Getting Around Zürich: Guide to Public Transportation

using public transit in Zurich

TripSavvy / Catherine Song 

Zürich, the largest city in Switzerland, has a highly efficient public transportation system to help residents and visitors get around the city and its suburbs. Composed of Zürich's iconic trams—as well as buses, trains, and boats jetting around Lake Zürich—the comprehensive network connects virtually all parts of the city and is particularly handy and easy for visitors to use.

Travelers to Zürich should keep in mind first and foremost that Zürich is a highly walkable city. The city center is flat, and most principal sights are only a 10- to 20-minute walk from one another. However, if you're flying into Zürich Airport, arriving at the main train station with a lot of luggage, visiting attractions on the periphery of the city, or if you have reduced mobility, the system is there to whisk you around with ease.

A tram in Zurich, Switzerland

TripSavvy / Michela Sieman

How to Ride the Tram in Zürich

Run by the Zurich Transport Network (ZVV), trams are the most prevalent form of public transportation in Zürich. Electric trams have rumbled through the streets of the city since the late 1800s. Today, there are 15 tram routes and more than 300 trams plying 172 kilometers (107 miles) of track, supplemented by a bus system that carries users where trams don't go. In the city center, you'll find tram or bus stops an average of 300 meters (about 980 feet) apart. The system is divided into zones, with the heart of the city—including Zürich Hauptbahnhof (the main train station) and the Altstadt (Old Town)—lying in Zone 110.

To find the tram you need, consult the Zone 110 (central Zürich) tram and bus map. Lines numbered 2 to 17 are trams; those numbered 31 to 916 are buses. If you can manage in German (or use a translate option on your laptop or phone), you can search for routes on the ZVV mobile app.

Tram and bus stops are clearly signposted, with route numbers listed. Trams going in different directions on the same route will stop on opposite sides of the street or tram platform. If you're not sure which direction you need to go, check the list of stops (posted at the tram stop) the tram will make. Some tram stops have digital boards displaying the next arriving trams and their arrival times, while other stops will have printed displays of trams, stops, and frequency.

  • Single-Ride Tickets: Prices depend on how many zones you plan to travel through. Tickets for those traveling within two zones of 110 will cost 4.40 Swiss francs (about $4.50) and are good for one hour, with transfers permitted.
  • Passes: Like single-ride tickets, prices depend on where you're traveling. 24-hour passes within two adjacent zones cost 8.80 Swiss francs ($9.70). These are a good option if you plan to do a lot of sightseeing in a day and don't want to mess with buying a ticket every time you need to hop on a tram. The 9 o'clock day pass is good for all zones from 9 a.m. to 5 a.m. the next day, and costs 26.00 Swiss francs ($28.70).
  • Zürich Card: Passengers with this card benefit from unlimited travel on trams, buses, trains, boats, and cablecars in the city and surrounding areas. The card is currently priced at 27 Swiss francs ($29) for 24 hours or 53 Swiss francs ($55) for 72 hours.
  • Where to Buy Tickets and Passes: Users can purchase their tickets and plan their routes on the ZVV mobile app, though it is only available in German. ZVV Ticket machines are posted at all tram and bus stops and inside train stations, and you can select to use them in German, English, French, or Italian. Machines distribute all ZVV ticket and pass types and accept touch-less chip credit cards, standard debit and credit cards, and cash and coins.
  • Hours of Operation: ZVV Trams and buses run from 5 a.m. to about 12:30 a.m. every day of the week. On Friday and Saturday, a late-night train service runs between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., but with a reduced schedule. To ride one of the night trains (labeled N on schedules and stops), you'll need a regular ZVV ticket and a supplementary ticket; it costs 5 Swiss francs ($5.53) and can be purchased at the stop or station.
  • How to Board: Single tickets and Day Cards bought at the tram stop do not need to be validated before boarding, as they are already stamped with date and time. Multi-day passes, Zürich Cards, and multi-zone passes all need to be validated (stamped) in a ticket machine before boarding the tram.
  • Accessibility: Persons in wheelchairs or with reduced mobility will find wheelchair-friendly trams or step-less access on all trams, with the exceptions of lines 5 and 15. Wheelchair users should enter/exit through the third door from the front of the tram. ZVV advises slow walkers or those with other mobility impairments to stay near the front of the tram, where the driver can see you and allow more time for you to exit.

Riding the Train

Zürich's trams and buses are augmented by trains run by the SBB, the national railway. Train tickets for S-Bahn, InterCity (IC), and Inter-Regional (IR) trains can be purchased at ZVV tram ticket machines. These trains connect parts of Zürich not served by trams, particularly outlying bedroom communities and recreational areas such as Uetliberg. When you search for a route on the ZVV app or website, the results may include trams, buses, or trains—whichever is the most timely and efficient method to get you where you need to go.

Other Transit Options in Zürich

  • Boat: From April to October, boat rides on Lake Zürich and the Limmat River are offered by ZSG (Lake Zürich Navigation Company) in partnership with ZVV. Cruises on the lake start from 8.80 Swiss francs ($9), which amounts to the cost of a 3-zone ZVV ticket. For more information on prices and schedules, see the ZSG timetable.
  • Taxis: Cabs in Zürich are readily available but expensive. Given the city's efficient public transportation system, you might find little need to call a taxi, unless it's late at night and you don't feel like waiting for a night train. If you're heading to the airport with a lot of luggage, then calling a taxi might be your most convenient option.
  • Electric scooters: Scooter-share programs are offered by several different companies, including Circ, Bird, and Lime. Choose the one you like, download the app, and sign up with a credit card. All of the apps show you the location(s) of the nearest available scooter. When you're done using it, park it and go.
  • Car rentals: If you're touring Switzerland in a rental car, we suggest you park it upon arrival in Zürich and don't use it until you're ready to leave the city. Confirm in advance that your hotel has parking—otherwise, parking in the city is both very limited and very expensive.

Getting to the Airport

A ticket from Zürich Hauptbahnhof (Zone 110) to Zürich Airport (Zone 121) costs 6.80 Swiss francs (about $7.50) for either a tram or train ride. Trains are run by the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) and it takes between 8-12 minutes to get to the airport, while trams take 30-35 minutes.

Tips for Getting Around Zürich

  • When boarding the tram, wait for riders to exit before getting on. When riding, keep an eye on the stops so you'll be ready to exit quickly.
  • This is Switzerland, so if the display says the tram will arrive at 11:05, it will arrive at 11:05.
  • The Zürich Card entitles travelers to free or reduced admission to dozens of area museums, plus a discounted walking tour and a cruise on the Limmat River.
  • Holders of the Swiss Travel Pass, good throughout Switzerland, can ride all of Zürich's public transportation free of charge.