We'll be traveling around in Switzerland in early Sept., and I'm trying to figure out how detailed my advance planning need to be regarding trains here and there, including within the larger cities. Are the Swiss train station personnel friendly/helpful with folks who just want to "wing it", with a little guidance from train personnel? Or do I need to get busy and try to get it all planned out now? Help!
Linda, I've found that it's very easy to "wing it" with the trains in Switzerland. I usually scope out my rail trips on the sbb.ch or bahn.de websites and then just buy tickets the day I'll be travelling. However, there is one "caveat" to mention. Have a look at the following BBC article from February 2013: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21294241 You can certainly "wing it" but be careful or your trip to Switzerland will be more expensive than planned. Happy travels!
Switzerland (and the Swiss rail system) is designed for tourists! It really couldn't be simpler. All encounters I've ever had with Swiss Train Station personnel have been very positive. They also are very intelligent and speak several languages. In September all of the throngs of summer tourists will be gone and the place should be much more peaceful.
@Tim, "In September all of the throngs of summer tourists will be gone and the place should be much more peaceful." That's not always true! I was in Switzerland last September (Berner Oberland, Bern and Zürich), and some places were VERY crowded. One example was the trip to the Jungfraujoch - it was a "zoo" and standing room only! However, the Schilthorn was very quiet, only a few people there on the day I visited. Cheers!
Good info from all. Thank you! We WiLL be getting a rail pass, but I just haven't planned some of our days yet. Good to know we can get advice from the Swiss rail folks. Its a classic case of so many options and so little time (10 days). I'm thinking of scratching Ticino in favor of more time around Interlaken - seems to get more great reviews. Either way, it will be fun to be spontaneous!
We have found the Swiss to be very friendly and courteous. Just don't buy a Eurail pass for Switzerland if you are going into the Lauterbrunnen Valley from Interlaken Ost. The Eurail pass only gets a 25% discount on many of the Jungfraubahn and Schilthornbahn train rides inside the valley.
Thanks! We'll be spending a little time in Germany and Austria too, hence the Eurail pass....
Good luck with the Eurail pass. Most people find that they pay a lot more for the convenience over easily obtained discounted or normal priced tickets, but it sounds like convenience is more important than saving money to you. It certainly is the case that is you take out the money issue you can use a pass easily in those three countries. Do realize that if you are on a crowded train the pass doesn't get you a seat. Hopping on and off in Switzerland (except the reservation required ones) is very easy. I do it all the time.
Linda I vote for winging it. IT gives you the flexibility to follow your whims. I find Swiss Rail to be extremely easy and you won't need much help figuring it out. I used the Swiss Rail Pass (not Eurail Pass) which made it easier to go when and where I wanted, although if you are only making a few stops it is not worth over single tickets. I think the only planning you need to do is find a map showing how cities and towns are connected.
They also are very intelligent and speak several languages. Just for information, Swiss Railways require their counter staff to under go a four year apprenticeship after high school, before they are let loose on the general public! This involves work experience for two or three days per week and school for two or three days a week. It also involves stents of three months in France/Italy/UK or Ireland to get their language skills up to strength.
A Eurail,Pass does you little good around Interlaken. It only 25% of the fare beyond Interlaken, going to Lauterbrunnen or Grindelwald. You will still have to stop at the ticket window and buy tickets for your travel there. Travel in Germany is often cheaper with special deals like Länder tickets ( Bayern and others) than with a pass. You might be better off with Swiss passes of some type, and tickets in Germany and Austria. If you know the day you will be coming to Switzerland, you may be able to get a great price to Zurich from, say, Munich, by buying it now.