A Guide to Switzerland by Train
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, Switzerland by train is the best way to explore the country.
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 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 Switzerland by train, here are some of our tips and advice.
Comfort and characteristics on Swiss trains
The Swiss train system SBB is one of the easiest public transport systems to use. There are clear station signs and information systems in English. Most announcements are in German and French. 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 their trolley, with coffee, tea, cold snacks, and sandwiches on offer. If you’re on a budget, you can also bring your own food.
As Switzerland isn’t a big country, distances are relatively short and you can usually travel from one city to the next within 2 to 4 hours. There are almost no sleeper trains (except international train journeys).
Planning Switzerland by train
To make the most out of your Eurail Pass, it’s best to plan your train route in advance. Check out the detailed map and timetable of almost every train journey in Europe. The Rail Planner App is also a great tool to help you plan your trip. It includes an offline timetable for you to check train times, even when you’re on top of a Swiss mountain!
The key thing to note when planning a trip through Switzerland by train is that not everything is included in the Eurail Pass. Be sure to check that the route you want to take is covered. 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. As of 2017, the Glacier Express is included in your Eurail Pass.
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 to 20 euros per person per trip.
If you’re limited on time, here is our pick of the best scenic routes in Switzerland that you won’t want to miss.
Best Scenic Routes in Switzerland
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 traveled 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, seeing Switzerland by train is sure to astound even the most hardened travelers. Prepare for the ride of a lifetime.