Getting around Zurich is made easy by the comprehensive public transport network that covers this compact city. Buying a car isn't a priority for most expats, who instead get to know the city using trams, buses, boats and trains.
Public transport in Zurich
The size and complexity of Zurich's public transport network may be daunting at first, but expats will come to appreciate its reach and efficiency. Public transport in Zurich is run by the Zürcher Verkehrsverbund (ZVV), which covers the entire Zurich canton and consists of buses, trams, ferry services and suburban trains (S-Bahn).
The network consists of fare zones that divide the city centre, the inner suburbs and the outer suburbs. The more zones commuters travel through, the higher their fare will be. Fares in Zurich aren't cheap, so frequent commuters often buy an annual or monthly ZVV Network Pass, which is valid on various modes of transport. Passes and tickets have to be purchased at station vending machines or ticket outlets before boarding most forms of transport.
Trams and buses
Numerous bus and tram lines cover the city at street level. Timetables can be found at bus stops, stations and the ZVV website.
Bus and tram services operate every five to 25 minutes, depending on the route and time of day.
For travel in the early morning hours on weekends, commuters can use the Nachtnetz nighttime network, which consists of buses and trains. Nachtnetz routes appear on timetables with an 'N' in front of the route number.
The S-Bahn is Zurich’s fast, comprehensive and convenient suburban rail system. Most lines pass through the Hauptbahnhof, Zurich’s central station, before proceeding to the outlying suburbs.
Commuters need a validated ticket or ZVV Network Pass before they board, or risk getting an on-the-spot fine during one of the regular checks that take place.
Boat-based public transport in Zurich consists of smaller river cruisers and lake steamers that are managed by Zurichsee. Riverboats only operate in the warmer months, while lake steamers run throughout the year.
River buses run from the Landesmuseum which is close to Hauptbahnhof, along the Limmat River, out onto Lake Zurich and onwards to Tiefenbrunnen. Passengers can board and disembark at stops along the way, but they're mostly aimed at tourists. Lake steamers leave from Burkliplatz and serve various destinations.
ZVV tickets and passes are valid on all commuter boat services.
Driving in Zurich
Expats often find that buying their own car isn't worth it, thanks to the city's efficient public transport. Private vehicles are most worthwhile for expats who intend to take regular trips into the Swiss countryside or take their children to and from school themselves.
Driving in Zurich’s city centre can be difficult. Navigating its compact streets can be challenging, parking is scarce and expensive, and rush hour traffic is heavily congested.
Expats who are from EU or EEA countries are eligible to simply exchange their foreign driving licence for a Swiss licence within 12 months of relocating. Those with licences from outside these two economic regions will have to take a driving test, and if successful, they will receive a Swiss driving licence that is valid for three years on a trial basis.
Cycling in Zurich
Cycling in Zurich is a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly way to travel around the city.
The Zurirollt is a free bicycle-sharing scheme that operates all year round from 8am to 9.30pm. Bicycles can be picked up at various easily accessible places in the city, such as the Hauptbahnhof station and GlobusCity shopping centre.
Expats would only need to present a copy of their passport and pay an initial deposit, but they shouldn’t become too reliant on it. Given that it's free, it isn't unheard of to find that all the bicycles at a station are already in use – it might be better in the long run for expats to buy their own bikes.
►See Areas and Suburbs of Zurich for some of its best neighbourhoods
►Find out about some of the best International Schools in Zurich
"I live in a quiet, leafy-green neighbourhood in Zurich city, but I can hop on a tram and be “down town” in five minutes for shopping or dining out. While I take full advantage of the safe, clean and punctual public transportation, I can also easily walk to most everything I want to do in Zurich: my children’s school, the shopping mall, the local farmer’s market, the lake, the woods, etc."
Read more about American expat Tanya's experiences in Zurich in our interview with her.
Are you an expat living in Zurich?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Zurich. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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