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Holidays to Switzerland Travel Podcast Episode 91 Transcript

May 25, 2024 Last Updated on May 25, 2024

Top Swiss travel tips for 2024

You can see the full show notes and listen to this episode > here.

Hello, and welcome to episode 91.

2024 looks like being another bumper year for Swiss tourism, with visitor numbers forecast to equal or even exceed the record figures of 2023. With that in mind, and from what I experienced on my visit to Switzerland in 2023, I thought I’d share my top 10 Swiss travel tips for this year to help you plan, book, and experience your dream vacation to Switzerland.

Tip number one is to consider travelling out of peak season. Now, typically the summer months of June, July, and August are the busiest, but autumn or fall is an ideal time to travel. During September and the first half of October, the weather is still usually pretty good. 

Daylight saving time is still in effect, so there’s plenty of daylight hours, and mountain railways and attractions are still open so whilst you will avoid the biggest crowds, there’s still nothing stopping you from seeing exactly the same things and having an equally as good a time if you travel in autumn. 

So if you’re not restricted to travelling during, for instance, the school holiday periods, definitely consider moving your trip a little bit further out and travelling during September and the first half of October.

Next up, I recommend that you book your seat reservations for the Panoramic trains early. Now, even if you’re not travelling in peak season, it’s still a great idea to do this because the Panoramic trains are so popular. You may have heard that seat reservations aren’t required for trains in Switzerland. 

And yes, this is generally the case for 99 % of the trains. However, if you’re planning on travelling on the Glacier Express, Bernina Express, Gotthard Panorama Express or in Prestige Class on the GoldenPass Express, seat reservations are compulsory. These generally open around 90 days before travel, the exception being for Prestige Class on the Golden Pass Express, which opens about 11 months ahead of travel.

In order to book these seat reservations, you need to go on to the website of the actual train operator. There are links below to our detailed articles on each of the panoramic trains. These articles feature step by step instructions of how to go about booking those seat reservations and the links through to the official website to do so.

If you do miss out on securing seat reservations, don’t be too disappointed. Sure, they’re very popular trips because they are very panoramic and they’re quite famous. But there are lots of other alternatives. Regional trains, for instance, travel on the same route as the panoramic trains so you don’t actually have to travel on one of these panoramic trains to experience the same scenery and the same fantastic journey. 

There’s also some less than, but equally as beautiful So these are really wonderful panoramic trains, or let’s call them scenic trains, because they’re not officially called panoramic trains. And these are some good options as well. So if you missed episode 87, when I chatted with Andy Nef from Swiss Travel System. Go and have a listen to it because Andy chats about some of the alternative scenic routes that you might like to consider, including in your itinerary.

When it comes to seat reservations, the mountain railways don’t actually book out. They mostly operate very frequent services throughout the day. And you can just get your boarding parcel, your a ticket when you get there on the day. However, there are some of these mountain trains where seat reservations are recommended.

And three that particularly come to mind are the Jungfrau Bahn, Schynige Platte cogwheel train and the Brienzer Rothorn cogwheel train. The day before is usually early enough for booking these seat reservations. And it’s good to leave it until the day before because that way you can check the weather forecast. 

You can see or confirm that the next day is going to be a good day for visiting a mountain, and then go ahead and make those seat reservations. They can all be done on, again, on the official website of the train itself or at any station in the Jungfrau region.

The reason that I recommend booking seat reservations on those three trains are because of the following reasons. If you’re travelling to Jungfraujoch, regardless of where you’re coming from, whether that be Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen, or Grindelwald or Wengen, further along the line, everyone travels via Kleine Scheidegg, if they’re going by train all the way.

So Kleine Scheidegg is like a hub. Trains come from the different directions. Everyone has to disembark in Kleine Scheidegg and wait to board the next train from there up to the Jungfraujoch Top of Europe. So because this is a hub, it can be very busy.

And the trains from there for the final leg of the trip up to Top of Europe only operate every 30 minutes. So if you have arrived, let’s say, from Grindelwald, you hop off the train. There’s a huge queue of people ahead of you. Some get on without reservations. 

Others get on because they have got reservations. And then the train is full. You’ll have to wait for the next train that’s available 30 minutes later. So for 10 franc per person each way, it is a great idea to have a seat reservation. And then you have a guaranteed departure time so you can plan your day out much more smoothly.

The Brienzer Rothorn and Schynige Platte trains only have a few carriages, and they generally only operate hourly services. So booking your seat reservation for these to guarantee you’ll get a place on board at the time you wish is definitely a good idea. And again, that only costs a few francs each to do that.

While seat reservations aren’t actually necessary for the Gornergrat train, which goes from Zermatt up to Gornergrat for fantastic Matterhorn views, you can actually buy priority boarding tickets. And these are a great idea because, as the name suggests, you get to board the train ahead of all the general passengers, therefore, ensuring that you can get a seat on the right-hand side of the train, which is the best option if you’re going up from Zermatt because you get the best Matterhorn use on the right-hand side.

These seat reservations and the priority boarding tickets that I’ve mentioned, are in addition to the actual fare for the trip. So if you’ve got a travel pass that covers the trip or you’ve got a separate ticket that you’ve purchased for that excursion, you do need to pay that additional fee for your seat reservation or your boarding ticket.

Tip number three is to book your accommodation early. Now, I know you may have experienced in the past, even heading to a busy destination, that you’ve been able to leave it and book accommodation at the last minute. And yes, you will probably still get something if you do that in Switzerland as well. 

However, some villages have very limited options. There’s only a few hotels and a few holiday rentals. So if you particularly want to stay in a a specific location or a specific destination, or you want a property that has air conditioning, which is a fantastic idea during the warm summer months, or if you need an elevator, a family room, or a connecting room, for example, I would definitely recommend booking early.

Tip number four is to incorporate some time for flexibility in your itinerary.

It’s likely that not everything will go 100 % to plan. And things like the weather changing or you not quite making a 9:00 AM train because you’ve lingered a bit longer over breakfast and then you catch the 10:00 train. These things can happen, and therefore they can change the structure of your day. So by having some flexibility, you’ve got the freedom to make changes as you like. 

You might get to a place and really like it so rather than just staying for lunch you decide to spend a few hours there. By allowing some flexibility, not having your itinerary planned hour by hour, you have the freedom to do that.

And on the same topic of time, you need to allow time for waiting and for queuing at some of the really popular destinations. One of these that comes to mind is Mount First, which is just above Grindelwald. Here, there are lots of activities that are very popular, like a zip line and a glider. There’s mountain carts and fat tyre scooters. And these are extremely popular, particularly in those summer months. At the time of recording, there was no option to book your time slot to participate in these activities.

So it’s just a matter of joining the queue. When I was there last summer, there were signs up indicating the wait time for some of these activities, and it was three hours for some of them. So you really need to be super keen to do the activity or get there early so that you can join the queue at the very beginning of the day. Now, I do believe that 

There’s some talk about having these bookable time slots available, and hopefully that is not too far away. But at the time of recording in January 2024, this isn’t yet an option. So allow plenty of time if you plan to do those kinds of activities.

My next tip is to consider buying a travel pass before you get to Switzerland. This not only gets a major expense out of the way well ahead of time, but it also means that you won’t have to buy tickets for every trip that you take once you’re in Switzerland. Now, depending on your itinerary, it may not make sense to buy a rail pass if you’re only doing a couple of train trips and maybe one or two mountain excursions.

But if you’re there for a week or so and you are doing quite a few train trips and you are planning to do a couple or more mountain excursions, a rail pass can be great value. And having one in your hand before you get to Switzerland means that you can start using it as soon as you get there. 

If you have to queue up each time you want to buy a ticket, even if it’s from one city to another, the train stations can be very busy, particularly at popular destinations like Zurich Airport and Zurich Main Station. And in smaller locations, there may be only one or two staff at the counter. So if you’re there first thing in the morning to buy a ticket for your day’s travel, there may be plenty of other people ahead of you in the queue. And who wants to queue up and waste time waiting in line when they’re on a holiday? 

When you have a travel pass, you just simply hop on and off any form of transport that the pass covers without the need to buy an additional ticket. So having a travel pass can They give you both time and money, and they give you that flexibility as well.

Speaking of rail passes, there have been some changes to one of my favourites, the Berner Oberland Pass for 2024. Previously, this was a summer pass, but the validity has been extended this year. So it’s now available for use from the first of April right up until the 31st of December, which is great news. 

Another change with the Berner Oberland Pass is that they have introduced youth fares. So if you’re travelling with anyone from 16 to 25 years inclusive, they will qualify for the youth prices on their rail pass.

Tip number six is to check the operating dates of cable cars and mountain railways before you get to Switzerland. Some of the mountain railways only operate during the summer months, whilst others may close for a few weeks during spring or autumn for their annual maintenance.

So you really don’t want to have the disappointment of getting to a region with your heart set on doing a particular mountain excursion and then finding out that it closed two days before you arrived for the annual maintenance or for the seasonal closure. So do check those operating dates before you go just to make sure that what you want to do will be possible.

There is some ongoing works taking place at the Schilthorn. These have been going on for over a year now with some new cable cars and new cableways being installed. One thing to particularly note is that the section from Birg station to the Schilthorn will be closed from October 2024 until March 2025. So for that five month period you will only be able to go as high as Birg station, not right to the summit of the Schilthorn.

Knowing in advance what will be operating when you’re in Switzerland will help with your planning and will help to avoid disappointment.

The next tip I have for you is to wander off the well-trodden path. Why not include a less well-known destination in your itinerary for a chance to experience a more traditional, less tourist-focused town or village? 

Now, this doesn’t have to mean going too far out of your way. You could get off a Lake Brienz cruise for a stroll around Ringgenberg and its castle ruins, for example, or just hop off a train at a stop mid-journey for a wander and then resume your trip later. You can do a half-day or a day trip to a place that’s not mentioned in your standard guidebook or on social media. 

And there are plenty of beautiful towns and villages within easy reach of the main centres so it’s not like you have to really go a long way out of your way or you’re going to have trouble getting transport to reach these places. They’re all accessible by public transport.

If you’d like a few ideas, have a listen to episode 88, if you haven’t already, where we chatted about a number of absolutely beautiful villages that are very, very close to the main tourist centres, so you can easily combine them with the regular tourist sites as well.

Tip number 8 is to purchase travel insurance. Now, I know no one likes spending money on something that they might not need, but trust me, anything can happen so it’s better to be safe than sorry. I’ve had a couple of instances over the years where we’ve had to claim on our travel insurance. 

In one case, my husband had kidney stones and was hospitalised in France for five days. Another time, we had to cancel our trip before departing due to a serious illness of a family member. So whilst we think these things won’t happen, sometimes they do. And even something as simple as a sprained ankle whilst you’re out hiking can result in you requiring a helicopter transfer off the mountain. Now, no one needs that expense, I can tell you.

Tip number nine is to use our resources. Our website, holidaystoswitzerland.com has hundreds of detailed articles covering just about every aspect of planning a trip to Switzerland that you can think of. We also have a podcast, which again covers a wide variety of topics related to planning a Swiss vacation. Our Facebook group, Switzerland Travel Planning, has over 25,000 members and is a fantastic place to ask questions about your upcoming trip.

All of these resources are there for you to access totally free of charge. So why not make use of them?

We understand that everyone’s trip will be different, of course. There’s no one-size-fits-all itinerary or holiday style. Some travellers prefer to methodically research, plan, and book every aspect of their trip, whilst others would prefer to have everything done for them by someone else. And there are folks who fit somewhere in between.

Some folks prefer to travel independently, whilst others like to be part of a group. Whatever style of traveller you are, this website, our podcast and Facebook group should be your first port of call when you start your trip planning. And you’ll also find some exclusive discount offers that you might like to take advantage of, too.

My final tip for this year is to travel with an open mind. Not everything will be the same as it is at home. Some things will operate differently. The food and drinks may be prepared or served differently. But that’s the beauty of travel. Just go with the flow and embrace the differences. Switzerland is a stunningly beautiful country that will take your breath away.

I know you’re going to fall in love with Switzerland, and I hope these tips will help to make your trip a smooth one.

You can see the full show notes and listen to this episode > here.