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Two-Minute Tour: Zürich

Home to the famous Bahnhofstrasse shopping district, this city is Switzerland's largest

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The Numbers
Zürich is the small country of Switzerland’s largest city, with an official municipal population of about 400,000, and nearly 2 million in the metropolitan area.

It is also one of Central Europe’s oldest cities and still has the narrow streets and architecture of a compact medieval town to prove it. (Its Bahnhofstrasse shopping district can be crossed on foot in about 20 minutes.)

For a modest-sized city, it is one of the world’s largest financial centers, home to SIX Swiss Exchange, most of the big Swiss banks and such international financial companies as Credit Suisse and Swiss Re.

No wonder it’s near the top of almost all lists of the world’s most expensive cities. Mercer’s (New York) most recent cost of living survey ranked Zürich third in the world, behind only Luanda, Angola, and Hong Kong.

The Pulse
Amid all of those discreet bankers in their silent towers, Zürich is a thriving, modern city, full of shopping, dining and nightlife.

Zürich also ranks high among European cities for its quality of life. It’s clean and attractive, filled with bike paths, waterways and parks. Jazz clubs prevail along with bierstubes and oom-pah bands.

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The Hot Spots
The Bahnhofstrasse thoroughfare – which cuts through Zürich’s altstadt, or old town, on the east side of the River Limmat – is “the most expensive street for retail property in Europe, and the third most expensive worldwide,” according to the New York-based international real estate company, Cushman & Wakefield.

It’s home to such international luxury flagships as Burberry, Bulgari, Cartier, Chanel, Dior, Armani, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Prada and Montblanc.

But Zürich isn’t all European luxury. Buildings in Zürich West, an old shipbuilding neighborhood, have been converted into art galleries, design boutiques and an assortment of restaurants and bars, all clustered im viadukt – under the old railway arches – in what The New York Times called “a gritty haven for the city’s creative class.”

Obstacles and Opportunities
Every international retailer wants to be on Bahnhofstrasse. But the strip is less than a mile long and has room for only about 140 commercial properties, so the cost of entry is high, at roughly $900 per square foot.

“Bahnhofstrasse’s retail space is undoubtedly competitive,” says Marco Feusi of the Zürich retail consultancy, Wüest & Partner. “Current tenants either do not want to leave or are looking for more space, while everyone from Geneva, New York and Stockholm wants to get in.”

Hublot, the Swiss luxury watchmaker, spent two years searching for a location on the Bahnhofstrasse. “Zürich is not a Swiss city,” says Jean-Claude Biver, ceo of the LVMH subsidiary, “Zürich is a world city. It’s one of the 20 shopping destinations that really matter.”

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