Unlike a walk along the busier arteries that run through central Zurich (such as the Bahnhofstrasse or the Limmatquai), a stroll along the Schanzengraben Canal is both relaxing and rewarding, with an emphasis on relaxing. Whether you’re a resident of Zurich or a first time visitor fresh off the train, the pleasant waterway running from the lake to the Limmat is a great away to escape the hustle and bustle of the city without actually leaving it.
The Schanzengraben was originally constructed during the 17th century as a moat and defensive barrier to protect the residents of Zurich from attacking Catholics during the Thirty Years War. These days, the canal more closely resembles a scene from a Venetian vacation than an interfaith battleground. In its early years, the canal was crossed by retractable wooden drawbridges (in fact, it was considered an architectural marvel), but now it has several permanent stone and steel structures. The benches that line the path in between the bridges are favorites with locals looking for a quiet place to have lunch or meet friends on a summer weekend afternoon, as is the courtyard directly behind the Migros City department store.
Newcomers to the city can easily make a proper circuit of the Schanzengraben directly from the main train station, which is located just a stone’s throw from the Limmat end of the canal. From the station, you will descend to the path (it’s below street level, which partly explains its seclusion) and make your way to the lake (near Bürkliplatz) before returning to the station, where you can continue on with your plans. Along the way, be sure not to miss the series of steps next to the Selnau Bridge that lead up to an excellent botanical garden.