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Tips for Train Travel in Switzerland

Updated: Sep 30, 2022

One of the best surprises coming to Geneva has been realizing just how easy it is to get around with public transportation. The SBB (Schweizerischen Bundesbahnen or Swiss Federal Railway) can take you all around the country and is even integrated with the local bus systems to help you get to any destination without a car.

The Swiss are very proud of their trains, and for good reason. Not only is it rare for a train to be late, you'll often hear people smiling as they talk about "Swiss precision" -- you'll see the train routes are also organized in such a way that you have to wait only a few minutes for a connecting train as you're traveling cross-country.

If you've ever used a website to make travel reservations, you'll find SBB to be pretty intuitive, but there are a few things I can share that might make your booking easier:

Some of the basics:

  • SBB Timetable - The Timetable is my favorite way to search for tickets. You enter your departure and destination city and preferred departure and arrival time. One you hit search, you will see an overview of options:

You can click on any fare to see more details about the route. The red price icon will show you all of the pricing options:

Types of tickets:

  • Single Journey vs. Single & Return Journey - Unless you are traveling out & back on the same day, you will want a Single Journey ticket. Buy another Single Journey ticket for your trip home.

  • 1st Class or 2nd Class - The 2nd Class train cars in Switzerland are comfortable, clean and have outlets where you can charge a phone or laptop, I would only recommend 1st class if you see a train route you want to take is very full as 1st class tends to be less busy. 2nd class is almost always how I travel & an easy and comfortable way to save!

Ticket tiers (consider if you are looking for more savings or more flexibility!):

  • Supersaver Ticket - The cheapest option available is usually the Supersaver ticket -- this reserves you a seat only for the specific route and time you are traveling. While you can often save via this option, if you miss your train, you need to book a new ticket.

  • Point-to-point Ticket - My favorite option is the Point-to-point. With this ticket, you can take any train between the two destination points you are booking between 12a and 5a of the next morning on the day you book. This ticket also give you the flexibility to get off at any midpoint in your journey. For example, between Geneva and Interlaken - you could stop for a few hours in Bern to explore.

  • Day Pass - The Day Pass is a good deal if you have a day with a lot of travel, or if you're not quite sure where you want to go. When you are booking a few months in advance, the full fare is only 52 Swiss Francs (about $55). This gives you the flexibility to go anywhere. When you know exactly where you are going and booking with short notice, the Supersaver or Point-to-point are usually a better deal.

If you're planning more than a couple of trips during your visit consider purchasing a Half Fare Travelcard before you book any travel. For the cost of 185 Swiss Francs, you have access to buy all tickets and passes at half price. These savings extend even to local bus systems & cable cars in the mountains-- which for example will get you to the Schilthorn/Piz Gloria & back down for 50 Swiss Francs instead of 100.

If this feels intimidating, I have two other suggestions - first, the SBB staff are amazing and have incredible customer service. They will be happy to help and it is easy to connect with someone who speaks English. Second, when you download the SBB app you'll see it has an "Easy Ride" feature - with the simple slide of a button, it calculates your fare and charges you at the end of your journey. It takes out all of the hassle of looking.

And finally, a few tips for your travel day:

  • Get on The Train - When the train arrives in the station, get on and sit anywhere. You'll notice the outside of the car will have a "1" or "2" -- this denotes the train car class. Sit anywhere you are comfortable.

  • Download the App - The SBB App will save all of your tickets and you can use this to show when your ticket is checked throughout your journey. If you prefer, you can also print your tickets

  • Use Timetable For Changing Plans - If you have a Point-to-point ticket, you won't have a specific reservation time on your ticket. When I book my train, I like to put my preferred route into my calendar and then I use the app the day of travel to make sure I want to keep the same itinerary.

  • Listen for Your Station - Upcoming stations will be announced in French, German, and English (the order depends on your location). When you hear you are approaching destination - close your laptop if you're working on something and collect your luggage. There isn't a lot of time to do this once you arrive at the station as the trains are quickly on to their next destination. (I've learned this one the hard way!)

What if you're planning travel outside of Switzerland? For my trips to France and Italy, I've used Trainline and OMIO for my bookings. Since French & Italian trains require you buy a specific seat these sites are great to showing multiple results and competitive fares. So far, for me, Eurail or Interrail (same program but for people living in Europe) has not been the most economical option-- it seems to be best when you're planning a multi-country train trip when you are looking for a lot of flexibility in your journey.

A few more photos & tips below. Hope this might help you make plans or inspire plans for you in the future!

Train schedule in Geneva -- this was taken on a rare occasion where trains were delayed! The numbers in the square correspond to the Platform where you find the train.

Train entering the Geneva station. You can see the 1st Class "1" on the train car and how board shows the final destination and stops along the way.

Bonus Tip: Notice how the board is showing B - C - D - E - F , these correspond to sections on the train platform. The "E" section pictured is where a car 6--a 2nd class train will be. This is especially helpful when you are have an assigned seat and will need to be in a particular car.

SBB Map of major train lines. In the bottom right corner it says "We connect Switzerland."


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