What’s that? You’re planning your trip to Switzerland and have questions about transportation? Understandable!
There are endless train pass options, which is overwhelming, and they’re not cheap either. So you’re probably considering the Swiss Train Pass because it just seems easiest to understand.
Well, hop on board because today we’re going to review the top Swiss train passes so you can decide which one is best for your trip to Switzerland!
Prefer to WATCH instead of READ? Here ya go!
If you’ve already watched our video (thanks 😊) and are here for the free download, snag your checklist below!
What We Will Cover In Today’s Blog
It’s gonna be a wild ride, so here’s an overview of what we’re talking about:
- How can I know which Swiss rail pass is right for me?
- Do I even need a train pass in Switzerland?
- An overview of Swiss train pass options
- Basic Q&A
But to really get the most out of this guide, be sure to pick up our free download: Which Swiss Train Pass is Best for Me? In less than 5 minutes, this checklist will help you choose a pass with confidence based on your itinerary, length of trip, age, and planned activities!
How Can I Know Which Swiss Rail Pass is Right for Me?
Choosing a train pass is about knowing what’s on the menu for your trip and then pairing it with a train pass designed to complement that trip beautifully.
A train pass is NOT best simply:
- because the Swiss tourism board says its best, or
- because we or anyone else says its best!
The only way to really know is to price out your exact itinerary and compare the options yourself, considering both cost and convenience.
But you’re probably here because you DON’T wanna do that! You want someone else to give you guidance.
Well, you’ve come to the right place! We’ve built a mega spreadsheet with all sorts of Swiss trip itineraries and scenarios to really grasp which Swiss transportation pass is best for nearly every kind of traveler in almost every kind of situation.
We genuinely want to help you minimize your budget and maximize your trip to Switzerland! So don’t forget to pick up our free download, designed to help you do just that.
But first, you might be wondering, “Do I even need a train pass?”
Do I Even Need a Train Pass?
No matter where in the world you travel, you have to consider transportation. And in Switzerland, you have a few options, like renting a car, buying train tickets as you go, or purchasing a train pass.
Renting a car. We’ll discuss this more in the Q&A section at the end. But if your trip includes a visit to the Swiss Alps, you’re going to have to use public transportation to get many places you want to go!
Buying tickets as you go. You could just buy tickets as you travel. This can work great if you’re flying into Zurich, Geneva, or Basel and spending just a few days in the city, or if you’re limiting your trip to cities like Zurich, Geneva, Bern, Lucerne, and Basel, and mostly plan to stick to the cities.
This works because many Swiss cities offer a guest card to overnight visitors which covers local transportation for free. And travel between cities is often pretty reasonably priced, so a city trip likely won’t cost enough to make a train pass worth the price.
For all other types of trips, a Swiss train pass probably makes sense.
5 Popular Swiss Rail Pass Options
There are two main reasons to purchase a train pass in Switzerland: convenience and cost savings. And each of these passes provides some balance of the two.
National Passes (these cover trains, buses, boats, and trams all throughout Switzerland)
Swiss Travel Pass
- This is the most advertised pass and the one you’ve likely heard of.
- It’s available for 3, 4, 6, 8, or 15 consecutive days of travel.
- It costs 232-429 Swiss francs (CHF).
- Provides a 50% discount on most mountain lifts, cable cars, and gondolas.
It functions as your train ticket within the area of validity, so you won’t have to buy a ticket every time you want to ride.
While the Swiss Travel Pass covers an extensive area, it doesn’t fully cover most mountain lifts, cable cars, or gondolas while traveling in the mountains, so you’ll still need to purchase those tickets. But at least the it does give you a 50% discount on those journeys most of the time.
HINT: There are discounts available for 16-24 year olds and Flex Passes for those who don’t plan to ride lots of transportation each day. Our free download clearly shows you when these options are ideal.
Swiss Half Fare Card. This is less of a pass and more like a discount card. But it’s way more powerful than it first appears.
- Provides a 50% discount on nearly every single train, boat, tram, bus, and mountain lift throughout the entire country.
- It costs 120 CHF.
- The Swiss Half Fare Card is valid for one month.
It might be hard to appreciate the value of a 50% discount compared to these other passes that cover journeys at 100%, but this is really the best budget option for most people! And it’s super quick and easy to check timetables and buy tickets using the well-designed SBB Mobile App (see Q&A below)!
HINT: It almost always makes sense to buy the Swiss Half Fare Card if you’ll also be purchasing one of the regional passes covered below.
Regional Passes (for the Jungfrau Region near Interlaken)
We know that many of you plan to visit the beautiful Swiss Alps near Interlaken! Each of these passes functions as your ticket as long as you’re riding a route covered by that particular pass.
NOTE: Our experience is in traveling Switzerland during the Spring, Summer, and Autumn months, so unfortunately if you’re planning a ski trip, most of this info will be different.
Top of Europe Pass. This is like the Swiss Travel Pass of the Interlaken area, getting all the publicity, and often drowning out other options.
- It’s available for 3-8 consecutive days.
- It costs 249-349 CHF.
- Covers a trip to the Jungfraujoch (valued at 200 CHF)
The Top of Europe Pass covers journeys to Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen Valley, trains up to the alpine villages of Mürren and Wengen, lifts to First, Harder Kulm and Männlichen, plus the cogwheel train to Schynige Platte.
But the most notable benefit of this pass is it covers you all the way up to Jungfraujoch, the highest railway station in all of Europe! Without a train pass, the journey here and back from Interlaken would set you back over 200 Swiss Francs! But the Top of Europe pass covers one roundtrip completely free.
It doesn’t cover the Schilthornbahn, which takes you to the revolving restaurant where James Bond’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was filmed, or to the Birg Thrill Walk one station below.
The journey there and back from the valley floor costs nearly 100 Swiss Francs and is not covered by the Top of Europe Pass, nor is a discount available for pass holders.
Top of Europe Pass Homepage (validity map and purchasing also available on this page)
HINT: While this pass provides some major savings when visiting Jungfraujoch, that doesn’t mean it’s always the best choice for your train pass when visiting the Jungfrau Region!
Jungfrau Travel Pass.
- Available for 3-8 consecutive days
- It costs 190-310 CHF.
It’s basically the Top of Europe Pass with a couple key differences:
- The final part of the journey to Jungfraujoch is only partially discounted, so you’ll pay 75 Francs for this route during the summer months.
- Unlike the Top of Europe Pass, the Jungfrau Travel Pass covers the train to Brienz and boat rides on Lake Thun and Lake Brienz.
Otherwise, these passes are effectively the same.
Jungfrau Travel Pass Homepage (validity map and purchasing also available on this page)
HINT: The Jungfrau Travel Pass used to be the main pass offered in the Jungfrau region, but we don’t really hear much about it anymore. We think the Top of Europe Pass is marketed more because it makes visitors think they’re getting a “deal” if they visit Jungfraujoch—while spending more money than they often otherwise would have!
Berner Oberland Pass. This pass doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves!
- It’s available for 3, 4, 6, 8 or 10 consecutive days.
- It costs 230-399 CHF.
It covers every single journey available with the Jungfrau Travel Pass—literally all of them. And like the Jungfrau Travel Pass, it only discounts the journey to Jungfraujoch. You’ll still need to pay 99 Swiss Francs rountrip.
But that’s where the comparisons with the other passes end, because you get so much more with this pass (seriously, check out the map of validity!):
- You’ll get a big discount on your visit to the Schilthorn, paying less than 45 Francs for that entire journey (a savings of over 50 francs compared to the other passes).
- Free travel all the way to Lucerne and Bern.
- Free travel to Brig, which is the gateway to Zermatt and the Matterhorn.
- And you can just about reach Lake Geneva before having to pay an extra dime!
- You can also ride city buses in Interlaken and Grindelwald for free.
But more than the scope of coverage, it’s the experiences that count. You can visit:
- The Niederhorn mountain ridge
- The beautiful blue Lake Oeschinen
- The Brienzer Rothorn on a historic steam locomotive
- And so many more
HINT: Look, we promise we’re not sponsored. We just love this pass. We first discovered it a year ago and it’s quickly become the pass we recommend to the majority of visitors. But before we get too carried away, that doesn’t guarantee it’s best for you.
The Half Fare Card + Regional Pass Combo!
Let’s go back to the Swiss Half Fare Card for a moment—did you notice those columns showing reduced prices for the three regional passes we just mentioned? Those are the prices you’ll pay if you also hold the half fare card.
Now we wanna make sure you’re following us here cause this is so awesome!
Let’s say you’re gonna buy a 5-day Top of Europe Pass:
If you spend 120 CHF to buy the Half Fare Card, you’ll save 90 francs on the cost of your Top of Europe pass. But you’re probably flying to Switzerland, right? Then you’ll need to train to Interlaken.
With the Half Fare Card, you’ll save approximately 75 Francs on your journey to and from the airport (Zurich of Geneva), giving you a cost savings of 45 Francs compared to having no Half Fare Card at all.
And every other ride you take that’s not covered by the Top of Europe Pass will come at a 50% discount because of your Half Fare Card, making your potential savings much greater.
Buy the Swiss Half Fare Card for 120 CHF
SAVE 90 CHF to buy the Top of Europe Pass
SAVE 75 CHF to/from airport
TOTAL SAVINGS of at least 45 CHF
Here’s another example: You’re planning a longer trip to the mountains and you really wanna explore, so you decide to buy the 10-day Berner Oberland Pass.
This costs 399 CHF on its own, but if you hold the Half Fare Card, you’ll only pay 259 CHF.
Did you catch that math?! That’s right, you’ll save 20 Francs out the gate just by buying the Half Fare Card.
Buy the Swiss Half Fare Card for 120 CHF
SAVE 140 CHF on the Berner Oberland Pass
TOTAL SAVINGS of 20 CHF
I’m not making this stuff up! This is so awesome! In fact, we care so much about helping you minimize your budget while maximizing your trip to Switzerland that we’re willing to give all this info to you for free. We invested hours of research compiling the data and running these scenarios, so we truly hope it makes a difference for your trip!
HINT: There are a few special circumstances where you might consider an option other than the passes we’ve outlined here, but you’ll find those scenarios in the free download.
1) Why do you hate the Swiss Travel Pass?
Look, no hard feelings. The Swiss Travel Pass is like that girlfriend you really like and want it to work…but it just doesn’t make sense. So we don’t hate it, we just think there are often better options available.
2) What’s it like using public transportation in Switzerland?
For context, the U.S. is about 238 times bigger, and our home state of Tennessee is two-and-a-half times larger than Switzerland!
But there are a whole lot of mountains in the way, which has forced the Swiss to become master engineers. They literally blast holes in mountains and drive trains…and buses…and cars right through them!
This same engineering prowess (and their love of timepieces) also makes them incredibly efficient. Imagine a place where trains, buses and boats go just about everywhere, and show up when scheduled, and you’ve basically got Switzerland.
3) What should I know about traveling with children?
Regardless of which pass you choose (and even if you choose not to purchase a pass), kids under age 6 are free when traveling with another adult covered by a valid ticket or pass.
For kids age 6 until their 16th birthday, ask for the free Swiss Family Card. This entitles them to free nationwide public transport (on routes valid with the Swiss Travel Pass) when accompanied by at least one parent covered by a Swiss Travel Pass or valid ticket.
If you’re purchasing the Top of Europe Pass, you’ll also need to buy one for your 6-15 year old, but you can do so for only 30 Swiss Francs.
HINT: The Berner Oberland Pass is also available for kids for 30 Francs, but the website now says the Swiss Family Card is valid with this pass, too. So, if you buy a Berner Oberland pass for yourself, the family card will enable your 6-15 year old to travel with you (for free) everywhere your pass fully covers you!
4) Why not just rent a car?
To answer simply, because riding the transportation is just so easy. And navigating, finding and paying for parking, and purchasing gas just aren’t! Plus, you can’t enjoy the scenery as much when you’re driving.
We assume you’ll be visiting the Swiss Alps mountains for part or all of your trip. Your car might get you to the area, but it won’t get you where all the lifts and mountain trains can take you.
So you’re likely to pay a ton for a car (rental cars can be much more expensive in Switzerland than in surrounding countries) and then still pay a hefty amount for trains in the mountains. Don’t do that. Just skip the car.
We might consider a car if:
- Switzerland is in the middle of a trip where we’ve already chosen to rent a car while visiting multiple countries.
- If we’re really trying to explore off the beaten path in areas where the public transport system isn’t as extensive.
But for most people visiting for the first time (or even their 5th, 6th or 7th time!) the trains and buses will get you everywhere you want to go.
5) How do I get phone service for using the SBB mobile app?
You can visit a rail station to buy tickets each time you need one. But we much prefer buying tickets and checking timetables using the SBB Mobile App on our phones.
When we arrived in Switzerland this summer, we bought a prepaid SIM card from a phone and internet shop called Sunrise. For just 20 CHF, we walked out with a local SIM that included 20 CHF of prepaid credit.
All they asked for was our passport and the address where we’d be staying. And now, every time we need to buy tickets or check timetables, we do so in just a few seconds—even when we’re away from a wifi connection!
One of our favorite things about the SBB mobile app is the ability to store our Half Fare Card info in the app, which automatically applies the 50% reduction to our purchases!
Ready To Visit Switzerland?
Pick the best Swiss rail pass for your trip to Switzerland using our free checklist! Download it below, the follow the instructions, and in less than 5 minutes you can confidently choose the best pass for a balance of cost savings and convenience! Happy traveling!
Opinions expressed here are ours (Aplins in the Alps) alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.