Zürich Trains, Trams and Public Transport Tour by Andrew Nash
There’s lots to see in a city with such a wonderful public transit system as Zürich. Here’s a short list of my favorites:
Zürich Trams – For many people just riding around Zürich on one of the VBZ’s trams is an experience … here everything works. The trip is smooth and comfortable. Look out the windows and enjoy the ride. … But if that’s not enough the VBZ also offers special trams depending on the season. They operate an “Apero Tram” on Thursday evenings and during the summer of 2013 they operated a Sushi Tram. During winter they often operate a Fondue Tram and last year they operated a tram with people playing folk songs from Zürich. All these trams offer a drink and trip around the city, often in a historic vehicle. Check the VBZ website to see what’s happening when you visit.
The museum operates historic trams on weekends and on special occasions (photo on the left is the Easter Tram in 2013) to the tram museum (Zürich Museumslinie 21).
Zürich Hauptbahnhof – Zürich’s Hauptbahnhof is a small city. In fact, the Swiss National Railway has created a department called RailCity that considers stations to be shopping malls with trains rather than train stations with shopping. This concept works quite well from the perspective of creating clean, attractive, and lively stations, and also helps generate income to support more trains. Zürich’s Rail City consists of shops, restaurants, and public spaces on the train level, and one level underground. Shops in railroad stations can be open on Sundays and are allowed to remain open late during the week – making them highly popular.
It’s fun to just walk through the Zürich Hauptbahnhof to see how the historic architecture has been integrated into the new transportation functions. Often there is something happening in the original train hall, which has been converted into a large covered open space surrounded by an arcade. During the summer there’s often a farmer’s market on Wednesdays from about 11 am until 7 pm, a great place to have a picnic or to gather one.
Funicular Railways – There are three funicular railways in Zürich that are operated as part of the regular city transit network. They are:
- Polybahn (from Central to the ETH);
- Dolderbahn (from Römerhof to the Dolder Hotel on the Zürichberg) – see next section; and the
- Seilbahn Rigiblick (from the Seilbahn Rigiblick station on Tram lines #9 and #10 to Rigiblick on the Zürichberg).
You can ride these funicular railways with the normal Zürich city transit ticket.
Zürichberg – The Zürichberg (translation: Zürich Mountain) is the mountain located on the east side of the city. The Zürich Zoo is located on the Zürichberg. You can reach it by taking the #5 or #6 Tram to the end.
You can also take the Dolderbahn (German), a funicular railway from the Römerhof to the top of the Zürichberg. The last stop (Bergstation, which means mountain station) is a short walk from the Zürichberg Park, where one can hike or bike the trails for hours. The last stop is also directly across from the Grand Hotel Dolder, a classic five star hotel with a killer view over the city. It was remodelled in 2008 by Sir Norman Foster.
Uetliberg – The Uetliberg is located on the west side of the city. You can reach the top of the Uetliberg by taking the S-Bahn line #10 from the Hauptbahnhof or by taking the #13 Tram to Albisgutli and walking up a trail to the top. (It’s a long uphill walk, strenuous at times – better to walk down!)
At the top of the Uetliberg, there is a restaurant, observation tower, and a set of trails for hiking in all directions. One interesting hike is south along the top of the ridge to a cable car from Felsenegg to Adliswil, where you can take the S-Bahn #4 back to the Hauptbahnhof. (Note that the top of the Uetliberg is not in the same transit zone as the city of Zürich, so you need to purchase a several-zone ticket to ride.) Sometimes there are S-Bahn-Fondue trips organized by the railway or the Zürich Tourist Service. The Tourist Service will also arrange one for a group.
Stadelhofen Station – Stadelhofen Station is an elegant solution to a difficult engineering problem. The station was the first large project completed by the Spanish architect-engineer Santiago Calatrava, who studied at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH). In the late 1980s, the existing station was reconstructed as part of the S-Bahn construction project. It serves as the portal to the new double track tunnels to the Hauptbahnhof and under the Zürichberg as well as the existing single-track tunnel to Tiefenbrunnen. Check out the especially elegant structure in the underground shopping area (shops open late and on Sundays!).
The Zürich Tourist Service also offers many day excursions and city tours.
Boat Trip on Zürichsee – Take a boat trip on the Zürich Lake. The Zürichsee Schifffahrtsgesellschaft (ZSG) operates lake steamers which leave from Burkliplatz (at the end of Bahnhofstrasse). These ships operate all year round, but on a much reduced schedule during the winter. The ZSG’s website provides information on destinations and ships. The ZSG offers a variety of tourist-oriented trips (including Jazz Brunch, and several beautifully restored historic steam ships). One popular trip is to Rapperswil at the south end of the Zürichsee. The town has a beautiful castle overlooking the lake surrounded by a medieval town. If you are pressed for time you can take the S-Bahn back to Zürich (with the same round-trip ticket).
Swiss Museum of Transport – The Swiss Museum of Transport is located in Lucerne, a short 45-minute train trip from Zürich. After arriving in Lucerne you can take a bus, boat (in the summer) or a nice half-hour walk along the lakeshore. The museum has an exhibit on building the Gotthard Tunnel, has many historic trains and trams, and also includes special exhibits. Lucerne has a very nice historic centre and is an excellent starting point for boat trips on the Vierwaldstättersee.
Railaway – The Swiss National Railway’s RailAway Program combines train travel with local transport and entry into many cultural and recreational events throughout Switzerland. Generally you save 10% – 30% and all the travel arrangements are taken care of (so no need to figure out how to buy a bus ticket at your destination). You can ask about Railaway or pick-up a brochure at most rail stations. Railaway is an excellent program and great example of how Switzerland has really made public transport attractive. There is even a Railway Offer for the Swiss Museum of Transport.
Zürich to Alsace – You can take the train from Zürich to Colmar (Alsace, France) in about two-hours. There’s a great old town and museum (Musee Unterlinden), it’s also a fine starting place for visiting the Alsatian wine villages and tasting the local food. If you leave early in the morning you can make a day trip there and back … although I’d recommend staying overnight, Alsace is great! Here are some blog postings from my old blog: