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Train travel in Switzerland SBB vs. Rail Europe

I have been trying to figure out the best and most economical way to travel in Switzerland. We are 3 people, 2 adults and one 21 yr old. We will be in Lucerne for 2 nights. We want to spend one day in Lucerne, and one day take the train roundtrip from Lucerne to Interlaken. We don't need the 1st class tickets for that trip. I find the least expensive point to point on SBB Swiss train website vs. Rail Europe where is a much more expensive, but I can't seem to book it on that site. Can anyone help me? I know you can't book roundtrip on the internet at SBB, but it doesn't seem that I can book one way either? Also, it doesn't look like any passes are a great option since we will only be there two days. We are traveling from Munich to Lucerne and our onward travel is from Lucerne to Paris via Basel. We will be traveling in the next 60 days. Thank you so much for your help!!

Posted by
16893 posts

The SBB web site should sell you the tickets, but be careful not to buy the half-price version that is for travelers with a Half-Fare Card, which is the "from" price they usually show on the first screen. A popular pass option for this type of visit is the Swiss Card for $231 per person in 2nd class, which covers you from the Swiss border (Schaffhausen or St. Margarthen) to Luzern, and from Luzern to Basel, and let's you buy all other Swiss train/bus/boat/lift/tram tickets during your stay for half price.

Posted by
8 posts

Thanks for your input. I did the math and the swiss pass would not be a savings for us vs. booking specific point to point tickets in advance. I did discover that on the SBB site you can only book within Switzerland for a 30 day window. If you are booking internationally you can book out over 90 days. Do you know if the prices change on the SBB site as the dates get closer for travel within Switzerland, they don't appear to but I would like to make sure.

Posted by
32198 posts

july,

Your best bet is to use the sbb.ch website to work out your travel details. As you've found, Rail Europe often tends to be more expensive. Keep in mind that Rail Europe is only a marketing agency, while sbb is the operator of the rail system in Switzerland so you'll usually save money by eliminating the middleman.

For the few trips you'll be making, you might just consider buying your tickets locally when you arrive there (that's normally the method I use). The Swiss are amazingly efficient and the process is very "user friendly".

One point to note is that if you're planning to venture into the Lauterbrunnen Valley, you'll need to specify Interlaken Ost as your destination station when travelling from Lucerne.

Posted by
3095 posts

SBB does not discount tickets for travel within Switzerland as you get closer to the date, nor do they (in most cases) offer advance purchase discounts like bahn.de and tranitalia do. Like Ken, we just buy our tickets there when we are not using a pass.

On the other hand, you might get a great price on the tickets to Paris by buying well in advance (like now). Look on SBB for a special offer" price. You can buy them on the internet and pick them up in Switzerland. Or maybe they offer a "print at home" option now. They didn't when we bought such tickets a few years ago. Our family of four saved 496 CHF on tickets from Zurich to Milan and back. Not bad!

Posted by
3095 posts

OK, I just checked using July 10 as a hypothetical date and a morning departure time from Luzern, going to Paris. The full-price ticket for an adult on the train with one change (probably Basel) is 188 CHF in 2d class. The Special Offer price for a non-refundable, non-changeable ticket is 78 CHF, a savings of 110 CHF for one ticket! There is another price of 128 CHF for a non-refundable but changeable ticket. These are all on SB.ch.

Posted by
8 posts

Thank you to everyone for you wonderful help! I am planning on booking our Munich-Lucerne and Lucerne-Paris this weekend. I will wait until I get closer to book the Interlaken train tickets.

Posted by
8 posts

I am hoping to get your opinions. We will have about 1 1/2 days in Lucerne, but it will be summer so it will stay dark later. Should we take a day to do Interlaken or spend the whole time in Lucerne? Or is there another day trip you would advise not missing? Thanks again for all you wonderful insights!

Posted by
3095 posts

I forgot to mention the inbound trip. You should get a good price from Munichto Zurich by booking on Bahn.de.

Posted by
3095 posts

You really have only one full day in Lucerne. The day you arrive from Munich you will have part of the afternoon and evening.

Interlaken is not a particularly special place. it is what is beyond there---Lauterbrunnen, Murren, Gimmelwald, etc.---,that is special. The farther and higher you go, the better it gets, and the more it costs. to make a nice daytrip out of it you should consider going from Interlaken on to Lauterbrunnen, ride the cablecar and train up to Murren, walk around and have lunch, walk down to Gimmelwald, and take the cablecar down to Stechelberg. It is breathtaking when that cablecar swings out over the empty space, with the valley 2,000 feet below you. At Stechelberg you can walk along the river or catch a bus back to Lauterbrunnen and your return journey. If you have time you can also visit Trummelbach Falls (entry fee).

Price all this out and decide if it is worth it to you.

A really nice alternative, also very scenic and in some ways more interesting, is to do the Rigi loop from Lucerne. Take a lake boat to Vitznau, enjoying the mountain views. Ride a cogwheel train up to Rigi Kaltbad and get off there to take a walk around and have lunch. You can also ride the cogwheel train to the top at Rigi Kulm and then come back down to Kaltbad. You catch a cablecar down to the lakeshore at Weggis and take another boat back to Lucerne.

www.rigi.ch

You can do a similar loop up a different mountain, Pilatus, but there isn't as much walking at the top.

Or you could do an abbreviated version of Rigi the day you arrive, taking the boat to Weggis and riding the cablecar up to Kaltbad and back down, and then go to Murren the next day. It just depends how much money you want to spend, and how much time on trains. It's all good.

Posted by
7209 posts

Don't book your train tickets Lucerne -> Lauterbrunnen ahead of time. There's absolutely no need of it. When you get up on the morning you want to travel then just walk up to the ticket window and buy them then.

You'll change trains in Interlaken Ost, and that's about all of Interlaken you need to waste your time seeing. Interlaken is not in the Swiss Alps.

Posted by
32198 posts

july,

As mentioned, you'll really only have about a day in Lucerne. In addition to the options Sasha mentioned, there's lots to see in and around Lucerne. For example.....

  • Take a walking tour.
  • Take a cruise on the lake.
  • Visit the incredible Museum of Transport.
  • Walk across the historic Chapel Bridge and do some window shopping in the posh stores.
  • Take a walk through the park to see the famous Lion of Lucerne.

@sasha,

"It is breathtaking when that cablecar swings out over the empty space, with the valley 2,000 feet below you."

It's even more breathtaking when one is hanging under a Parasail at an altitude that is higher than the cable car!