Zürich City Guide
With a population of 400,000 people, Zürich is the biggest city in Switzerland, holding up the country’s border with Germany. Surrounded by the Alps and wrapped around the north part of Lake Zürich, the city’s setting and financial focus has attracted an expat community which now makes up 30% of the population. This subtle balance between the traditional Swiss-German culture and the global hipster has imported trends from a wide range of places. As part of these imports, Zürich’s vibrant scene for endurance is easily overlooked, despite included a lake, runnable river and small mountain within two miles of the city centre.
To make the most of this guide, note a few patterns and features. Facilities are broken into categories according to their running, cycling or swimming focus, with a separate section highlighting quality gym facilities in Zürich. Exact hours aren’t indicated unless very restrictive, and prices are also omitted in the knowledge that no listed facility charges more than $20 for day access. Instead, a full directory of telephone numbers is provided in the final Directory section, so you can call ahead to confirm your intended training time. The place names in Directory link directly to the Google Maps profile of the given entity – click on the venue’s name to generate directions. Finally, a Sleeping & Eating section towards the end of the guide provides an insight into good places for accommodation and fuelling during your time in Zürich.
Orientation & Logistics
Zürich is located at the north extremity of the Lake, from where the Limmat River flows toward on in the direction of the North-West of Switzerland. The city reaches across from the shores of the lake to the North along the river, and is delimited on the East and West sides by two forest-covered hills: the Uetliberg and the Zürichberg. The altitude of the Lake’s surface is roughly 400m above sea level, with the two hills poking a little higher to 870m and 700m respectively.
Though additional housing is being formed beyond the immediate urban area, distances between places remain very small and the public transportation system (trams, local trains, busses) works like (Swiss) clockwork. The daily pass is the most cost-effective option if you plan to make three or more single journeys within a 24-hour period. Just be aware that the urban area is cut in “zones” for the transportation system, so make sure that your ticket is valid for all the zones of your commute. The Swiss train system application (Mobile-SBB or Mobile-CFF) are very convenient tools to quickly check how to get somewhere, if you aren’t already using Google Maps. If your commute doesn’t require climbing the hills either side of the town centre, using public bikes is in general the fastest and most comfortable way to move around the city.
The climate in Zürich is a typical European continental climate, meaning the summers are hot (potentially very hot, 35°C is a common thing) and the winters are cold (potentially very cold, -10°C is common). Rain is also very frequent in during Spring and Autumn months. As for daylight hours, the longest summer days start around 6:30am, with the sunset well after 21:00pm. During mid-winter you can expect daylight from 8am to 5pm.
No matter where you end up staying in Zürich, it’s easy to start running directly from your doorstep and quickly reach outstanding city trails. Given the prospect of this proximity and a bounty of trails, a few refinements need be taken, depending on if you want to do a flat run, a hilly session or a track workout.
There are two 400m running tracks in Zürich’s central area. A first option for running track is Sportanlage Sihlhölzli, the closest to the city centre and well located along city’s secondary river, the Sihl. It is easily accessible in public transport, and you can use the walking paths along the river to warm up before hitting the track. Some athletics clubs use the track in the evening, but they don’t have exclusive access, so you just have to leave the inside lines free.
A second option for track running in Zürich is to take the tram for a few stops and get out of the city to the multi-sports facility, Sports Center Fluntern. This is located on the Zürichberg, between the zoo and the FIFA headquarters.
Absolutely flat land is at a premium throughout Switzerland, but it is still possible to find some levelled running circuits in Zürich. The 10km shoreline of the lake is scenic and serves as popular place to run continuously since most of the shore is made of public parks, with no road traffic to interfere. It’s only once you reach the end of the city limits that roadways intersect the circuit loop.
Another option is to follow the Limmat River to the North and use walking paths in the direction of Baden, 20km away. This trail is flat and made of a tarmac surface. Either run an out-and-back using this vector, or use on the frequent trains from stations Schlieren, Dietikon or Spreitenbach to save your legs for the journey home.
A last option is to follow the other river (the Sihl) towards the south and go to the Allmend Park, a vast field with large walking paths which is normally less frequented in the afterwork hours than the lake or the Limmat.
If hills are what you are after, then you just need to pick one side of the city. Uetliberg in the South-West is the highest and most popular one. There are 400m of elevation from the bottom to the top (which you can also be accessed by train), with a large number of hiking trails in the forest. Use these to navigate between easier and steeper slopes, using the Allmend park entrance, or from the tram stops Albisgütli or Triemli. If you are looking for a challenge, running from either of the latter tram stops straight to the summit by the shortest path is present some steep relief.
The Zürichberg on the east side of Zurich is less imposing than its western counterpart, which also means that residential districts go almost all the way to the top. Despite this urbanisation, the hill is still covered by forests and is fortunate to also have numerous hiking paths. Numerous roads and trams connect with the top of the hill, which each offer varied terrain for running, with a succession of uphill and downhill sections in all directions. A tip to for the Zürichberg is to aim for Irchel Park with the tram, and from there aim to Fluntern across the Zürichberg (around 5 km) and extend to Witikon across the Adlisberg for another 5 km. From Witikon, you can always take the bus or a tram to bring you back to Zürich if needed.
If you are looking for a running group, the Adidas Runners Zürich are you most reliable option. Group runs start on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 19:00 at the Amboss Rampe bar close to the main station. Depending on the day, tempo or interval sessions are proposed, the crew speaks english even if german is their main language.
Zürich has also plenty to offer cyclists both for road riding and more bumpy routes on the trail or mountain bike. Due to the size of the city, it’s easy to get out of the urban areas relatively quickly and aim for hilly roads with little traffic. Be aware though that the traffic can be quite dense on the main axes during the morning and afterwork hours.
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A road route easily found and followed by using the road that immediately circumnavigates the lake. Many cyclists take the road along the lake for commute or workout, but in general no cycle lane is available, and as mentioned, most of the shore is constructed so cycling along the lake is going to feel frustrating if you expect scenic spots on the lake. Nevertheless, it remains a very popular route among locals.
In refining the general loop, one option is to go to Rapperswil, cross the lake there and come back on the other side (70 km, completely flat). The full circuit around the lake is close to 100 km. A second option is to go across the Zürichberg (again the train can be a handy way to do just that) and cycle around the Greifensee, another (smaller) lake with a paved cycling lane going all the way around (20 km) so you can enjoy some flat riding without traffic.
For a more hilly riding terrain, several options exist on both sides of the lake. On the lake’s east side, you can get out of the city in Triemli, go up to Uitikon (2 km at 6%) and then down to the valley behind, and follow it southwards through the village of Stallikon. Then the two most popular climbs of this side of the lake can lead you back lakeside. The first option is the Bucheneggpass (2.5 km at 8%), the second is to go to Lake Türlersee and take the Albispass (2 km at 6%). It is easy to combine the two passes as they start from the same road and are not too distant. Riding the two passes will make for around 50km of riding, mostly on small roads with some nice scenic spots.
On the west side of the lake, the Pfannenstiel is the most popular hill to ride on. To get there, you can either follow the lake until Erlenbach and then go straight up to Guldenenstrasse (6km at 5.5% – with steeper bits) or Herrenweg (7km at 4.5%). Both options will start in residential areas, then pass through various farms and finish with panoramic views of the surrounding area. Riding there can easily be complemented with the ride around the Greifensee, mentioned in the paragraph above. Clock 30-50km based on your route choice.
If you are looking for a club ride, the Cycle Store Zürich organises a group ride every Thursday, setting out from its centrally located store at 6pm . Routes are typically selected there and then by the participants and include two hours of rolling time. More information can be found on the Strava Club Page of the Cycle Store Zürich, at least from some historical perspective.
There are many indoor and outdoor swimming pools in Zürich, but the most interesting aspect is that in summer there is the possibility to do some quality swimming in the lake or in the Limmat.
In the lake, many swimmers start from the parks of Chinagarten and Wollishofen and swim along the parks on the shores of the lake, where there is no risk of boat traffic. There are some shuttle boats on the lake so it is important to locate the stops and stay clear from these (Zürichhorn and Enge Hafen). This leaves enough place to enjoy the 25°C water at no risk!
Another outside option is the Limmat in Oberer Letten, next to the main station. This is a popular area to enjoy the river, every day hundreds of people jump from a bridge and let the stream carry them. The sportive swimmers are easy to spot, as they are the ones swimming upstream. The speed of the current is enough so that “static swimming” becomes a decent workout! Another open water swimming location can be found 300m to the north, Flussbad Oberer Letten (click on link for current water temperature).
Other swimming pools offer an outside option in summer: the Freibad Allenmoos in Oerlikon and the Freibad Heuried in Zürich.
For the more traditional swimming-pool offer, there are many options to choose from around the city, the most central one being the Hallenbad City, a 50m pool with three lines reserved for swimmers, and one for the “fast swimmers”. Despite that, it is often densely packed in the afterwork hours, but it remains open from 6 to 22, so going early in the morning or late at night allows avoiding the most crowded period.
For a typical warehouse setup with cages and barbells, visit CrossFit Zurich, located 1km to the north of the city centre. They have open gym hours and cater to regulars looking to complete their own workouts – see their Calendar for scheduled hours.
Sleeping & Eating
Zurich’s relatively small size and efficient public transit means that distance doesn’t get in the way of favourable coffee and food options. Similarly, hotels are located centrally as a default setting, with some quirkier options south and west of the city centre.
As with nearby Munich, Switzerland’s easternmost city has received the welcome influence of Italian cuisine. Respected pizzerias Don Leone in Stauffacher and Rosso in Hardbrücke. Zurich has also been receptive to the more recent tread in quality burgers, with Hol Cow, Butcher, Helvti Diner or Dite. Vegetarians and vegans should definitely check out the Hiltl restaurant, which claimed to be the first vegetarian restaurant in the world (it opened in 1898!).
In the realm of fine dining, pass by Maison Manesse, the creation of Australian transplant
Sadly there is no true cycle cafe in Zürich, even if the Zürich Cycle Store will serve you a coffee in-store. The coffee culture is has good coverage though. Renowned spots include MAME and Café Noir in the hipster Kreis 5 (5th district), Miró Coffee in Langstrasse and in the heart of the city, Just Coffee near the main station and La Stanza, further south nearer the Lake’s northern tip. in the heart for a more established vibe and, Just Coffee, close to the main station.
As you might expect, accommodation does bump up into dearer pricing categories, so savvy selection might be needed if you want to stay near the $150 per night pricing band. 25hours Hotel on Langstrasse is not even a mile west of the Zurich Main station, but comes with all the appealing aspect of the multi-city brand. Art works and neon lights skew the hotel towards the creative, balancing the modernism of the city center with something a little more lively. Make the most of rooftop yoga during the summer months – unfortunately there no gym at the hotel.
To the south of the city centre is Hotel Seehof which, true to its name, pulls in its waterside location into blue interiors. Solo travellers will appreciate single rooms, while couples can enjoy larger suites that also dock with nautical chic. This lakeside setting is ideal for swimmers being not 100m from Seebad Utoquai, and again, only 10 minutes by tram to the city centre. As with 25hours, there is no on-site gym for guests at Hotel Seehof.
Miro Coffee: no number
Seebad Utoquai: no number