All of my Zurich tourist guides are full of 'Walking Trips', 'Museum Excursions', and 'Things to Do in Zurich' that basically involve nothing more than exploring the Old Town stretch of land between the Central Station and the Lake.
Bizarrely, not one of the guides I have mentions Uetliberg, or The Top of Zurich as it likes to be known, even though it's a very short train ride from the central station and just inside that crucial Zone 10 region that the cheapest Zurich travel pass gives you access to.
UPDATED 2nd July 2011: Oops! Uetliberg is NOT inside Zone 10 after all. It's just outside and it seems I travelled illegally. You need to purchase a ticket for Zone 55 and the train crosses Zone 54 on its way there. Examine the map below carefully and read the Comments section below!
Featuring the most inspiring views of the Lake and the City (hence its 'Top of Zurich' nickname), with picnic park, children's playground, seemingly endless tourist-oriented restuarants and the obligatory tourist kiosk it's hard to understand why it's been excluded from all my guides. Even if you're only in Zurich for a couple of days it surely warrants a visit?
If you look up to the wooded mountains from pretty much anywhere in Zurich you may well have spotted two towers high up on the horizon. These mark the location of 'The top of Zurich'.
The triangular tower on the left is a viewing tower that affords the best photographic opportunities if you're into panoramas - IF you don't die of vertigo before you get to the main viewing platform (You'd think that several years of bungee jumping and sky-diving would have cured me of vertigo nausea, but apparently not!) There is a viewing platform on the main road, but the view of Zurich and the Lake are obscured by trees so it's worth the climb up the tower if you're up to it.
The best way to get there is by the S10 train which leaves from one of the lower platforms of the Central Station every 20 minutes. The trip takes about 25 minutes as it's a slow, gentle ride up to the heights, with the train often having to co-ordinate a single track line with trains coming the other way down the mountain. As it approaches the final destination, the train lets out a whistle to let other trains know it has right of way.
The kids travelling on the train I was on seemed to love this, shrieking every time the whistle sounded, to such an extent that I couldn't help wondering if it would be loud enough to cover up the sound of a large slap, or the sounds of a small weight tumbling down the mountain after being ejected from the train!
The train itself is comfortable, bordering on luxorious compared with British trains, with plenty of seats available even on the busy, hot Saturday I made the trip.
Arriving at the station you're immediately greeted by a tourist kiosk (a small tray of 'pommes frites' will set you back CHF7.50 which is about UKP 6) preceding two paths leading up to the 'Top of Zurich' itself - one is a gentle wide road for those with pushchairs or prams, the other is a quicker, steeper, narrower path with steps. It's about a 5-10 minute walk up to the main viewing area. For the disabled or old there is a (free?) mini-truck transport system to get you up to the main viewing area - think 'taxi's from the 1960's TV show The Prisoner' and you've pretty much got the gist of them. The lazy may be able to blag their way onto one of these - I didn't try, but it looked like others had!
As you approach the two paths you're greeted by a plethora of signs. The area attracts a lot of hikers (apparently undertaking the trip by walking is a pretty tough test of stamina) and bikers, so it's hard to know who the signs and their timings for different areas of Zurich are aimed at. There sure are enough of them!
You might be wondering what all those 'dining' symbols on the different signs mean. I think they're a subtle way of alerting you to the fact that you're going to see one restaurant after another as you climb towards the viewing point, all offering beer and food at what can best be described as 'tourist prices'.
Aside from the non-stop exhortations to visit this restaurant or that one, the walk through woodland is very pleasant, with a shaded picnic area to one side before you reach the main viewing area which is over-run with restaurants and open-air stalls and seating areas. The Swiss also seem to be obsessed with an animal that looks like it was created by crossing a deer with a giraffe!
The view from the pyramid tower is truly stunning, although it's a shame that the explanatory plaques that try and highlight the areas of interest have had a visit from the grafitti morons that seem to plague every country.
Alas no photo can do the view justice (even clicking on the link below for a bigger version doesn't help much as these photos were all taken with my iPhone, not a decent camera) so you need to go check it out yourself.
I'd be wary of visiting 'The Top of Zurich' in Winter when it's been snowing because of the steep climb, but in Summer it's glorious and highly recommended.