Sunday, 4 November 2012

Zurich Old Town Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 3.22 km (2.0 miles), terrain flat with two small hills

Zürich Routes List:
East shore out-and-back  
West shore out-and-back  
Zürich old-town loop  

Uetliberg hilltop trail

For more running routes, see the Route List

With a big lakefront, two rivers and two mountains, Zurich has a lot of varied and fun places to run. Here's my favorite little loop through the old town, but with stretches along the Limmat River and the lake.
Fog on the Limmat River on an autumn morning
I was looking forward to my work-trip to Zurich this week, since I hadn't run there in maybe 20 years. And I still had some very memorable runs in my head from way back then.

This short route starts at the main train station (Hauptbahnhof), heads up the main shopping street (Bahnhofstrasse) for a short way, then cuts through the old town and along the Limmat River to the lake. It then circles back through the other old town on the east side of the river before connecting back to the train station.
Zurich main station with statue of Alfred Escher
Sound interesting? Then make your way to Bahnhofplatz in front of the station, turn your back to the statue of railroad pioneer Alfred Escher, and head south along Bahnhofstrasse. This is Zurich's main shopping street, and it's a bit crowded here at the station. But in just a minute, you'll be free of the crowds. Only trams drive down the street. Further down the street, at Paradeplatz, the big Swiss banks have their headquarters.
Bahnhofstrasse: turn left at the end of the square
In just two blocks, you'll come to a green square on the right, in front of the Globus department store. At the end of the square, turn left and run the one block to the next square, Werdmühleplatz.

Turn right here and run through the square towards the street ahead, Uraniastrasse. On the left side, you'll see a stone bridge going over the street.

Turn left and run up the gothic stone steps to the bridge, and then turn right to cross the bridge, going south on Lindenhofstrasse.

Follow Lindenhofstrasse uphill, entering the old town houses. When it narrows to a path with some steps, keep going straight uphill to the next square ahead, Lindenhof.
Lindenhof in autumn
Lindenhof is an old bastion that once protected the town. Now it is a leafy square with a great view, especially of the Limmat River to the east. I like to circle the whole plateau and look out from each side.
View from Lindenhof to other old-town side, with Grossmünster
Now continue going south by exiting down the cobblestone street heading south. You'll see the clock-tower of St. Peter's church ahead, between the houses.

Just keep running straight towards the church as the street goes uphill again. On the side-streets to the right are some of Zurich's finest traditional restaurants. And on the streets going downhill to the river to the left are the city's most expensive designer shops.
St. Peter's
Run straight towards the church tower, then turn left just before the tower, going down the stairs between two ancient houses. At the bottom, the metal stairs take you over ruins of a 2000-year-old Roman bath.
Roman ruins underfoot
When you come out, you are standing in Weinplatz, with expensive shops and hotels surrounding you on all the curving lanes, and the river right in front of you.

Here at Weinplatz, there is a wide bridge spanning the Limmat, and with the old town hall sitting out over the water on the far side of the bridge, in a neutral spot between the two old towns.
Along the Limmat at Weinplatz
Go to the little fountain, then turn right to continue running south, along the riverside path, with the water to your left side. You will pass the Fraumünster church, with its elegant, thin steeple. The church is named after the Benedictine women's cloister which it once served.
The old Frauenbad (women's bathing platform)
You'll now run past a small marina and two Victorian-era wooden bath-houses out over the river. Just after the bath-houses, you'll come to Lake Zurich. Cross the loud lakeside street and run to the waterside square, Bürkliplatz, to get a great view.
Bürkliplatz
NOTE: This is where two other great little runs start, the East Shore Run and the West Shore Run. Try them out, too! See the links at the top of this posting.

Now turn left to cross the bridge over the river, where you come to a very busy intersection. Turn left again to start running north along the other side of the river. NOTE: To avoid crossing the street, you can also run down the steps to the right to then circle under the bridge on the little path and come back out on the north side of the street.

Running along the shore, you'll see the other old town section rising up the hillside to your right. This is actually the bigger old town, and is the city's entertainment area, full of clubs, restaurants, cafés and bars.

You'll soon come to the next church, the Wasserkirche, also built on arches over the river, like the town hall. And to its right, throning a terrace on the hillside is the Grossmünster church, Zurich's landmark building, with its twin, rounded towers.

At the Wasserkirche's front porch, turn right to go up the stairs to the terrace above. Run past the front facade of the Grossmünster and then continue uphill up the courtyard behind the church.
Along Niederdorfstrasse
Here you turn left and run straight through the whole old town. At first, this rolling street is called Münstergasse, but later the name changes to Niederdorfstrasse. There are lots of little lanes and squares branching off to each side, and you should definitely come back again to explore the neighborhood in detail.
One of the little lanes in the old town
Twenty years ago, the neighborhood was fairly run down, but it has been fixed up a lot in recent years, as people came to appreciate its unbeatable character and its great location in the town center. Today, there are a lot of new boutiques and restored side-streets.

On my first night in Zurich, 25 years ago, it just happened to be Fassnacht, the main carnival day in the city. I was wandering the Niederdorf neighborhood and was amazed to find "Guggen" music groups who were also wandering the streets. Each group was made up of 4 or more drummers who played driving rhythms as they went down the street. When different guggen-groups met at a street-corner, they began playing together, with new rhythms spontaneously being born on the spot. People were dancing in the street, and I spent half the night doing the same in this surrealistic street scene. May you also collect some great memories in Zurich!

But most nights, the streets are just filled with normal people going out to dinner or to a pub. The streets further up the hill, closer to the university, are full of students and their pubs and cafés, like those on Zähringerplatz, in front of the Predigerkirche with its tall, thin spire.

NOTE: When you pass Mühlegasse, you'll come to the cheaper end of Niederdorfstrasse, with some traditional and relatively low-priced restaurants, like the Johanniter and the Rheinfelder Bierhalle. If you want to try some typical Swiss food, make sure you try them out!
Traffic policeman at Central. Must be the last one left in Europe!
Niederdorfstrasse ends at the Central square, one of the main transfer-stops for a variety of tram lines, with its traffic policemen instead of traffic lights. Turn left here to cross the river and run straight west to the Bahnhofplatz, where you began.

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