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Switzerland for a week in June - What Would YOU Do?

We are a family of four - two kids 14 and 10 - planning a trip to Switzerland in mid-June. We are either in and out of Geneva or Zurich. Or we could come in one and leave the other (based on current research, Geneva is the least expensive and using both airports is the most expensive). The trip is mostly for sightseeing. 14-year old and I can handle moderate hikes - 10-year old and wife would likely prefer the easier ones.

Here are the places I am interested in visiting:

  • Schilthorn
  • Rigi
  • Titlis
  • Zermatt
  • Lauterbrunnen
  • Wengen
  • Jungfraujoch
  • waterfalls (are these mostly the ones surrounding Lauterbrunnen or are there others worth seeing?)

How would you rank these? Are there others you would recommend more than some on the list? Is it not worth it to visit, say Rigi or Titlis if we are planning a visit to Jungfrau anyway?

I am completely confused about the public transportation pass options. For instance, which of these, if any, would include cable car/gondola tickets to Schilthorn? It is all so confusing. Also, if we get the Bernland Oberland pass, what else would I need to purchase to get kids for free? On this page, they list the Junior Travel Card or the Swiss Family card as options to get kids in for free. However, it is still confusing as to what are the prerequisites to buy those cards!! :-(

What is the easiest way to research whether a pass is worthwhile? I don't mind doing the legwork (or the fingerwork) to research, but I have NO idea of possible travel combinations like for instance, I saw on another thread that there are two different routes from Lucerne to Wengen (or something like that) and both are worth exploring. I don't think I will have time to read everything available to figure out all the available permutations and combinations available. Once I have a few of these choices, I would love to do research, but right now, it is like throwing an Encyclopedia at myself to figure out what to do!! :-(

That is why, I am asking - If you were in my place, what would you do?

Porcupyn

PS: Someone had recently asked a question about a picture of Lauterbrunnen - I found the same/similar one here (View over the Lauterbrunnen Valley).

Posted by
1830 posts

Well, I can't answer a lot of your questions, but we have been to the Berner Oberland area twice. This small area includes Schilthorn, Lauterbrunnen, Wengen, Jungfraujoch and waterfalls.

It is hard to imagine, but think of a valley with steep mountains on either side. Lauterbrunnen is on valley floor, then the Schilthorn mountain is on one side and the Jungrfrau is on the other. Wengen is a city/village on the Jungfrau side of the mountain (it is touristy- where a lot of tours go) There are other areas that are not so touristy like Murren which is on the Schilthorn side.

So, when you listed all these places they are with eye shot of each other, so going to this general area you can do it all.

We have always had a car since we were driving through other countries, so I don't know about transportation. From what others have said about Switzerland, the BO is the most dramatic area to visit, over the others you have listed. It is really AMAZING!! You'll have a fabulous time! Give yourself a few days because the weather can be very changeable at any time of year.

Posted by
10344 posts

Think of the Lauterbrunnen valley as Yosemite on Steroids.
You'll get the idea if you take a look at it on Google Earth, angle the view so you see the elevation differences.

Posted by
31440 posts

Porcupyn,

This is from your comments in a different Thread.....

"That said, I would appreciate it if you could elaborate on your comment about Wengen vs. Lauterbrunnen about time to get to Jungfrau vs. Schilthorn."

Lauterbrunnen in on the valley floor and it's the transportation hub for the area, so the most efficient location to stay if you're planning on visiting places on both sides of the valley. You can certainly stay in either Wengen or Mürren, but visiting places on the opposite side of the valley will require both time and money. For example, if you stay in Wengen and want to travel to the Schilthorn, you'll first have to return to Lauterbrunnen and then either travel to Stechelberg via Post Bus and connect with the Schilthorn Cable Car there OR travel to Mürren via the Grütschalp Cable Car and BLM railway, connecting with the Shilthorn Cable Car in Mürren. Have a look at THIS MAP for some idea of the layout of the towns in that area.

As you've discovered, the Swiss Pass options are extremely confusing. I spent considerable time (including formatting an Excel spreadsheet) trying to figure out the best Pass options for my last visit there. I finally just "gave up" and made an educated guess based on the specific places I wanted to see, and settled on a Jungfrau VIP Pass which provided one "free" trip to the Jungfraujoch, as well as other transportation in the area. There's also a Berner Oberland Regional Pass. I suspect you'll also have to sit down with a sharp pencil and figure out the costs of each trip you plan to make in that area, and then try to determine which Pass will reduce those costs the most.

One other point to mention - for trips to the Jungfraujoch, be sure to look at the weather. It can be beautiful and sunny in the valley, but shrouded in fog at the top. That was the situation on my last visit - nice and sunny even in Kleine Scheidegg but when I got to the top there was a severe blizzard and it wasn't possible to venture outside due to high winds and blowing snow (at least not for very long). It's a good thing I made that trip when I did though, as the following day train service between Wengen and Kleine Scheidegg was suspended due to high winds.

Good luck!!!

Posted by
11280 posts

One quick thing I can say. Going up to Rigi was impressive, but I'm glad I did it before I went to the Berner Oberland. After that, Rigi would have been anti-climactic.

If you go to Rigi from Luzern by boat, you have a choice of Weggis or Vitznau. Rick recommends going to Vitznau on the way up, then back via Weggis. What he doesn't mention is that by doing this, you avoid a 15-20 minute uphill hike (involving stairs as well as steep pathways) from the Weggis boat dock to the cable car. Going the way he recommends, its a sometimes steep downhill walk that still takes 10 minutes. However, at Vitznau, the cogwheel train is just a few minutes walk from the boat dock. For anyone with even the slightest mobility problems, go both ways via Vitznau (this route is even wheelchair accessible, as I saw the train staff helping someone in a wheelchair onto the cogwheel train to Rigi Kulm, where there are steep but paved paths).

You will read various preferences of where to stay in the Berner Oberland. I stayed in Mürren, and was very glad with my choice. It has much better food options than Gimmelwald (which is also VERY small), and it's high up enough that the view across the valley is amazing. I also liked it better than Gimmelwald or Lauterbrunnen (I didn't see Wengen, as I just went through it on my way to the Jungfraujoch).

One recommendation I got here, and I'm glad I followed, is to spend as many nights in the mountain regions (Berner Oberland, Zermatt) as you can. They are very weather-dependant, and the visibility changes all the time. If you're counting on doing the expensive Schilthorn or the even more expensive Jungfraujoch, you won't want to waste them on a cloudy day. The more days you are there, the more likely you'll hit enough days of good visibility to do these.

I had four nights, which gave my a clear half-day (upon arrival, used for the Allmendhubelbahn), a very clear day (used for the Schilthorn), a pretty clear day (used for the Jungfraujoch), and a cloudy day (used for Rick's recommended valley walk and the Trümmelbach Falls). I also wanted to do the highly recommended Männlichen-Kleine Scheidegg walk, but didn't have a time when my energy level, free time, and good visibility all cooperated. In other words, 4 nights weren't, by any means, too many.

Posted by
145 posts

Ken:

Trying to wrap my head around the passes (I am assuming that if I need to compare prices for single tickets, I need to use the sbb.ch site, right?).

Option 1 - Three-day Jungfrau VIP pass. I priced this option out to either:
a) $282.00 per adult plus $36.00 per kid = $636.00 total, OR
b) $216.00 per adult plus $36.00 per kid + one (or two - does each adult need to have one of these?) of Swiss Travel Pass/Swiss Travel Pass Flex/Swiss Card/Half Fare Card - which of these four pass/card options is the best?

Option 1's main selling points are:

Unlimited travel on all Jungfrau railways and the Grindelwald First
cable car system Unlimited Travel on the Schnyge Platte, Murren and
Harder Kulm railways

But the other pass options below provide these as well, don't they? The only difference is the full trip to Jungfraujoch, which the others offer a 50% discount on.

Option 2 - Four-day Berner Oberland pass. I priced this option out to either:
a) $276.00 per adult plus $36.00 per kid = $624.00 total, OR
b) $216.00 per adult plus $36.00 per kid + one (or two?) of Swiss Travel Pass/Swiss Travel Pass Flex/Swiss Card/Half Fare Card - which of these four pass/card options is the best?

Option 3 - Three-day Berner Oberland pass with transfers. I priced this option out to $397.00 per adult plus $0.00 per kid = $794 total. The transportation validity appears to match that of Option 2, plus it gives an option to get to the area and one to leave the area. I am assuming that the landing airport should be the same as the departing airport, though that is not explicitly mentioned.

Option 4 - Purchase individual tickets. That will need a lot of research to figure out how much individual tickets cost. Do Switzerland tickets cost the same or less if you get them earlier?

Option 5 - Rent a car - but this would still require that we purchase on the tickets onwards from Lauterbrunnen anywhere up the slopes from the valley, right?

Porcupyn

PS: What is the concept of the Post Bus? Is it different from normal bus transportation? I am assuming that travel is covered with the passes - without the pass, how do I find out what it costs? Would that be on the sbb.ch site as well?

PPS: OK, I checked out the passes. Now I am even more confused. The Half Fare Card is about $140.00 (I don't understand how RailEurope sells it for $126) - that would make any of the above pass options really expensive compared to the Swiss Travel Pass, which is for CHF 251 for four days and appear to give unlimited travel all the way in Switzerland including those locations covered by the Berner Oberland Pass. What am I misunderstanding here?

Posted by
145 posts

Susan and Monte:

Well, I can't answer a lot of your questions, but we have been to the
Berner Oberland area twice. This small area includes Schilthorn,
Lauterbrunnen, Wengen, Jungfraujoch and waterfalls. It is hard to
imagine, but think of a valley with steep mountains on either side.
Lauterbrunnen is on valley floor, then the Schilthorn mountain is on
one side and the Jungrfrau is on the other. Wengen is a city/village
on the Jungfrau side of the mountain (it is touristy- where a lot of
tours go) There are other areas that are not so touristy like Murren
which is on the Schilthorn side. So, when you listed all these places
they are with eye shot of each other, so going to this general area
you can do it all. We have always had a car since we were driving
through other countries, so I don't know about transportation. From
what others have said about Switzerland, the BO is the most dramatic
area to visit, over the others you have listed. It is really AMAZING!!
You'll have a fabulous time! Give yourself a few days because the
weather can be very changeable at any time of year.

My understanding was that you would still have to get out of the car and use public transportation after you land up at Lauterbrunnen. Is that incorrect?

Harold:

What you say makes sense. I think I should just focus on Berner Oberland.

Kent:

Thanks for that perspective. I've visited Yosemite a couple of times ... and it is never enough as we were there only for a day each time!!

Posted by
11280 posts

"My understanding was that you would still have to get out of the car and use public transportation after you land up at Lauterbrunnen. Is that incorrect?"

Yes, you are correct. You can drive on the valley floor (from Lauterbrunnen to Stechelberg), but not up.

Yes, figuring Swiss Passes and deals is maddening. I ended up using a Swiss Pass, as I was also going to Luzern and Lausanne. One advantage of a pass over the half fare card is that you don't have to buy tickets - just flash the pass. Since I was going up and down a fair amount (that's the whole point of visiting the area), it was a great convenience. The only time I actually had to buy tickets were for the rides not fully covered. In my case, that was the Jungfraujoch (bought in Lauterbrunnen), the Allmendhubel, and the Schilthorn.

Postbuses function just like regular buses. The fares do too; if you have a half-fare card, the bus is half fare, and if you have a covered pass day, they're included. Boats on Lake Luzern are similarly covered. So, my trip from Luzern to Rigi (boat to Vitznau, train up to Rigi Kulm, train and cable car down to Weggis, boat back to Luzern) was completely covered. It would have been half price with a half fare card, but I would still have had to buy the tickets before boarding.

One caution; the SBB website is set up to show the price for a trip WITH the half fare card as the default; check carefully to see that you're getting the price that applies to your situation.

Posted by
5 posts

Hello Porcupyn,

You have received quite a few interesting feedbacks so far. Not sure if you are still confused or not. As a Swiss native from the Interlaken/Jungfrau Region, living in the US, I would like to give you some helpful tips. First off go to www.sbb.ch click on EN then to Swiss Travel Pass. A Swiss travel pass is your best bet and I will tell you why: you can purchase it right at the train station either at Geneva airport or Zurich airport. 8 days 363 CHF per person. Includes trains, postal buses, boats on the many Swiss lakes, discounts to Museums and many more. Should you consider renting a car, it will not be cheaper, as you still will take trains to the destinations you mentioned. (Wengen, Mürren, Rigi, Zermatt etc.) add the very expensive gasoline prices, parking fees everywhere = you loose. Read yourself carefully to the very detailed descriptions of what a Swiss Pass offers.
and where you'll have to pay extra on trains or cable cars such as: past Kleine Scheidegg from Wengen, or past Mürren to the Schilthorn, or to the Gornergrat from Zermatt.
Should you decide to stay in the Jungfrau Region, make Lauterbrunnen your "base camp" from here you can explore either side of the valley = Wengen, Kleine Scheidegg - down to Grindelwald - back to Lauterbrunnen OR up to Mürren, down to Gimmelwald, Stechelberg and back to Lauterbrunnen. Make it a day trip on either side. You will not regret it. If you have any more questions, I'll be happy to help.
Cheers and happy travel planning. From a girl who grew up on the ski slopes of the Schilthorn.
Esther

Posted by
31440 posts

Porcupyn,

The Post Buses are as the name implies part of the postal system, but they're also part of the overall travel network in Switzerland. These provide an integrated link to smaller towns which don't have rail access. The Buses are bright yellow, so you can't miss them, and they have a very distinctive three tone horn.

For example, if you buy a ticket from Interlaken to Gimmelwald via Stechelberg (ie: the Schilthornbahn), the ticket will include all modes of transport including the Berner Oberland Bahn, Post Bus and Schilthornbahn. The Swiss have a VERY efficient transit network!

Posted by
145 posts

Thanks Harold, luckyswissy and Ken! I am back with more questions (I assure you guys, once I am done with my questions, I will post an itinerary so you can pick it apart). :-)

How significant is the difference between the panorama trains and normal trains on the same route? I mean, the scenery is obviously the same, and Swiss trains - from my limited experience - all have nice windows. Do the panorama trains stop at stations for more time allowing passengers to get off and get back on?

For some reason, though the Swiss Travel System website gives detailed information - timing, reservation requirements (1st class required for William Tell - check out the tabs halfway down this page), it does not give similar information about the Golden Pass. In fact, it appears to combine it with the chocolate train and a couple of other trains. What am I doing wrong?

I am assuming that should we want to experience the Gotthard tunnel and do a round-trip from Lucerne to Airolo, it can be done in one summer afternoon - assuming that all we are doing is taking the train for the round-trip to appreciate the views.

From another thread:

I hope that you know that if your boys are 15 or under, they can
travel free in Switzerland in the company of a parent with a valid
ticket. Order a Swiss pass or card online and request the family card.
It's free. If you wait until you arrive in Switzerland, I believe it's
the Junior Card. Same thing only you pay 30CHF for it in Switzerland.

Is it true that we won't get the Family Card if we purchase our passes in Switzerland? I thought it is something we would automatically get if we purchased the pass and told the salesperson that we are travelling with two kids under 15.

Thanks for any help!

Porcupyn

Posted by
12965 posts

I will try to help with passes but I did not read through everything to see which questions remain unanswered. I did see your last, about whether the Family card is free if you purchase your Swiss passes in Switzerland. The answer is yes it is:

http://www.swisstravelsystem.com/en/passes/swiss-family-card.html

So your children will travel for free with the Family card, even on lifts and mountain trains when the pass only covers the adults at 50%.

The Junior Card is different. It costs 30 CHF per child and is for use when the parents are using point-to-point tickets, or Berner Oberland Regional Passes, instead of a Swiss Travel System pass ( Swiss Pass, Flex Pass, Half-Fare card, or Swiss card.

Posted by
31440 posts

"How significant is the difference between the panorama trains and normal trains on the same route?"

Based on my experience on the Bernina Express, I'm not sure there's a significant difference between the panorama and regular cars. Even with regular windows, the visibility would still have been about the same. As I recall, I stood in the foyer much of the trip anyway, as the window there could be opened which made it easier for photos. I was getting a lot of glare off the panoramic windows. I've never really checked on whether the panoramic trains make more stops or longer stops.

Posted by
145 posts

After a lot of research and discussion plus a few PMs, I think I am getting a plan together. Please critique this.

Thanks,
Porcupyn


  1. Tickets in and out of Zurich have been purchased. It is now a five day (and five nights) trip, i.e., we leave Zurich on the morning of the sixth day.

  2. We have reserved our accommodations - first three (or four) nights at Lauterbrunnen; last two (or one) nights at Zurich. Night #4 currently double booked - we need to cancel one as soon as possible (most likely the fourth night at Lauterbrunnen will have to go, as you will probably agree based on the plan below):

Day One:

1) Land in Zurich early morning; purchase two Half Price Cards, two Family cards, pack of six one-day after 9 am travelpasses, plus two full day travel passes - will there be a long line on a weekend day at the airport sbb office? I know it was not too crowded on Christmas Day a year back :-)

2) Travel Zurich-Bern-Lauterbrunnen Golden Pass route reaching Lauterbrunnen about seven hours after leaving; I am confused here - what via stations I need to enter? When I entered Bern-Zweisimmen-Spiez (based on something I read on another thread), it appears that the route does major back-tracking between Spiez and Zweisimmen (but that happens to be the Golden Pass route as well). [updated to add: Laura's response makes sense - The route between Piez and Zweisimmen is the continuation of the Golden Pass route to Geneva that we won't have time to go on]

3) Get into the Valley Hostel

4) If weather is good, take the train up to either Murren or Wengen and back.

5) Use the two full day travel passes - kids free with family pass

Day Two (or Three or Four, i.e., the first day with good weather):

1) Visit Schilthorn - kids free with family pass

2) Local sightseeing/hiking

3) If time permits, visit Reichenbach falls

4) Use two of the after nine am travel passes on this day - kids free with family pass

Day Three (or Day Four, if Schilthorn is moved to Day Three):

1) Use Half Price Cards to get two tickets to Jungfraujoch - kids free with family pass

2) Local sightseeing/hiking

Day Four (or Day Two, if Schilthorn is moved to Day Three)

1) Travel from Lauterbrunnen to Zermatt and back - spend an hour or so in Zermatt taking photos of the scenery

2) Visit the Niesen pyramid mountain on the way out to Zermatt

3) If time permits, spend some time on a boat in Lake Brienz or Lake Thun - which would offer a better scenery or boating options? What would be the latest time I should plan for us to get on a boat to have a good view of the scenery?

4) Leave for Zurich via the Lauterbrunnen-Interlaken Ost-Luzern-Zurich route (Day Four)

5) Use two of the after nine am travel passes on this day - kids free with family pass (Day Four)

Day Five

1) Travel from Zurich to Mt Rigi

2) Travel from Mt Rigi to Faido or Biasca

3) Travel back to Zurich

4) If time permits, quick visit to Luzern. I need to check if there is a quick way to get to Luzern before going all the way to Zurich.

5) Use two of the after nine am travel passes on this day - kids free with family pass

Posted by
47 posts

Porcupyn,
Just a thought after seeing several similarities in our itinerary's for family trips to Switzerland in June. On day 4 of your itinerary you leave Lauterbrunnen and arrive in Zurich. What about spending the night in Lucerne and touring Rigi the next day from there, that way you could see a little of Lucerne as you indicate you would like to do. We are actually flying home from Zurich and people in the forums have suggested taking the train right from Lucerne to Zurich airport to catch your flight. I am not as far along as you are on deciding what pass is the best bet for our family (kids 18 and 20) but I am learning more and more as I read! Thanks for all of the forum advice!

Posted by
145 posts

Erin:

Thanks for your response and your compliments. Thanks are due to those who have responded patiently to my questions.

To be honest, I am not as much in love with Luzern as most on the forums. That said, the primary reason I decided on Zurich is because I am using some hotel rewards points to get two nights in Zurich, close to the airport. The closest hotel from that chain in Luzern is along a highway, far from public transportation. Besides, by staying in Zurich, in a hotel I've stayed before, we also get a ride to the airport on Day Six - saves us the cost of two (half) tickets.

Unfortunately, the Family Card won't work for you - with a 14-year old, we are almost bumping against the limit. The free travel is only for kids under 16.

BTW, the daily travelpasses I linked in my previous post are unavailable from within USA - you need to either a) order them from the sbb.ch website or b) purchase them upon arrival. You won't need them if you can time your visit to exactly match one of their travel pass products, i.e., the 3, 4, 8, 15 day options or if you are spreading your travel over a wide timeframe, when it makes sense to get the flex pass with the Half Price Card Combi.

Porcupyn