Train Travel in Switzerland

Riding the Rails Through the Swiss Alps

Switzerland's nationwide rail network is extensive and relatively easy to navigate. Rail services are regular and reliable, with train departures typically every half-hour or hour. Switzerland has the most extensive and widely used public transportation system in the world. When you arrive at the Airport in Zurich or Geneva you simply walk downstairs to the train station and connect with over 28,000 stations and stops anywhere in the country—usually within just a few hours.

Where to Purchase and Validate Train Tickets

Near the train platforms there are self-serve ticket machines where you can purchase your rail tickets or you can purchase tickets at the ticket office located in the train station. If you already have a printed ticket or rail pass, they are typically prevalidated so you can just get right on the train. You will not need to show your ticket when boarding the train but will show the ticket when a ticket controller comes by to see it. Be sure to have your passport available because sometimes they will ask to see this with your rail ticket.

Do I Need a Seat Reservation?

Once you have your train ticket with the Switzerland route destination and date of travel, you can just hop on any train on that day that fits into your schedule for that day. In fact, you can even get off at a city along your route and spend a couple of hours there and catch a later train to continue to your destination. You do not need a seat reservation with a designated time except for designated scenic train routes such as the Glacier Express, Bernina Express, etc. international train routes.

How to Find the Right Train

Smaller train stations only have one or two platforms with trains going in both directions. There will be signs indicating which platform your train will depart from. Larger train stations have multiple platforms and can be intimidating especially if it is your first time using rail transit in Europe. There are displays or electronic signs everywhere listing all of the trains departing and platform numbers. Once you determine which platform your train is leaving from, follow the signs to that platform. At the platform, there are again displays showing the departure time and destination. Trains will only open on one side so make sure you are on the correct side and platform. When in doubt, ask someone to help you find the right train and platform. There are always people willing to help!

The class (1st or 2nd) is indicated by a "1" or "2" on the side of the car, these correspond with the numbers on the sign which shows where the 1st and 2nd class cars will stop. There are sections on the platform indicated by A,B,C,D and below those letters will be the numbers 1 or 2 which indicate this is where those cars will stop. If you have a 1st class ticket and the sign shows a number 1 below the letter B, then this is the section on the platform that you want to wait in. Make sure that if you have a 2nd class ticket to sit in the right section because a rail conductor will make you move if you do not have a 1st class ticket in a 1st class car. All Swiss trains are non-smoking which is also indicated on the side of car, as well as inside.

First or Second Class? 

The following are the main differences between first and second class on the major intercity rail lines in Switzerland:

  • Just three seats in a row instead of four
  • Wider seats (+10 centimeter) and more legroom
  • Adjustable backrest and armrest
  • Reading lamps
  • Business compartments with longer tables and power outlets
  • Compartments with rest areas
  • Newer carriages have power outlets at every seat (no guarantee)
  • Newer carriages offer wireless LAN (no guarantee)
  • And perhaps the most significant difference is that first class is generally less crowded, making it easier to find a seat (or two seats together) especially during peak travel periods and on weekends.

Traveling with Luggage

Luggage can be stowed above your seat or in between seats, or on a rack at the end of the car. Avoid putting your luggage on an empty seat next to you, especially if the train is full. It is generally safe to store your luggage at the racks at the end of the compartments but try to keep it in sight and use common sense.

Storing Luggage at Train Stations 

If you are planning a short stopover en route to final destination and you'd like to deposit your luggage in a safe, secure place you can likely store it at the train station. All of Switzerland’s main train stations have a baggage department or offer coin storage luggage lockers for a daily rate. You can also pay at the station to check your luggage on the train to your final destination and pick it up when you arrive.

Use WCs on the Train

To save time and money, use the toilets on the train rather than those in the station (which can cost money, and are often less clean). Train toilets are located on the ends of cars. 

Getting off the Train

The next station will be announced through the train intercom (usually in multiple languages) and/or on the display in the train. There are also signs with the station name on the platforms, so you can double check as the train pulls into the station.

Trains usually stop at any station as indicated in the timetable. However, some trains only stop on request at really small stations. The timetable shows whether that's the case, and so do the train intercom and/or displays. You will need to press a button near the doors to signal the train driver that you want to get off. Do so at least a few minutes before arrival.

Train Station Amenities

The main train stations of Switzerland are typically small “cities” offering everything you need for your journey. Typically there are restaurants, sandwich bars, shops, books, newspapers, souvenirs and even specialized services such as hair-stylists and cell phones for purchase. Rail Cities are open seven days a week, including public holidays. 

SBB Mobile App 

If you have access to a mobile device during your trip, you may want to download the Swiss Federal Railways SBB APP featuring comprehensive timetable and ticket purchase functions. The app shows arrival/departure times, connections, arrival/departing platforms, maps, delays, and so much more.

Scenic Alps by Rail

Would you like to tour Switzerland and discover the Alps on the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland? You'll experience Switzerland's scenic journeys like the Glacier Express and the GoldenPass Line as well as classic mountaintop excursions like the Jungfraujoch and the Gornergrat. Call now to reserve your place on Alpenwild's Scenic Alps by Rail tour.

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