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Switzerland Train Travel Tips

Seeing Switzerland by train is easy and hassle free. The journey is as rewarding as the destination. The scenic Swiss landscape keeps your nose glued to the window most of the time.


Switzerland Train Travel Tips
Historic train in Brugg (AG)

So many factors speak for discovering Switzerland by train. It is by far the greenest way to explore the country. Environmentally conscious Switzerland runs its trains mostly on hydroelectricity. The extensive Swiss Travel System connects the big city with the smallest mountain village by train and bus - smoke free and on time.

Switzerland Train Travel Tips Index

Arriving in Switzerland | Luggage | Train Stations | Time Tables |Train Services |

Buying Tickets | Seat Reservations | Changing Trains | Family Travel |

Handicapped Service | Travelling with your Dog | Bikes | Saver Tips

Arriving in Switzerland

Arriving at the Airport

Zürich and Geneva Airports are connected to the Swiss Rail System. The train will bring you swiftly into the city or directly to your destination. The Airport Train Station is conveniently located 'underground'. Timetables are prominently placed and signs lead you do the train.

If you arrive at the Airports Euroairport Basel or Bern-Belpmoos, the airport bus will bring you to the city center or train station.

Buying rail passes, cards and single tickets

  • Zürich: Follow the signs to the Railway Center/Bahnreisezentrum to Check-In 3 (main level). If you only need a Zürich Card, you can purchase it online or upon arrival at the information booth;
  • Geneva: follow the signs to CFF Level G at Geneva Airport. If you only need a ticket from the airport to any of the Geneva Hotels, you can get a free visitor's card at the information booth or if that is closed, show your hotel reservation to the control person in the train.
  • If you need a Swiss Transfer Ticket - convenient when you only need a ticket from the airport to your holiday destination and back - you will have to buy it before you leave home. Your travel agent can arrange it for you or you can buy it online through Swiss Railways directly.
Ticket counter Airport Zurich
Railway Center (Bahnreisezentum) at Airport in Zürich
Train Travel Center Airport Zurich
SBB (Swiss Federal Railways) ticket and money exchange counters at Airport Zürich

Arriving in Switzerland by Train

  • If you travel predominantly in Switzerland, check out the discounted rail passes.
  • Also, check the discounted weekend- and day trip offers by the Swiss Railway (SBB) listed under "Leisure & Holiday" on their website. Click on "Traffic Information" on the SBB Timetable in the right column.
  • If Switzerland is only part of your Europe travel vacation, you may already have a pass or ticket. A European Rail Pass can only be purchased before you leave home, either from your travel agent or online
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Luggage


Fly Rail Baggage - Sending Luggage from Overseas

You can send your baggage directly from your home airport to a Swiss railway station with the "Fly Rail Baggage Service". Upon arrival in Switzerland, you don't have to wait at the carousel for your luggage. You breeze through the airport directly to the train station.

Each piece of luggage can't exceed 32 kg (70.5 lb), but of course, ultimately, the weight depends on the airline you choose. You also can send ski equipment and strollers, but not bicycles.

On your way back home verify with your airline if they let you check-in your luggage at the train station directly. Unfortunately (for security reason), not every airline lets you use this service. If that's the case, you still can send your luggage expedited to the airport by train. You will have to check in your luggage one day before your departure flight.

You will have to attach a special tag to your Fly-Rail luggage. You can get it from your travel agent or buy the Fly - Rail Baggage to Switzerland tag from RailEurope.


Luggage within Switzerland

It's not a problem taking your luggage into the train. For larger pieces use the storage space right at the beginning of a coach; smaller pieces fit between, under or above your seats.

Tip

It's really not a problem taking your baggage with you onto the train except maybe on busy ski weekends when trains fill up quickly with bulky ski equipment.

If you don't want to schlepp your luggage, you can send it by train from any of the 480 staffed train stations. You will need a valid ticket for yourself. The suitcase should not exceed 25 kg (55lb) or you would have to pay an extra fee. More info on Express or door-to-door luggage here.

You also can send bicycles, skis and snow boards mounted with shoes (protective coverage provided by SBB - free of charge). If you are a group and want to send ski dresses, shoes, hiking boots and similar items to the next destination, you can rent a box (approx. CHF 15) at the train station.

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Switzerland Train stations

RailCity Bahnhof Bern
No train station in Switzerland is that big that you can get lost, except maybe at Zürich Hauptbahnhof (main train station). There, it can be a bit daunting to figure out where trains are leaving. Luckily, everything is well signed and if you know what you are looking for it shouldn't be a problem.

Larger train stations are small shopping malls. You can shop even after normal closing hours and on weekends. At the ticket counter, you can change money or send/receive money with Western Union and you can even buy event tickets.

Free Wireless internet access at larger train stations.

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Swiss Train Schedule and Time Tables

Swiss train schedule
Timetables (electronic and print posters) are everywhere in stations. All trains, buses, and boats depart and arrive on regular intervals, so it's easy to remember arriving and departure times.

You can get printed pocket timetables for regions free of charge, or download them as a pdf file from the SBB website.

Also, when you buy a ticket at the railway station ask that they print out the schedule for your specific route. It will show you not only departure and arrival times but also where you have to change trains and from which track your connection will leave.

You can use the SBB (Swiss Federal Railways) timetable no matter if you travel by train (national or private), bus, boat or cable cars - even for city transportation (if you know the street or Hotel Address you are headed to).

Seasonal train schedule changes: There are different schedules for winter (mid December) and summer (mid June). Although changes are marginal, and main routes stay pretty much the same, do recheck your schedules if you planned your vacation well ahead of your departure date. Trains can run on a different schedule on nationwide public holidays: 1 and 2 January, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Ascension, Whit Monday, August 1st, December 25th and 26st.



Timetable SBB App for your Smartphone

For quick an easy reference, download the timetable as mobile app.

Although the following example of a mobile Swiss train schedule is shown on an LG, the app works pretty much the same way on iPhone, Android, and WP7.



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Train Service Identification

How do I know which train to board?

  • S-Bahn (S) and S-Bahn Nightline (SN), (RER in the French part of Switzerland) is a network of trains in cities and agglomerations (commuter trains). Unstaffed but controllers show up once in a while. Validate your ticket to avoid a penalty. Bicycle transport possible.
  • Regio trains (R) stop at all stations within a region, sometimes though only on demand (push the red button next to your seat.) Not staffed. Validate your ticket BEFORE you enter the train. No seat reservations possible. Bicycle transport possible.
  • RegioExpress (RE) are express trains within a region. Same as above, but only stop at certain stations (stop on demand not possible). No seat reservation possible. There's room for bicycles.
  • InterRegion (IR) run throughout Switzerland from region to region. Similar to Regio but, as the name implies, run between regions. Bicycles have to be loaded onto special market coaches, but not all IR trains offer this service. Watch for bicycle pictograms on timetables.
  • InterCity tilting trains (ICN) are air conditioned, have a restaurant coach (no class difference) and minibar. Special wheelchair spaces in both classes, as well as business sections and quite zones (no music or mobile phones) in first class. Self-load coaches for your bicycles for which you need a reservation between March 21 and October 31.
  • InterCity trains (IC) are air-conditioned express trains between cities with restaurant and mini bar. Business and quite zones in first class. When not otherwise marked, you can load your bike into special marked luggage and bicycle compartments.
  • InterCityExpress (ICE), high speed, air-conditioned with restaurant (same for both classes) and snack bar. Seat reservation not necessary, but recommended during commuter times. Wheelchair reservations possible in second class. Bicycle transport not possible.
  • EuroCity (EC). International air-conditioned trains, usually with restaurant. Seat reservation for passengers with or without wheelchair possible in second class (but not mandatory). Bicycle can be transported if not marked otherwise.
  • CityNithgLine (CNL). International trains with sleepers, couchettes and reclining-seats. Breakfast included according to sleeper category. Normal ticket prices plus the price for the mode of transport you choose. Compulsory seat reservations. Bicycle transport possible with reservation.
  • EuroNight (EN). International trains for night travellers only, including breakfast in the chosen category. Reservation compulsory. No bicycle transport possible.
  • RailJets (RJ) are air-conditioned high speed trains that offer an additional class - the so-called Premium Class. With bistro. Onboard service at your seat possible in first and premium class. Quite and family areas (with theater). Wheelchair passengers can reserve a seat in first class with a second class ticket. No bicycle transport.
  • TGV is a French high speed train. Seat reservation compulsory when travelling internationally. Wheelchair reservation possible in first class. You can take your bicycle with you but need a reservation for it. Self-service loading.
Tip

switzerland train travel When you see this sign it means the train is not staffed and you have to validate your ticket BEFORE entering the train, or you risk a fine if a controller shows up.

Does this sound too complicated? Don't worry. Getting around by train is easy. All you really need to know is the destination, departure time and track from where your train is leaving, and you are good to go. There are additional timetables above the tracks and on schedule boards along the platform for quick reference. Do double check to make sure your departure track hasn't changed. It happens not very often, but it can due to repair or extra scheduled trains.

Attention when you board an express train. Express train stops can differ. If your destination is not marked on timetable posters (or on the express train itself), the train will not stop. Example: You want to go to Ziegelbrücke; you can either board the EuroCity or InterRegio Express to Chur, but make sure Ziegelbrücke is marked as stop.

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Buying Tickets

Tip

If you have a pre-purchased ticket without a specific departure date or a booklet of tickets make sure you validate them at the ticket cancelling machine BEFORE you enter the train to avoid a penalty.

Point-to-point tickets can be purchased right before departure at ticket machines and counters - quick and easy.

You can also purchase tickets online (ticket print out) or download the SBB Mobile App for paperless tickets on your mobile phone. However, if you buy through your SBB Mobile App make sure you buy them well in advance. You need the confirmation on your mobile app before you enter the train or you risk getting a fine because you travel without ticket.


What kind of tickets should I buy?

  • First or second class tickets?
    That's the question! Second class can be as comfortable as first, especially in the newer trains.

    In first class, you have a little more leg room, and you find quiet and business sections where you can plug in your computer - if that is important to you. On certain routes, SBB and Swisscom now offer Internet Access.

    It can get crowded in second class during rush hour. On winter weekends, trains to ski resorts fill up quickly, even though there are extra trains scheduled. Consider an upgrade to first class if you can't avoid Friday and Sunday late afternoon travel, especially to ski resorts in the Bernese Oberland, Graubünden and Valais. You can buy class upgrades at the ticket machines, the ticket counter or the conductor will sell you one directly in the train (as long as you have a valid second class ticket).

    Lately, trains on main connections are overfilled no matter when you travel. If you can afford it, I recommend buying first class passes or tickets. After all, you are on a holiday and maybe want to spoil yourself a little.

  • Is it cheaper to buy tickets in advance?
    Regular tickets cost the same when you buy them the day you travel, three weeks or three months in advance. However, check out the options for discounted tickets right below.
  • SuperSaver Tickets
    Limited offers of SuperSaver Tickets are only available online. You receive a discount of up to 50% on regular tickets and up to 30% for Half Fare Card holders. The small print: Once you select the date, the route, the time of travel, and the class (no upgrade possible) you won't be able to change it. SuperSaver Tickets are limited and offers can change daily. They are not available on all routes and can be bought not more than up to 14 days in advance. Not available for purchasing through the SBB Mobile Apps.
  • City-to-City tickets
    If you have decided to buy single tickets rather than getting one of the Swiss Travel Passes, take advantage of free city transport by choosing a City Ticket. There's a small additional fee you pay on top of the normal point-to-point ticket price which allows for free city transport (in a number of larger Swiss cities) until midnight the same day. You can buy this ticket at the ticket counter, ticket machines or online from the SBB.
  • 1-Day and/or 9 o'clock Travel Passes
    If you have a Half-Fare-Card, check out the 1-Day respectively 9 o'clock Travel Passes. Both tickets let you travel for a flat fee (first or second class) for a whole day on the entire Swiss Travel System, no matter if you choose to travel by train, bus or/and boat. It acts like one of the Swiss Passes, trams and buses in most cities and agglos are included. This is worth looking into, if your discounted return ticket would cost more than one of these Travel Passes:

    Tip

    To save even more, purchase a booklet of discounted 9 o'clock travel passes and share them with your travel companion. You have to travel together at all times though.

    - 1-Day Travel Pass (valid all day throughout the week, weekends included): CHF 73 second class and CHF 124 first class;
    Multipack (6 for 5): CHF 365 second calss and CHF 620 in first class.

    If you don't have a Family Card card, a 1-day travel pass would also be an option for your children aged 6 to 15: CHF 16 in second class and CHF 32 in first class.

    - 9 o'clock Travel Pass (valid Monday to Fridays from 9am onwards): CHF 58 for second class and CHF 96 first class;
    Multipack (6 for 5): CHF 290 second class and CHF 480 in first class.

    You can buy these day travel passes at the SBB online ticket shop or ticket counter at any train station.

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Seat Reservation

Seat reservation on regular trains within Switzerland is not necessary but of course, if you travel in a group and want to stay together or travel during busy hours, then consider making a reservation (fee applies).

However, seat reservation on some of the Classic Scenic Trains is mandatory. You can make a reservation as early as three month in advance, or as late as the day before you depart. The busier the season, the earlier I recommend you make the reservation.

Commuter times early morning and late afternoon are busier than the rest of the day. If you can, avoid them as well as busy Friday and Sunday evenings during ski season - it can get a bit crowded when weekenders are heading up to the Alps with their ski equipment. If you can't avoid travelling during these times and the second class coaches are full, consider an upgrade to first class.

Seat reservation is not compulsory for IC and ICE (regular international trains), although it's always a good idea to reserve your seat for international travel, especially during the touristy season.

A seat reservation is mandatory if you want to use the CityNightline (CNL), EuroNight (EN) as well as RailJet and TGV if you travel internationally.

If you wish, you can make a seat reservation for dining in the rolling SBB restaurant coach. It's convenient if you travel as a group and want to make sure you can sit at the same table. You can reserve your seat up to one day before departure at the ticket counter or by calling 0900 300 300 (CHF 1.19 per minute). The supplement you pay for seat reservation will be deducted from your meal bill.

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Changing Trains

The great thing about travelling by train is that they are very reliable. Even if you only have 5 minutes to change trains or catch a bus, you can count on punctuality. In most trains, connections (tracks and schedules) are announced in English.

Although Swiss trains are reliable, delays can happen and I strongly recommend staying near the airport before your return flight home.

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Family Travel

Switzerland Train

Children up to the age of 6 travel for free. Between the ages of 6 and 15 (one day short of their 16th birthday) they get a discount of 50%.

With a Family (Junior) Card and/or Grandchild Travel Card for CHF 30.00 (valid for one year), children between the ages of 6 and 15 years travel for free when accompanied by a paying parent or grandparent.

If you purchase a Swiss Travel Pass, a Swiss Card or a Swiss Transfer Ticket you can request a Family Card with which your children travel for free..

All InterCity (IC) trains have a themed coach for kids, either at the beginning or at the end of the train with enough space for strollers and push chairs. Playgrounds can be found upstairs in the same coaches. Game boards are fitted into tables, though you have to buy the pieces from the SBB Minibar (in the train) to play the games. It's easier to bring your own games with you.

On timetables, trains with family coaches are marked with a pictorgram. Check the train configuration posters on the platform to see where they are located.

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Wheelchair or walking impaired; blind, sight or hearing impaired

The SBB Call Center Handicap will assist you if you need help boarding or changing trains. If you need mobile lifts for boarding trains please allow plenty of time for changing trains.

SBB Call Center Handicap
Toll-free in Switzerland (from 6 to 22) 0800 007 102
Direct dial from abroad: +41 (0)51 225 78 44
E-mail

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Travelling with your Dog

Any size of dog can travel with you. Small dogs up to 30cm (1 foot) at the top of their shoulder blades travel free if you carry them in a suitable bag.

All other dogs pay second-class half fare (even for travel in first class). Depending on the length of the trip, buying a one-day travel pass for them might be a better option.

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Taking your Bike with you

Lots of train stations offer bicycles for rent. Should you bring your own bike and want to take your bicycle on the train, you can purchase a ticket for self-service loading online, at the ticket machine, the ticket counter or by mobile phone. Trains that carry bikes are marked with a bike pictogram on timetables, and on some trains a reservation is needed. Refer to the train schedule.

Space in Post busses is limited, so even though a reservation is only required for groups, it is advisable to make a reservation in advance. Bicycle carry on by the Post bus service check here.

E-bikes can only be transported in Post busses if they don't have a yellow sticker. Advance reservation necessary.

Don't mind to dismantle your bike? Get a bag at the train station and you can carry it free of charge with you.

The same way you can send luggage you can also send your bike, if you have a valid train ticket or pass. It takes two days to arrive at your destination.

No matter if you travel by train, bus or boat, the price is the same. You can choose between a one day bike pass, multipack passes or local tickets.

If you plan to transport your bike on Intercity tilting trains (ICN), you will have to make a reservation.

I appreciate a thumbs up by sharing this info - that is, if it was helpful to you :-) Thank you!


Photos: © SwissTravelSystem.com

The information on this page was correct at the time of publishing. However, prices are subject to change without notice.

This page was last updated December 2015.

Disclosure: Some of the links - but not all - are affiliate links. It means that I receive a small percentage from them if you buy through my website - at no additional cost to you! Thank you so much for your support. It helps me keep up the website!

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Swiss Train Passes

Saver Tips

  • Bring food and drink - fruits, snacks, sandwiches - whatever you prefer. It's very pricey in the trains, unless you don't mind to splurge in the rolling dining car or the bistro. Fill up your water bottle with tap water in your hotel or from one of the fountains that are found everywhere. It's clean and safe to drink!
  • Bring games, books and crayons for your kids so you don't have to buy them on the train;
  • If you buy single tickets, do check the SuperSaverTickets;
  • If it turns out that a Half Fare Card is right for you, don't forget to have a look at the 1-day and 9 o'clock travelpass to save even more.

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