The punctuality of trains in Switzerland is legendary. You can almost set your watch to the departure times and many Swiss trust the station clocks more than any others. The train network is fast, reliable and extensive. For getting around in Switzerland, trains are definitely best - from Zurich there are connections to all the major Swiss cities once or twice an hour. The state owned train company is called SBB - there are regional private networks, but you don’t have to worry about this, as tickets are valid on all trains. For time tables refer to www.sbb.ch. Tickets are sold on vending machines (switch them to English on the first screen) and at the counters in the main hall at Zurich main railway station - clerks usually speak English. For longer distances tickets are valid for a trip on any train throughout the day. You can purchase single and return tickets. Children up to 5 travel for free, from 6- 16 years they pay the so-called half fare.
If you plan on travelling around Switzerland a lot, there are different options: Get a half-fare card for one month for 120Sfr - and travel for half the fare on all public transport (excepts some cable cars) for one month. A good deal if you want to head to the mountains and to Lucerne for example. Or get a Swiss Travel Pass, available for 3 to 15 days. The pass gives you unlimited transport on the whole Swiss network and free entry to most museums (incl. city transport, 179 - 704Sfr, www.swisstravelsystem.com). Swiss Passes are also available for different number of days free to choose within a period. Ask for advice at the travellers centre at Zurich main railway station.
Be aware that train tickets within the Zurich cantonal network are zone tickets. These tickets are valid either for 1 hour or 24 hours within the zone you choose.
Buses and Ships
Public buses get you from the nearest train station to most every village in the country. The time tables are integrated in the database on www.sbb.ch – use the online timetable tool or ask at the counter at many stations. Buses for longer distances are mostly used in the mountains where there are no trains. A lot of these lines are operated by PostBus Switzerland. They were originally part of the postal service and now offer comfortable travel in modern, mostly yellow buses. Tickets can be bought on board or at vending machines. You can also buy through tickets which cover all trains and buses all the way to your destination at the SBB vending machines or ticket offices. There is only one operator for each trip - so there’s no point comparing prices.
There are ships on all the larger Swiss lakes – they are usually used more for pleasure trips than for getting from A to B quickly. Services are reduced in winter (Nov-Apr), some lines even close in winter. For information about ships on Lake Zurich, click here.
Although most distances in Zurich are quite short, public transport can be very useful, especially when the weather is not so friendly. The network includes trams, buses, local trains, ships on the lake and on the river and even an aerial cable car up to Felsenegg. If you‘re on foot remember that trams always have right of way, even at pedestrian crossings. Otherwise the tram driver is sure to remind you with his bell.
The ticket system is fairly easy: Zurich’s cantonal network (called ZVV) is divided into zones. So you do not buy tickets for a trip, but rather for a zone. The network of the city of Zurich (called VBZ) is one zone, zone number 110. Tickets are valid in the chosen zones for a certain time period. For getting around the city (zone 110) a day pass valid for 24 hours will cost you 8.60Sfr, a single ticket valid for 1 hour 4.30Sfr. Children up to 5 travel for free, 6-16 year-olds pay the so-called half-fare (which actually is 3.00Sfr). Be aware that the popular lookout Uetliberg and the airport are not within zone 110 - you need to buy a zone upgrade for 1-2 zones (4.20Sfr for an hour, 8.20Sfr for 24 hours) for these destinations. All these tickets can be purchased at the ticket machines you find at almost every stop. Most of the machines now take credit cards. You can switch them to English on the first screen.
Another option is the ZürichCARD, which is valid for zone 110 and between the airport and the city, as well as giving you free entry to many museums and other reductions. It also gets you to Zurich‘s own little mountains, Uetliberg and Felsenegg. The Zurich card will set you back 27Sfr for 24 hours and 53Sfr for 72 hours. A good deal if you want to use public transport and intend to visit at least one museum. The Zurich card is available most ticket machines, VBZ Ticketerias and at the Tourist Information at the main train station.
These tickets are valid on all kinds of transport - including trains - as long as you are within the zones you have paid for. If you get caught without a valid ticket, it's 90Sfr.
Public transport in Zurich runs roughly from 5:00-0:30. There are night buses in the nights Fri/Sat and Sat/Sun to all parts of the town, most of them start at Bellevue and pass by Central and Escher-Wyss Platz. Ask your hotel which night bus is best for you. They require a 5Sfr supplement to any valid ticket even if you have a valid day ticket or a Zurich card (supplements are sold on automatic machines, or send a text message from your mobile with the word 'NZ' to 988 to purchase the supplement by phone). On weekends there are local night train services too (S-trains), which get you to almost anywhere round about Zurich - supplement required as well.
The so called Ticketerias, the ticket shops of Zurich Public Transport VBZ sell tickets and provide excellent advice - see here.
There are 1550 licenced taxis in Zurich and in general they are clean, safe, reliable - and expensive. It‘s usually easy to get one, even in rush hours like Friday or Saturday nights. The city sets the following maximum prices for taxis: initial fee 8Sfr, 5Sfr per kilometre, 80Sfr per hour. The actual fees have to be displayed on the door of the car. The big taxi companies have the following prices: initial fee 6Sfr, 3.80Sfr per kilometre, 69Sfr per hour. When taking a taxi from a stand, check the prices on their door and take the cheapest one available (you don't have to take the first one in the row). Especially at the stands around the main train station you'll often find only expensive ones. For a longer ride it's worth calling a cheaper one for pick up.
Taxi drivers have to and usually do use their metres, but for longer distances you can try to arrange a price in advance (the metre still has to be used as a control). Cheating is rare. Luggage does not cost extra. Not all taxi drivers speak English. You'll find taxis at official taxi stands at the main railway station, at Central, Bellevue and other places. You can hail them on the street as well. Note that only taxis with the front or back of their taxi signs coloured white and blue are allowed to pick up passengers in the city. The ridesharing service Uber also operates in Zurich. You can order your ride over an app on your smartphone. Fares usually are significantly cheaper than standard taxi fares (initial fee 3-6Sfr, 1.80 - 3.60Sfr per kilometre, 0.30 - 0.60Sfr per minute). Find more information at www.uber.
There have been stories lately of taxi drivers refusing to transport passengers for short distances, despite their obligation. You have the right to insist that they transport you, but we recommend you take it easy and just wave over the next taxi who most probably will be more than happy to drive you. If in doubt stick with the following big companies (they both have smartphone apps for ordering too):