I paid $1 to see Zurich from a train that's been around for 130 years. It was unlike any railway I've taken.

Left: A red elevated railway car, Polybahn, stopped at a station with trees in the background. Right: A view of a railway leading to a building with blue skies
The Polybahn in Zurich is a train that runs on a steep incline. It's also known as a funicular.Joey Hadden/Business Insider
  • The Polybahn in Zurich is the most unique train ride I've ever experienced.

  • The Polybahn is a train on a steep incline that takes riders up and down the hilly Swiss city.

  • At just over $1, it's an affordable and historic travel experience with scenic views.

I've traveled 5,120 miles on trains in the US, Canada, France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, and Germany.

My rail journeys in these seven countries have varied greatly. I've booked a range of classes on day trips and overnight rides. I've even been on the 21st-century version of a legendary luxury train— the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

But none of those experiences were as unique as my ride on the Polybahn in Zurich in 2022.

The Polybahn is a funicular, like a train on a steep incline (sometimes called a hillavator). The rails go up and down, making it feel like a slow roller coaster.

I thought the Swiss funicular was a great tourist attraction similar to an aerial tram because you can see a range of views of the surrounding areas. It's also a cool experience for history buffs, as the transportation mode has served Zurich since 1886, according to the company's website.

And for just over $1, it's the cheapest travel activity I've ever paid for — and one of the best.

My journey started at Central Polybahn station in Zurich's Altstadt neighborhood.

The outside (L) and inside (R) of a Polybahn station in zurich
Zurich's Central Polybahn station.Joey Hadden/Business Insider

At the station, I used an automated machine to purchase a ticket. One ride cost me $1.30.

Inside, I walked up a set of stairs to the only platform and immediately noticed the tracks were on an incline.

The Polybahn pulled up within minutes.

A red elevated railway car, Polybahn, stopped at a station.
A Polybahn arrives at a station in Zurich.Joey Hadden/Business Insider

According to the Polybahn website, the train arrives every five minutes. It has two cars that each carry 50 people at a time.

As I stepped on board, I was excited by the car's bold red exterior, wide windows, and unique shape.

I noticed that there were no staff members on board. Since 1996, the train runs automatically.

Inside a Polybahn with white walls and people sitting facing away from the camera
Inside a Polybahn car in Zurich.Joey Hadden/Business Insider

There were less than a dozen people on board. Some looked like fellow tourists with phones and cameras out; others seemed like locals.

But none were employees. According to the company's website, the Polybahn was upgraded in 1996 and has since operated completely automatically.

From the elevated train, I had wide views of Zurich from start to finish.

Building, trees, and foliage in Zurich seen through Polybahn windows
Views of Zurich from the Polybahn.Joey Hadden/Business Insider

I saw a range of architectural styles, an abundance of greenery, and the hilly streets of the Swiss city from a window seat. A wide window at the back of the train reminded me we were moving up as the tracks sloped downward behind us.

Just two minutes later, my journey was over far too soon.

Two side-by-side images of tall buildings and trees in front of a mountain range with cloudy blue skies in the background
Views of Zurich from Polyterrasse.Joey Hadden/Business Insider

I could have spent at least an hour gazing at the city from the Polybahn, but just two minutes after departure, I arrived at Polyterrasse — a viewing deck at the University of Zurich.

With a panoramic scene of Zurich in front of a mountain range, I had an optimal view of the city I'll never forget.

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