Transportation Guide To Switzerland
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Transportation Guide To Switzerland

Behold one of the most beautiful (and efficient) places in the world to traverse.

By Jorge Orlando Sanchez-Pimienta

Dominated by the towering Alps and interspersed with great lakes filled by the crystalline runoff of the surrounding glaciers, Switzerland is a land of extreme geography, jaw-dropping beauty and multiculturalism. While German, French, Italian and Romansh are the official languages, its people are united by their unique Swiss-ness—not to mention their hyper-connected transportation network of trains, boats, buses, cable cars and more.

Journy can help you get up, down and across what may be the most ravishing country in Europe—one with almost every form of transportation on tap.

To And From The Airport

From the Zürich and Geneva airports, you can take the trains directly to their respective main stations; this is the quickest and cheapest way to arrive in both cities. Taxis are expensive, and while Uber is somewhat less so, why bother when airport train stations will whizz you into the center of town faster than any car? If your plan is to rent a car and drive onwards, you can find car rental companies inside the airports, but other options like the shuttle bus and tram are either slower, more expensive or both.

Flying

Given its relatively small size and excellent ground links, there are few flights within the country itself, and apart from missing out on the stunning mountain views, flying within Switzerland is generally more time consuming, expensive and less comfortable than most other options.That being said, most visitors will fly into Zürich or Geneva airports and continue on in a variety of ways from there.

Trains

By far the easiest and most common form of transportation in Switzerland is the train, which is one of the most sophisticated and reliable in Europe. It connects to every city, town and many of the smaller villages.

The main stations are connected to local public transportation lines, which can then carry you even further to local funiculars, cogs, boats and buses that go on to even the most remote mountain communities. There are also famous panorama trips such as the Glacier Express that take you through the heart of the Alps in trains outfitted with wide windows designed to let you take in the world-class views Switzerland is famous for.

Purchasing tickets

You can purchase train tickets at the counters and machines inside the stations (language on the machines can be set to English, French, German or Italian) or online at the official train website, SBB.ch. Although weeks of advance notice is not required (since trains run frequently and are rarely sold out), a bit of foresight and planning can help you take advantage of huge savings, especially given the variety of ticket options available.  

SBB website and app

The official website and accompanying app for Swiss trains (SBB) is free to download and easy to use, but more importantly you can benefit from Supersaver tickets with just a bit of planning. Just search the dates and routes you’re interested in, and a list of trains will appear. Look for the % sign on the corner of the trains to identify discounts up to 70%. The earlier you look, the higher the chance of discounts. Try searching for first-class tickets as well—sometimes they can be cheaper than second-class tickets.

SBB App showing Supersaver ticket icon (%)

Rail passes and discount cards

If you really mean business when traveling throughout Switzerland, a rail pass or discount card may be the option for you. There are different passes available, all suited to distinct needs.

SuperSaver Day Travel Passes

  • Ideal for short stays by giving you a day of freedom within the network.
  • Has options specifically for children, dogs and even bikes, making it easier than ever to plan an epic family outing.

Swiss Travel Pass

  • Allows you to travel limitlessly for a set numbers of days (3, 4, 8 or 15) on all Swiss rails, boats and buses with a single ticket, and has flexible and youth options as well.
  • The Grand Train Tour of Switzerland (1,280 km of trains and boats) is also accessible using this pass.

Half-Price Card

  • Lets you pay for half-price tickets for an entire month on trains, buses, boats and most mountain railways.

Travel passes are a great money-saving option if you know what your plans are. Otherwise, you could end up spending more money on a comprehensive pass than you would on a couple of journeys, so knowing where you want to go is helpful if you want to take advantage of these options. You can purchase these passes at most rail stations or online with the print at home option.

Connections to the rest of Europe

The Swiss rail network is the densest in Europe, connecting nearly every resident within the country to each other, but also to the rest of the continent. Train connections to neighboring France, Italy, Germany, Austria and Liechtenstein require only an easy transfer at the main stations and include regular and high-speed options. This, of course, also means that arriving to Switzerland by train from any of these countries is an easy option.

Buses

Historically, buses have been the principal connectors to the most remote villages that don't have their own train stations. The PostBus is operated in conjunction with SBB, and their app connects with the rest of the SBB transport network as well as car and bike sharing services throughout the country.

In recent years, buses connecting the major cities have become available for those who want to save money and don't mind a longer journey. Operated by Eurobus in conjunction with Flixbus, the routes take longer and may not be as comfortable but are viable options for budget travelers between some of the major cities of Geneva, Zürich, Luzern, St. Gallen and Basel...without missing out on the wonderful views.

Car Rentals

Trains are not the only excellent connectors in Switzerland. There’s an extensive network of roads, highways, bridges and tunnels—all in pristine condition—that facilitate travel by road. If you’re part of a larger group, renting a car could be the more economical option and will still provide you with the views you would get on a train. On the other hand, depending on where you want to go, driving the Alpine passes can seem daunting to inexperienced drivers, particularly if you’re from a less mountainous country.

Renting a car is easy. All you need is a valid driver's license and to be at least 20 years of age with one year of experience on the road. If you're under 25, you may have to pay a higher insurance premium. An economical or diesel engine car can be filled up with around 60 CHF (about $61) depending on the make and model.

READ MORE: 6 Questions To Ask Before You Rent A Car In Europe

Boats

With over 1500 lakes—some of them among the largest in Europe—there’s a big maritime tradition in Switzerland with several communities only accessible by boat. The steam ship is a classic attraction in Luzern and at other lakes, but you can also take day trips. Lausanne on the Swiss side of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman in French) to Évian-les-Bains on the French side of the lake is a popular one!

Saint-Saphorin, Switzerland

Getting Around Cities

Once you're in any of the larger Swiss cities, getting around is the stuff of dreams. In addition to being compact and walkable, the cities have extensive networks of public transportation that make getting around even easier. In addition, e-scooters have made transportation that much more fun, and even though there's hardly ever a reason to need a taxi, Uber is available and cheaper than a standard cab. If you’re staying in Geneva, Lausanne, Bern, Basel or Luzern, your accommodation will offer you free public transportation cards for the length of your stay. The Zürich card is not free with accommodation, but covers all types of public transportation as well as discounts and free entry into most of Zürich's museums.

Cycling

Zürich, Bern, Geneva, Neuchâtel, Zug and the Canton of Valais offer free bikes as long as you have ID and a 20 CHF deposit. In addition, there are bike rental points at over 80 railway stations, so travelers can easily take advantage of the 10,000 km of signposted routes. With bike racks on public transportation in the summer (and ski holders in the winter), the Alps are your oyster.

Transportation Tips And Tricks

Switzerland is a pristine and prosperous country, due in large part to the Swiss mentality that prevails throughout the various regions. Swiss people are extremely respectful of each other and the environment, and it is a source of pride to be part of keeping things running as efficiently as they do.

So here are some things to keep in mind:

  • On the train, never put your shoes up on the chair opposite you. Beer and wine, however, are always welcome.
  • You must buy your ticket before boarding all trains, trams and public transportation. On trains, not buying a ticket will incur a 90 CHF fee in addition to the fare. On trams, fines are 80-120 CHF depending on whether or not you can pay on the spot.
  • Trams are quiet and run on the street, so be sure to look both ways and follow the rules of the crosswalk. The trams cannot stop.
  • Even though buses can stop, they can be a bit aggressive towards pedestrians in Zürich who don't mind the right of way, so keep a look out if jaywalking (or simply don't jaywalk).

Helpful Apps And Websites

  • Fairtiq is an app that helps you pay the least on the route of your choice.
  • Sharoo is car-share rental app with which you can unlock rentals in city centers using Bluetooth.
  • The Swiss travel guide app from SBB helps you see trip highlights during your journey. It also provides timetables, discounts on restaurants and city tours, and important contact numbers (including the SBB Police and lost and found).

For more on transportation in Europe, read up on these five dos and don'ts for getting around Barcelona. And to keep things eco-friendly, take a cue from one of these 17 sustainable travelers.  

destination guides
2 August 2019
7 min read
Transportation Guide To Switzerland
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