Public transportation here is a breeze! Here is a recap for your next trip to Switzerland!!
The train system is absolutely lovely in Switzerland. On top of almost all of them being mainly being new and modern, they are also easy to book and super clean. The main company we recommend to book your tickets on is the SBB. You are able to book SBB tickets directly at the station, online and even through their mobile app. If you’re planning to travel throughout the country using public transportation, then make sure to download this app and create an account! The account is free and will allow you to quickly book tickets directly on your mobile phone in a matter of seconds. Throughout my trip in Switzerland there were countless times that I would show up the train station either before or after the train I had planned to take, but with the app I was able to quickly find the next one and adjust my schedule. Like anything else there are other sites you can use to book your train tickets on, such as Eurail, though make sure to do your research on any site prior to booking! Here’s a few more tips about traveling on the trains:
Timetables – Like most places in Europe the train timetables run on the 24-hour clock or military time. If you want to avoid any confusion later then just learn how to read it, otherwise, you could end up missing trains your whole trip.
Travel Recommendations – On the SBB app you will notice 6 people symbols (3 for first-class and 3 for second class) located underneath every train time. These symbols show their prediction on how busy the train is going to be at that time in whichever class. If it shows 3 people highlighted then it means the train is going to be packed and therefore is more of a peak train. If you can avoid these peak times it will allow you to have an easier time finding seats and enjoying the views, but peak trains are usually more convenient for direct travel and time of day, so you’ll have to decide what’s best for your trip.
SBB App Discounts – When looking for your next train on the SBB app keep your eye out for the % symbol that may show right next to the train time. This symbol can be found on many off-peak train times when the occupancy is lower and therefore will be discounted in price. (If you have a travel pass, then these discounts won’t matter for you.)
Transferring Trains – If you’re from an area where you don’t take public train transportation as part of a daily commute, then transferring trains can seem very daunting. Being one of those people I always have a fear that I won’t know which train to get on next or I won’t find it in time and end up missing it. The SBB app takes all this worry completely away though. When booking a train that has a connection, the app will provide you with the train number and platform ahead of time, thus preparing you to head in the correct direction once you depart the initial train. Swiss trains hardly ever change track numbers, so you can trust that the track your directed to is the correct one to take, though if anything does change they will update it in the app for you.
Charging ports – Most of the trains have them directly in the seating areas, though keep in mind the outlet is similar to other European countries, so make sure to pick up an adapter if traveling from the USA.
Seat Class – There are two classes of seats on the majority of Swiss trains, first and second, though there really isn’t much difference between the two. First-class tickets are more expensive and while I noticed sitting in there was a little quieter, the second class cabin was basically just as quiet and comfortable. Swiss people are extremely courteous on trains, so, for the most part, you won’t find people talking loudly on their phones or playing music without headphones, which makes travel so much more relaxing!
Reserving Seats – On the larger trains, there is often an option to reserve your seats, though I highly recommend skipping that up-sell. Finding seats, for the most part, is a breeze, and reserving them may only be necessary if trying to keep a large group together. If you arrive about 10 minutes or so before the train arrives then you should be able to get a seat together if traveling with a spouse or even another couple. Peak times and locations may make this a little harder so just keep that in mind.
Cafe Car – This is my favorite part of the trains in Switzerland! If the train route your on is on the larger side (not a local train), like Zurich to Interlaken, then your train will probably have a Cafe car located on it. Positioned between the first and second class cars, the Cafe car is first come first serve for seating. The car will usually have a few larger booths and some smaller 2 seater booths that you can enjoy a fresh coffee or food at. Depending on how long the train ride is will really depend on what food will be served. On the shorter trains, you can get pre-made sandwiches and fruit and the longer trains offer more full meal options.
Storage Space – Swiss trains have space both overhead the seats and towards the exit doors for the larger luggage racks. While traveling by train you are expected to put your bags in one of these two places if it can’t fit directly on your lap. The American habit of putting it on the seat next to you or directly at your feet is considered rude and they will ask you to move it if the trains start getting busier. Relax and put it in one of these places and enjoy the views and the freedom of space.
Discount Travel Passes
There are a number of discount passes available, depending on your travel needs, status of citizen and budget. Certain passes like the the Swiss Travel Pass, is basically your all inclusive tourist pass and will cover not only your train travel, but bus, ferry and museums while also providing discounts on lift/cable car fees. This pass is sold by the number of days, available in 3, 4, 8 or 15 consecutive days and pricing starts around $200+ USD for 3 days. While this pricing may seem really steep to start, you have to compare it to regular priced tickets and see if it makes sense for you. I was traveling long distances, stopping at a few cities everyday, so the Swiss Travel pass made sense for my needs. The best option for figuring out which discount pass is best for your needs is to go to the ticket counter at the larger stations and ask. There is usually a separate area for discounted tickets and you’ll get time to meet with an agent one-on-one to go over the options. They will need your passport for most passes, as their only valid for those visiting, so make sure everyone in your group who needs one is there and has them ready. Also plan to spend a bit of time on this process. The line can be a bit long and it takes them a few minutes to process you one, even if you know exactly the one you want, so be patient.
There are certain train lines that are known for being “panoramic lines”, rather than more direct commuter lines. These trains feature some of the best train views in Switzerland and each route features different views of the country. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to take one, but it’s on my next trip’s itinerary! The normal trains between almost any town/region are stunning enough, but if you have time to take a Panoramic Train, then certainly do so. These trains vary in length but on average plan to spend around 6 hours to complete the trip. I recommend either the Golden Pass Line or the Glacier Express, as those are the highest-rated ones, but below is a list of the top ones available:
As with trains, the buses here are a breeze also. It will take a minute to understand which direction you’ll need to go in, but they are super punctual in the larger cities and pretty frequent. The buses will list their line name as the final stop on the route, so if it’s from Zurich Airport to Zurich Main Station, then the bus name will be Zurich Main Station. While this may be the name of the bus you’ll still only ride it as long as you need. Tickets are cheap and can either be purchased from destination to destination or simply by a day pass, which is great if you’re riding it more than once in the day. Each stop scheduled on the line will be announced prior to arrival over the speakers and also displayed electronically on a TV. When your stop is next, make sure to click one the “STOP” buttons once. This will make a quick bell sound to alert the driver that a passenger wants to get off at the next stop. While this isn’t always necessary for all buses, some won’t plan to stop if there is no one waiting to get picked up and no one has hit the button. Unlike other buses you might have taken, you will need to hit the button on the door to get in or out. The bus stops have maps of the city your in and where they will stop, should you need a quick reference. I personally recommend using Google Maps when you want to travel by bus. It will provide you with not only the line you need and the number of stops you’ll ride for, but also upcoming times for later.
Buses in Switzerland mainly run on an honor system. Most times, especially in the larger cities, you can ride the buses without anyone asking to see your bus ticket. They do have auditors that will go between buses and check though, so it’s not worth skipping the few dollars for the fine you’ll receive if you are caught.