Swiss Train
Transport

Switzerland Train Travel: Understanding and using the Swiss Rail System

October 31, 2019
by

Switzerland is famous for its railways.  The trains in Switzerland are known to be on time, clean and frequent and very often they also offer superb views. With the Switzerland railway network being so efficient, travelling by train is generally the best way to travel in Switzerland for both locals and visitors.  

In this train travel in Switzerland guide, I explain the difference between a Swiss rail pass and regular Swiss train tickets, give you details about the major train routes in Switzerland, tell you where you can find a Swiss rail timetable, where to buy your Switzerland train tickets and how to make your Switzerland train reservations online.

[This post may contain compensated links. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.]

Best websites to buy Swiss Train Tickets and Passes

Swiss Travel PassKlookViator
Swiss Travel Pass FlexKlookViator
Swiss Half Fare CardKlookSwiss Railways
Point to point ticketsSwiss RailwaysOmio
Jungfrau Travel PassGetYourGuideViator
Regional Pass Berner OberlandViatorHappyRail
Tell PassHappyRail
Regional Pass Lake GenevaHappyRail
Seat reservations for panoramic trainsHappyRail

Swiss Travel Pass and Swiss Half Fare Card

Read my comprehensive guide to the Swiss Travel Pass here

Whilst you can buy Swiss Passes at most railway stations in Switzerland, in order to start using your pass as soon as you arrive in Switzerland, the best place to buy your Swiss Travel Pass is online via Klook or Viator.

Unlike some other European rail passes, with the Swiss Pass you can print them out at home, which makes purchasing them online super easy and convenient.  Click here to purchase your Swiss Train Pass and then as soon you arrive in Switzerland you can start taking advantage of all the benefits that come with the pass.

Also just to note that the Swiss Travel Pass is only available to be purchased by people who permanently live outside of Switzerland.

CLICK HERE TO BUY YOUR SWISS TRAVEL PASS

Seat reservations for Swiss Travel Pass holders

If you already have your Swiss Travel Pass and just want to know where to make seat reservations, the best place to do this is on the Swiss Railways website or at any train station in Switzerland.

It’s important to note though, that for most train rides in Switzerland you do not need to make reservations, you can simply jump on board provided you have a valid rail pass or ticket. 

There are a few Switzerland train trips that do require advance reservations and of course during peak times it may be best to reserve a seat in advance to avoid disappointment. These include the panoramic trains which are described in more detail below.

Point to point tickets

For standard point to point train tickets in Switzerland – that is purchasing your Swiss rail tickets as you go rather than having a rail pass – the best place to purchase tickets is online at Omio or the Swiss Railways website.  You can also of course purchase your tickets at any train station Switzerland has.

CLICK HERE TO BUY YOUR SWITZERLAND TRAIN TICKETS FROM OMIO

Transport/Sightseeing Passes

In addition to the Swiss Rail Pass and point to point tickets there are other transport / train passes in Switzerland for some of the more popular tourist regions in Switzerland (see below for further details).

Not every online outlet sells every pass. These are the sites I recommend you purchase through:


Before you get started travelling in Switzerland by train

Before you start travelling in Switzerland by train, I highly recommend you download the SBB app.  This app is vital if you plan to travel by train in Switzerland and will make your travel much easier.

On the app you will be able to purchase point to point Swiss train tickets online, check all the train routes Switzerland has and find out which platform your train departs from.  Click here to read my full guide on using the SBB app when you travel Switzerland.

Advantages of train travel in Switzerland 

Traveling by train in Switzerland has many advantages.  Not only is Switzerland train travel a wonderful way to see the beautiful countryside and stunning Swiss Alps, it is also the most efficient and often the cheapest way to travel in Switzerland.

Here is a brief overview of the advantages of traveling by train through Switzerland:

  • Centre to centre – travel in Switzerland by train is super convenient with pretty much the entire country well serviced and stations are located right in the centre of town.
  • Meet the locals – when you take a Switzerland train ride, you will be among the locals and have the opportunity to chat to the local Swiss people.
  • Relaxing – Rather than driving a hired vehicle for your Switzerland trip, sit back and relax, while you are transported to wherever you need to go.  A train ride through Switzerland is extremely comfortable and a great way to relax on your holiday.
  • Frequent – The Swiss Federal Railways are extremely efficient and trains are very regular.  You’ll rarely wait long for any connections for your train trips through Switzerland.
  • Scenic – Switzerland would have to be one of the most beautiful places in the world to travel by train – the landscape is absolutely perfect for train travel.    The Swiss rail network goes right past the most scenic landscapes including all the stunning lakes, snow capped mountains, flowing streams and quaint little villages.  In Switzerland it’s certainly more about the journey rather than the destination.

The Swiss Rail Network

The Switzerland train system is just brilliant, with the entire country well connected enabling you to pretty much travel anywhere you wish.  The Swiss rail system is said to be the world’s most dense railway network and the trains are well connected with other forms of public transport.

Major train routes in Switzerland

Below I have briefly outlined the details of some of the major Swiss train routes.

  • Zurich to Lucerne train:  A direct journey time between 45 minutes to just over 1 hour depending upon the train.  The fastest route is train 70 which has a journey time of 45 minutes and only two stops, or train 75 with a journey time of 50 minutes and four stops. Trains to Lucerne run regularly at around every 30 minutes.
  • Zurich to Interlaken train:  A journey time between just over 2 hours to 3.5 hours with a connection in either Bern or Lucerne.  Travel via Bern for the fastest route.
  • Zurich to Geneva train: A direct journey time of around 2.75 hours.  Trains to Geneva run regularly at around every 1 hour.
  • Zurich to Basel train: There are multiple options which take between just under 1 hour to a little over an hour.  The fastest route is train 2-Y which is a direct route traveling towards Mulhouse Ville and takes just under 1 hour.  Another good option is to connect in Olten with a total journey time of 1 hour.
  • Zurich to Zermatt train: This a 3.25 hour journey which requires a connection in Visp.  Some routes require a connection in both Bern and Visp, but don’t add much time to the journey.
  • Zurich to Bern train: A direct journey time of between just under 1 hour to 1.5 hours.  For the fastest journey take train 8 towards Brig which is a direct trip, other routes require a connection in Olten or Aarau.  Trains to Bern run regularly at around every 20 minutes.
  • Geneva to Zurich train: A direct journey time of around 2.75 hours.  Trains to Geneva run regularly at around every 1 hour.
  • Geneva to Zermatt train: This is a 3.75 hour journey which requires a connection in Visp.  Some routes require a connection in both Bern and Visp, but don’t add much time to the journey. Trains to Zermatt run regularly at around every 1 hour.

Panoramic Trains in Switzerland

For many people on holidays in Switzerland, a trip on a Switzerland scenic train is at the top of the must-do list.  A panoramic train in Switzerland takes you through some of the most beautiful regions in all of Switzerland, with many of the trains having specially built panoramic windows to maximise your view.  

Below I’ve provided some of the essential information about these scenic train routes in Switzerland.

Glacier Express

The Glacier Express is referred to as the “world’s slowest express train” and is also known as one of the most scenic train rides in Switzerland.  This scenic train in Switzerland runs between St Moritz and Zermatt and crosses 291 bridges and passes through 91 tunnels.

This entire scenic train of Switzerland trip is just over 8 hours and runs twice a day during the Winter months and four times a day during the Summer months – however please note that only two trains complete the entire journey.

Seat reservations are compulsory on the Glacier Express – even for Swiss Travel Pass holders – and start at 23 CHF for second class in low season, right up to 43 CHF for first class in peak season.

Swiss Travel Pass holder? Click here to book your seat reservations on the Glacier Express

Glacier Express train

Gotthard Panorama Express

Running between Lucerne and Lugano, this panoramic train of Switzerland starts by taking a cruise across Lake Lucerne in a steamboat before passengers board the train at Flüelen.  En route you will pass through the world’s longest tunnel.

The entire train trip through Switzerland takes 5.25 hours and runs once a day Tuesday through to Sunday during the months of late April to late October. Seat reservations are compulsory for all passengers and cost 16 CHF. 

Swiss Travel Pass holder? Click here to book your seat reservations on the Gotthard Panorama Express

Bernina Express

This Switzerland train journey takes you from the medieval city of Chur across the Swiss Alps to Italy.  The train journey passes through the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Rhaetian Railway as well as through 55 tunnels and crosses 196 bridges before ending at Tirano. 

From here you take the Bernina Express (Palm Express) Bus through the Valtellina wine region before arriving in Lugano.

This entire Switzerland train tour takes almost 7.5 hours (4.25 on the train and the remaining time on the bus).  The train trip runs twice daily.

Seat reservations are required for this trip and cost between 10 and 16 CHF each for both the train and the bus.

Swiss Travel Pass holder? Click here to book your seat reservations on the Bernina Express

Voralpen-Express

This train runs between St Gallen and Lucerne and takes just over 2 hours.  This scenic train route in Switzerland connects central and eastern Switzerland and takes you past lakes, mountains and the Rothenthurmer Hochmoorebene which is the highest railway viaduct in Switzerland at 99 metres high.

This train trip runs daily each hour.  Advance reservations cannot be made for this train.

GoldenPass Line

Over three different connecting trains, the GoldenPass Line runs between Lucerne and Montreux and passes by eight lakes, through six different cantons (Swiss regions) and crosses three mountains passes.

The entire trip on the Golden Pass train in Switzerland takes just over five hours and runs five times a day, all year round.

Seat reservations are not required but are recommended during peak times.  Seat reservations range between 5 and 8 CHF per person per sector.

Swiss Travel Pass holder? Click here to book your seat reservations on the GoldenPass Line

GoldenPass panoramic train
Photo courtesy Swiss Transport System.

Centovalli Railway

The Centovalli Railway route takes passengers between Locarno and Domodossola and runs through the Centovalli (the Hundred Valley) which provides some of the most beautiful views in all of Europe.  En route you will see waterfalls, vineyards, forests and quaint villages.

The entire journey takes just over 1 hour and operates year-round, departing every 1 to 2 hours.

Seat reservations are not required.

The Chocolate Train Switzerland

For lovers of all things chocolate – a trip on the Chocolate train in Switzerland is a must.  The Chocolate train tour Switzerland takes passengers between Montreux and the Cailler-Nestle chocolate factory at Broc. 

The train journey itself is relatively short, but with the included stops at the chocolate factory as well as the Gruyères village, this trip takes the entire day.

The Chocolate train departs at 9.02 am and returns at 5.52 pm on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays between the months of May and June, daily during July and August and between September and October on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.  

The Chocolate Train costs 90 CHF for second class or 99 CHF for first class.  The ticket price includes entry to the chocolate factory of Nestlé Cailler in Broc, entry to La Maison du Gruyère and coffee and chocolate croissants on the train.

The Cheese Train Switzerland

If chocolate’s not your thing, there is also a Cheese train!  The Cheese train takes passengers between Montreux and Chateau d’Oex and includes a visit to the Museum du Pays-d’Enhaut, Bio fondue at the Restaurant Le Chalet as well as cheese and wine onboard the train.

The Cheese train runs daily between January and April and costs 89 CHF per adult.  

Major train stations in Switzerland

For non-Europeans traveling through Switzerland, a handy tip to know is that Hbf. is the abbreviation for Hauptbahnhof, the German word for main train station, and Flughafen is the German word for Airport.

You will often see train stations referred to with these terms, for example Zurich Hbf and Zurich Flughafen.

Below I’ve listed some of the major train stations in Switzerland with their addresses and available services.

Zurich Hbf

Museumstrasse1, 8001 Zürich

Free WiFi / Lockers available (Small to XXL) / Lift

Bern station

Bollwerk 4, 3011 Bern

Free WiFi / Lockers available (Small to XXL) / Lift

Basel station

Centralbahnstrasse 22, 4051 Basel

Free WiFi / Lockers available (Small to XX Large) / Lift

Geneva Cornavin station

Place de Cornavin 7, 1201 Genève

Free WiFi / Lockers available (Small to XX Large) / Lift

Lucerne station

Zentralstrasse 1, 6002 Luzern

Free WiFi / Lockers available (Small to Large) / Lift

Individual Switzerland Train Tickets vs a Swiss Rail Pass

In most cases when it comes to Swiss train tickets for tourists, you are going to be better off purchasing at least some form of Switzerland train pass rather than buy Switzerland rail tickets individually.

When it comes to purchasing individual tickets for train journeys in Switzerland, there are many variables that determine the price.  The main factor is when you book the tickets as well as the timing of the actual train travel. 

Booking last minute tickets tends to be most expensive, which means you can’t be very flexible with your travel.

You’ll also want to consider if you plan on doing any mountain excursions during your Switzerland travel as these day trips alone can make it well worth your while to purchase a pass.

For example, let’s say you were visiting Switzerland for four days and planned on doing the following:

  • Day 1: Train from Zurich to Interlaken. (From CHF 70 return or free with the pass). Take the funicular to Harder Kulm (cost CHF 32 or CHF 16 with the pass). Visit the Ballenberg Open Air Museum (cost CHF 28 or free with the pass).
  • Day 2: Take the train to Jungfraujoch (cost 210.80 CHF or 158.10 CHF with pass).
  • Day 3: Take the train to Grindelwald (from CHF 22.40 or free with pass) and then the cable car to First (CHF 88.40 or CHF 30 with pass).
  • Day 4: Take the train and cable car to Schilthorn (cost CHF 129  or CHF 64.50 with pass). Return to Zurich.

Without the pass the above would cost CHF 580.60 or with the pass it would cost CHF 549.60 (CHF 281 for a 4-day 2nd class consecutive pass + the add-ons mentioned above) – a saving of CHF 31.

As you can see from the above example, it can be more economical to purchase a rail pass.


Different fare types of individual Swiss train tickets for tourists

If you decide the best way to go is to purchase individual point to point train tickets for Switzerland, there are a few things you’ll need to consider when making your purchase.

When purchasing your point to point train ticket in Switzerland, you will need to decide whether you purchase a one-way (single) ticket or a return journey ticket.  You will also need to decide whether to purchase a first class or second-class fare.  

Another consideration is whether you have (or will purchase) one of the Half Fare travel cards in Switzerland (see further details below in the Swiss Rail Pass section) that entitles you to 50% discount.

When purchasing your point to point tickets, keep in mind that you also need to specify the exact travel days.  Subsequent changes or exchanges are not possible. This is another one of the Swiss Travel Pass benefits as you can simply travel whenever you like – provided of course you have the correct pass.

If you’re after cheap train tickets, Switzerland Railways sometimes have Super Saver Tickets available.  There are a limited number of Super Saver tickets available on selected routes, which offer savings of up to 70%.  

Super Saver tickets also have the option of first or second class travel as well as the additional half fare discount. These tickets (subject to availability) can be purchased between 1 and 60 days prior to travel via the SBB.ch webshop or app.

Again, the Super Saver ticket is only valid for the selected date of travel.   

Child Fares

If you are travelling with children aged between 6 to 15 and not travelling with the Swiss Travel Pass, but instead with one of the other passes mentioned above or simply point to point tickets, it is recommended that you purchase a Junior Travel Card for CHF 30 for each child. 

This card then allows children to travel free of charge alongside you.  The card is valid wherever the Half Fare card is available and on many other transport services as well.

If you are travelling with a Swiss Travel Pass you are better off obtaining the free Swiss Family Card where accompanied children travel free of charge – see below for further details.


What are the different Swiss Rail Passes?

There are various options for a Switzerland Rail Pass – below I provide a brief summary of each. For a comprehensive guide to the Swiss Travel Pass, read this article.

Swiss Travel Pass (Consecutive or Flex)

The Swiss Travel Pass is a consecutive travel pass, meaning you can use it every day it is valid for.  These passes come in 3,4, 8 or 15 day passes and are available in either first or second class.

The Swiss Travel Pass Flex can be used on a set number of days during a 1-month period.  The passes come in a 3, 4, 8 or 15 day duration – so for example you can use your pass on any 3 days within the 1-month period – but not every day.  The Swiss flexi pass is also available in either first or second class.

If you’re after a Swiss Travel Pass discount and you are under 26 years of age, then you are eligible for the Swiss Travel Pass Youth.  This pass is basically a Swiss Travel Pass or the Swiss Travel Pass Flex but at a huge 15% discount.

If you are traveling with your children who are between 6 and 15 years of age, be sure to get the free Swiss Family Card which enables accompanied children to travel free of charge.  Children under 6 are free and do not require a Swiss Family Card.

Swiss Half Fare Card

If you’re not keen on the upfront investment of any of the Swiss Travel Passes mentioned above, another great option is the Swiss Half Fare Card. 

The Swiss Half Fare travel card allows you to buy Swiss train tickets at a discount of 50%.  You are also entitled to a discount on other public transport, but the discount is not always as much as 50%.

The Swiss half price card is valid for 1 month depending upon how long you intend on visiting Switzerland and how much train travel you will be doing, may well be the best option for you.

Regional Pass Berner Oberland

For those travellers just visiting the areas of Bern, Lucerne, Interlaken and Brig, then the Regional Pass Berner Oberland Pass may be a good option.  This Switzerland pass includes travel on almost all trains and buses.  With the pass you also receive reduced rates on mountain railways, cableways and boats.

Read more about the Regional Pass Berner Oberland in this article

The Regional Pass Berner Oberland comes as a 3, 4, 6, 8 or 10 day pass. 

Click here to buy from Viator | Click here to buy from HappyRail


Jungfrau Travel Pass

If you are just visiting the Jungfrau region, then the Jungfrau Travel Pass may be the way to best pass for you.  This Switzerland travel pass provides you with unlimited travel within the region and a discount on the journey to Jungfraujoch.

Read more about the Jungfrau Travel Pass in this article

The Jungfrau Travel Pass comes as a 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 or 8 day pass.

Click here to buy from GetYourGuide


Tell Pass

For those visiting the Lake Lucerne region the Tell Pass may well be the best option for you.  This Swiss travel pass provides unlimited travel on trains, buses, boats and cableways throughout the region.

The Tell Pass comes as a 2, 3, 4, 5, or 10 day pass.

Read more about the Tell Pass in this article

Click here to buy your Tell Pass


Regional Pass Lake Geneva

If you are traveling just to the Lake Geneva region, consider the Regional Pass Lake Geneva.  This train pass Switzerland includes travel on all trains in the Lake Geneva Region, travel to and from the Geneva Airport, travel onboard boats on Lake Geneva and 50% discount on most mountain railways and cableways.

The Regional Pass Lake Geneva comes as a 5 or 7 day pass.

Click here to buy your Regional Pass Lake Geneva

Swiss train

How to use your Swiss rail pass

When you receive your Swiss Rail Pass, print it off, rather than trying to show it on your phone to the conductor.  Conductors are much faster and more efficient with multiple paper tickets than fumbling around on a phone. 

When you have your train pass in Switzerland, it is recommended to keep the passes somewhere waterproof or maybe even laminate them. You can print double-sided but do make sure you print the entire page so that the conductor can clearly see the full document.

Read my comprehensive guide to the Swiss Travel Pass here

There is nothing further you need to do with your Swiss rail travel pass in terms of activating it.  However if you are traveling with a Swiss Travel Pass Flex, you are required to enter the date of the travel day before commencing your journey.  

If, however, you are travelling on a consecutive day pass, you simply board the train and show your pass to the ticket inspector when requested to do so.

It’s important to know that your pass is valid from midnight from the first day of validity until 5 am on the following the last day of validity.


How to use your Swiss Half-Fare Card

If you have a Swiss Half Fare Card you will still need to purchase point to point tickets for each journey.  You can book tickets for individual journeys on the Swiss Railways website.

To ensure you receive the discounted ticket price, follow these instructions when making your purchase, follow the instructions in this article.


First Class or Second Class?

Most high speed trains offer a choice of both first and second class carriages (called Coaches). First class seats usually recline and have more legroom. There are generally fewer seats per coach and more space for luggage. 

Some high speed trains include a meal in the ticket price (often served to your seat) and where this doesn’t apply, meals and snacks are available for purchase from a dining car or snack cart. 

First class coaches are usually quieter with more business and adult passengers travelling in first class coaches. They include power outlets to charge your mobile devices.

Second class seats are less expensive, but not as spacious as there are more seats per car, and often these will be in a compartment-style layout with two bench seats (each seating three people) facing each other. 

Meals and snacks can be purchased from a dining car or snack cart. 

Second class coaches are often fuller than first class coaches as more Europeans tend to travel in second class.


Different types of trains in Switzerland

The train system in Switzerland is super-efficient with different types of trains operating across the country as well as between the neighbouring countries.  Here is a brief overview of the various trains you may need to catch around Switzerland:

  • EuroCity (EC): Trains that connect Switzerland with other neighbouring countries:
  • InterCity (IC): Trains which connect the major cities within Switzerland;
  • InterCityExpress (ICE): High speed trains that operate between Germany and Switzerland;
  • InterRegio (IR): Trains that connect regions within Switzerland and stop in cities and mid-size towns;
  • Panoramic Trains: Are the Swiss scenic trains mentioned above such as the Glacier Express or the GoldenPass Line.
  • Regio (R): Trains that connect local towns in Switzerland and generally stop at all stations.
  • RegioExpress (RE): Trains like the IC trains mentioned above but stop at more stations on route;
  • Railjet (RJ): Trains that operate between Austria and Switzerland;
  • S-Bahn (S): Suburban trains that operate around major cities and have frequent connections and usually stop at all stations;
  • Train a Grande Vitesse (TGV): High speed trains that connect Switzerland with France.
Bernina Express

Onboard the trains

Below I have briefly listed some useful information about the trains in Switzerland.

Quiet Zones

A quiet zone can be found in first class coaches on certain routes.  The areas are well marked and in these areas you should refrain from talking, making phone calls, listening to music (even with headphones) or playing any games on electronic devices.

WiFi

Whilst there is no free WiFi on Swiss trains, you can use your smartphone as a personal hotspot. You will need a compatible SIM card with data to access the 3G/4G network.

Free internet access is available at 80 railway stations in Switzerland. The service is limited to 60 minutes.

Onboard Restaurants and Bistros

Most InterCity and EuroCity trains have a restaurant or bistro onboard.  Passengers can usually eat at the restaurant or take it away to their seats.  Passengers in first class also have the option of being served at their seat.

The Family Coach

For families travelling with young children, you are going to want to visit the family coach – which is basically a playground on the train.  All double decker InterCity trains on long distance routes have a family coach.  

You’ll know if a family coach is on your train as it will be marked on the timetable with ‘FA’.

InterCity tilting trains don’t have the Family Coach but they do have board games available for families at the games tables specially provided on board.


GET SWITZERLAND TRAVEL TIPS, NEWS, SPECIAL OFFERS AND INSPIRATION DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX EVERY MONTH.  CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP!


The Family Zone

Another great area for families on single deck InterCity or InterCity tilting trains are the family zones.  These areas have much more room for prams, and parents can relax not worrying about their children being too loud and distracting other passengers.

You’ll find the family zone at the very front or very rear of the train.

Storing luggage on board

Most trains in Switzerland have a dedicated luggage storage area in the area close to where you board the train.  However there are also fairly generous sized overhead racks above the seats where you can place small to medium sized luggage.

Some trains have space between the rear of the seats to store luggage.

How much luggage can I bring?

There is no official luggage policy on the Swiss trains as to how much baggage you can bring.  However, that being said, you should be capable of lifting your own luggage onboard as well as being able to adequately store it on the train, including on the overhead racks.

Luggage services

If you would like the convenience of having your luggage delivered to your final destination, SBB can assist.  They offer a variety of options, such as:

  • Luggage station* to station* (2 days later): Take your luggage to a station* and 2 days later collect it from your destination station*.  
  • Luggage door to door (Same day or next day): They will collect your luggage from an address in Switzerland and deliver it to your address.  
  • Luggage station* to door (2 days later): Take your luggage to a station* and they will deliver it to your address 2 days later.

Prices start from CHF 22 per item.

*Selected stations only

How far in advance can I book my Swiss train tickets?

Like budget airlines, the cheapest fares are usually available to those that book early, therefore it is recommended that you make your reservations as soon as you possibly can. 

Most Swiss trains, including the panoramic trains, can be booked 90 days prior to travel.

Where can I find a Swiss train timetable?

Up to date Swiss train timetables can be found on the Swiss Federal Railways website, on the handy SBB.ch app or you can pick one up from the nearest station.

Do I need seat reservations on Swiss trains?

No, in general for most trains in Switzerland you do not need any reservations.  On some longer distance Swiss trains you can make a seat reservation if you prefer to but it’s not compulsory.  

There are a few scenic trains that it is mandatory to make a seat reservation such as on the Bernina Express, Glacier Express or GoldenPass trains. 

However, even on the scenic train rides Switzerland has, where it is not required, if you plan on taking one of these trips during peak hour (roughly between 10am to 3pm) then it is recommended that you book a seat reservation.

Also keep in mind that if you are crossing into many of the neighbouring countries you will most likely require a seat reservation.

How do I make seat reservations on Swiss trains?

Regular trains

If you need to (or want to) make a seat reservation for your train holidays to Switzerland you can do so via the SBB website, mobile app or at the ticket counter at a station.  It costs CHF 5 per seat to make a reservation. Higher charges apply for the panoramic trains.

Panoramic trains

If you hold a Swiss Travel Pass and you wish to make seat reservations for one of the panoramic trains, you can do so on the official website of the train however sometimes it can be quite confusing. 

A good option for booking your passholder seat reservations is through HappyRail.

Simply choose ‘Passholder Fares’ for the relevant train (eg. Passholder Fares – Glacier Express) to book a seat reservation.

Can I buy tickets at the station?

Yes, you can buy tickets at the train stations in Switzerland – you can do this either via a ticket machine or at the ticket counter.

Can I buy tickets onboard?

No, you must have a valid ticket before boarding the train.

Are trains in Switzerland safe?

Yes, traveling on trains in Switzerland is very safe.  However, it is best to use common sense, be cautious for your own protection and keep your valuables on your person or in sight at all times.

General tips for travelling by train in Switzerland

Whilst rail travel in Switzerland is relatively easy (and very relaxing), there are a few things you should be aware of before you get to the station to ensure you have a smooth departure. 

  • Arrive at the station in plenty of time. Some stations in Switzerland are huge and it can take a while to get your bearings and get to the correct platform. At really busy stations where there are trains arriving and departing every few minutes, the platform number from which your train is departing may not be advised until 20 minutes before departure. As soon as the platform number is displayed, there’s a huge crush to get there, so give yourself plenty of time.
  • Check the overhead boards for the correct train number and the platform from which your train departs. Remember that the destination on the board may be further along the line than you are travelling, therefore your destination may not show. Each train has a train number, just like a flight number, for this purpose. Always match the train number on your ticket to the train number on the overhead board. 
  • When purchasing an individual (or point-to-point) train ticket, you are usually allocated a specific seat in which to sit and the seat number and carriage number will be printed on your ticket. This applies to most trains however some regional trains which only offer second class carriages are ‘non-reserved’ and you can sit anywhere you like. 
  • At the platform, check for signs showing where each carriage will stop. The train layout is displayed at most stations and is also in the SBB app. If you are in coach (carriage) #06, for example, some stations have signs showing at which point on the platform coach #06 will stop. In the photo below you can see that coach #06 will stop at Section V on the platform, so by waiting in the correct area, you will be in the right place when the train pulls up. Smaller stations may not have such specific signage but will usually show you where the 1st class and 2nd class coaches will stop.
  • Stopping times at stations can be short – three or four minutes is not uncommon. Be ready to board the train (or join the boarding queue) as soon as the train arrives at the station. When lots of people are trying to board the train with heavy luggage it can be congested, so be prepared. If you’re travelling with children or older folks, let them board first without their luggage and pass all the luggage up to them once they are on the train.
  • Most train services in Switzerland are precisely on time! In most instances they arrive at the station at exactly the time they are scheduled to, so don’t be late.
  • Make sure you know the name of the station at which you should disembark in the local language.  Lucerne is called Luzern and Geneva is called Geneve, for instance. 
  • If you are purchasing a ticket locally or don’t have a seat reservation for your journey, make sure you are boarding the correct carriage of the train. Some trains split at a designated station during their journey with the engine and the front carriages continuing to one destination whilst another engine is attached to the remaining carriages and travels to another end station. In these instances, each carriage usually displays a sign on the outside indicating the end station it is travelling to. 
Travelling by train in Switzerland
Image: (C) Swiss Travel / Daniel Ammann

Swiss Train Etiquette

Here are a few tips for Swiss train etiquette:

  • If there is plenty of room on the train, don’t sit with someone else.
  • If room permits and you need to sit with a stranger, sit diagonally so your knees are not touching.
  • Before boarding a train, wait and let others out first.
  • Don’t bring strong smelling food on a train like a tuna sandwich or a burger and fries.
  • Avoid making phone calls on the train and if you have to, make them quickly and speak quietly.

I hope this guide to travelling by train in Switzerland has given you a better understanding of the Swiss rail system and has helped you to determine whether to buy individual train tickets or a Swiss rail pass for your travels.


PIN FOR LATER


Switzerland Travel Essentials