Visit Switzerland – Plan Your Trip

Visit Basel
Visit Interlaken
Visit Lucerne
Visit St Moritz
Visit Zermatt
Visit Zurich

Best Time of Year to Visit Switzerland

Its high alpine geography gives Switzerland two distinct seasons for tourists. Winter is a popular time for skiing at numerous resorts, including many popular destinations such as Zermatt and St Moritz. The short summer months provide excellent weather for hiking and viewing the landscapes via gondolas and cog trains at locations like Interlaken and Lucerne.

Switzerland – Visa Requirements

Switzerland participates in the Schengen Zone and Schengen Visa requirements. There are no border inspections by rail or vehicle when traveling from Switzerland to Germany, France, Italy, Austria or Liechtenstein. Some countries that are not members of the Schengen Zone require a Schengen Visa to enter Europe. Exemptions include citizens of Australia, Canada, Mexico, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. Check your specific country at VisaHQ. For a list of exempt countries, visit Project Visa.

Visit Switzerland – Swiss Travel Pass

If you plan to visit Switzerland, consider a Swiss Travel Pass in combination with a Eurail Pass. The big advantage of the Swiss Travel Pass is that it includes unlimited trains, trams, buses, cruise boats, hundreds of museum admissions and half off on most gondolas in Switzerland. The pass includes panorama trains like the Glacier Express and the full price up the Stanserhorn, Stoos and Rigi. The Swiss Railway SBB Mobile App is great for planning trips and storing travel passes, but you can’t book travel passes on it. To buy travel passes, you need to use a computer based website instead, which can be confusing.

Visitors to Switzerland can buy the Swiss Travel Pass, the Swiss Travel Pass Flex or the Swiss Half Fare Card. You need to see the word Swiss in the title. If you are looking at a GA Travel Card or a Half Fare Travel Card you are in the wrong place, as that is ticketing for people who live in Switzerland. The Swiss Half Fare Card means you pay 50% on all trains, buses, ships and most gondolas. Confused by the SSB site for buying a Swiss Travel Pass? You can find many other authorized dealers for Swiss Passes with a simple online search.

SwissPass.ch

The SwissPass.ch website is where your information for your Swiss Pass is maintained, but you can’t buy a pass there. As mentioned, you buy them from online vendors such as swiss-pass.ch myswissalps.com or many others, even including the confusing sbb.ch rail web site. Your purchase will update to the SwissPass.ch site. Ultimately you want to activate your pass though a sync to one of their approved mobile apps. This will allow you to display your pass on your phone. As of 2022, the three approved mobile apps for displaying your Swiss Travel Pass are BLS Mobile, SBB Mobile and Public Transport Plus.

SBB Mobile App

The SBB Mobile App is amazing for easy trip planning. From anywhere in Switzerland, it can show you the entire schedule to any other destination. The app even shows the configuration and direction of the train cars and the route you will need to walk to transfer between trains during your journey. Plus you can make seat reservations and buy tickets if you bought the Swiss Half Fare Card. Amazing!

Visit Switzerland – Regional Passes

Now that you might think things are starting to make sense, it’s time to complicate matters with Regional Passes. The regional pass can be a better option than a Swiss Travel Pass if you are staying several days or a week at the same location. Some of the more popular ones are:

Tell Pass – Central Switzerland

Tell Pass – The Tell Pass covers all the trains, boats, buses and gondolas in Central Switzerland. Yes, unlike the Swiss Travel Pass, regional passes cover the entire cost of gondolas. You can visit Lucerne, ride all the boats on Lake Lucerne, or ascend Mt Pilatus, Mt Rigi and Mt Titlis. Even with a 10 day pass you won’t be able to cover all there is to do. You can also buy the Tell Pass from SBB on a computer if you use their search function.

Berner Oberland Regional Passes

Berner Oberland Regional Pass – The Berner Oberland Pass covers all the trains, boats, buses and gondolas around Bern / Brig / Interlaken, including the popular Jungfrau area. The Shilthorn is half price and the Jungfraujoch has special pricing, but all other gondolas and cable cars in the region are included without any surcharge. Like the Tell Pass, the Berner Oberland Regional Pass is so extensive that you can’t come close to covering everything, even if you buy the 10 day pass.

Ready for the strange twist on this pass? The Berner Oberland Pass provides a discount for holders of a Swiss Travel Pass. On an 8 day pass, they allow a discount of 130 Swiss Francs if you have a Swiss Half Fare Card worth 120 Swiss francs. You profit 10 francs and get a travel pass good in the rest of Switzerland, which is useful for travel to an airport like Basel or Zurich.

Jungfrau Pass – The Jungfrau Pass is a subset of the Berner Oberland Regional Pass. The Jungfrau Pass covers all the trains and cable cars in the Jungfrau area around Interlaken, except for the Schilthorn. The pass gives you one discounted trip up the Jungfraujoch and unlimited use everywhere else. The Jungfrau Pass also includes travel by boat on Lake Brienz and Lake Thun.

Switzerland Currency

The Euro isn’t used in Switzerland, so be prepared to buy the Swiss Franc (CHF) if you need cash.

Switzerland Electrical Adapters

Switzerland uses a three prong Type J electrical adapter, but the standard European Type C electrical adapter will work there too.

Popular Places to Visit in Switzerland

Zurich

Zurich is a great place to arrive on a visit to Switzerland, although it’s not a tourist town like other places in Switzerland. Store your bags at the main train station while you walk the old town, cruise the Limmat River or see the Chagall stained glass and frescoes by Paul Bodmer at the Fraumunster church. Then catch a train to Lucerne or Appenzell to start your Swiss vacation. Click here for more information about what to do when you Visit Zurich.

Visit Switzerland – Lucerne

Lucerne is popular with international tourists. You can reach Lucerne from Zurich in under an hour by train. From the Lucerne train station you can walk over the Chapel Bridge into the old town and up to the Musegg Wall. Then have a meal at one of the many restaurants along the River Reuss. The main attraction for tourists is that Lucerne provides a home base for several well known day trips. The most popular tourist day trip is to Mount Titlis. You take a train to Engelberg and then two gondolas to the summit. At the top you can enjoy an ice cave, the Cliff Walk and the Ice Flyer. Expect lots of other tourists at mid day. Locals often continue on the Four Lakes trail from the Trubsee gondola station above Engelberg.

The Golden Round to Mount Pilatus is another day trip from Lucerne. Start by taking a train or boat, then the Mount Pilatus cog train, the Dragon Ride gondola, a smaller gondola and a bus to complete the circuit. A day trip to Mount Rigi combines two cruises on Lake Lucerne, a gondola ride and cog trains to reach the summit.

Lake Lucerne

You can easily spend a week in Lucerne and visit some of the many other places that locals visit. Lake Lucerne has more than 25 picturesque village you can reach by boat from Lucerne. Many of these have gondolas or cog trains near the dock, such as:

  • access to Mount Rigi from Weggis or Vitznau
  • access to Mount Pilatus from Alpnachstad
  • the Cabrio to the Stanserhorn near Stans
  • the Hamemetschwand outdoor elevator near Kehrsiten
  • the Stoosbahn funicular and Fronalpstock gondola near Brunnen
  • the Klewenalp gondola at Beckenried

Click here for maps and more information about how to Visit Lucerne.

Visit Switzerland – Interlaken

The city of Interlaken is 2 hours from Lucerne and is likely the most popular destination in Switzerland for international tourists. Many tourists spend just two nights in Interlaken so that they can take the trains up to the Jungfraujoch. Another popular day trip from Interlaken is to take trains and gondolas up to the Schilthorn. Consider spending several days at one of the smaller villages such as Wengen, Lauterbrunnen, Murren or Grindelwald, so that you can experience more of what’s known as the Berner Oberland. You can ride gondolas to Gimmelwald, Mannlichen and First, ride the cog train to Schynige Platte or take the funicular to Harder Kulm. Click here for more information on what to do when you visit Interlaken.

Interlaken – Lake Brienz

Spend even more time here and you can also take boat cruises from Interlaken to a number of towns, villages, waterfalls, caves and castles on Lake Thun and Lake Brienz. On Lake Brienz the picturesque village at Iseltwald, the waterfalls at Giessbach and the town of Brienz are popular. Take the one hour steam train ride from Brienz to the Brienzer Rothorn summit. Walk through the Aare Gorge at Meiringen. The Alpentower gondolas, the Trift Bridge and the Gelmerbahn funicular are in this area.

Interlaken – Lake Thun

Travel by boat on Lake Thun from Interlaken to Thun, which is like a miniature version of Lucerne. You will find castles at boat stops in Thun, Spiez and Oberhofen. At the Beatenbucht dock you can catch the funicular and then the gondola up to the Niederhorn summit. On a rainy day see the Beatus-Hohlen Swiss Caves on a short hike from the Beatushohlen dock. From Spiez take a 10 minute rail trip south to Mulenen where you can ride the Niesenbahn funicular for a half hour to the summit of Mt Niesen. Take a train west from Spiez for 15 minutes to Erlenbach im Simmental where you can walk 10 minutes to the Stockhornbahn. The two gondolas up to Stockhorn give you great views, plus the chance to bungy jump off the gondola at the end of each day.

Interlaken – Bern

Another great day trip from Interlaken is a one hour train ride to Bern. Your walking tour of the Bern Old Town begins right at the main train station. Head down Markgasse street past the Zytglogge astronomical clock and a number of interesting statue fountains. On a one hour self-guided walking tour you can also reach the Bern Cathedral with its viewing platform over the river, the Parliament and the Einstein Museum. Bern is a great option on a rainy day because the sidewalks of the old town are completely covered. You can also store your luggage at the train station for a short visit if you are just passing through en route to other destinations in Switzerland.

Interlaken – Oeschinensee

One of the most beautiful lakes in Switzerland is just over an hour away from Interlaken. Be careful to take the right train transfer at Spiez as the most common route is through the Lötschberg Base Tunnel to Visp, which misses the stop you need at Kandersteg. From the train station in Kandersteg it’s a 15 minute walk to the gondola for the ride up to the Oeschinensee. You will find a restaurant lodge at the lake and and summer toboggan run at the upper gondola station. You can hike along the lake, but the trail soon climbs high above the water. Expect lots of tourists in the height of summer, as the beautiful blue waters attract lots of visitors.

Zermatt

Zermatt is a very popular destination for summer tourists and winter skiers. The city is somewhat isolated, tucked among steep peaks around the Matterhorn and 3 hours from major cities like Zurich or Milan. Zermatt does not allow any vehicles in town. If you stay in Zermatt, check with your accommodation to see if they have an approved electric van to pick you up at the train station. Wander the pedestrian streets to see the Mountaineers’ Cemetery at St Peter’s and find original traditional wooden housing on some side paths.

The summer tourists take two popular day trips for views of the Matterhorn.  A short walk up the river brings you to the gondola station for a multi-gondola trip to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise at an elevation of 12,739 feet on the Klein Matterhorn. As you ascend, the Matterhorn appearance changes slowly from the view everyone knows into a perfect pyramid instead. Catch views of Italy and Mont Blanc in France. You can also visit the Glacier Grotto.

The other popular day trip from Zermatt is a 35 minute ride on the Gornergrat Cog Train to a viewpoint overlooking the Gornergrat Glacier and the Matterhorn too. Have lunch at the top. On the way up or down, stop at the Rotenboden station and walk 10 minutes to the Riffelsee. The Riffelsee is a popular Instagram spot where you can get a perfect reflection of the Matterhorn on the lake’s surface when it’s sunny and calm. Another smaller lake with similar views is a few minutes down the trail. The Gornergrat Cog Train stops at the Rotenboden station every 24 minutes, so it’s easy to add a stop at the Riffelsee.

Visit Switzerland – Express Trains

Switzerland has 3 well known tourist express trains: the Glacier Express, the Bernina Express and the Gotthard Panorama Express. The term “express” is used loosely, as these trains travel slowly through picturesque areas of Switzerland so that tourists can enjoy the scenery. The rail cars have premium seating and large picture panorama windows. Snacks are sold on a moving trolley cart and on the Glacier Express a meal is served at your seat. Commentary is provided during the trip.

Although Swiss Express Trains are included when you buy a Swiss Rail Pass, you must also buy a seat reservation for the day you choose to ride. The windows don’t open on first class Express Trains, which causes them to be bright and hot. Seats are often arranged facing each other, so for couples, one or both of you might be facing backward. The extensive glass causes lots of reflections, so your pictures will usually be very disappointing. Most visitors to Switzerland don’t realize that there is very frequent non-express service on these routes. On these local trains, you won’t need a reservation. Plus you will be able to open windows and lean out to take great pics. When you approach some of the tighter tunnels, you can even find suspended broom-like brushes that force you and your camera back into the railcar before you injure yourself on the approaching stone tunnel entrance. Amazing!

Express Trains – Glacier Express

The Glacier Express makes an 8 hour daily journey between St Moritz and Zermatt. Make sure you pack a lunch or reserve a meal at your seat, as you won’t have time to buy anything at the stations along the route. On the direction starting from St Moritz, the train heads north and soon crosses the impressive Landwasser Viaduct. At Chur the Glacier Express turns west up the Vorderrhein, a Rhine tributary. This beautiful canyon area is referred to as the Rheinschult, which translates to the “Rhine Gorge”. Don’t confuse this mountain gorge with the more commonly known Rhine Gorge between Rudesheim and Koblenz.

On its journey west, the Glacier Express next reaches the Oberalp Pass and uses its cogs to descend the steep twisting grade to Andermatt. From Andermatt the Glacier Express follows the Rhone River down to Visp. In the last section, you will hear the train clogs clanking loudly as you climb out of the valley to reach Zermatt.

The St Moritz destination on the Glacier Express is fairly isolated. To reach the St Moritz starting point by rail, you either need to duplicate the Glacier Express section between Chur and St Moritz or else you need to duplicate the Tirano to St Moritz section of the Bernina Express.

Express Trains – Bernina Express

The Bernina Express is operated by the Rhaetian Railway (RhB) and has two routes with multiple trips each day in summer. You can book one way or return and you must book a seat reservation. If the route is covered by your rail pass, the only thing you will need is the seat reservation. First and second class are available. First class has panorama windows. In both classes you sit facing either a single seat or a paired seat, which is sometimes awkward.

The trip between Chur and Tirano takes about 4.5 hours. This route starts by duplicating the section of the Glacier Express over the Landwasswer Viaduct. The other option is between St Moritz and Tirano, which takes just over 2 hours. The Bernina Express also offers bus service between Tirano and Lugano. On the Bernina Express from Chur you get very close to St Moritz at Pontresina, but you cannot board the express there.  From Pontresina to Tirano, the two routes are identical. So, both routes allow you to see the Morteratsch Glacier, Lago Bianco, a short stop at Alp Grum, the winding descent to the Poschiavo valley and the famous Brusio Spiral Viaduct. Check out the Bernina Express web site for booking. As with all the Swiss Express Trains, expect premium seating, trolley service at your seat and panorama windows that don’t open. During July and August the Bernina Express offers access to open air cars with great views, fresh breezes and no heater.

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