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Train Transfer in Zurich or Basel

We need to take a train trip with connecting trains in Switzerland either at Zurich or Basel. The Basel connection has a 1-hour layover, and the Zurich layover is about 2 hours. Just wondering if transferring is easier at either Zurich or Basel or is it about the same. I looked up passenger counts, and Zurich seems busier than Basel. Anything else we need to consider about which station to make our transfer?

Totally unrelated to the above question, I was wondering about visiting Switzerland. We are planning an overnight trip from Milan to Lucerne. Is that a good idea? Or is there some other city in Switzerland we should consider visiting instead of Lucerne?

Posted by
20318 posts

What is your origin and destination for this trip. Basel could be quite a bit easier, depending on where you are coming from and where you are going.

Not sure if I understand "overnight" trip. Certainly not a night train because Milan and Luzern are only 4 hours apart by day trains.

Posted by
16707 posts

Can you describe your actual journey? From where to where? That would help with answers. But without more, I would choose the Basel connection, as the station is smaller and easier to navigate, and the connection time is much shorter. I actually cannot imagine a 2-hour connection with trains; in Switzerland they run very frequently. What website are you looking at?

And since you are passing theough Switzerland on your way somewhere, why consider an overnight to Luzern from Milan? I assume you would be returning to Milan afterwards? If you simply want to visit Switzerland from Milan, the closest place would be Lugano; a nice lakeside city only 1 hour 20 minutes from Milano Centrale by direct train (no connections).

Posted by
9 posts

We were originally supposed to take the train from Milan to Paris directly on Trenitalia, but a landslide is likely going to prevent that and it looks like we'll have to connect trains in Switzerland. The connection doesn't add too much travel time than we originally planned, just the complication of transferring with our luggage.

As far as the overnight. We're going to be in Milan for a week before the train ride to Paris. We'd figure that we'd get up early one day, take a train to somewhere in Switzerland and stay overnight and return to Milan the following day. I think I figured that a 4 hour train ride wouldn't be too bad. I was thinking we could do the overnight in Lugano, but maybe that's a little too similar to Italy. We wanted something a little more Swiss.

Posted by
20318 posts

Going by way of Basel will be the fastest way and an easy connection.

You might consider taking a train to Lausanne and spending the night there, then a direct train to Paris. Kills 2 birds with one stone.

Posted by
9 posts

Thanks Sam! I think I'll do the transfer in Basel. It seems to make the most sense. The station appears much less busy than Zurich. And the arrival time for us in Paris is a little better on the Basel connection itinerary.

Any ideas of a nice place to visit in Switzerland from Mlian on an overnight. We really don't want to combine this with the travel to Paris as we each will have a carry on luggage and large backpack that we'll leave in Milan and just take one of the larger backpacks. Lucerne or Lugano or ????

Thanks so much!

Posted by
16707 posts

What time of year, and are you looking for mountain villages or a city?

Lugano is 1 hour 20 minutes; Locarno is 2 hours. These cities are both in Ticino, the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland, but definitely Swiss.

Luzern is a minimum of 4 hours (technically 3h 58 min) each way. But there are Swiss mountain villages in the German-speaking region that are closer, if you take an early (8;20 am) train from Milano Centrale. Kandersteg would be 3 hours; and the sweet little car-free mountain villages of Bettmeralp and Riederalp are 2.5 hours away, with the last connection being by cablecar.

https://www.aletscharena.ch/en/aletsch-arena/places/bettmeralp

https://www.aletscharena.ch/en/aletsch-arena/places/riederalp

Posted by
1976 posts

Having to waste one hour, or even two between trains is, frankly, unacceptable. At least to Swiss. As a result train stations are not really build to "hang out" in, like airports. You are supposed to be on your way quickly.

Fortunately you do not have too. If you look at schedules for Paris to Milano you see you can do it with only a 7 minute change in Zurich. See www.sbb.ch for examples. Eg dep. Paris at 10:22, arrival Milano 18:50.

Posted by
9 posts

Thanks Lola for the great information. We're traveling in late May and a city would probably be better as we probably wouldn't be doing a lot of hiking. It would be really nice to have a shorter train trip, so I'll definitely look into the towns you mention. I'll also take a look at Lugano and Locarno again. I was thinking that since these towns are so close to Italy that they'd have more of an Italian feel than Swiss. We're going to be in Italy for some time, so I was hoping to mix things up a little bit.

Thanks WengenK for the link to SBB. I was looking on the Rail Europe website rather than SBB. We're traveling from Milan to Paris, and I see some shorter connections on the SBB website. Not sure if I would comfortable with a 7 minute change since we will have a good amount of luggage to deal with, but I see a couple of options. One option that looks nice is with 40 minutes change in Laussane that actually shortens the overall trip by 1/2 hour, so thank you very much.

Posted by
9 posts

Sam - just reading through the thread again and noticed your suggestion about an overnight in Lausanne on our way to Paris. I think that that is a great suggestion. I think we'll just leave Milan a day earlier than originally planned and stay overnight in Lausanne. Like you said, kills two birds with one stone and would make the travel to Paris much shorter. Great idea, I love it. I would have preferred the direct train from Milan, but this will work out. Thanks again! Joe

Posted by
1976 posts

You can on the SBB website increase the minimum transfer time. Personally I would be perfectly fine with 7 minutes. If you miss it, you take the next train (which is only about half an hour later).

Rail Europe is just a travel agent, not involved in any railway operations, and does not always have the best data...

Posted by
995 posts

As a local who has used both stations on a daily basis over the past thirty years, I'd go with Zurich rather than Basel.

I know this is contrary to what several people have said, so here are my reasons:
- There are no ramps in Basel, so to change platforms in the Swiss part of the station, you will either have to take your luggage up a long staircase at one end or use the lift/escalator at the other end. So if you are at the wrong end of the train you may have to do some walking to get to the lift and on an international train you will most likely have to queue. And this may impact your ability to make your next connection.
- Many, if not all of the French trains leave from what used to be the old French station. That means in addition to what I described above, you'll have to get yourself from the Swiss part of the station to the old French part of the station.
- When I was there at Christmas time, I found the signage was poor, there was a lack of details on train arrival and departure and there were long queues for accessing the information desks. (See last paragraph about construction work)

By contrast in Zurich there are multiple points at which you can switch platforms using lifts, escalators and ramps, so much so that you will probably have to walk no more than say 70 meters to get to point where you can make your changes. And it is well signposted with plenty of information about train arrivals and departures.

You should be aware that there is major construction work going on in many train stations this year (including Basel) as an law requires all stations to be made more accessible for parents with buggies and people with disabilities. This means platforms are being raised/lowered and new low roller rolling stock is being introduced. This might have no impact on you or it may delay your trains, make it more difficult for you to switch trains or even find where trains are departing from. So check carefully before your travel in case anything has changed.

Posted by
9 posts

Hi Jim,

Thanks for the heads up about Basel and the difficulties navigating between platforms and I didn't even realize that there are different parts of the stations for French versus Swiss trains. Zurich, although busier, sounds like it's a lot more accessible. We're going to be traveling with bags, so this was the kind of information I was seeking.

Based on great feedback here, I think I've had a change of heart. I think I'm going to change our travel to leave Milan a day early and we will overnight in either Basel, Zurich, or Lausanne and make the connection to Paris the next day. I'm then going to remove the overnight trip I was planning to Lucerne during our time in Milan. I think it's a win-win type of situation. We'll be able to experience a little bit of Switzerland and avoid the stress of the train connection and also save a long travel day to Paris.

Thanks again,

Joe

Posted by
1976 posts

By contrast in Zurich there are multiple points at which you can
switch platforms using lifts, escalators and ramps,

There are no ramps in Zurich, It is stairs, escalators and elevators, just like in Basel. The upper level platforms you can of course also walk to the end, and across, but that will also add time. I have often made the inofficial 2 minute connection to Bern coming from Paris in Basel.

Zurich is actually rather confusing compared to Basel, with four (4!) different parts, that are even officially different stations.

But both stations have excellent way finding.

But I would suggest going via Lausanne. That is actually the historic Paris - Milan route...

Posted by
7002 posts

Many, if not all of the French trains leave from what used to be the old French station. That means in addition to what I described above, you'll have to get yourself from the Swiss part of the station to the old French part of the station.

The TGV to Paris uses the regular Swiss platforms in Basel, so it is a short transfer that I've done many times in the past few months (going to Bern a lot for work these days). And like WengenK, I have managed the unofficial 2-minute connection between the TGV from Paris to Basel and the train to Bern more than once! It's a sprint with luggage, though.

In any case, the overnight in Lausanne is a great call.