Zurich is an easy city to traverse by foot, with easy access throughout Switzerland and the rest of Europe. There are international connections, and exceptional public transportation. On work nights, there is no public transport at all after about 12:30AM (although expensive taxis still exist in case you're stuck).
The city is famous for its highly efficient, clean and safe public transport system. It is operated by Zürcher Verkehrsverbund (ZVV). The network includes trams, buses (both diesel and electric- also called trolley buses), S-Bahn (suburban trains), and cable cars. In addition, the public transport network includes boats on the lake and river, funicular railways and the Luftseilbahn Adliswil-Felsenegg (LAF). About 70 percent of visitors use the system and navigating the city is quite easy and wait times are minimal.
Tickets are valid on all means of public transportation (train, tram, bus, boat). The system is divided into numerous fare zones, with the city center and innermost suburbs being in zone 10 and the outer suburbs located in other zones (i.e. Winterthur in zone 20). The more zones you pass through, the more you'll have to pay for your journey. There are single tickets, day cards, monthly cards and annual cards. The monthly and annual cards are collectively referred to as ZVV NetzPass.
Tickets must be purchased from a ticket vending machine before boarding or from one of the ticket selling kiosks. Ticket machines sell single tickets, day passes, 9 o'clock passes, Albis day passes, class upgrades, zone upgrades and bike tickets. The ticket vending machines are in German, English, French and Italian. You select the zones you wish to pass through upon buying the ticket, with a zone map on every machine. You can also order by credit card over the phone: ZVV-Contact - 0848 988 988.
Anyone not in possession of a valid ticket for the respective tram, bus, train or night S-Bahn/bus, or with only a partially valid ticket, will pay a surcharge along with the flat fare amount. The same applies to those who do not have the additional ZVV night supplement of CHF 5.00 for night S-Bahn trains/buses. In all instances, your personal information will be collected and kept on record, with ZVV reserving the right to report offenders to the police. The third and all subsequent offenses within two years will be automatically reported to the authorities.
There are many discounts and barely anyone pays full fare.
Half-Fare Card (Demi-tarif/Halbtax) - A card saves 50 percent on all national buses and trains and gives a discount on local and private transit systems. You must buy it beforehand, and when buying a ticket you press the "1/2" button on the ticket machine. You must have the Demi-tarif card when using the ticket.
Annual half fare cards cost CHF165
Visitors can buy a 1-month Half-Fare Card cards for CHF99.
ZVV NetzPass - For stays of a month or more, a netzpass is an excellent bargain.
ZVV-9-UhrPass - For journeys only after 9:00 on weekdays, this pass is available as both daily, monthly and annual cards. Open travel on weekends.
Z-passes - Can be used in Zurich and neighboring cantons (Aargau, Schaffhausen, Schwyz, Zug, St. Gallen or Thurgau). Only available as monthly and annual cards and can not be bought from ticket vending machines.
Swiss Pass - Valid on all public transport in Zurich with discounts on privately operated boats, cable cars, and ski lifts. Is very easy to use for tourists. Passes range from CHF 260 for a 4-day, 2nd class pass to CHF 578 for a month pass, 2nd class.
Dogs may be taken on public transport in Switzerland. In general, it is necessary to buy a ticket at half the price of a regular fare.
More information on tickets and rates can be found on the ZVV website.
Known as the S-Bahn by the German speaking population, the French speaking population refers to the network as RER. However, the line numbers are still prefixed with an S.
The S-Bahn is the most convenient public transport system. It covers nearly all suburbs of Zurich and beyond. All lines except the rural ones pass through the Hauptbahnhof. There is also first class commuter travel; about one-fifth of seats on each train are first class.
Public Transport map: http://www.zvv.ch/
Zurich railway station is the largest and busiest in the country. Known as the Hauptbahnhof, the main train station is located in the city center at the end of Bahnhofstrasse. The station is served by the local S-Bahn commuter trains, InterCity (IC and ICN) connections throughout Switzerland, Italy's Cisalpino, Germany's ICE, France's TGV, and various other direct night train services to/from as far as Amsterdam, Berlin, Rome, Lecce, Barcelona, Budapest and Beograd. The station also has an underground mall with shops, restaurants, and a grocery store that is open on Sundays.
All Swiss trains are non-smoking. Luggage can be stowed above your seat or in between seats, or on a rack at the end of the car. During busy periods, people often stow large luggage (or skis) in the entrance area in between cars.
Tickets for 1 to 2 Zones are good for an hour and costs CHF 3.60 (CHF 2.60 for kids). A Kurzstrecke ticket is a short ticket valid for good for up to five stops within 30 minutes of purchase. The price is CHF 2.10 in second class, or CHF 1.70 for kids from 6-16. (Children 5 and under travel free.)
Tickets are usually purchased online or at the train station, but can be purchased on board for a surcharge of CHF 10. (Suburban train tickets must be purchased beforehand). Kiosks accept credit/debit cards or cash. You must have a validated ticket before you board. If you do not have a ticket you will be liable for an on-the-spot fine of 80CHF.
Note that only two trains in Switzerland require reservations:
Bernina Express - running daily between Chur and Tirano
Glacier Express - running from St. Moritz to Zermatt.
All trains have a one or two letter prefix, followed by a number. Prefixes indicate the type of train. Only the prefix, the destination, and the time of departure are important.
Bicycle are permissible on every train in Switzerland. They require a ticket (available from the ticket machines, CHF 10 for a day pass). You must board at the door marked with a bicycle. On ICN trains and some IR trains this is at the very front of the train.
Swiss trains are color coded, allowing for easy navigation. When looking at a schedule,
Yellow sheet - For departures
White sheet - For arrivals Red - Indicates faster trains
Black - Indicates a train that stops at more stations
At the track, signs indicate the destination and departure time. The small numbers and letters along the bottom show you where you can board the train. The letters indicate the zone you should stand in, and the numbers indicate the class. The class (1st or 2nd) is indicated by a "1" or "2" on the side of the car which correspond with the numbers on the sign.
The main bus station is next to the Hauptbahnhof. Zurich's ZVV public-transportation system has an efficient network of trams and buses that serve neighborhoods throughout the city. Most of the VBZ Zuri-Linie routes pass through the Bahnhofplatz next to the main railroad station, and those that don't have connections to lines that do. The lines also connect with commuter trains that serve Zurich and the surrounding region.
Night bus routes are available on Friday and Saturday nights and before most public holidays. Services run every hour in Zurich and Winterthur, and from Zurich to most important regional destinations, every two hours in other areas. Passengers need a valid ticket and have to pay a night supplement of 5 CHF.
Many buses arrive there from other European cities. Long distance buses usually arrive at the central Zurich station.
The Zurich tram network serves most city neighborhoods. It is supplemented by trolleybus and bus routes as well as two funicular railways and one rack railway. The city trams are operated by VBZ.
The Polybahn is a 19th century funicular that goes up the steep hill in Zurich and offers excellent views. Starts at tram station Central and goes up to the ETH. Zone 10 ZVV ticket is valid.
Zurich is located on Lake Zurich and Limmat river and water transportation is available and operated by Zurichsee-Schifffahrtsgesellschaft (ZSG). There are two basic types of boat-based public transport: river buses and lake steamers. The river boats operate in the summer months only and the lake boats operate on a much reduced schedule during the winter.
There are also tourist-oriented trips (including Jazz Brunch, and historic restored steam ships), and a popular trip is to Rapperswil at the south end of the Zurichsee.
Zurich Airport (Flughafen Zurich-Kloten; IATA: ZRH)
This is the largest and busiest airport in the country. It also has high passenger costs due to noise reduction and approach restrictions. Most no-frill airlines fly to Basel which is 1.5 hrs away by train.
The airport is 12 minutes by train from central Zurich.
Trains: Depart about every 10-15 minutes during business hours. In the early morning and late evening connections are less frequent. A single ticket to the Hauptbahnhof (Central Station) costs CHF 6.20.
Bus: Several bus lines connect to the airport and provide access to the Winterthur region.
Shuttle: Most large hotels offer free shuttle service. Usually these pick up passengers from around Terminal 1 arrivals.
Taxi: The airport taxi rank is located in front of Arrivals 1 and 2. A taxi ride from Zurich Airport to Zurich city center costs approximately CHF 60.
It can be difficult to hail a taxi on the street and it is recommended that you order taxis by phone or go to an official taxi ranks. Ranks can be found around the airport and at the Hauptbahnhof, as well as around some major hotels.
Switzerland tends to be incredibly expensive for taxi rides. Entry costs CHF 6.00 with 3.80 per km. The fares are always metered and already include a service charge. It is customary to tip about CHF 2 for luggage handling. There are also additional charges for extra passengers over 4.
To estimate fares, the Taximeter is a helpful tool.
Car rental allows visitors to move freely through Switzerland and the rest of Europe. Rentals can be easily arranged online or at points of entry. Shop around online to find the best prices as all the major car hire companies are present.
Several major car rental dealers are located at the airports and major train stations. The minimum age for car rental is 25. Most companies will allow you to rent at a lower age, with an underage fee. Cars usually come with a manual transmission (gear shift). If you prefer an automatic transmission, ask the rental company.
If you select a basic rental rate your total price after tax will include value added tax (VAT), a possible location surcharges (like airport fees) and public liability insurance. Public liability insurance may be a mandatory separate coverage.
There is currently no common EU driving licence. A few car rentals request an international driver's license, so check before you go. If you need an international drivers license, you can easily get it at any AAA location. Licenses issued by different EU countries are also recognized in other Member States. While driving in Germany, you must carry your driving licence and vehicle documents at all times.
Driving in Zurich can be quite difficult. The city is compact with excellent public transportation, making driving unnecessary. The city is also openly discouraging private vehicles. The municipal Traffic Planning Department have been adding red lights and pedestrian underpasses have been removed. Around Lowenplatz, cars are now banned on many blocks. Speeds are also severely limited within the city center. This is an effort to push people to use public transport and leave cars outside the city.
Almost every highway in Switzerland leads straight into Zurich, making entering the city straightforward, but leads to deadening traffic. Some approximate driving times to Zurich by the most direct routes are:
Calais-Geneva: 12 to 13 hours (747km/464 miles)
Dunkirk-Geneva: 12 to 13 hours (732km/454 miles)
Calais-Zurich: 13 to 14 hours (790km/490 miles)
Dunkirk-Zurich: 14 to 15 hours (880km/ 546 miles).
Seat belts must be worn at all times by the driver and all passengers. The blood alcohol concentration limit is 0.05 percent. Do not drink and drive, as you will lose your license for several months if you are cited and a heavy fine may be imposed.
When driving on the autobahn (motorways), strictly observe this rule as there really is no official speed restriction. There is a 130km (80mph) per hour recommended maximum speed. A speed limit of 100km per hour (62mph) applies on major roads, which reduces to 50km per hour (31mph) in built up areas and 30km per hour (19mph) in residential zones. Beware of speeding. Speed Cameras are mounted on roadways and tickets will be forwarded on, even if you live abroad. In Switzerland, speeding is not a violation of a traffic code but a legal offense. If you fail to comply there is a good chance that an international ticket will be issued and you have to go to court in your home country.
To use the motorways, vehicles under 3,500 kg weight need to buy a Vignette, a sticker which costs 40 CHF. This is valid for the calendar year (1 December to 31 January). Failure to possess a valid vignette is punishable by a 100 CHF fine and a requirement to purchase a vignette immediately (total fine of 140 CHF). Rental prices should include the price of the vignette- but confirm.
Because of it's mountainous interior, the alpenpaesse (mountain passes) are an important element of Swiss travel. Check road conditions during inclement weather. For up-to-date traffic info, consult The Swiss Portal.
Bicycling is fairly popular, although most people rely on public transportation. Tram lines can create a hazard so watch your wheels going over tracks. Also note that buses make frequent stops in the rightmost lane.
Free rentals of bikes and skateboards from 7:00 to 21:20 daily from May to October can be made at the central train station. A passport and CHF 20 deposit is required. Full information is available on the city's website.