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4 Day trip to Switzerland

Hi, my husband and I will be taking a river cruise that will end in Basel on 8/3. We were supposed to be part of a 4 day extended land tour the cruise line had to offer in Switzerland, but they cancelled that part. We decided to keep our flight out of Zurich 4 days later on 8/7 and plan the stay on our own, however, I am at a loss as to where to go within those four days without driving myself crazy! Their itinerary had us going to Montreux for 2 nights, Bern for the day an evening in Lucerne and then a night in Zurich before we depart Zurich, but now I am looking at the train map and wondering if this will be easy to do with 2 pieces of luggage. Does anyone have any suggestions?
Thank you in advance.

Posted by
5147 posts

My question is, are your more interested in visiting cities or perhaps visiting the Alps? Are you fairly mobile (we won't worry about the luggage at this point)?

If you are interested in the Alps and fairly mobile, then I would suggest the Lauterbrunnen Valley or up on the mountainside at Murren. I would spend the time there except for the last night near the airport in Zurich.

If you are interested in cities, then I would suggest Luzern and last night near the airport in Zurich.

Posted by
27714 posts

what time of day is your flight home?

Posted by
6627 posts

Note: you can get to the rail station at the Zurich airport in about 1.25 hours by train from Luzern. That makes it easy to spend the last night there rather than Zurich. Or even all your extra days, as there is plenty of scenery and things to do there.

Posted by
7 posts

We were looking at the cities and lakes but like to hike so that was something we wanted to take advantage of as well. We'll probably not be back anytime soon. This trip is for my 50th birthday so my husband and I are pretty agile which is why we want to take advantage of the outdoors but the cities and lakes look beautiful as well.

My flight home leaves at 11:45am

Posted by
7 posts

Also, can someone explain the half fare pass. I completely understand the flex pass and consecutive but not understanding how the half fare works.

Posted by
3815 posts

Regarding the Half-Fare Card: you buy it for CHF 120, it is valid for a month, and all intercity train and bus tickets are 50% off during that month, including 99% of mountain railways and cable cars. City buses and trams are also discounted, the amount of the discount varies between cities.
So, the card makes sense as long as you are planning to spend more than CHF 240. Be careful: the Swiss Railways website (SBB.ch) automatically assumes that you have the Half-Fare Card when you look at ticket prices.
I had a look, Basel to Lauterbrunnen then Lauterbrunnen to Zürich costs about CHF 140-150 total in second class without the card, so once you add a mountain excursion (e.g. Schilthorn) which tend to run between 60-90 roundtrip (and much more for Jungfrau), you get very close to that CHF 240 threshold.

Posted by
280 posts

If you like to hike I would suggest taking the train from Basel to Interlaken in the Bernese Oberland. If you are concerned about transporting luggage you could stay in Interlaken and take the regional trains during the day to hike from there. Or from Interlaken Ost it is easy to take a regional train to Wengen for example or Lauterbrunnen to stay overnight for 2 nights and enjoy the mountains and hiking. Then you could take the Golden Pass train to Lucerne which has spectacular scenery on that route, and then stay in Lucerne for 2 nights and take an early morning train to Zurich the morning of your flight. Or you could stay one night in Lucerne and then the last night in the Radisson Blu at the Zurich airport.

On the other hand if you had your heart set on seeing Lake Geneva you could keep your original itinerary. If so I would stay in the Port D'Ouchy area of Lausanne right on Lake Geneva by the promenade or in the charming town of Vevey. There is easy train service from Lausanne for day trips to Montreux for the Chillon Castle and to Vevey or the Lavaux Vineyards from Lausanne. I hope you have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
5147 posts

Head to the mountains. I agree the cities in Switzerland are lovely. However, you will have had some city time on your cruise. Focus on the Mountains for your remaining time. No one has ever complained about having too much time in the Berner Oberland Region. You can stay on the valley floor at Lauterbrunen or higher up on the mountains in Murren. Lovely hikes and walks all over the place.
This video is old, but it gives you an idea of the area.
https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/video/tv-show/best-of-the-alps

Posted by
7 posts

Thank you everyone for your input.

We decided to stay in Interlaken and then hike/bike/explore for the day in nearby areas. If we want to go to Bern for the day we can hop on the train but if not, we can stay put and just explore the mountains. We are going to stay one night in Lucerne on our way out of town. My husband made the point that if we are heading that way, we might as well pack up and stay the night there before heading to Zurich. Then the day before we leave we are heading to Zurich to explore and then leave on the 7th. We'll just have to come back and visit Switzerland again to explore all the amazing other areas it has to offer. But for now I think this will give us a good taste of what it has to offer.

I did price out how much a first class semi-flex rate would be for the two of us to get from Basel to Interlaken, Interlaken to Lucerne and Lucerne to Zurich and I have to say it was much less expensive than the Swiss Flex Pass (maybe I priced it wrong?). The Swiss Pass was almost $1000 for the two of us to ride first class, which everyone I have spoken to said I should get first so I can reserve a seat. I see that I get 50% off the price of tickets in the Oberland area for the transit there with the Swiss Pass but maybe doing to Oberland pass would be better?

Would anyone recommend a la carte tickets and then the Oberland pass, the Swiss pass (maybe I am pricing it wrong) or doing a la carte tickets for our entire stay.
Honestly, I have never had so many choices. It makes NJ Transit and Amtrak seem very simple!
Thank you again for all of your help!

Posted by
27714 posts

I personally am an "a la carte" person, and I use the apps so I don't even need to go to a ticket window or ticket machine. But I also pretty much live on my phone. (70 yo retired railway)

I do wonder, since it looks like you like to keep track of the pennies (like me), why you want First Class for the relatively short train rides you will be taking, Many Swiss trains except in the mountains are double deckers with big windows even in Second Class, and Second Class has little tables, much larger seats than the back of a plane with plenty of legroom and headroom, with luggage space overhead (mostly) and power sockets at every seat. What you get in First beyond that is 2 +1 seating and a door which says "1" on it. Perhaps one more jacket hook.

Even the very scenic hourly narrow gauge train between Interlaken and Luzern over the Brünig Pass has panoramic floor to ceiling windows in both Second and First class. No extra charge for the views.

I get the 50th birthday. Just wondering...

Posted by
5147 posts

I am very glad that you feel like you have a solution that will work well for you. Nice job coming up with an alternative.

Posted by
16768 posts

Yes, 1st class is definitely gilding the lily. And you can purchase seat reservations in 2nd class on Swiss trains. Cost is 5 CHF.
https://www.sbb.ch/en/travelcards-and-tickets/tickets-for-switzerland/seat-reservations.html

Most people do not spend the extra money on seat reservations since Swiss trains are so frequent. But you can check the expected load factor on the Swiss website or the app and decide whether or not to spend the extra money beforehand.

All the trains you are looking at originate at your boarding point with a few exceptions. Basel, Interlaken Ost, Luzern. There are some of direct trains from Basel that are coming from Germany. They will be marked as ICE or EC trains. They are the ones at 11:56, 13:56, and 19:56. Just get there 15 minutes early and board when the train is spotted on the platform and you will be the first people to board and have your pick of seats.

Posted by
7 posts

Thank you for clarifying the difference between advantages of first versus second class. It had been previously explained to me differently and now I am more inclined to take 2nd class and save some money! Thank you all for the advice, that changes my perspective a lot!

Posted by
7 posts

Hi everyone,
I was notified the supersaver prices are now available for my trip but they are non-refundable. What is everyone's opinion in taking the non-flexible, non-refundable fare for less money?

Any input on this and restaurants in Interlaken, Lucerne and Zurich you recommend would be great.
Thank you.

Posted by
16768 posts

If you know you need to travel from "A" to "B" on a certain date, why not save money by picking a schedule and sticking to it. No body seems to have a problem buying airline tickets that way.

It looks like if you were to travel from Interlaken to Luzern on August 5, pick a time sometimes after check out time from your hotel and save some money. It looks like you could get tickets for 19.80 CH each that are 66 CHF each full fare. Going from Luzern to Zurich airport on August 7, you have an 11:45 flight, so you need to be at the airport by 8:45. There is a direct train from Luzern to Zurich airport at 7:35 and arrives at 8:44. Perfect. Cost is 11 CHF vs 30 CHF full fare. Why not?

For going from Basel to Interlaken, I have a slightly different strategy. You really don't know exactly what time you can get off the boat, you will not know where the boat will be docked until you arrive since the Port Authorities direct the boat to one of several docking locations around the city. As such, there is something called a Saver Day Pass. Right know, you can buy it for 52 CHF for August 3, which is 9 CHF cheaper than the full fare ticket. You can travel anytime that day to anywhere in Switzerland for the whole day. So you could take the next available train from Basel, drop you bags at the your hotel in Interlaken, then go exploring up to Muerren or Wengen for the rest of the day, returning in the evening.
https://www.sbb.ch/en/travelcards-and-tickets/tickets-for-switzerland/day-pass/saver-day-pass.html

Posted by
7 posts

Thank you! I was thinking along the same line as you. I appreciate your input and insight. I am going to take your advice regarding the specific trips.
Again, thank you for your time.