Mountains… and more: Zurich Polyterrasse

Welcome to the first installment of Mountains and more!

My goal with this series is to share some knowledge about the country I’ve spent more than half of my life in: Switzerland. Every Monday, I’ll discuss either a beautiful place to visit or an interesting bit of Swiss history. If you’d like to know more about a specific topic, just let me know!

For today, I’ve decided to write a little portrait of one of my favorite spots in Zurich, the city I studied and worked in for the last four-and-a-half years. Zurich is the largest city of Switzerland and located in the northeastern part of the country. Most tourists know the long shopping mile Bahnhofstrasse which spans all the way from the central train station to the border of Lake Zurich. Along the way are shops by most major fashion brands, Zurich’s premier department store Jelmoli and of course the Paradeplatz, the seat of Switzerland’s two biggest banks. Other famous landmarks include the newly built Prime Tower (the highest skyscraper in Switzerland) and the Uetliberg (the hill overlooking the city, lake and alps). I don’t believe  this will be the last time I write about Zurich, so I’ve picked out a special spot to use as an introduction to the city: the Polyterrasse.

The Polyterrasse is a terrace located by the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) and a great way to start a tour of Zurich. Right next to the ETH lies the University of Zurich (where I currently visit Grad School). The ETH and the University of Zurich are two of the biggest tertiary institutions of the country and always worth a visit. Notable former students include Albert Einstein, Pierre de Meuron, Erwin Schrödinger or Wolfgang Pauli. If you visit the schools during the academic year (semesters span from March to June and September to Christmas), you should be able to sit in a lecture about computer science, economics, law or mathematics without registering beforehand. A lot of basic courses are taught to 100 or more students, so even unknown faces can listen to esteemed professors easily. However, in undergraduate courses most classes still are in German. On a graduate level almost all courses are taught in English. Even if you don’t happen to be interested in the lectures, just having a stroll around the quarter with many of its villas housing university institutes or offices can be relaxing. After this short introduction to the university, let’s have a closer look at the Polyterrasse.

From an architectural point of view, I do not believe the Polyterrasse to hold any special value. The university buildings close-by are more interesting if you’re looking for architecture. It is a large square terrace with steps leading to the ETH and also serves as a roof for a building. Beneath the terrace lies the bqm, a bar/bistro with moderate prices frequented by students and tutors alike. Next to the bistro is the official cafeteria of the ETH, a book and stationary shop as well as one of the fitness studios for university students. There are a few modern pieces of lighting and a handful of benches to rest on.

One of the main reasons to check out the Polyterrasse is the fantastic view of downtown Zurich. If you’re particularly lucky, you’re also treated to a panorama of the alps. For me, there’s no better spot in town to get a quick overview of the downtown area. The view includes the main station, many of the cities churches and the buildings of the Old Town. Additionally, you can see the beautiful lake and the river Limmat.

I particularly recommend visiting the Polyterrasse during the spring or summer during nice weather as clouds, rain or snow take away a lot of its charm. And its charm is what makes the terrace stand out as one of the special places in town. In summer, the platform is filled with students enjoying the sun, studying their textbooks or discussing their newest projects. It is bristling with youthful energy and it’s a place where you might even be able to catch a glimpse of the next Mark Zuckerberg. For me, it is the perfect place to just relax with a good book or to meet up with friends for an after-work drink. On a sunny day, the atmosphere on the Polyterrasse and its wonderful view never fail to inspire and motivate me.

To reach the Polyterrasse, you can use the polybahn furnicular, an automatically operated train line connecting the old town with the ETH since 1889. The cost of taking the five-minute ride with the furnicular is 2.30 CHF. Alternatively, there are multiple sets of stairs leading up to the Polyterrasse or you can take trams 6 or 10 from the main station to the station “Haldenegg”.

For your next visit to Zurich, I can only recommend to start your city tour at the Polyterrasse, taking in the atmosphere and exploring the two schools close by. You can then continue to stroll down to the old town (Niederdörfli) or the Kunsthaus art museum. Or you could take the Polybahn furnicular down to the river and Bahnhofstrasse. Zurich has a lot to offer and discover!

To end this post, I wanted to thank all the readers of Chapter 2 who have sent me valuable feedback on my writing. I hope to include the tips in chapter 3 on Friday.

Feel free to connect with me to share your ideas via the comments, e-mail or on twitter @AlbertGubler! See you Wednesday with this week’s obsession.

Sincerely yours,