Rail Travel in Switzerland
When you travel to Switzerland, you’ll be amazed at how extensive and efficient the Swiss train system is. Literally any place in the country can be reached by train, bus or cable car. Trains leave often, with departures every hour for most destinations, they are clean, and they always run on time (it’s fun to watch your train leave exactly as the minute hand hits the departure time… unless you’re not on it yet!). There are well-connected stops at both the Zurich and Geneva airports. In short, Swiss trains are the perfect way to get around.
Wear comfortable shoes and try to pack light (most people bring far too much – be creative, and plan on buying a few things while you’re here), because connection times can sometimes be as short as 3-5 minutes. You can check out their schedule, in English, online at www.rail.ch. Rail Europe is a quick and easy way to get an overview of available tickets and passes – this link will take you directly to the Swiss Rail Passes.
As a very general rule of thumb, if you have trips of 3 hours or more, it’s probably worth it to buy a pass that covers those journeys. If you’re just making short 1-2 hour trips, your point-to-point travel might be slightly cheaper buying individual tickets.
Most trains in Switzerland work like subways or city busses. You don’t need a seat reservation, and often can’t even make them. You just look for the next train going your way, and get on (with a valid ticket, of course). There are exceptions though. If you make train travel a feature of your trip to Switzerland with one of the many specialty train journeys, you’ll want to plan in advance. These panoramic trains (and a few others) do require seat reservations in addition to a pass or ticket covering the journey.
Travel to Other Countries in Europe
If you’re going to travel to other places in Europe, you should always consider flying open-jaw, flying in to Zurich but home from Paris, for instance. You’ll not only save the expense of backtracking to get back to your starting point, but more importantly you’ll save time. And time will most likely be precious on your trip, so use it well. I wouldn’t fly to out-of-the-way places trying to save a little on your airfare – it will most likely cost more in time, train tickets and hassle. Planning a trip is enough work already, so make it easy on yourself and choose the right destination.
Zurich is the best entry point for most international flights to Switzerland, but Geneva works very well for most people as well. The internet also has a lot of good resources for flights to Switzerland. You may have your favorite, I like to use www.kayak.com, which makes it easy to compare different flight options you might be looking at.
For Switzerland, it’s not usually worthwhile to get Eurail passes and combined-country passes that include Switzerland. Switzerland’s rail network is made up of over 400 different companies, all with agreements covering different passes. The result? Eurail passes just don’t get you to many of the top tourist destinations for free, like Zermatt or the villages in the Jungfrau region. They don’t give you good discounts for mountain rail – those cable cars and trains to the various mountain tops (usually 25% instead of 50%, which can be a huge savings), and they don’t come with any of the museum extras that the Swiss passes and flexi passes do. If you’re doing a grand European tour with a few days in Switzerland, then a Eurail pass might the way to go, but if you’re combining a trip to Switzerland with one or two other countries, it’s usually best to get a Swiss rail pass, and then get a pass or just buy tickets for the other countries you’ll be visiting.