Ultimate Swiss Train Pass Guide 2023

2023 Swiss Train Pass Guide and Swiss Rail Pass free download from Aplins in the Alps

If you’re planning a trip to Switzerland, then you’ve probably discovered that not buying a Swiss train pass is like throwing your money in the garbage. But how on earth are you supposed to know which train pass is best for your Swiss vacation?!?

We analyzed over 200 Switzerland trip itineraries in order to find out which of the smorgasbord of Swiss train passes is best for each type of trip!

And, no, Brett didn’t spend forever researching all of this…why would you ask that? 😉

Jokes aside, we have done the research so you don’t have to. And the cool thing is that most of these example itineraries come from more than 60 travelers like you who booked a Swiss Vacation Consultation with us. So instead of making up a bunch of random examples on our own, we literally took them from you.

But we have a LOT to cover, so let’s give you an outline of where we’re headed.

We’re going to give you specific train pass recommendations for trips to:

  • Zermatt
  • Luzern
  • the Jungfrau Region
  • and combinations of those

We will also discuss:

  • Scenic Swiss train routes
  • Special notes about the Eurail and Interrail Passes
  • Traveling with children
  • And quite a few other scenarios as well

Which basically means, if you’re coming to Switzerland and have to ride at least one train, bus, cable car, or funicular, then some part of this post will help you plan your trip and save you money!


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SWISS TRAIN PASSES 101

But before we dive in, it’s important that you have a basic understanding of Swiss Rail Passes. You can place all of these passes into 3 categories, based on where they’re valid:

  1. National Passes
  2. Regional Passes
  3. European Passes

National Swiss Train Passes

National passes can be used year round throughout the entire country of Switzerland. These include the Swiss Travel Pass, the Half Fare Card, and various day passes as well. There’s also something called a GA card, but it’s mostly made for Swiss residents who do lots of commuting, so we won’t be discussing that here.

The biggest difference is that the Swiss Travel Pass and Day Passes can sometimes be used without buying an additional ticket, while the Swiss Half Fare Card always requires you to buy a ticket.

Think of it this way, the Swiss Half Fare Card is basically a 50% discount card for trips throughout Switzerland. You’ll need a ticket every time you take public transportation, but that ticket comes at half price.

The way the Swiss Travel Pass is marketed, it seems as if it’s the one ticket you’ll need for anywhere you travel in Switzerland. And this is true for cross-country travel and trips at lower elevations.

But as you start heading up and into the mountains, the Swiss Travel Pass basically gets downgraded to a Swiss Half Fare Card. It’ll give you a discount on those mountain trains and cable cars, but you’ll still need to buy a ticket costing at least half the price.

There are exceptions where the Swiss Travel Pass will fully cover a mountain excursion (for example, Mt. Rigi, Stoos, and the Stanserhorn—all near Luzern). But when it comes to choosing a train pass, it’s very important to realize that you will likely still have to purchase tickets during your trip even if you buy the Swiss Travel Pass.

Regional Swiss Train Passes

Regional passes can be used in specific parts of the country, but not everywhere, and there are often separate passes for the summer and winter seasons. They work as your ticket, providing free travel to most destinations within the region where they’re valid, or offering discounted tickets where they’re not.

They can be a great value if you’ll spend enough time exploring the mountains, where ticket prices can equal or exceed the cost of a cross country trip. So we’ll be considering regional passes for trips that include Zermatt, the Jungfrau Region, and Luzern.

European Rail Passes

Finally, European passes can be used in Switzerland and beyond all year long, and basically come down to the Eurail and Interrail Passes. For those of you traveling by train to multiple European countries, you’re probably strongly considering one of these passes.

And once again, they can provide great value for the right kind of trip. Cross-country and city-to-city trains are often fully covered—and these routes in Switzerland usually cost quite a bit more than similar distances in other European countries, if you have to buy a ticket.

However, you need to know their limitations as well. Boats are sometimes covered, but more often you’ll get a 50% discount or even no discount at all.

In the mountain regions, you’ll usually get a 25% discount, but sometimes no discount at all. And buses? Well, those aren’t covered anywhere in Switzerland.

So to sum it up, there’s no perfect train pass for Switzerland.

In fact — Switzerland, if you’re reading this, please consider offering a pass that really does cover every ride throughout the entire country. Even if you charge a pretty penny for it, I think lots of travelers would buy it—the simplicity and convenience alone would be worth the money.

Okay, while this Swiss Train Pass 101 section has made you more knowledgeable about Swiss Rail Passes, it hasn’t given you a lick of insight into which pass is best for your trip.

So let’s get to the good stuff.


TRIP SCENARIOS

Like we mentioned earlier, we analyzed approximately 200 trip itineraries, mainly based on travelers who have booked a Swiss Vacation Consultation with us. For each of these scenarios, we’ve considered where and how often the average traveler is likely to use public transportation.

To be 100% certain which train pass or pass combination is best for your trip, you’d need to:

  1. Price out every single ride you plan to take.
  2. Then compare it to having a Swiss Half Fare Card.
  3. And compare that to having a Swiss Travel Pass.
  4. Or one of the regional Swiss rail passes.
  5. Or the Eurail…(*brain explodes*)

But honestly, who wants to do that?!

That’s why we made our Free Swiss Rail Pass Checklist! Find the trip scenario that best fits your plans, and rest easy knowing our recommendation is a solid choice for your budget and will save you lots and lots of time trying to figure it out yourself!


TRIPS TO SWISS CITIES

Okay, so maybe you’re a city slicker and really don’t care to visit the mountains or countryside. Well, if you’re only planning to visit a few Swiss cities, you’re in the minority of travelers who are better off not buying a Swiss rail pass.

It’s also helpful to know that most of these cities (Geneva, Zurich, Lucerne, etc.) offer overnight visitors a Guest Card that includes free local transportation and discounts to nearby activities.

But what if you’ll venture beyond the cities?


TRAVEL SWITZERLAND ON A BUDGET

First things first, if you consider yourself a budget traveler, it’s really hard to beat the Swiss train pass we recommend in our free download. In fact, this particular pass lasts up to 30 days and offers some mega discounts on Swiss train tickets.

Even if you’re just a discerning consumer who’d rather not pay for stuff you won’t use, this recommendation is ideal. In fact, we really wish we had an affiliate link for this one, because it’s as close to a perfect pass for Switzerland as we’ve found!


TRAVELING SWITZERLAND WITH KIDS

If you’re traveling with children, Switzerland might surprise you with its family-friendliness! 

And that starts with some great deals on transportation:

  • Kids under the age of 6 travel for free throughout the entire country of Switzerland.
  • Kids ages 6-15 travel for half price.
  • HOWEVER, kids ages 6-15 can actually travel for free throughout all of Switzerland with the complimentary Swiss Family Card, as long as they are with you and you have a valid ticket or pass.

Once kids turn 16, they’re officially adults as far as normal ticket prices go. However, it’s possible to snag a youth discount on a couple of the passes until the age of 25 or even 28! We designate these Youth options in our free download when it makes the most sense.


SWISS TRAIN TICKETS & THE SBB MOBILE APP

While the recommendations in our free download provide the best balance of cost savings and convenience in each scenario, we don’t want you to think that buying tickets has to be inconvenient. In fact, we really can’t stress enough how easy it is to buy tickets with the SBB Mobile App!


VISITING ZERMATT, SWITZERLAND

(And NOT also visiting the Jungfrau Region or Lucerne, Switzerland)

Most of you coming to Switzerland are not planning a budget trip. It’s not that you aren’t budget-conscious, because many of you are! It’s just that you recognize that Switzerland isn’t cheap, and you’re willing to invest your hard-earned money to see the best that it offers — and one of the biggest draws is the Swiss Alps.

So let’s take a look at train pass options for trips to Zermatt to be in the shadows of the mighty Matterhorn.

The major excursions here are going to be Gornergrat, Glacier Paradise, and Rothorn—and they are not cheap! So is there a pass that covers them all?

Yes there is, and it’s available starting for just 1 day or up to an entire month. But most of you are only in Zermatt for a few days. So should you buy that pass? The short answer is: probably not.

Our free Swiss Train Pass Checklist Download includes the recommendations for a trip to Zermatt, Switzerland:

  • The best Pass if you’re spending 1-3 days in Zermatt (for Adults and Youth)
  • A bonus tip if you’re traveling in high season
  • What to buy if you’re spending 4+ days in Zermatt (for Adults and Youth)
  • Which Pass will save you money if you’re going to visit both Gornergrat and Glacier Paradise
  • If you need to buy a Pass if you will be driving to Zermatt
  • And if the Eurail or Interrail Passes are worth it for a trip here

VISITING THE JUNGFRAU REGION

(And NOT also visiting Zermatt or Lucerne, Switzerland)

I’m pretty sure this part of the country needs no introduction! With its snow-capped peaks, crystal blue glacial lakes, and oodles of alpine charm, this region is can’t miss.

The biggest change this year is that the Top of Europe Pass no longer exists, and none of the available passes will cover you all the way up to Jungfraujoch.

So in place of the Top of Europe Pass, you’re likely to hear about the Jungfrau Travel Pass. It covers many of the top excursions in the region and also includes boat rides on Lake Brienz and Lake Thun. But once again, the most marketed pass is rarely your best option.

Our free Swiss Train Pass Checklist Download includes the recommendations for a trip to the Jungfrau Region:

  • The best Pass for 3-5 day trips here.
  • In fact, we recommend buying 2 Passes instead of just 1 to really balance money savings and convenience.
  • Just how far this powerful pass reaches
  • Which pass works for trips that are 6-10 days.
  • And we even have a season pass recommendation if you’re going to be here for more than 11 days (and it’s what currently in our wallets right now).
  • What to buy if you’re driving to the Jungfrau Region (like Interlaken or Lauterbrunnen or Grindelwald)
  • Why you probably want to skip the Eurail and Interrail Passes in the Jungfrau Region.

When you’re ready to buy a Swiss Rail Pass…

We’ve included links to purchase all of these passes in your free download. A couple of them are affiliate links, so if this content has been helpful and you’d like to see more like it, then we’d be grateful if you buy your train pass using our links. Thanks!


VISITING LUCERNE, SWITZERLAND

(And NOT the Jungfrau Region or Zermatt, Switzerland)

Luzern is, in our opinion, the best example of a small, charming Swiss city. But beyond its covered bridges and city walls, there are seemingly endless mountain excursions available for you to explore. And the 3 most popular are without a doubt Mt. Pilatus, Mt. Rigi, and Mt. Titlis.

There is a Regional Pass available in Luzern, starting at just 2 days, which provides free travel covering just about anything you might imagine doing — including those big three. So, is it best for your trip?

Our free Swiss Train Pass Checklist Download includes the recommendations for a trip to Lucerne, Switzerland:

  • The best Pass for a 1-3 day trip here, including just 1 mountain excursion
  • And what you should buy instead if you’re visiting for 1-3 days and plan to do 2+ mountain excursions
  • Which Pass to buy instead if you’re traveling the long distance from the Geneva Airport to Lucerne, which will save you even more money
  • And what to buy if you’re driving to Lucerne

VISITING JUNGFRAU + ZERMATT

(And NOT visiting Lucerne, Switzerland)

It’s pretty simple to figure out the best train pass for trips that focus on just 1 of these regions. But what happens when you start combining them, which is probably the case for your Swiss vacation?

Let’s start with a trip to Switzerland where your two big focuses are the Jungfrau Region and Zermatt, but NOT Luzern.

For starters, always, always, always buy THIS train pass (find out which one in our free checklist). Sometimes you’ll want additional passes, but never in place of this.

Our free Swiss Train Pass Checklist Download includes the recommendations for a trip to the Jungfrau Region and Zermatt, Switzerland:

  • What to buy for a 3-5 day trip or a 6-10 day trip to these regions
  • How to save money with an extra Pass for Gornergrat and Glacier Paradise
  • Why you may even want to buy 3 Train Passes to actually save MORE money!
  • Discover which Pass will now cover your trip all the way across the border into Italy

SCENIC TRAINS + OTHER SWISS CITIES

Now let’s pause for a minute, because some of you are probably thinking,

“Brett, this is helpful, and I can appreciate the work you put into this, but I’m also planning to ride the Glacier Express, or the Bernina Express, too — won’t that change things?

This is a fantastic question, and one we want to make sure and help you think well about. These scenic train rides often cross the country, lasting for up to 8 hours, and can be pretty expensive.

But our YouTube video includes some facts and figures to help you out.

The Glacier Express

  • Learn how to get a 50% discount on a Glacier Express train ticket
  • Figure out how to buy a Glacier Express train ticket and a train ticket to one of the Swiss Airports for even less
  • Why you should NOT buy a Swiss Travel Pass for this ride

The Bernina Express

  • Discover which Pass will provide a 50% discount on the Bernina Express
  • Or use our recommendation to pay only 40 CHF for a Bernina Express train ticket + a Glacier Express ticket
  • Again, why you should NOT buy a Swiss Travel Pass for this scenic train

Saver Day Passes

  • Buy this up to 60 days in advance
  • Use a Saver Day Pass to score an ultra incredible deal on the Gotthard Panorama Express
  • How to upgrade to First Class with this Pass

So the short summary is: you might think you need the Swiss Travel Pass if you’re planning to ride a few scenic trains; but you probably don’t.


Find Specific Swiss Rail Pass Recommendations


VISITING JUNGFRAU REGION + LUZERN

(And NOT visiting Zermatt, Switzerland)

If you’re combining 3-5 days in the Jungfrau Region with a few days in Luzern, the budget choice is a simple Swiss Train Pass. In almost all cases, this will be the cheapest overall regardless of what you end up doing.

But there are some solid options to pay for a little more convenience.

Our free Swiss Train Pass Checklist Download includes the recommendations for a trip to the Jungfrau Region and Lucerne, Switzerland:

  • Adult and Youth Rail Pass recommendations for 3-5 and 6-10 day trips
  • Multiple Pass combinations that will conveniently save you from having to buy 10+ train tickets
  • Which Pass to buy if you’re driving in Switzerland
  • What you need if you’re doing multiple mountain excursions near Luzern, especially Mt. Rigi

VISITING LUZERN + JUNGFRAU + ZERMATT

Alright, let’s look at one more scenario. Let’s assume you’ll be visiting all three of these big tourist destinations — Zermatt, Luzern, and the Jungfrau Region.

To keep from sinking too deep into the weeds, it’s simplest just to say that our recommendations for visiting all three of these places are nearly the same as for trips to just the Jungfrau Region and Zermatt, with a few exceptions.

  • Why you’ll actually want to buy multiple Swiss Rail Passes to save the most money
  • Note the different Pass recommendations for Adults vs Youth
  • What Pass to buy if you’re doing a Swiss road trip

BUY A SWISS RAIL PASS WITH CONFIDENCE!

And after all this, there’s just one more thing left to do: pair your Swiss train pass with our done-for-you Swiss Travel Guides!

Just like with Swiss Train Passes, we take the guesswork out of what to do on your trip to Switzerland, and how to organize your days into an itinerary you’ll love. And we’re adding more destinations to the shelves of our digital shop as we speak!

  1. Snag our free train pass download (below)
  2. Grab a Swiss Travel Guide
  3. We’ll see you in Switzerland!

NOTE: Find the links to purchase these passes in your free download. If this content has been helpful, then we’d be grateful if you buy your train pass using our links. Thanks!

Brett

Brett is the numbers-crunching, analytical, spontaneous half of the duo Aplins in the Alps. Beyond working with his wife to help people travel Switzerland with confidence, Brett is the CFO and co-owner of a gymnastics business in Middle Tennessee. If his dreams came true, he'd spend everyday in the Swiss Alps with his closest family and friends. When he's not working or traveling, Brett enjoys playing board games, sharing a fine meal with friends, or appreciating the beauty of nature over a refreshing drink. Brett lives in Switzerland with his wife, Jana.

One thought on “Ultimate Swiss Train Pass Guide 2023

  1. Absolutely awesome both of you. For making it so easy to navigate a very complex Swiss Pass rules. Thank you

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