Zurich : the west bank
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Emerging on the south side of the station into hectic Bahnhofplatz, you’re met by a statue of Alfred Escher, a prominent nineteenth-century politician and industrialist who is credited with single-handedly leading Zürich into the modern business age. In an inspired piece of statue placement, he gazes down Bahnhofstrasse, one of the most prestigious shopping streets in Europe, an enduring symbol of Zürich’s wealth and a fascinating counterpoint to the quaintness of the Niederdorf alleys. This is the gateway into the modern city, and is where all of Zürich comes to walk, snack and shop, whether to browse at the inexpensive department stores that crowd the first third of the street, or to sign away Fr.25,000 on a Rolex watch or a Vuitton handbag at the understated super-chic boutiques further south.

Two-thirds of the way along the boulevard is Paradeplatz, a tram-packed little square offering some of the best people-watching in the city. It’s around here that the frippery retreats and Zürich’s serious money begins: the streets off Paradeplatz are home to more banks, insurance companies and top-name designer outlets than you could shake a stick at. Most major Swiss banks are headquartered around here – no small matter, when you consider that just one of them, UBS, has assets of around $600 billion, roughly the same as the Swiss gross national product. With Zürich being the world’s largest gold market, it’s a sobering thought to consider that Bahnhofstrasse, if not paved with gold, is at least founded on the stuff, countless ingots piled high in well-protected vaults beneath your feet.

Bahnhofstrasse ends at the hectic and unromantic paved Bürkliplatz, departure point for all boat trips on the lake and boasting a fabulous view of the Zürichsee and its eastern “Gold Coast”, named for the mansions and grandiose public buildings lining the shore that bask all summer long in the afternoon sunshine.

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