Right now, I’m sitting in the Intercity from Zurich to Geneva on my way to Bern and enjoying the comfort of the Swiss railway system. Switzerland is very proud of their national railroad and rightfully so. The level of comfort is good, the trains are on time 90% of the time and the most important connections run every hour or thirty minutes. Because the standards are high, the expectations are high as well. It is a common sight to see annoyed commuters and travellers, when a train has the audacity to be two minutes late. Travelling by train is also my preferred way of discovering the country. In the upcoming months, I hope to show you some of the most spectacular scenic routes in the country and today I’d like to start out by talking about some of the basics of train travel.
First of all, what kind of ticketing options do you have? For tourists from abroad, there is the rail pass for Switzerland, which is available for select number of days and gives users access to the whole network of Swiss public transport. They have different options available on their website. The fantastic Eurail pass is also valid on the Swiss railroad system.
Residents have various options, with the most popular being the half-fare travel card, which allows you to buy any train or boat ticket for half the regular price. Needless to say, the cost of a “Halbtax” as it is called in German is recouped very quickly by taking about two or three longer train trips. Any resident planning on taking trips with the train should purchase one.
For commuters or serious train travellers, the best ticket is the GA travel card, which is incredibly useful to travel around the whole country without needing another ticket. It gives you access to the entire Swiss public railroad system. However, it comes with a pretty expensive price tag. Families get the benefits of special offers for children if both parents use a GA travel card.
Speaking of families, children can travel for free with parents when using the Junior card, which is valid until a child turns sixteen. Then the teenagers can turn to the Gleis 7, which allows them to travel for free from 7pm to 6am, if I recall correctly, perfect to check out the nightlife in a close-by city.
For day trips, the most convenient option to travel across the country is to get a day pass which allows you take any train you want on the date you validate your ticket. This is especially recommended if you want to take multiple trains or are not sure in which direction you want to travel. It really gives you the freedom to choose whichever connection you’d like.
When travelling by train, it is best to try and avoid the masses of daily commuters. Try to get on the train after 9am in the morning. In the evening, rush hour starts at around 5pm and ends at around 8pm. The trains at around 7pm are very crowded because of the aforementioned Gleis 7 ticketholders rushing to take the first eligible train. Also beware of travelling on Sunday around 7.30pm, as this is the time most recruits of the army have to embark on their journey to report back from their weekend leave.
I can also only recommend looking past the efficient and tunnel-heavy intercity routes and taking slower, but more interesting routes. If you have the time to explore and linger, you should make the best of it!
The SBB are slightly behind the curve when it comes to adapting to modern technology. Wi-Fi is only available at train stations and only the modern commuter trains have sockets at every seat. If you want to rely on electronics, make sure they’re fully charged before you leave!
As a disclaimer, I do not work for the SBB, so if you’re not sure what ticket to get and how they work, make sure you get a recommendation by the friendly staff at most major train stations. Hopefully this post has given you a basic overview for train travel in Switzerland and inspired you to go exploring! And if you have any recommendations or other tips, please let me know on Twitter or in the comments.
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