If you’re visiting the Berner Oberland region of Switzerland, you’ll no doubt have heard about the train ride to the Jungfraujoch but another equally enjoyable excursion by train to consider is to the Brienzer Rothorn.
This mountain excursion has a lot going for it – a nostalgic steam train ride, restaurants at the summit, hiking opportunities, as well as a lakeside town in the form of charming Brienz.
This travel guide to Brienzer Rothorn will help you plan your visit, navigate the historic rack railway, and offer tips to help you have a most enjoyable day.
So, let’s get into the details of this incredible destination!
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Summary of ticket prices* for Brienz Rothorn Bahn
What is Brienzer Rothorn?
Brienzer Rothorn refers to a mountain in Switzerland’s Emmental Alps (actually the tallest in the range, at 2,350 metres above sea level) and there’s a particularly spectacular way to see the mountain. That is the Brienz Rothorn Bahn.
This steam-driven rack railway, Switzerland’s only daily* steam locomotive service, has been shuttling passengers to the top of the mountain since 1892 and celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2017.
(*the railway operates between 5 June and 25 October. See below for further details.)
Running from the village of Brienz at the foot of the mountain, all the way to the summit of the Brienzer Rothorn, the Brienz Rothorn Bahn is a must for any fan of trains, amazing views, or once in a lifetime experiences.
For stats fans: it’s Switzerland’s fourth-highest railway track, the ride covers just 4.7 miles of track and at some points climbs an incline of 25%. Unusually, the engine pushes instead of pulls its carriages up to the lofty summit of Brienzer Rothorn.
Handy information about Brienzer Rothorn
Getting to Brienz
First of all, you need to get to Brienz itself. If you’re travelling from either Interlaken or Lucerne, the fastest way to reach Brienz is by train. Brienz is a stop on the Luzern – Interlaken Express route (part of the GoldenPass Line) which runs between Lucerne and Interlaken Ost.
Alternatively, you could catch a boat from Interlaken and enjoy a cruise on Lake Brienz on your way to Brienz.
The Brienz Rothorn Bahn station is just across the road from the Brienz Railway station and the boat dock.
If you are arriving in Brienz by car, there’s a large car park off the main street and just a short walk from the Brienz Rothorn Bahn station.
When to visit
Due to the height of the Brienzer Rothorn, it’s not possible for the Brienz Rothorn Bahn to run year-round. There’s the cold to contend with, as well as inclement weather, including, of course, a whole lot of snow.
If you’re planning to enjoy one of Switzerland’s best train rides, then you should plan your trip for the summer months.
As the Brienz Rothorn Bahn steam train is very popular, it is recommended that you arrive at the station at least 30 minutes prior to your preferred departure in order to purchase your ticket or secure your seat (for rail pass holders).
Optional seat reservations
Seats on a particular departure can be guaranteed by purchasing a seat reservation for CHF 8 per person in advance. These should be purchased from the Brienz Rothorn Bahn station.
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When does Brienz Rothorn Bahn operate?
Specifically, the Brienz Rothorn Bahn runs from 5 June until 25 October (2021) on a regular service. It departs daily from the village of Brienz from 8:36 in the morning and offers almost hourly departures until 16:36 (the final departure of the day), taking just over an hour to reach the summit.
From the other end of the railway, at Rothorn Kulm, the earliest service returning to Brienz is 9:38 in the morning and the latest is 17:30. That means you have plenty of time to do whatever you wish when you’re atop this stunner of a mountain.
On Sundays in July, August, and September, there’s the chance to get the extra-early service that leaves Brienz at 7:36 a.m. The earliest returning service from Rothorn Kulm on these summer Sundays is 9:06.
There’s also a middle station on the railway, too – Planalp. As well as stopping here on its regular route up the mountain, from 9 May 2020, the Brienz Rothorn Bahn will offer a limited service just to Planalp – that’s because it’s too early in the year to ride all the way to the summit. This trip will take around half an hour.
How much does Brienz Rothorn Bahn cost?
Well, that depends! There are many different ways to get from A to B on this historic rack railway, so it definitely helps to know more in-depth info on which combinations of travel will suit you the best (and how many Swiss francs you’ll need). We cover the most popular travel options below.
The basic Brienz Rothorn Bahn price for a roundtrip ticket from Brienz to Rothorn is CHF 94. For a child between the ages of 6 and 15, a roundtrip ticket costs CHF 10 unless they hold a Junior Card, in which case they travel for free. If you want to travel to Planalp, and only Planalp, then a roundtrip from Brienz will cost you CHF 62 (the child fare stays the same).
If you plan on getting up early and taking the first train in the morning (8:36, or 7:36 on Sundays in the height of summer), you will benefit from a discounted fare! Some fares can be as low as CHF 24.50, but these services are limited to 100 people.
Keen trekkers and walkers can purchase a special Hiking Ticket. This means you can travel by train for three legs of the railway journey and hike a fourth. For example, you could get the train from Brienz to the summit, hike down to Planalp, then catch the train back to Brienz. This costs CHF 75 (and CHF 10 for a child).
Brienz Rothorn Bahn discounts
For even better value, holders of the Regional Pass Berner Oberland can travel on the Brienz Rothorn Bahn for free.
There are no discounts for the Brienz Rothorn Bahn for holders of a Jungfrau Travel Pass or Eurail Pass.
What to expect on the Brienz Rothorn Bahn ride
Over one hour, the steam locomotive weaves its way from the shores of Lake Brienz all the way to the summit of Brienzer Rothorn. The scene is pretty charming: cherry red coaches are pushed by a dark green engine, chugging alongside Alpine meadows and lush forests.
The carriages themselves are ‘panorama’ coaches, meaning that the windows open fully, affording you some incredible views of the neighbouring Bernese Alps, as well as down over the glistening surface of Lake Brienz and the dramatic Grimsel area.
You may find yourself riding above a sea of fog some days, as the train makes its way above the cloud line to the craggy summit of the mountain. It’s an impressive sight. On a clear day, however, you can see up to 693 different mountain peaks!
Regardless of which side of the train you sit on, you’ll enjoy great views during the ride. If you can secure seats on the left on the upward journey, you should do so but you won’t be disappointed if you sit on the right. The train winds its way up the mountain, providing all passengers with great views.
As the carriage windows can open (and most passengers prefer them this way), you should dress appropriately. Temperatures during the train ride and at the summit can be cool, even in summer.
What can you do at the summit of Brienzer Rothorn?
Whilst the steam train ride to Brienzer Rothorn is the main attraction there are a number of things to keep you occupied at the summit, which is over 2,000 metres above sea level.
First of all, and most importantly, food. Whether that’s breakfast, brunch, lunch, or an early dinner, it can be enjoyed at one of two eateries you’ll find up here. There’s the Rothorn Kulm mountain restaurant – good for a traditional three-course Swiss meal – located near the Brienzer Rothorn station.
Or there’s Restaurant Rothorngipfel, situated at the cableway station at the summit, which boasts regional and international cuisine.
You should allow at least one hour at the Brienzer Rothorn summit but if you have more time you can hike a number of trails.
There are shorter and longer trails; they’re suitable for everyone from casual hikers to veteran mountaineers – but do note that these aren’t flat strolls by any means. You definitely need to be prepared with the right footwear and equipment like hiking poles and wet weather gear.
You can also hike partially back down Brienzer Rothorn from the summit to Planalp (taking around 2.5 hours). For those who fancy a longer challenge, Brienzer Rothorn to Brunig Pass (1,038 metres above sea level) takes around five hours and rewards you with sweeping mountain vistas.
Suggested itineraries for your visit to Brienzer Rothorn
Most visitors choose to enjoy a return trip on the Brienz Rothorn train but if you’d like to return to Brienz (or Interlaken) via a different route, you can take the cableway (Seilbahn) from the Rothorn summit down to the grassy meadows of Sörenberg on the other side of the mountain.
From Sörenberg, you can take a bus to Giswil and then a train to Brienz or Interlaken.
The cable car operates from 1 June to 27 October and the trip takes just ten minutes. Round-trip fares Brienz – Rothorn – Sörenberg cost CHF 125.50 per adult. A 50% discount applies to Swiss Travel Pass and Swiss Half-Fare Card holders. Children (6 to 15 years) pay CHF 28.50.
The entire journey, including the bus and train back to Brienz or Interlaken, is free of charge with the Regional Pass Berner Oberland.
In summary, most visitors to Brienzer Rothorn will travel via one of the following two itineraries (either from Interlaken or Brienz):
- Interlaken to Brienz by boat
- Brienzer Rothorn Bahn (return trip)
- Brienz to Interlaken Ost by train
You should allow at least six hours for this itinerary.
- Interlaken to Brienz by boat (or train)
- Brienz to Brienzer Rothorn by steam train
- Brienzer Rothorn to Sörenberg by cable car
- Sörenberg to Giswil by bus (infrequent service)
- Giswil to Interlaken Ost via Meiringen and Brienz by train
You should allow a full day for this itinerary.
TIP: If you need to store your luggage whilst you visit Brienzer Rothorn, the Brienz Tourist Information Office will store it for free during opening hours.
Where to stay on Brienzer Rothorn
If you’d like to make the most of the breathtaking view, it’s possible to stay atop Brienzer Rothorn itself.
Just five minutes on foot from Rothorn Kulm train station, Hotel Rothorn Kulm features warm and cosy rooms with wood-panelled walls, Alpine décor, and mountain views. Just imagine being able to breakfast in the airy restaurant of the Brienzer Rothorn hotel while gazing at the mountain views.
Alternatively, there is a wide choice of hotels in Brienz. Two popular Brienz hotels are:
- The lakeside Hotel Steinbock which has an outdoor terrace, sparkling lake views, and suitably Alpine decor – click here to check prices.
- Hotel Weisses Kreuz, a charming chalet-style hotel which looks out over Lake Brienz and is close to the Brienz Rothorn Bahn station. Click here to check prices for Hotel Weisses Kreuz.
Are you ready to ride the historic Brienz Rothorn Bahn?
Now that you know all about the scenic Brienz Rothorn railway, I hope you’ll agree it’s worth a ride – especially with the reduced (and free) fares available for rail pass holders.
Intro image (C) Swiss Travel System
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