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Travel Urban Planning

Getting Around in Zürich

Zürich, Switzerland is known as one of the world’s most walkable cities, but it took a big sacrifice from citizens to make it work.

When I visited Zürich in June 2017, I didn’t know about the recent changes in policies, but it was a noticeably different experience from other major cities.

Transportation in Zurich. Photo: Braden Miskin

Without streets full of cars, it was much easier and more enjoyable to walk the streets. We didn’t have to wait for traffic at every intersection and the noise levels were much more reasonable. Their streetcar system goes just about everywhere and they arrive so frequently, you don’t really need to look at a schedule.

I prefer walking in a lot of instances. The slower you go, the more in-depth your relationship with your surroundings.

Zürich wasn’t always like this, however. In the ’90s, as explained in the video below, the city banned new parking spaces and limited the amount of cars that could be in the city and one time.

Guided circulation

As we walked around the city, I realized there were certain focal points that drew us toward them, subconsciously guiding us around the city and back to our point of origin. It’s probably not entirely intentional and I’m sure it’s not the same for all visitors to the city. But I found it interesting to have focal points spread around the city to move people around instead of having one focal point.

Before reaching the center of the city, we parked in a parking structure and walked a short distance to the Bahnhof, or train station, where we were able to get a quick bite to eat and exchange our euros for Swiss francs.

We passed rows and rows of bicycles on the way. From the Bahnhof, a church with a very tall, spindly spire led us across the Limmat River. Once across the bridge, there was a nice row of shops and cafes along the street to the right. We then followed the wide promenade along the river, which had steps down to the river at regular intervals.

Cafe next to the river with the Grossmünster above.
Public space at the edge of the lake.

At the end of the road was a scenic view of the lake and nearby opera house. Going back across the river, we found ourselves at the end of Bahnhofstrasse with its high-end, modern shops, bank offices and winding side streets leading to the smaller, more traditional plazas and shops. As the name suggests, Bahnhofstrasse leads back to the Bahnhof where we began.

So instead of going to one main attraction and then wondering what else to do or which direction to go, we were constantly guided past a number of the city’s highlights. I believe this contributed to our satisfying visit and we never felt lost. We were free to explore, but never felt apprehensive about which way to go. It may have been haphazard, but this concept along with the impressive transportation system, made Zürich one of the most inspiring places I visited on the trip.

Bahnhofstrasse.