Guide to Switzerland with a Eurail pass
Enveloped by snowy peaks, the mountainous landscapes of Switzerland are truly of epic proportions and are best viewed by train. The central European country is dotted with more than 450 major summits, interwoven by plunging valleys, gushing rivers, and sparkling white ski slopes. As one of the pioneers in the railway industry, Switzerland is covered with an extensive network of railway routes, some of which have been dubbed some of the most beautiful routes in the world. With the superb design of the railway routes, train travel remains the best way to explore Switzerland.
But the high prices in Switzerland have long deterred budget travelers from venturing to its prairies. Switzerland is considered one of the most expensive countries in the world, with train fares ranging from 30 Euros to 200 Euros. But these high prices can be easily avoided with a Eurail pass – making train travel in Switzerland a breeze.
To get a better understanding of train travel in Switzerland, here are some of our tips and advice:
Comfort and characteristics
The Swiss train system SBB is one of the easiest public transport systems to use, with clear station signs and information systems in English. Most announcements are made in German and French, although the tourist routes (mostly run by private companies) such as the Glacier Express and Bernina Express have English announcements.
Swiss trains in general are very comfortable and spacious. Most of them are two-storey trains with free seating. For longer train journeys, you may find enclosed cabins with six seats in each of them. Most trains either have a small cafeteria or a vending machine on board. There is usually a train steward who serves food from his/her trolley, with coffee, tea, cold snacks and sandwiches on offer. If you are on a budget, your best bet would be to bring your own food.
As Switzerland is not a big country, distances are relatively short and you can usually travel from one city to the next within two to four hours. There are almost no sleeper trains (except international train journeys).
Planning your journey
To make the most out of your Eurail pass, it’s best to plan your train route in advance. You can find a detailed map and the schedule for almost every train journey in Europe on Eurail.com. The Rail Planner App is also a great tool to help you plan your trip. The app includes an offline timetable allowing you to check train times, even when you’re on top of a Swiss mountain!
The key things to note when planning your Switzerland train journey is that not all trains journeys are included in the Eurail pass. Be sure to check that the route you want to take is valid with your pass – some special scenic trains, including the Glacier Express and Golden Pass are run by private companies. Eurail pass holders do get a discount on many of these routes.
Trains in Switzerland run regularly – you don’t need to book your seats in advance except on private routes such as the Glacier Express and Bernina Express. Again, be sure to check before hopping on the train. Reservation fees in such cases are usually not expensive, ranging from 5 Euros to 20 Euros per person per trip.
If you are limited on time, here is our pick of some of the best scenic routes in Switzerland that you won’t want to miss.
Best Scenic Routes
This legendary train journey has gained quite a reputation for its spectacular views and panoramic sights. Once on board, it’s easy to see why. Crossing from the eastern to the western Swiss Alps, the Glacier Express winds through 91 tunnels and crosses 291 bridges including the 2,033-meter Oberalp Pass. The entire journey from St Moritz to Zermatt takes only 7.5 hours but the short trip is enough to show you the best sights of Switzerland.
The Golden Pass panoramic train connects the major city of Zurich to Lake Geneva, departing from the historic city of Lucerne through the swanky Gstaad towards the stunning Montreux and Interlaken. This area is best suited for adventure seekers looking to explore the area on foot or through extreme sports like climbing and bungee jumping. We travelled just part of the route and found ourselves awe-inspired by the window views the minute we left the city.
Yet another popular route is the Bernina Express that crosses all the way from north to south of the Swiss Alps. Starting from Chur in the southern reaches of Switzerland, the train rides over beautiful viaducts, rocky rapids, and switch-back tunnels towards Tirano in Italy. The 100-year-old railway climbs up to 2,253-meter of height without the help of a rack-and-pinion mechanism. It also forms part of the Rhaetian Railway, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.
Whether you’re seeking adventure on the ski slopes or along the lake, Switzerland is sure to astound even the most hardened travellers. There is no better way of exploring this beautiful country than on train, just buckle up and prepare for the ride of a lifetime.