Please sign in to post.

Grand tour of Switzerland via scenic trains

Hello, I am a nature lover and planning a dream trip on my bucket list: Grand Switzerland tour June or July 2019 to cover all the unique Swiss highlights, particularly Jungfrau and Matterhorn via trains GoldenPass, Glacier Express, Bernina Express, possibly William Tell Trains by purchasing 15 days Swiss Pass. I have not found any tour package that includes all my intended sights. Who and how to contact some custom tour operators to help me link and organize the routes and points and approximate cost? After tour itinerary and logistics (lodging, transportation, local guided tour) details work out, I will extend invitation to a few friends to join me on the tour. What is optimal small group size limitation to run it efficiently, capacity and per person cost wise?
1) I am also interested to have a custom tour of Romantic Germany tacked on as pre or post my Swiss tour. I know the sights I am interested to visit.
Your professional guidance is greatly appreciated!
Thanks,
Cathy

Posted by
1443 posts

This Rick Steves tour covers all the major Swiss destinations that you mentioned. The tours are by bus rather than train, so while you won't be on any of the scenic trains you mentioned you will still get to see mountain scenery galore. This probably makes more sense than trying to pin down a tour operator on a price for a group of only 4-5 people.

Posted by
20296 posts

We are not professionals, just experienced amateurs. If we were professionals, we would be charging fees.
You might start here by clicking on "Route Suggestions" for 8 days. Break it up to have time in Zermatt and Interlaken (better, Lauterbrunnen, Muerren, Wengen) for time to take the Gornergratbahn, Jungfraujoch, and Schithornbahn.
https://www.sbb.ch/en/leisure-holidays/travel-in-switzerland/international-guests/grand-train-tour-switzerland.html

4 people would be ideal, easy to manage, booking just 2 rooms. More than that can get to be a headache.

Posted by
7 posts

Thank you for your feedback. May I have your opinion if I should visit both Mt. Pilatus and Mt. Tiltis, or should I just visit one of them, if so, which one?
Cathy

Posted by
93 posts

Elevation stats might guide your choices:

  • 6982 ft Pilatus
  • 9744 ft Schilthorn
  • 9934 ft Klein Titlis
  • 11371 ft Jungfraujoch
  • 12605 ft Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix France
  • 12740 ft Klein Matterhorn

Titlis and higher mean snow and glaciers, not hiking trails.

Include buffer days to increase the window for good weather; going up for a close look at clouds isn't worthwhile.

Posted by
15360 posts

Not sure if you are interested in this but Cosmos has a Swiss Train Tour.

You could add on before and after the trip.

Instead of buying a 15 day rail pass, consider getting a Swiss rail half fare card instead. I found it to be a lot cheaper.

Posted by
7 posts

Hi Frank, Good ideas, Really appreciate your input and suggestions, after looking over 9 days COSMOs tindery, I feel there was not enough time at each place to explore, e.g. Jungfraujoch.... Where and how do I learn more about this Half Fare card? sound like a good deal if it is applicable to our tour. Please advise,

Thank you, Cathy

Posted by
8889 posts

shihchialin, the Swiss Half Fare Card does exactly what the name implies. You buy it for CHF 120 for one month, and can then you buy half fare tickets for all your trips (same as child fare). It is valid on all Swiss transport (train, buses, boats and city transport). You can buy the Half Fare card online from the SBB website, or when you get to Switzerland.
All Swiss ticket machines have two buttons "full fare" and "½ / child", so you can buy half price tickets from the machine or the manned ticket counter.
Depending on how much travelling you do, either the Swiss Pass, or Half Fare Card plus ½ price tickets could be cheaper.

Details of the Half Fare Card are here: https://www.sbb.ch/en/leisure-holidays/travel-in-switzerland/international-guests/swiss-halffare-card.html
Details of the Swiss Pass are here: https://www.sbb.ch/en/leisure-holidays/travel-in-switzerland/international-guests/swiss-travel-pass.html
A map showing where both are valid is here: https://www.sbb.ch/content/dam/sbb/de/infotexte/uebersichtskarte-sts.pdf

The route followed by the Cosmos Train tour looks good (see map here: https://images.globusfamily.com/Maps/Cosmos/2018/6010.jpg ), apart from the fact it is too quick. You could use it as a basis, except:
1) It says "Luzern area", make sure you stay in Luzern.
2) Do not stay in Interlaken, stay somewhere in the Jungfrau area behind Interlaken (Mürren, Lauterbrunnen, Wengen or Grindelwald). See this map of the area to get your bearings: https://www.regionalpass-berneroberland.ch/assets/karte-und-partner/Regionalpass-Panoramakarte-2017.pdf Red is rail lines, black cable cars.
For info and hotels in the area, see here: https://jungfrauregion.swiss/en/summer/
3) It says "Zürich". It means "Zürich airport" which has its own station, No need to stay in Zürich. It is only 70 minutes by train from the airport station to Luzern.
.
You could do the loop in either direction.

Posted by
20296 posts

Info for the 30-day Half fare Card (HFC).
https://www.sbb.ch/en/leisure-holidays/travel-in-switzerland/international-guests/swiss-halffare-card.html

Normally, this is the most economical option, but with your intent to do every single scenic train in Switzerland over a 2-week period, the 15-day pass may still be the cheapest way to go. You have to price out every single trip and compare the cost. Some trips will be covered differently by these. For instance, the Schilthornbahn is covered by the Swiss Travel Pass (STP), but the Jungfraujoch only 25% is covered by the STP above the town of Wengen, while the HFC covers the whole trip at 50%. Neither of these covers the reservation fee for certain trips like the Glacier Express or Bernina Express. With the HFC, you still have to purchase tickets for every single trip, but the STP you just get on the train and show your pass, except for trips requiring a reservation or mountain lifts and trains where the STP gives a 25% or 50% discount.

Here is the map of validity with explanation of which mountain lifts are included and which give discounts.
https://www.sbb.ch/content/dam/sbb/de/infotexte/uebersichtskarte-sts.pdf

Posted by
7 posts

So much valuable and informative resources, thank you guys! I got a lot to learn and digest about Swiss train system from my zero ground base right now. Will do more studying and following up your provided link and suggestions. My feeling, doing a custom tour with a small group in grand scale is steep learning curve. Any recommendation, knowledge, experience sharing is most welcome! Appreciated, Cathy

Posted by
7 posts

Thank you Sam! My goal is not to ride the trains then zip thru interesting sights or towns. My missing is to take a little time and explore the town or sights that interest us. After all, we are retired , time to explore the world, enjoy Switzerland is one of them, followed up Romantic Road Germany combined! I have studied and compared several tour packages offered by different tour companies and concluded since no one matches, I might as well do a once in a lifetime custom tour hybrid style, partly self guided and partly by local guide or host when and where needed.

Posted by
913 posts

After tour itinerary and logistics (lodging, transportation, local guided tour) details work out, I will extend invitation to a few friends to join me on the tour. What is optimal small group size limitation to run it efficiently, capacity and per person cost wise?

Remember your friends will look at you as the tour operator during this trip. Friendships have been known to go out the door!

Can you post an itinerary for us to view? That would be helpful.

Posted by
7 posts

Hi Ed, what you said how true! As of now I have 12 people (family and friends) that have travelled with me and loyal followers. After much thought and heeding advice, I have deiced to limit this size, no more expansion to keep my life simple as well as harmony in the group. After all I am just an enthusiastic tourist, not an career organizer. Thanks, Cathy

Posted by
16496 posts

It is ambitious but you can do it. I have successfully organized three separate trips to Switzerland for friends and family, all focused on hiking, for groups ranging between 6 and 10 people. I was the organizer but was not considered a “tour guide.” I did not front any money; everyone bought their own train pass (Swiss Pass in each case) and made their own hotel reservations (using their own credit card for deposit) at the hotels I chose. On occasion we shared a group lodging such as a chalet or apartment, in which case paid up front and they reimbursed me for their share. It was not difficult.

I came up with the following route before I looked at the sample 7-day itineraries that were offered. I see they are all quite similar, because it is a logical route if you wish to link scenic trains. The difference is that I have added time at several stops for excursions and/or down time. I will base this on a 15-day Swiss Pass but have not compared prices to the Half Fare Card for the same time period.

Day 1, fly into Zurich and take the train straight to Luzern, a 1-hour journey. Do not use the pass for this journey, as it is inexpensive and you do not want to start the 15-day count yet.

Day 2, explore Luzern; maybe go up Pilatus by the cablecar route if you want a mountaintop,but do not start your Swiss Pass for this as it will only cover part of the trip.

Day 3, activate the Swiss Pass and do the Rigi boat-cogwheel train-cablecar—boat loop. (Boat to Vitznau, cogwheel train to the summit and then down to Rigi Kaltbad, cablecar from there down to Weggis, and boat back to Luzern)

Day 4, Golden Pass route as far as Interlaken; change trains there for Lauterbrunnen and then up to Mürren to spend 3 nights. From here you can explore on foot, ride the cablecar up the Schilthorn (fully covered with the Swiss pass), and/or cross the valley to Wengen (fully covered this far) and on up to Kleine Scheidegg and the Jungfraujoch (only 25% covered on the Swiss Pass).

Day 7, continue on the Golden Pass route to Montreux for an overnight. Visit Chateau du Chillon if you arrive by early afternoon.

Day 8, train to Zermatt to spend 2 nights. Gornergrat Railway is not fully covered but worth the trip.

Day 10, Glacier Express to St. Moritz. Spend the next 2 nights there or in one of the nearby (and less expensive villages such as Samedan, Celerina, or Pontresina.

Day 12, ride the Bernina Express as far as Tirano; change to the Bernina Express bus to Lugano and spend the night there.

Day 13, take the Gotthard Panorama Express (train and boat) back to Luzern. This has replaced the William Tell scenic train. Note that you still have 3 days left on the Swiss Pass so see below on adjustments.

https://www.sbb.ch/en/leisure-holidays/travel-in-switzerland/panoramareisen/gotthard-panorama-express.html

OR, on Day 12, from Tirano continue on an Italian train 1.5 hours to the town of Varenna on Lake Como. This is not in Switzerland but a lovely place to stop and relax, and get a bit of Italy as a bonus. If you do this, you can reach Lugano by taking the train from Varenna to Milan and from there to Lugano. This would not be covered by the Swiss Pass so you would be “wasting” a day on the pass, but the Italian rail tickets are very inexpensive. Overnight in Lugano as above, and return to Luzern by the Gotthard Panorama Express.

You can easily reach afternoon flights from Zurich from a hotel in Luzern for your last night, but some people might want to see Zurich “just because”. Leave that choice up to the individuals.

The itinerary does not cover the full 15 days on your pass, so you can add 1-2 days to the existing stops to meet your group’s wishes. Or you can add an additional, intermediate stop to one of the travel routes. I can suggest two possibilities, both of which interrupt the long Glacier Express journey with a stop at Brig.

To be continued.. .

Posted by
16496 posts

The two side excursions from the Glacier Express I recommend (we do these on every Swiss trip and they are everyone’s favorite, even over the Berner Oberland):

  1. The Aletschgletscher, from the village of Bettmeralp in the Valais. This is the longest glacier in Europe. Check the Gallery photos on this website:

https://www.aletscharena.ch/nature-en/the-great-aletsch-glacier/

The village of Bettmeralp is our choice in this region. It is a carefree village perched high above the Rhône valley and the Glacier Express train tracks. To reach it, you would leave the Glacier Express train at Brig and transfer to a regional train headed the same direction (east). In 16 minutes you reach the stop for Betten, the valley station for the cablecar ride up to Bettmeralp. Lots of hotels in the village. You could also stay in nearby Riederalp (larger village) or Fiescheralp (smaller and more rustic) by leaving the GEX at a different stop, but we have not done those.

After an overnight (or 2) here, return to Brig in time to catch the continuation of the Glacier Express to St. Moritz.

  1. Oeschinensee, a beautiful glacial lake in a granite cirque above the village of Kandersteg. Leave the Glacier Express at Brig as above, but transfer to a northbound train (direction Spiez) to ride 38 minutes to Kandersteg. Walk through town 15 minutes to the gondola for the ride up to Oeschinensee.

https://www.oeschinensee.ch/en/

You can overnight at the mountain inn on the lakeshore (our choice), or stay at a hotel in Kandersteg and ride up for the afternoon to walk around. Just do not miss the last gondola ride down (around 6 pm). The mountain inn is part of a farm that has been in the same family for over 500 years. Much of the food in their restaurant is from the farm and it is very good. You will hear cowbells in the evening as the cows come to graze by the lakeshore.