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I love funiculars. I love all public transportation, but I especially love a good funicular. Give me a short train ride that helps me avoid an uphill walk, and I am a happy man. That’s why I was eager to learn about and ride the Polybahn in Zurich, Switzerland.
History of the Zurich Polybahn
The Zurich Polybahn was first built in 1889. Originally, it was driven by water. A ballast tank was filled underneath the train at the top station; then the tank was emptied at the bottom. In 1897, this system was replaced by an electric drive.
The Polybahn connects central Zurich with the campus of ETH Zurich, a STEM-focused university. The school was originally called Eidgenössisches Polytechnikum, thus giving the Polybahn its name. It also has the nickname “Student Express.”
The funicular is still used by students & other locals, as well as visitors to Zurich who are exploring the several museums in the area, such as the University of Zurich Zoological Museum and focusTerra. You can also walk or take a tram, but that’s not nearly as fun.
The Polybahn was completely rebuilt in 1996. Twenty years before that, the banking group now known as UBS purchased the railway, saving it from potential destruction. As a result, it is officially called the UBS Polybahn. Another round of refurbishments was conducted in 2021.Book your hotel in Zurich now!
Today’s system consists of two fully automated 50-person capacity cars traveling between two stations. There is a single track with a passing loop halfway through the ride, which you can see in the videos below.
Riding the UBS Polybahn
Two million people ride the Polybahn each year. It’s easy to be one of them. Trains run every few minutes, and the ride takes just 100 seconds. The frequency makes it a practical way to get up the hill.
Polybahn tickets are part of regular Zurich transit passes and the Zurich Card, but you can also purchase tickets at each station.
The lower station, Central Polybahn, is just a short walk across the bridge from Zurich HB.
Upon exiting the station, the funicular trains pass over a bridge before continuing uphill at a 23% grade to Polyterrasse ETH, which is 41 meters above.
Inside this station are pretty stained glass windows, and you can also see the inner workings of the systems.
In addition to being practical, the UBS Polybahn is also nice to look at, including these cabin buildings.
Whatever your final destination, be sure to also take in the beautiful panorama from the viewing platform at Polyterrasse.
Watch a video of my Polybahn ride:
Here are some great Zurich tours & activities.
Need a place to stay? Check out these Zurich hotel options. For a luxurious stay, I recommend the Park Hyatt Zurich. Zurich is an expensive city, but it’s easy to get around, so if you’re looking to save some money, you can stay at an airport hotel like the Hyatt Regency Zurich Airport The Circle, as I have also done.