekenders, go to the supermarkets just across the French or German borders. They’re full of Zurichers stocking up on discount groceries.” In the winter, many ski in the canton of Graübunden, in such towns as Leinzerheide, about an hour and a half away, and in the upper and lower Engadine Valley in villages such as St Moritz and Scuol.

Zurich’s central Europe location means France, Germany and Austria are as close as an hour away by train or car, Italy not that much more, and London is less than a two-hour flight. It is roughly 10 hours to Beijing and eight hours to New York.

Practical info
Downtown Zurich has limited inventory and property prices are very high in and around the city. “The demand for residential property is still high and values are up to eight percent higher than last year,” explained Schmidiger. “This is because of the low interest rates and the economic and fiscal state of Switzerland as compared to the surrounding EU countries.” The average house price in Zurich is 1.8 to 3 million francs, while a house in a prime location goes for anywhere from 5 to 15 million francs. Flat prices are around 7,000 to 10,000 francs per square metre, while average rent for a four-room flat is around 2,000 francs a month.

“The quality of life is really better here,” said Graham. “The city functions über-efficiently, making it easy, but not cheap, to get things done.”

Further information
The Local: English-language countrywide news
Newly Swissed: lifestyle blog covering art, design, food and travel in Switzerland
Two Fools in Zurich: ex-pat blog about life in the city, plus restaurant and nightlife recommendations