Switzerland Rail Passes and Train Tips

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. The Switzerland-only Swiss Travel Pass is a particularly good deal, as it cover nearly all transport in Switzerland — not only trains, but buses, boats, and many high-mountain lifts.

How do I see whether a rail pass makes sense for my trip in particular?

Train Fares: Switzerland

Map shows approximate costs, in $US, for one-way, second-class tickets. For first-class fares, add 50 percent.

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

What are my options for rail passes that cover Switzerland?

Swiss Travel Passkey details

Swiss Half-Fare Cardkey details

Berner Oberland Regional Passkey details

Eurail Global Pass (31 countries) → read more about this pass

Rail Europe shopping cart: Have an order underway? Review and complete it here.

Extra tip: If your trip is primarily Swiss-focused, with just one or two train rides elsewhere in Europe, consider getting a single-country Swiss Travel Pass (which offers far better coverage of Switzerland than a Global Pass) plus separate point-to-point train tickets (usually cheapest if booked in advance online). Note that on direct TGV Lyria trains between France and major Swiss cities seat reservations are required, and fairly expensive (about $35 in second class or $70 in first, in addition to a Eurail Global Pass) — and only a certain number are made availble to passholders for any given train. (And 26/27-year-olds should note that the Swiss Travel Pass's youth cutoff is 26, whereas the Global Pass grants discounts to all travelers under 28.)

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.

What do rail passes cover in Switzerland?

Passes cover nearly all Swiss trains. 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 counted travel day on a flexipass. Discounts generally do not (as is the case with the Global Pass), but the Swiss Travel Pass is an exception: Discounts on high-mountain lifts and trains are only available on the counted travel days of this pass.

Eurail Global 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, $85 from Mürren)
  • 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-rate pass

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 by request when ordering a single-country Swiss rail pass, kids age 6–15 can travel free with a parent
  • 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!

Any tips for buying point-to-point train tickets (or other local offers) in Switzerland?

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 Children's Co-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). In Switzerland, all kids under 6 ride free without a ticket (whereas train travel in most of Europe is free only for kids under 4).
  • 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, described below.
  • 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.


What if I need help with my Rail Europe order?

All orders for passes and tickets are fulfilled by Rail Europe (not by Rick Steves' Europe). For customer-service questions, contact them online (or call 800-622-8600, but expect long waits and periods of unavailability at the call desk) — and keep in mind that refund options are fairly limited.


Switzerland rail passes: Key details

Swiss Travel Pass: All Swiss Travel passes are pre-validated with a 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.

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.

If traveling with your kids, request a free Swiss Family Card when ordering (the card allows kids age 6–15 to travel free with a parent). Kids 6–15 not on the Family Card (or not accompanied by a parent) pay half of full adult pass price; under 6 ride for free.

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.

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.

Berner Oberland Pass: Covers the entire Bern–Interlaken–Luzern area — but costs almost as much as a full Swiss Travel Pass. The highest mountain lifts are either 50 percent off during the validity of the pass, or have special prices (for example, 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; see coverage map).

The Berner Oberland Pass costs 25 percent less for those with a Swiss Travel Pass or Half-Fare Card (but it makes little sense to double up on these passes). Kids under 16 can travel with adults on this pass with the purchase of a 30 CHF per-child card that works much like the Junior Card described above (but is only available in Switzerland). Note that the pass is sold and usable only between late April and late October.

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.