The Swiss are known for doing a few things exceptionally well. They make great watches, have amazing chocolate and of course a world class train system. Most would argue that Switzerland is best traveled by train and after our most recent trip, I would agree with that statement. We found the trains be be clean, timely, and the stations were conveniently located to some of the best villages in the country. Not once on our week long trip starting in Geneva and ending in Zurich did I wish I had a car or find that the stations were too far or difficult to find. Everything went really smooth once we got there. As we were planning the trip I did find it difficult to decide which rail pass to get and I want to share my tips on the process!
For tourists the Swiss offer several ways of purchasing tickets:
- a la carte (simply buy your tickets one at a time at full price)
- Half price card
- Swiss Travel Pass (3, 4, 8, or 15 Days)
SBB Mobile App
Step 1 - Do you research on where you want to visit
Know where you want to go and how long you want to stay there BEFORE deciding on which pass to get. This will make your decision much easier. Make sure to lay out each route, including day trips within each town and note special trips (like going up to the Jungfrau). Make sure to include any bus trips and don't forget the ride to and from the airport. Do note that Geneva allows a free trip from their airport! Don't even begin researching trains until you know where you want to go.
Step 2 - Price out point-point trips
Visit https://www.sbb.ch/en/buying/pages/fahrplan/fahrplan.xhtml and price out each route individually. Make sure to notate the route and price.
Step 3 - Plug in your routes and compare
Remember the spreadsheet I had you download at the beginning, well it's time to plug in all your routes and the point to point costs. You'll want to compare the price of the full price tickets vs the rest of your options.
Here are the prices as of writing:
Visit https://www.sbb.ch/en/leisure-holidays/travel-in-switzerland/international-guests/swiss-travel-pass.html to see costs of and make sure to plug in the most up to date price. Depending on how long your trip is, you'll be able to quickly eliminate options that don't make sense.
Step 4 - Where do the Swiss travel passes work?
You can see where passes work here here.
To generalize. With your Swiss travel pass the following is usually true:
- Trains and buses are free
- Transport into the mountains (by cable car, funicular, cogwheel train, etc.) is discounted
- City transport (trams, buses) is free in most towns;
- Boats are free
Step 5 - Chose your pass
Now that you've done your homework it's time to purchase your tickets and or pass. From my experience there is no incentive to purchase early. Some routes may be discounted with early purchase, but this was not the case in our situation. Buying tickets at the station was easy, and the attendants were very helpful.
The views made all the hard work worth it!
What did we do?
In our case we purchased the half price card at the train station and purchased most of our tickets from the station. The staff at the station was super friendly and even helped confirm that our decision was the right one. They make sure that we bought the right tickets and took the route that either got us to our destination the quickest or with the best scenery. They were super helpful and made everything easy. The app was also really easy to use. I simply plugged in my credit card and was able to purchase tickets right before hoping on the train! We also found 2nd class tickets to be more than satisfactory. We did walk through a first class cart, and while it was nice did not justify the cost in my opinion. Swiss trains are expensive enough! One thing to note that Swiss trains, don't have wifi. Cell service in Switzerland is something that the country invested heavily in and we had no issues using our phones anywhere in the country, including on the train.