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Zurich

Switzerland's largest city is surely among the most beautiful in all of Europe, and even today, Zurich retains much of its 19th-century charm. Situated on the northern shore of Lake Zurich in the heart of the country, the city is both large enough to offer all amenities to its visitors and small enough for you to discover on your own.

Zurich is the capital of a canton of the same name that joined the Swiss Confederation in 1351. Most of the more than 380,000 residents speak a form of German called Schwyzerdütsch (Schweizerdeutsch, in standard German). A former seat of the Reformation, Zurich is a staunchly Protestant -- some say Puritan -- city.

Although Zurich is highly industrialized, its skies remain relatively unpolluted because the factories run on electricity. Zurich is also a major center of international finance; the headquarters of five major banks are on Bahnhofstrasse, in the heart of the city. The bankers are sometimes referred to as gnomes because many of the banks store mountains of gold in underground vaults.

Zurich produces one-fifth of the nation's income, but it's far from being a dreary city of commerce. It's long been a great center of liberal thought, attracting such scholars as Lenin, Jung, Joyce, and Mann. The Dadaist school was founded here in 1916. And the increase of visitors in the last 2 decades has spurred the development of a livelier nightlife and entertainment scene.

Built between the wooded slopes of the Uetliberg and the Zürichberg, Zurich is split by the Limmat River. There is no finer pleasure to be had in Zurich than walking along its quays, which line the banks of the Limmat and Lake Zurich. Sailboats and motorboats take visitors across Lake Zurich. Zurich's Altstadt (Old Town) is one of the most intriguing in Switzerland, with two giant cathedrals and dozens of streets ideal for exploring at leisure. It is also a city of parks and gardens, with a particularly outstanding botanical garden.

While based in Zurich you can also take easy side trips to some of the most panoramic views of Switzerland, including to the Uetliberg, the king of picnic spots and known as the "top of Zurich."

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