True Using Rail Passes in Switzerland

Using Rail Passes in Switzerland

Switzerland is a country where the train journey can be as fabulous as the destination, so exploring the country by train can make for a fantastic holiday.

Using rail passes to explore Switzerland allows you to follow your own itinerary and they can also make it easier to see Switzerland by train.

More than two dozen companies operate the Swiss Railways and the big tick in the boxes of using rail passes in Switzerland is that they nearly always enable travellers to hop on and off any of the trains - irrespective of which company is providing the service.

Though the number of railways that you can travel on for free, or at a discounted rate, varies according to which pass you are using - a snapshot where you can and can't use the various passes is available HERE.

Click these links below to jump to the info most pertinent to your trip - or if you're wondering which pass will suit you, read it all at your leisure.

Using A Swiss Travel Pass:

Using Saver DAY Passes:

Using Eurail And InterRail Passes -  For Train Journeys WITHIN Switzerland:

Comparison between using a Swiss Travel Pass and an InterRail one country pass:

Using Eurail and Interrail Passes on The Glacier Express and Bernina Express:

Using Swiss Travel Passes and Eurail/InterRail Passes on Iitineraries from BASEL:

Using Swiss Travel Passes and Eurail/InterRail Passes on Iitineraries from ZURICH:

Using Eurail And InterRail Passes - For Journeys To and From Switzerland:

Another tick on the box for using rail passes to travel around Switzerland by train is that reservations aren't neccessary - though if possible avoid travelling between and from the major cities at business hours.

Reervations are available on the standard trains on the network of independent mountain railways.

(1) Using A Swiss Travel Pass:

The Swiss Travel Pass is the relatively new replacement for The Swiss Pass - which is now the name of a different ticket, that’s relevant to Swiss citizens only.
 

The core benefit of the ability to hop on virtually any train in Switzerland*, including the independent railways, without incurring additional charges** has been retained,

An additional feature is that the Swiss Travel Pass is also valid on virtually all trams and buses across Switzerland (as well as some funiculars and cable cars).

*The Swiss Travel Pass is also valid for some international train services, namely;
(1) SBB trains (not the EC trains) from Brig to Domodossola,
(2) The ‘Centovali’ trains from Domodossola across the border – and on to Locarno,
(3) The TER trains between Vallorcine and Chamonix-Mont Blanc.

The Swiss Travel Pass is valid for free travel on more independent lines than Eurail or InterRail passes.

For example, the Swiss Travel Pass is valid on both the railway lines up Mount Rigi and the Pilatus Bahn.

** Not quite every line is included, but The Swiss Travel Pass gives a 25% discount on the particularly expensive lines in the Bernese-Oberland that connect Interlaken with Jungrfaujoch.

It also gives a 50% discount on many other lines on which InterRail pass users don't receive a discount including the CGB and BRB lines

Also worth knowing:

However, arguably the biggest tick in the box for opting for a Swiss Travel Pass is nothing to do with rail travel -  it's the fact that holders of a pass can also gain free entry to 100s of attractions across Switzerland.

So keep this in mind when deciding whether Swiss Travel Passes are value for money compard to the other 'rail pass' options.

Whether the Swiss Travel Pass will save you money also inevitably depends on how far you travel - it is best put to use facilitating fabulous multi-destination day trips across Switzerland - see below for some itinerary ideas from Basel and Zurich.

Swiss Travel Passes can be purchased 3, 4, 8 or 15 days of travel - though you're more LIKELY to save money if you opt for an 8 or 15 day pass.

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(2) Using Saver DAY Passes:

SBB now sells 'Saver Day Passes'.

They can be used to travel on TRAINS in the same way as Swiss Travel Passes, so allow for the same free or discounted travels on the Swiss independent railways.

The core difference is that they live up to their name. so can be used to travel throughout Switzerland in a single DAY.

What's relatively new is that is you don't have to be Swiss in order to buy these Saver Day Passes.

A sliding scale of prices is applied to Saver Day Passes, so the further ahead you book, the cheaper the price you will pay - this sliding scale of prices doesn't apply to Swiss Travel Passes.

The Saver Day Passes can be booked up to a month ahead and the full rate/prices start from 70CHF 2nd class and 88CHF 1st class - these are the prices if you DON'T have a Half-Fare Card.

(If you will be visiting Switzerland you can purchase Half Fare Cards HERE that will be valid for 1 month).

So if you're booking ahead it's UNLIKELY that Saver Day Passes, will save you money for journeys between two destinations on which you will ONLY be travelling on SBB trains.

That's because discounted Sparbillette/Supersaver tickets are LIKELY to still be available for such journeys.

Saver Day Passes are MORE LIKELY to save you money if you want to spend a DAY exploring a large area of Switzerland, including hopping on trains operated by the independent railway companies.

Saver Day Passes vs Swiss Travel Passes:

IF you can book 3 x Saver Day Passes at the cheapest possible rate then 3 Day Passes can be cheaper than a Swiss Travel Pass that is valid for 3 days.

Also 4 x 1st class Saver Day Passes can be cheaper than a 1st class Swiss Travel Pass which is valid for 4 days.

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3: EURAIL GLOBAL/SELECT PASS and INTERRAIL GLOBAL/ONE COUNTRY PASSES - on Journeys Within Switzerland:

As tickets for certain journeys in Switzerland can be comparatively expensive, adding multiple Swiss destinations to an InterRail or Eurail pass itinerary, can go a long way to ensuring that a Eurail Select/Global* or InterRail ‘Global’ pass will save you money.

* Eurail does not offer a one country pass solely for travel in Switzerland by train.

You are more likley to make savings if you travel on the independent railway networks on which Eurail and InterRail passes ARE valid.

So if you’re travelling with a Eurail or InterRail Global Pass, you won’t miss out on many of the world’s most spectacular railway routes.

Fantastic independent lines on which Eurail and InterRail passes can be used at no additional charge include:

(i) the RhB network (Chur, St Moritz, Tirano, Kolsters, Davos)

(ii) The Golden Pass (MOB and ZB) route between Montreux and Luzern

(iii) the ‘Centovali’ Line between Locarno and Domodossola.

(iv)  and new from 2017 - The MGB lines including the  Disentis/Muster – Andermatt – Brig – Zermatt route.

So InterRail and Eurail Passes can now be used on the four longest routes on which Swiss Travel Passes also enable free travel.

A tip if you'll be in Switzerland with a Eurail or InterRail pass is to avoid paying the expensive Eurail and InterRail fees for a journey or two on the lines on which Eurail and InterRail passes don't allow for free travel.

Yes these other lines are also fabulous, but not (IMHO) so exponentially more wonderful to justify the additional (high) costs of using a Eurail or InterRail pass to travel on them.
 

Eurail and InterRail Passes are also valid on all Swiss mainline (SBB and BLS) trains and there’s no need to pay reservation fees for such journeys within Switzerland, including journeys by Lyria or EC (EuroCity) trains.

So you can hop on and off any SBB train - though avoid travelling at business hours if you have a 2nd class pass.

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Comparison between using a Swiss Travel Pass and an InterRail one country pass:
 

(i) A one country Inter Rail Pass for Switzerland is around 40% cheaper than an equivalent Swiss Travel Pass - in terms of numbers of travel days.

(ii) The price difference reflects the fact that the Swiss Travel Pass is valid on more independent railways, than the InterRail Pass – and also gives access to free or discounted travel on many funiculars and cable cars

(iii) And the fact that the Swiss Travel Pass is valid on public transport networks, most Swiss lake cruises AND has free or discounted entry to many more museums/galleries and attractions than InterRail passes.

So if you'll have to time to visit museums, galleries etc,  then the balance can tip towards the Swiss Travel Pass.

(iv) Though if your itinerary is focused primarily on train journeys and you’re happy to NOT include these popular lines...
 

(a) The lines up Mt Rigi
(b) Zermatt – Gornegrat
(c) Interlaken – Kleine Schiedegg/Wengen/Jungfaujoch via Lauterbrunnen or Grindelwald

...on your itinerary, the balance can tip in favour of a one country InterRail pass:

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Using Eurail and Interrail Passes on The Glacier Express and Bernina Express:

NEW FROM 2017 - If you have a Swiss Travel Pass, or a Eurail or InterRail pass that’s valid in Switzerland, you now only have to pay the reservation fee for journeys on the The Glacier Express.

The reservation is a fixed rate, irrespective of the distance you travel on The Glacier Express - so using any of these passes to travel on The Glacier Express is a great deal!

Rail pass users can book reservations without journey tickets on the Glacier Express website
(Select your rail pass from the list of 'reductions').

If you have a Swiss Travel Pass, or a Eurail or InterRail pass that’s valid in Switzerland, you also only have to pay the reservation fee to travel on
The Bernina Express.

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4: RAIL PASS ITINERARIES FROM BASEL:

If you want to tick off the ‘Grand Tour of Switzerland' railway routes, then Basel is an ideal base for a rail pass itinerary, particularly in the summer when the daylight hours are longest.

All of the routes below can be accomplished in a day.

The schedules may seem daunting, but virtually all the connections are as simple as possible.

Journeys with red arrows are those when Eurail and InterRail pass users have to pay a reduced fee.

Journeys with green arrows are those on which all rail pass users have to pay a reduced fee.
 

1: The Golden Pass route : Basel – Visp – Montreux – Zweisimmen – Spiez – Interlaken Ost – Luzern – Basel

2: The Glacier/Bernina Express Route #1: Basel – Chur – Samedan – Pontresina – Tirano – Pontresina – Samedan – Chur – Zurich – Basel

3: The Glacier Express route #2: Basel – Visp – Zermatt – Visp – Andermatt – Disentis/Muster – Chur – Zurich – Basel

4: The Centovali and The Gotthard Express route:: - Basel – Brig – Domodossola – Locarno – Bellinzona – Erstfeld – Basel

5: Mount Rigi and Wilhelm Tell Express route: Basel – Luzern boat to Viznau Rigi Arth-Goldau – Fluelen boat to Luzern – Basel

6: The Bernese-Oberland: Basel – Interlaken Ost  Lauterbrunnen Kleine Scheidegg Jungfaujoch Kleine Scheidegg Grindelwald Interlaken Ost – Basel

7: The Voralpen Express and Schaffhausen Falls: Basel – Luzern – St Gallen – Schaffhausen – Zurich - Basel

8: Mont Blanc and The Lotschberger: Basel – Biel – Lausanne – Martigny – Vallorcine – Chamonix-Mont Blanc – Vallorcine – Martigny – Brig – Thun/Bern via Kandersteg - Basel.

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5: RAIL PASS ITINERARIES FROM ZURICH:


It may not seem obvious from looking at a map, but if you want to tick off the ‘Grand Tour of Switzerland' railway routes, then Zurich is a good base for a rail pass itinerary, particularly in the summer when the daylight hours are longest.

Basing yourself in the city saves you the bother of having to switch hotels during a holiday

All of the routes below can be accomplished in a day.

The schedules may seem daunting, but virtually all the connections are as simple as possible.

Journeys with red arrows are those when Eurail and InterRail pass users have to pay a reduced fee.

Journeys with green arrows are those on which all rail pass users have to pay a reduced fee.
 

1: The Golden Pass route : Zurich – Lausanne via Biel - Montreux – Zweisimmen – Spiez – Interlaken Ost – Luzern – Zurich

2: The Glacier/Bernina Express Route: Zurich– Chur – Samedan – Pontresina – Tirano – Pontresina – Samedan – Chur – Zurich

3: The Glacier Express route #2: Zurich – Visp – Zermatt – Visp – Andermatt – Disentis/Muster – Chur – Zurich

4: The Centovali and The Gotthard Express route: - Zurich – Brig – Domodossola – Locarno – Bellinzona – Erstfeld – Zurich

5: Mount Rigi and Wilhelm Tell Express route: Zurich – Luzern boat to Viznau  Rigi Arth-Goldau – Fluelen boat to Luzern – Zurich

6: The Bernese-Oberland: Zurich - Bern – Interlaken Ost Lauterbrunnen Kleine Scheidegg Jungfaujoch Kleine Scheidegg Grindelwald Interlaken Ost – Bern – Zurich

7: The Voralpen Express and Schaffhausen Falls: Zurich – Luzern – St Gallen – Schaffhausen  – Zurich

8: Mont Blanc and The Lotschberger: Zurich – Lausanne via Bern – Martigny – Vallorcine – Chamonix-Mont Blanc – Vallorcine – Martigny – Brig – Thun/Bern via Kandersteg - Zurich

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5: EURAIL GLOBAL/SELECT PASS and INTERRAIL GLOBAL/ONE COUNTRY PASSES - on journeys from and to Switzerland:

You can avoid rail reservation fees/supplements by taking trains from/to Switzerland on which reservations aren't available -  local/Regio/Regionale/TER trains).

Rail pass reservations are also optional on these daytime express trains from/to Switzerland:

(i)  international ICE and IC trains between Switzerland and Germany
(ii) on the EC (EuroCity) trains between Switzerland and Germany/Austria
(ii) the Railjets between Switzerland and Austria/Hungary

The availability of seats isn't guaranteed for the entire journey, particularly on the ICE and EC trains to/from Germany, so paying the international train reservation fee (€5.90 1st class; €4.50 2nd class) online on DB Bahn* - will ensure a stress-free journey.

Rail pass reservations for international journeys from Switzerland CAN'T be booked on SBB's online seat reservation service.

However, you will charged a booking fee of more than 11-CHF per reservation, if you book rail pass reservations for international trains at a Swiss station.

International Trains to and from Switzerland on which rail pass reservations are COMPUSLORY:

If you know that you will want to reserve on a train with compulsory reservations – which are:

- all overnight trains from Switzerland,
- the Lyria trains to France,
- the EC trains TO Italy (international journeys only)

Rail pass reservations for international journeys from Switzerland CAN'T be on SBB's online seat reservation service.

However, you will charged a booking fee of more than 11-CHF per reservation, if you book rail pass reservations for international trains at a Swiss station.

If you will be taking an EC train from Switzerland TO Italy, you can avoid this booking fee, by booking the reservations online on the Trenitalia (Italian Railways) website - 
the step-by-step instructions are on this page.

OR if you will be travelling through Germany prior to arriving in Switzerland, you can pay for reservations for these trains at a Reisezentrum travel desk in any hauptbahnhof station - and won't be charged a booking fee at all.

Example of rail pass reservation fees:

Basel/Geneve/Lausanne/Zurich – Paris (Lyria*) = from €52 - 1st ; from €25 - 2nd
Geneve – Marseille/Montpellier/Nice (Lyria*) = from €23 - 1st ; from €16 - 2nd
Basel – Marseille (TGV) = from €10 - 1st and 2nd class
Basel/Bern/Geneve/Luzern/Zurich - Milano (EC**) = €13 - 1st and €11 - 2nd

Money Saving Tips:

*To avoid paying these particularly expensive rail pass reservation fees on the Lyria trains, you can take TER trains from Basel to Mulhouse or from Geneve to Lyon.

Take a TGV on to your final destination from Mulhouse or Lyon and the reservation for the TGV can be as low as €10 for both 1st and 2nd class pass users.

**Alternative options are available to the EC trains to Italy, which can save the reservation rail pass reservation fee on these trains (and the booking fee if you haven’t made reservations before arriving in Switzerland).

On the Gotthard route via Lugano take an IR train from Basel or Zurich to Erstfeld and connect there for Regio train to Milano (some connections involve an additional change of train in Bellinzona).

Do this and not only will you save money, you’ll also get to experience one of the most scenic routes in all of Europe.

If you’re planning to travel to Italy via Brig, then there is a daily direct IC train from Basel and Bern to Domodossola.
You can connect at Domodossola into a Regionale train on to Milano.


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How to use Eurail and InterRail passes in most other European countries including on which trains you do and don't have to reserve:


How to make the most of using Eurail and InterRail passes:


Our money saving tips for Eurail and InterRail Pass Itineraries:


Other tips for planning Eurail and InterRail Pass itineraries that will save you time and stress: