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How to Plan Train Travel in Switzerland

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An idyllic setting, efficient trains, on-time departures and arrivals–that is Swiss train travel! But for someone who hasn’t been on a train in years, making plans for a scenic journey through the Swiss Alps was anything but a walk in the park. But never fear! I sifted through all the details for you and put together this guide to make YOUR train trip through beautiful Switzerland easier!

 1. Look at a Map

This can be the map on your phone, computer, or a physical map. The important thing is to start dreaming! What cities do you want to visit? Do you want to spend just one day in each place, or take it easy and visit fewer cities where you can spend more time? Or perhaps you want to base yourself in a central location and take day trips to various cities? Switzerland is a small country, so it’s easy to see a lot of places on your trip! You can do this after you have your travel dates set, or you can dream up your trip first and plan your dates around your dreams. It’s up to you and your schedule!

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Map of Switzerland

2. Look at the Transportation Map

Now that you know what cities are in the realm of possibility, look at the transportation map so you know how you’ll get from one place to the next. The red routes below are trains; yellow routes are buses. These and the water transportation are all included in the Swiss Travel Pass.

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Source: switzerlandtravelcentre.ch

3. Find the Schedule Online

Next, do a quick Internet search to see the possible routes and timetable. I searched for “Train schedule from Zurich to Lucerne” and “Train schedule from Lucerne to Zermatt” and saw that the necessary route from Lucerne to Zermatt would do a lot of back-tracking and take much longer than we thought. So we chose to skip Lucerne this trip and go straight from Zurich to Zermatt. We’ll plan a trip to Switzerland in the future to see Lucerne together!

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Zurich-Lucerne
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Lucerne-Zermatt

4. Decide if a Swiss Travel Pass Works for You

There are several Swiss Travel Passes to choose from, but you will have to run the numbers to figure out if that is most economical for you. You can use this trip planner here to find out how much your travels will cost without the Swiss Travel Pass: Swiss Rail Trip Planner.

Once you know how much each train trip would cost individually, you can look at the Swiss Travel Pass fare table to see how much money you may or may not save if you go that direction: Swiss Travel Pass Options. Also consider that your Swiss Travel Pass is good for FREE admission to over 470 museums, buses, and boats as well! For more, check out the Swiss Travel Pass Museums.

We chose the Swiss Travel Pass Flex because we would be in Switzerland 6 days, but only taking the train four days. We saved 122 Swiss Francs ($124.63) by using the 4-day Swiss Travel Pass Flex instead of the 8-day Swiss Travel Pass! You cannot use our Swiss Travel Pass Flex for museums on days you are not taking transportation, so plan for that accordingly if there are several museums on your list.

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Careful when filling in your dates–if you mess up and mark it out, your whole ticket is invalidated!

6. Buy Your Swiss Travel Pass!

If you’re like us, the Swiss Travel Pass is the less expensive option. Here is the buying process for you:

A. Start at Swiss-Pass.ch

You will see 5 options: Swiss Travel Pass; Swiss Travel Pass Flex; Swiss Transfer Ticket; Swiss Half Fare Card; Swiss Coupon Pass. Choose the one that applies to you. In this example, we are buying the Swiss Travel Pass Flex.

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Click on “Order now”.
B. Click on Order Now

On this screen, you will need to indicate:

  • Number of people in your party
  • Date you plan to start your train journey
  • Class of service (1st or 2nd)
  • Number of days of validity

The screen will then populate your price based on that criteria.

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You can choose to see the price in CHF, GBP, EUR, or USD
C. Put in Your Personal Information

Information includes:

  • Name on your credit card
  • Your billing address
  • Phone number
  • E-mail
  • How you will be paying
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Make sure it’s all filled in!
D. Choose How to Receive Your Tickets

This part kind of stinks. There is not an option to receive your Swiss Travel Pass electronically. You must either have them send it to you for 20 CHF (Swiss Francs) or pick them up at one of the three major airports for 15 CHF. You can also purchase the Swiss Travel Pass of your choice upon arrival, but because we also wanted to reserve seats on the Glacier Express (the trip is included in the Swiss Travel Pass, but the seat reservation must be reserved separately–look for a post on that tomorrow!), we felt better purchasing our Swiss Travel Passes and Glacier Express seat reservations ahead of time. If you indicate an airport pick up, you will also be asked for your arrival time and flight number.

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We chose to pick them up at Zurich upon arrival.
E. Confirm Your Details and Purchase

You did it! You will receive an e-mail confirmation of your purchase, but your tickets will come either by mail or will be waiting for you at the appropriate location.

7. Enjoy Your Trip!

Switzerland is one of the magical places in the world that is beautiful in any season. Winters are stunning all covered in snow, summers are beautifully green, and spring and fall are full of vibrant colors!

A Few Tips
  • If you will not have wi-fi available when you are in Switzerland, take a screen shot of your schedule by pressing the home button and power button at the same time. It will look like this:
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We know just what to do!
  • There may be a dining car and/or person walking around to offer food and beverages on some trains.
  • There are toilets on board some trains. They are labeled “WC” for “water closet.”
  • Have your passport with you at all times if you are using a Swiss Rail Pass; the person who gave us our tickets stressed this to us.
  • Someone may or may not come around to check your tickets, but if you are caught without one, that will cost you a hefty fine!
  • If you do opt for the Swiss Rail Pass, be so careful when filling out your information, and especially your dates. Writing an incorrect date and marking it out will invalidate your ticket, and you will not longer be able to use it.
  • Push the green button to open the door from outside or inside the train:
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Train Doors
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Green Button

Are you ready to book your Swiss getaway? Was this helpful to you? I hope so! For more tips, check out What to Know Before You Visit Switzerland!

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