I spent last weekend in Zürich, Switzerland, visiting a friend en route back to Canada to visit my family for the Easter break. I have visited Switzerland before, but I had never been to Zürich. Zürich regularly tops the lists of most liveable cities, among Vienna, Copenhagen and Vancouver. While these rankings are controversial and highly subjective, there is something to be said about the cities that top the lists. I have been living in Vienna for the past few months and it has much of what I need from a city: reliable and frequent public transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, cafés and restaurants, parks and green spaces, among other things. I instantly felt a difference between living in Brussels and in Vienna. Visiting Zürich for the weekend, I also felt this “liveability”. In this post, I will try to describe what makes Zürich such a liveable city.
Free water, free washrooms
It seems that lately my Masters programme cohort is constantly discussing public bathrooms and water fountains in the city. As young people who are often out and about in the city, we notice which cities have bathrooms we can use and places we can fill our water bottles. Brussels was a poor example, as one must always buy water in bars and restaurants and when you want to drop into a café or restaurant to use the bathroom, it costs 50 cents or so. I have even paid to use the bathroom in bars and restaurants where I have been a client and when a friend of mine visited me in October, he joked that he was constantly dehydrated.
Conversely, Zürich has an extensive network of water fountains, over 1,200 city-wide (according to my friend and this blog). They are nice fountains, serving as centers of squares large and small, but they also offer drinking water, and I regularly used them to fill my water bottle.
In addition, there are public bathrooms everywhere in Zürich. They are free and usually clean. Brussels had only public urinals near train stations, which a) are only for the use of men and b) were the source of a horrible stench.
A human-scale, walkable city
Zürich is extremely walkable. With less than half a million inhabitants, the city is compact and I walked most of the time I was there. In a rush? Residents can jump on one of the many trams and get to their destination with ease. The airport is only 20-minutes away via a direct train line. Transportation is no problem in Zürich and trains are uncannily on time.
Access to parks, green space and mountains
Just 12 hours into my stay in Zürich, I was on a train to Üetliberg, the “home mountain” of Zürich. Just 30 minutes from the central station, it was a great place to walk and hike and offers a beautiful view on the city.
The city is vibrant and full of young people. I saw many young people sitting in cafés and walking in the city during the day, and in the restaurants and bars at night.
There were lots of bike in Zürich. Considering its compact size, it is a great place to cycle (if you do not mind some hills). Most cyclists seem to have no fear of their bike being stolen, as they leave them outside buildings, locking only the wheel to the frame.
The city is full of water, sitting on Lake Zürich and cut by the Limmat river. One can spend hours walking along the lake or the river, and I spent much time doing just that.
Zürich is also changing, namely with brownfield redevelopment outside the historic center, in an area known as Zürich West. There are new buildings going up, interesting bars and cafés opening and former industrial buildings being re-purposed and renovated into shops, apartments and restaurants.
I have to mention that Zürich is a very expensive city: coffee runs 5-7 francs, a drink at a bar anywhere from 7-20 francs and dinner around 25 francs, minimum. That said, people living in Zürich usually make salaries that match the high cost of living. Although I can imagine that students have a hard time in the city, as well as un- and underemployed people, and it is certainly expensive to most tourists.