By Rick Steves
Are rail passes a good value for Switzerland?
Rail passes are almost always a smart buy for Switzerland, with its fairly high pay-as-you-go ticket costs and excellent transportation system. Switzerland-only passes are a particularly good deal, as they cover nearly all transport in Switzerland — not only trains, but buses, boats, and many high-mountain lifts — and come in a variety of permutations. Choosing among them needn't be daunting: Just select the rail pass that best matches the area and number of travel days in your travel plans.
How do I see whether a rail pass makes sense for my trip in particular?
Use this map to add up approximate pay-as-you-go fares for your itinerary, and compare that cost to the price of a rail pass for the number of days you expect to spend on the train. (The dashed Lugano–Tirano line shows a popular bus connection that's covered by rail passes; dotted lines show two popular boat routes — covered by some passes.)
Also, follow the links below for:
• More tips for figuring out whether a pass makes sense for your trip
• The basics on choosing among rail passes
• More tips on how to save money by fine-tuning your rail pass
• Advice on deciding between first and second class
• Fare-estimate maps outside Switzerland
• Answers to frequently asked rail-pass questions
Choose one of the passes below to check prices and to buy your pass (orders are fulfilled by Rail Europe).
Note that if you're opting for a single-country Swiss Travel Pass, or a Eurail Global Pass, you'll need to choose between a continuous pass or flexipass when ordering.
Extra tip #1: A few more deals for Switzerland are also available, but unless they match your needs exactly, one of the passes above is likely to be a better deal.
Extra tip #2: If you're weighing a Swiss Travel Pass against a multicountry pass and you or a travel buddy is 26 or 27 years old, keep in mind that on multicountry passes, discounted youth rates are available for all travelers under 28, whereas you must be under 26 to use a youth version of a single-country Swiss pass.
Extra tip #3: If you're considering a two-country Select Pass for France and Switzerland but your trip is really Swiss-focused with just one train ride in France (e.g., Paris–Basel for about $140, or less with advance-purchase discount ticket), consider getting a single-country Swiss Travel Pass (which offers far better coverage of Switzerland than a Select Pass) plus a separate French train ticket. (If you need more of France, you probably do want the two-country pass.) Note that on direct TGV Lyria trains between France and major Swiss cities seat reservations are required, and fairly expensive (about $30 in second class or $70 in first).
Do I need to make seat reservations on Swiss trains?
For the most part, you can hop on nearly all Swiss trains with just your rail pass in hand. Designated scenic routes (those with names, such as the Glacier Express), and some international trains (such as to/from France and Italy or night trains through Germany) do require paid seat reservations, as indicated in online train schedules.
Passes cover nearly all Swiss trains (for an explanation of how the unique Swiss Transfer Ticket works, see "key details" at the bottom of this page). Even specially designated scenic routes are covered, including the entire route of the Glacier Express. Any pass that covers Switzerland also covers these two Swiss-run services through Italy: Brig–Domodossola–Locarno trains and Lugano–Tirano by Bernina Express bus. Many high-mountain routes, however, such as those served by the Berner Oberland's Jungfraubahn, are only partially covered, and discounts vary depending on what kind of pass you have.
Note: As is true on any European rail pass, "covered" services, including museum admissions, require use of a travel day on a flexipass. Discounts generally do not, but the single-country Swiss Travel Pass is an exception: Discounts on high-mountain lifts and trains are only available on one of your flexipass travel days.
Multicountry (Eurail-brand) passes offer the following discounts, among others:
- Berner Oberland: 25 percent off trains and lifts above Interlaken (without this discount tickets cost, from Interlaken, about $10 to Lauterbrunnen, $10 to Grindelwald, $15 to Wengen, $200 round-trip to the Jungfraujoch; without a rail pass the Schilthornbahn cable car is about $105 round-trip from Stechelberg, $80 with early-morning discount)
- Mt. Pilatus: 50 percent off all trains and lifts above Kriens/Alpnachstad (full price: $70 for two legs)
- Mt. Rigi: 50 percent off all trains and lifts above Vitznau/Arth-Goldau/Weggis (full price: $25–40 per leg)
- Lake boats: 50 percent off most boat trips, but Lake Thun and Lake Brienz boats are fully covered
- Free kids: Up to two kids age 4–11 travel free with each adult
Switzerland-only rail passes cover much more:
- Berner Oberland: All trains and lifts up to the Schilthorn/Wengen/Grindelwald are covered, and 25 percent off lifts and trains above Wengen and Grindelwald
- Mt. Pilatus: 50 percent off (same as Eurail-brand passes)
- Mt. Rigi: All trains and lifts up Mt. Rigi are covered
- Lake boats: Covered
- Postal buses (which go just about everywhere trains/lifts don't): Covered
- Urban transit (e.g. trams and city buses): Covered by Swiss Travel Pass
- Museums: The Swiss Travel Pass is valid as a full-fledged Swiss Museum Pass, which includes admission to hundreds of Swiss museums
- More free kids: With the Swiss Family Card, available free when ordering a single-country Swiss rail pass, up to seven kids age 6–15 can travel free with a parent (list your kids as fellow travelers when ordering)
- France extra: The Swiss Travel Pass covers trains between Le Châtelard (on the Swiss border) and Chamonix, France (about $15 without a rail pass)
- Liechtenstein: Your Swiss Travel Pass even covers bus travel in Liechtenstein. Go nuts!
If a rail pass doesn't pencil out for your trip, you may be able to shave off the cost of your train tickets with some of these deals:
- One-month Half-Fare Card: Can save you money if you're not getting a rail pass but your Swiss travel adds up to more than $240 in point-to-point tickets. Buy it here or at your first Swiss train station.
- Kids: The Junior Travelcard and similar Grandchild Travelcard let kids 6–15 travel free with a parent or grandparent (30 CHF for one child, 60 CHF for two or more kids, good for one year, sold at Swiss train stations). Kids 6–15 can ride in second class with any adult, not necessarily a parent, for 16 CHF for one calendar day (or 32 CHF for first class).
- Regional passes: While available for many Swiss districts, these make sense only for the rare traveler who's doing a lot of very time- and region-concentrated travel. For most travelers, the only one of these worth considering is the...
- Berner Oberland Pass: Covers the entire Bern–Interlaken–Luzern area — but costs almost as much as a full Swiss Travel Pass. It offers 4 continuous days for 250 CHF, 6 days for 310 CHF, 8 days for 350 CHF, or 10 days for 390 CHF. The highest mountain lifts are either 50 percent off during the validity of the pass, or have special prices (e.g., the Mürren–Schilthorn cable car is 50 percent off, and the Kleine Scheidegg–Jungfraujoch stretch of train is 25 percent off). Parts of the Glacier Express and Golden Pass scenic routes are also discounted 50 percent. Also available in first class for 20 percent more; if you have any type of Swiss Travel Pass or discount card, all prices are 25 percent less. Note that the pass is sold only between late April and late October.
- Advance purchase: You can cut some ticket prices by half by buying a Supersaver ticket online for a pre-selected date and time (seats are limited and refund restrictions apply).
Swiss train tickets are easy to buy in stations or online through the Swiss Federal Railway's site. (If you do buy them online, be aware that the "from" fares displayed on the first screen of the ticket shop are the prices you can get if you have a Half-Fare Card. Without that, you'd choose a rate with "no reduction.") Also see our general tips for buying point-to-point tickets.
Switzerland Rail Passes: Key Details
Single-country Swiss Travel Pass: When ordering, opt either for a pass covering a span of continuous days (either 3, 4, 8, or 15 days) or a flexipass, i.e. for a certain number of days (also 3, 4, 8, or 15 days) within one month (not a calendar month but rather a month that starts with the travel date you enter when purchasing the pass). All Swiss Travel passes are pre-validated for this travel start date (and are not refundable or changeable after that date), so you can skip the usual step of having it first activated at a train station counter.
If traveling with your kids, request a free Swiss Family Card when ordering (the card allows up to seven kids age 6–15 to travel free with a parent). Unlike most other rail passes, the Swiss Travel Pass covers not just trains but nearly all forms of transportation — for details, see "What do rail passes cover in Switzerland?" above. Outside high season, special discounted versions of this pass may be available (but it's not a Eurail-brand pass, so special Eurail promotional deals don't apply to this pass). Also sold at Swiss stations.
The continuous-day Swiss Travel Pass offers an "e-pass" option to print at home (though it may require up to 12 hours' processing time). When purchasing an e-pass, you must enter each traveler's birthdate and passport number online.
Swiss Transfer Ticket: Akin to round-trip tickets between the Swiss border and any given spot in the country: You get two days of train or bus travel, to be used up within a one-month span, from any Swiss border station (or Swiss airport) to any point in Switzerland, then one trip out to any border (or airport). Your two trips don't have to be to or from the same places, but each direction must be completed in one calendar day by the fastest, most direct route (not a scenic detour). It covers the same train, bus, and boat travel as the Swiss Travel Pass (as long as it's along most direct route to/from the border), but doesn't include urban transit or museum admissions. If traveling with your kids, request a free Swiss Family Card when ordering (the card allows up to seven kids age 6–15 to travel free with a parent).
The Swiss Transfer Ticket offers an "e-pass" option to print at home (though it may require up to 12 hours' processing time). When purchasing an e-pass, you must enter each traveler's birthdate and passport number online.
Swiss Half-Fare Card: Gives you 50 percent off on all Swiss trains (including private railways and high-mountain routes, including the Jungfraujoch), postal buses, city trams and buses, mountain lifts, and lake and river boats within a one-month span.