Travel in Switzerland
Travel in Switzerland

Travel in Switzerland: Trains, buses and suggestions

In this guide we explain the Swiss travel routes, based on our long exploration at Alpine Exploratory. We have drawn our conclusions over countless Swiss trips, since Alpine Exploratory was founded in 2005. We offer multi-day hiking routes, self-guided, in Switzerland and more widely in the Alps, Scandinavia and the UK. Our most popular Swiss trail is the Walker's Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt and we also love the Via Alpina from Sargans to Montreux.

We will not try to be exhaustive but rather to point towards travel that we have enjoyed, in the context of exploring Europe before or after a mountain hike. This will be a personal view.

Train and bus lines
The 5 big Swiss scenic rail lines
Highly scenic up-and-back lines
Scenic mountain lines
Main lines nonetheless very scenic
The fabulous Swiss PostBus

Further highlights
Swiss rail passes: are they worth it?
Suggested Swiss itineraries

The Gornergratbahn with the Matterhorn beyond, above Zermatt
  The Gornergratbahn with the Matterhorn beyond, above Zermatt    Walker's Haute Route
Beginnings in Geneva

My first trip to Switzerland was in July 2000. (A personal view by Simon Stevens.) I was traveling to Chamonix in France and it so happened that Geneva had the airport and that the Swiss-French border was of little consequence. For Chamonix and various French Alps locations, it is easy to take the road routes which are direct compared to the railway via Martigny (Swiss route) or St Gervais (French route). I have made this journey countless times, like many Brits traveling to the Alps.

My wider Swiss exploration started in January 2005 when, after a snowshoe course in France, I ventured by rail into the Valais canton.

When in 2016 we began to add the Via Alpina to our programme, my Swiss campaign really took life. The Via Alpina route (formerly the Alpine Pass Route) from Sargans in the East to Montreux in the West cuts across all the North-South trade routes of Switzerland. It takes a look at so many small side valleys each with their own rail links to larger towns. We could hardly avoid seeing the real Switzerland and we came to celebrate this and pursue it wherever we saw a bus route. We wanted a full coverage of routes off-trail into cities, to complete our Swiss service for hikers.

A simple approach

Our central suggestion is to approach Swiss rail in passing, and by this we mean enjoying the scenery in the course of traveling about as opposed to focusing on the highly-advertised lines with red trains and improbable tunnels. There is so much to see across Switzerland. It is possible to see much without an elaborate booking and without crowds. It is also possible, and this is the trick, to ride some famous lines on normal commuter trains and to hop on and off at stations. This reduces the cost, keeps things quieter, and lets you see Swiss life as lived. The famous-name lines offer full-routes trips and roof windows, but these are not necessary.

Some lines are more exacting in practical terms than others, and we would take a bit of extra care to plan when it comes to four lines: the Gornergratbahn above Zermatt, the Jungfraujoch above Kleine Scheidegg, the Glacier Express East of Brig, and the Bernina Express. Otherwise, choose the parts of the lines that fit your overall itinerary, and put those stations into the ticket machines when you want to go.

The Mont Blanc Express arrives at Finhaut
  The Mont Blanc Express arrives at Finhaut    Walker's Haute Route
The 5 big Swiss scenic rail lines

To jump straight to a popular approach to Swiss travel, let's look at the world of Switzerland's scenic rail lines. The classic image is a red engine pulling coaches with roof windows, on a stone viaduct that spans rock walls, the train popping directly from one tunnel onto the viaduct and into another tunnel, preferably with snow on trees. It really is like this, in the right places. Let's discuss these scenic lines:

The Gotthard Panorama Express
5/5 stars 5 hours
Mountainous through-route
From Luzern to Lugano
The Gotthard-Base tunnel (see Main lines below) renders this line mainly for tourism. The original way over the mountains, it loops to gain height within the valley confines and it still needs the Gotthard tunnel, summit of the line. Look down on the resort of Andermatt. The sense of build-up to the high section is great fun and later the whizz through the dark Italian valley to Bellinzona is refreshing.

The Glacier Express
5/5 stars 6 hours
Mountainous through-route..
From Chur to Zermatt
.. of which up-and-back: From Visp to Zermatt
Possibly the second-most impressive Swiss rail route, the first being the Bernina Express route Chur to St. Moritz (below). This Chur-Visp route is the major East-West crossing of the Swiss Alps, linking the Eastern regions and the railway centre of Chur, with the Rhone valley in the Valais region. The best views are in descent from the high point, the Oberalppass (2,033m) as the train drops in hairpins to the ski town Andermatt. From Chur, take a first train to Disentis/Muster past massive riverside cliffs, largely in a rising valley floor. Change at Disentis for the high train to Andermatt, which clicks onto a cog rail as it climbs to the Oberalppass. At Andermatt change for a third train, to Visp. Without the tunnels-onto-viaducts extreme of other lines, this is Swiss travel of our dreams affording pastoral and romantic views of high Alpine life.

A note on the trains: ignore the Glacier Express itself, which is the separate rolling-stock with overhead windows and table service lunch. This is unnecessary and in fact the normal trains are the experience of normal Switzerland, a mix of local and walking people. Trains leave every hour to Disentis and from there the connections work seamlessly to Visp. At Visp of course we can connect with either the Zermatt trains or, on the main line now, the many-carriage intercities thundering to Geneva Airport.

If continuing to Zermatt, having come from either the Geneva or the Andermatt direction, or indeed down from Bern and Kandersteg, then the Visp-Zermatt section can be considered in its own right. It takes you up to the Mattertal, the high valley starting at roughly St Niklaus, for the final run to Randa, Tasch and Zermatt, a fine arrival in the shadow of the Matterhorn.

The Bernina Express
5/5 stars 6 hours
Mountainous through-route
From Chur to Tirano
(This is the noteworthy Swiss line that we do not yet know. We plan to ride it in 2023. It is the viaducts-into-bridges line of Swiss travel photos, linking Chur with St. Moritz, and Tirano in Italy.)

The Mont Blanc Express
5/5 stars 2 hours 30 minutes
Mountainous through-route
From St. Gervais-les-bains-le Fayet to Martigny
This improbably-constructed line is a major link for our Tour du Mont Blanc walkers leaving Chamonix for the Swiss train network, and for Walker's Haute Route finishers returning to Chamonix. It is underated in general Swiss tourism terms. The line is shared with France and starts in St. Gervais-le-Fayet, France, climbing quickly into the upper Arve valley to Les Houches, Chamonix and Argentiere. The real scenery starts above Chamonix, then inside Switzerland where the line hugs the inhumanly steep hillside looking across to Trient and the Aiguille Verte, and then - listen for the cogs engaging - drops slowly and steeply into the Rhone valley. Don't be afraid to switch sides to see both sides with the perspective of the drop underneath.

The GoldenPass Line
4/5 stars 5 hours 30 minutes
Mountainous through-route
From Montreux to Luzern via Interlaken
A treat, and not extreme in terms of attention required or jostling undertaken, this rolling line just to the North of the mountains links Lac Leman with the Bernese Oberland junction of Interlaken, and later Luzern. There is a steep rise from Montreux to the hills and a definite entrance to the Swiss hinterland, then pastoral bliss around Gstaad. Look out for a change of trains at Zweisimmen. After Interlaken reach Meiringen (Sherlock Holmes fictional fame) and begin what is really the better half of the overall route, the Brunig line, with on the left side some exquisite sights into meadows with barns, then some utterly perfect villages. As man-made beauty it is hard to take in. This is not the sublime wilderness of higher lines but it is every bit as fun. Useful for the Via Alpina, really these are two separate lines and two separate types of rolling stock. It would be common to change at Spiez or Interlaken.

The 5 big Swiss scenic trail lines
  The 5 big Swiss scenic rail lines (Map 1 of 5): Gotthard Panorama Express (Luzern-Lugano), Glacier Express (Chur-Zermatt), Bernina Express (Chur-Tirano), Mont Blanc Express (Chamonix-Martigny) and GoldenPass (Montreux-Luzern)
Highly scenic up-and-back lines

Switzerland is known for its mountain railways, as in those routes going up mountains and down again instead of cross-country mountainous routes.

The Bernese Oberland routes
5/5 stars 33 / 44 / 53 minutes to Grindelwald / Wengen / Murren
Three separate up-and-back routes..
From Interlaken to Grindelwald
From Interlaken to Wengen
From Interlaken to Murren
.. and then a linking line and an extra mountain line
From Wengen to Grindelwald via Kleine Scheidegg
From Kleine Scheidegg to the Jungfraujoch
These are the trains that you've heard about if your neighbour goes skiing in Switzerland or if your aunt went on a Swiss sightseeing tour. There is no doubt that they are spectacular and, further, a central part of the Swiss mountain tourism set-up. To ride one of these lines, and not necessarily all the way to the Jungfraujoch ('Top of Europe' which it isn't really) is to sample what Switzerland offers. It happens that each of Grindelwald, Wengen and Murren (cable car required!) are stops on our Via Alpina. The linking Grindelwald-Wengen line largely shadows one walking stage. With a day to spare the Jungfraujoch train is a possibility.

The Gornergratbahn
5/5 stars 38 minutes each way
Up-and-back route
From Zermatt to the Gornergrat
Perhaps the most famous up-and-back route is the Gornergratbahn, a funicular that climbs a hillside above Zermatt to an observatory, cafe and viewpoint. The view is truly worth the trip, for here we are at 3,089m looking around the ring of famous peaks above Zermatt incuding the Monte Rosa and the Matterhorn. Sit on the Right going uphill. There is a popular, long, walk that drops right the way to Zermatt.

The Rochers de Naye
4/5 stars 45 minutes each way
Up-and-back route
From Montreux to the Rochers de Naye
At Montreux station a platform is reserved for this funicular which climbs to villages on a shelf and then increasingly enters the preserve of the open mountain, taking on some inspiring situations in its final curves to the station and cafe a few steps from the summit. At the summit are long views to Montreux tucked underneath and to Lac Leman. The walking descent is the last day of the Via Alpina and is exhilarating in its first half.

The Aigle-Leysin-Diablerets routes
4/5 stars From 30 minutes to 1 hour each way
Three separate up-and-back routes
From Aigle to Les Diablerets
From Aigle to Leysin
From Bex to Villars
This mini network of hillside lines is quietly spectacular and much less known than the Bernese Oberland ones. They are charming. Really these are three distinct lines near to each other. Expect forested ravines tumbling to rivers and a gathering sense of rural life in upper reaches. Diablerets is the one to go for, for the length of the line, for links by bus on to Gstaad, and for the village and setting itself.

Highly scenic Swiss up-and-back lines
  Highly scenic up-and-back lines (Map 2 of 5): The Bernese Oberland routes, the Gornergratbahn, the Rochers de Nayes and the Aigle-Leysin-Diablerets routes.
Scenic mountain lines

The best of Switzerland in our opinion comes on the train lines that are less highly charged in terms of scenery and tourism. These are lines that are important for hikers and that travel between mountains, while not being of the scenic calibre of the famous lines. We will look at the situation line by line. All over the country we find local train lines that are in use as normal commuter and resident lines, to villages, up hills, sometimes with a tourist angle but that can be treated as normal trains in terms of price and tickets. Sit with workers as they travel up to their site; hear locals chat in French, German or Italian.

Spiez to Brig
4/5 stars 35 minutes
Mountainous through-route
From Spiez to Brig
This smaller main line has its own smart trains, storage racks turning from skis to bikes in Summer. Operated by BLS, this stands for Bern, Lotschberg and Simplon, being the city and the passes/tunnels of this company's routes. The line rises to a height around Kandersteg and passes through a tunnel, heading South, to a shelf high above the Rhone valley. It drops on a steady course to Brig with the valley (and Visp) below, opposite the hillside rising in the Zermatt direction.

St. Gallen to Linthal
3/5 stars 2 hours
Rolling cross-country line
From St. Gallen to Linthal
The city St. Gallen is capitol of the canton also called St. Gallen and has kept quite a regional identity. This rolling farmland route crosses river valleys and is quite charming, later becoming more flat as it reaches the Zurich-Sargans main line at Ziegelbrucke. Now in the canton of Glarus the line enters a broad valley with the town of Glarus and, at the terminus, the village of Linthal. (At Linthal there is a cog railway up to Braunwald on a sunny shelf.)

Luzern to Engelberg
3/5 stars 40 minutes
Branch line
From Luzern to Engelberg
This is a pleasant branch line to the little mountain town of Engelberg. The town is a major stop on the Via Alpina (we make it the start of our central Bernese Oberland week) and the mountains crowd around as we near the terminus. Walk out of Engelberg's little station and find one of Switzerland's biggest walking signposts.

Saint-Bernard Express
2/5 stars Roughly 30 minutes
Branch lines
From Martigny to Le Chable
From Martigny to Orsieres
Two minor lines branch out from Martigny's mainline station to le Chable and Orsieres, via a split at Sembrancher. The region is known as l'Entremont, between mountains, and the valley line to le Chable feels this way. By contrast there's a climb to Orsieres and a small sense of a mountain railway. Generally the carriages from le Chable run all the way to Martigny; from Orsieres you change onto this train at Sembrancher. At Orsieres, one bus carries on to La Fouly and another climbs to Champex. You might use these lines if linking stops on the Tour du Mont Blanc or Walker's Haute Route.

Montbovon to Bulle
2/5 stars 30 minutes
Rolling line
From Montbovon to Bulle
This route sets off from the unlikely Montbovon station, at a distinctive corner of the GoldenPass line between Montreux and Gstaad, to cross rolling farmland and pass the famous Gruyeres station. The cheese comes from the village, and here it is. At the end of the line, Bulle is a bustling French-style town and you can join further trains to Freiburg and Bern which are both exceptional. (A tourist offering called the Chocolate train is not necessary; it mirrors the route and uses some buses.)

Scenic Swiss mountain lines
  Scenic mountain lines (Map 3 of 5): Visp-Brig, St. Gallen-Linthal, Luzern-Engelberg, Saint-Bernard Express and Montbovon-Bulle.
Main lines nonetheless very scenic

Swiss main lines are often scenic despite linking the major Swiss cities. This is more the case as we travel in the Alpine areas and bordering countryside. Everyday Swiss life, urban or semi-rural, is modest and well thought-out. Here we describe five of our favourite main lines. You are likely to take at least one of them on any Swiss trip, even just to reach the famous mountain lines above.

Main line, Geneva to Brig
3/5 stars 2 hours 30 minutes
From Geneva to Brig
For many travelers through Geneva Airport this is the line that counts. In 6 minutes you're at Geneva Cointrin, the main station, and then begins a fabulous glide along the length of Lac Leman. Stop at Lausanne, Montreux and then, in the distinct valley corner in the Valais, Martigny (change for Chamonix). Now heading North East up the Rhone valley pass Sion (Arolla by bus), Sierre (Zinal by bus), Visp (Zermatt) and lastly Brig (Milan). Mountain walls line each side.

Main line, Geneva to Bern
3/5 stars 2 hours
From Geneva to Bern
Also heading East from Geneva, at Lausanne this line diverges from Lac Leman and climbs onto a charming high table of farmland. Near Fribourg (a beautiful town especially in descent to the river) spot a gorge and river far below. To reach Bern is to see its special topography on an acute bend in the river, the rail lines approaching on high bridges.

Main line, Bern to Interlaken
3/5 stars 1 hour
From Bern to Interlaken
A valley route past Lake Thun to Interlaken, the interchange for the Bernese Oberland sights. Because of a cutting and the lake it is essential to sit on the Left heading South. This line is a tourist route in Summer and a skier route in Winter.

Main line, Luzern to Lugano
(Gotthard-Base tunnel)
2/5 stars 1 hour 45 minutes
From Luzern to Lugano
This 35-mile tunnel, the longest rail tunnel in the world, has transformed links with Lugano, capital of the canton Ticino and seemingly an isolated corner of Switzerland across the hills and speaking Italian. From Lugano life would seem to flow to Milan more than to Zurich. The link is spectacularly efficient and the only shame is that you don't see the hills, for a large part of the ride! The Northern and then the Southern valleys are interesting nonetheless and offer contrasts as well as sweeping viaducts jumping across deep chasms.

Main line, Zurich to Sargans
2/5 stars 1 hour
From Zurich to Sargans
Fast with a lakeside stretch and with wide valleys revealing themselves head-on around Sargans. The routes head on towards the Austrian border (St. Anton, Innsbruck and ultimately Vienna) and this is also the route of the OBB Railjet express (maroon colour) from Zurich to Vienna.

Main Swiss lines nonetheless very scenic
  Main lines nonetheless very scenic (Map 4 of 5): Geneva-Brig, Geneva-Bern, Bern-Interlaken, Luzern-Lugano (Gotthard-Base tunnel) and Zurich-Sargans.
The fabulous Swiss PostBus

Swiss trains are the main event and take you to most places you need to go, but we would say that the Swiss experience is not complete without the PostBus. This is about the furthest evolution possible of the rural bus service. Crucially a bus route is treated the same on as a rail route. Enter the destination you want, even if it ends at a bus stop, and the system will include the bus routes needed.

One day on the bus from Altdorf I stood behind the driver and watched as the 'Swiss PostBus driver's app' on his dash-mounted phone counted down the seconds until he was due to depart each bus stop, turned green, and he pulled off. It is that precise and orderly.

Scenically the best bus routes match the best train routes, with the extra touch of the tuneful tooting horns on hairpin bends. Socially, the PostBus is indeed also a postal service to villages and we experience a little of daily life.

Postbus at Klausenpass in Switzerland
  The PostBus waits at the Klausenpass between Linthal and Altdorf. The peak is the Schachentaler Windgallen (2572m).    Via Alpina
Here we describe some of our favourite Swiss bus routes and a couple of notable ones. There are many more.

Postbus: Tirano to Lugano
5/5 stars 3 hours
From Tirano to Lugano
This notable postbus route links the end of the Swiss Bernino train, above, at Tirana through Italy and back into Switzerland at Lugano. Tirano is actually in Italy, and the vast majority of this bus route is in Italy. (We have not yet ridden this bus.)

Postbus: Thusis to Bellinzona
5/5 stars 1 hour 45 minutes
From Thusis to Bellinzona
This is another of the bus routes that jump off the map of the South East of Switzerland, containing the Engadine and useful for linking up these distinct valleys. Near to the Bellinzona end, some buses change at Castione. (We have not taken this bus yet but plan to do so in May 2024.)

Postbus: Sion to Arolla
5/5 stars 1 hour 20 minutes
From Sion to Evolene, Les Hauderes, Arolla
Pass sandstone pinnacles as the route climbs to Evolene, charming main town of the upper Val d'Herens. At Les Hauderes a bit higher up, the bus waits so that people can change to La Sage and to Ferpecle (at the foot of the high mountains) and the main event begins, the climb up hairpin bends to Arolla. This tiny resort is tucked under snow-capped 3,000m mountains like the Pigne d'Arolla. This route is handy on the Walker's Haute Route.

Postbus: Sierre to Zinal
5/5 stars 1 hour 10 minutes
From Sirre to Grimentz, Saint-Luc, Zinal
Similar to the Sion-Arolla route but set one valley over in the Val d'Anniviers, the finish is a choice of three moderately high villages of which Zinal is the largest and Saint-Luc is the highest, with buses changing at Vissoie part-way. The climb up into the high valley is among the best we know, with multiple hairpins and seemingly bolted-on roads running beside huge drops. It's quite improbable. This is another bus route that links with the Walker's Haute Route.

Postbus: Meiringen to Grindelwald
4/5 stars 1 hour 40 minutes
From Meiringen to Grindelwald
Running alongside a stage of the Via Alpina, the bus climbs steadily through a high valley to the Grosse Scheidegg, at which point the Eiger and the whole Bernese Oberland area are revealed. This route is priced quite high to match the general prices of the Wengen-Grindelwald-Murren cable cars and trains. A change of bus is needed at Schwarzwaldalp part-way up.

Postbus: Les Diablerets to Gstaad
4/5 stars 1 hour
From Les Diablerets to Gstaad
Another link on the Via Alpina, this route crosses the French-German linguistic border at the Col du Pilon and is pastoral in theme as it drops steadily to Gstaad, the smart resort town. What is handy about this route is that it links two railways and makes an adventurous route possible from Martigny to Bern.

Postbus: Linthal to Altdorf
4/5 stars 2 hours 10 minutes
From Linthal to Altdorf
This long route is another that traces the Via Alpina, covering two walking stages in this instance. Climb to the upper valley of Unterboden, massive cattle country, to the grassy Klausenpass and the twisty drop to valley town Altdorf.

The fabulous Swiss PostBus
  The fabulous Swiss PostBus (Map 5 of 5): Sion-Arolla, St. Moritz-Lugano, Tirano-Lugano, Sierre-Zinal, Meiringen-Grindelwald, Les Diablerets-Gstaad and Linthal-Altdorf.
Swiss rail passes: are they worth it?

Swiss rail passes cost an amount of money and give you the ability to buy half-price tickets for the duration of your pass. Then when buying a ticket at a counter, ask for half-price (and show your pass) and when buying at a ticket machine choose 1/2 instead of 1/1. On the train you'll be asked to back up your 1/2 ticket with your pass, and Swiss conductors are reliable and businesslike (as well as polite and friendly). The pass also works for buses and ferries.

Whether to buy a pass is a question that we are asked frequently, and our answer is generally no, unless you plan a week of fairly solid rail travel. For a trek with the possibility of some intermediate travel (and the Walker's Haute Route might have a little and the Via Alpina has more) plus a train ride from and to airports either side, it is almost certainly far from worthwhile.

One good approach is to buy certain long-distance trips in advance, online, if you are sure of your timings. This can give some savings. Then buy local tickets on the ground, paying full price as you go. Generally when the Alpine Exploratory team travels within Switzerland, and we do this extensively in any given year, we pay as we go.

Big windows and roof windows on the GoldenPass line
  Big windows and roof windows on the GoldenPass line    Via Alpina
Suggested Swiss itineraries

Suppose you will be in Zermatt after the Walker's Haute Route. You can't avoid seeing a lot of Switzerland, as your airport choices are chiefly Geneva Airport and Zurich Airport. These are roughly 4-hour train journeys and involve superb scenery whether valley or mountain. Milan is reachable if you fancy the trip South into Italy, and there Milan Linate is infinitely the preferable of the two airports. If you have extra time then you could make trips as follows:

In 1 night from Zermatt:
Day 1 Train from Zermatt to Brig (part of the Glacier Express), train from Brig to Spiez, then train from Spiez to Bern (Stay in Bern)
Day 2 Train from Bern back to Spiez, train from Spiez to Montreux (GoldenPass Line), then train from Montreux to Geneva and fly.

In 2 nights from Zermatt:
Day 1 Train from Zermatt to Brig (part of the Glacier Express), train from Brig to Spiez, then train from Spiez to Bern (Stay in Bern)
Day 2 Train from Bern to Luzern via Interlaken (Stay in Luzern)
Day 3 Train from Luzern to Zurich and fly.

In 3 nights from Zermatt:
Day 1 Train from Zermatt to Brig (part of the Glacier Express), train from Brig to Spiez, then train from Spiez to Grindelwald via Interlaken (Stay in Grindelwald)
Day 2 Train from Grindelwald to Interlaken then train from Interlaken to Luzern (Stay in Luzern)
Day 3 Train from Luzern to Lugano (Stay in Lugano)
Day 4 Train from Lugano to Milan and fly

Now let's look at a finish in the West of Switzerland, for example at Chamonix after the Tour du Mont Blanc or at Montreux after the Via Alpina:

In 3 nights from Chamonix (France):
Day 1 Train from Chamonix to Martigny (Mont Blanc Express, which enters Switzerland at Le Chatelard-Frontiere), train from Martigny to Aigle and train from Aigle to Les Diablerets, then bus from Les Diablerets to Gstaad (Stay in Gstaad)
Day 2 Train from Gstaad to Spiez, train from Spiez to Interlaken, then train from Interlaken to Wengen (Stay in Wengen)
Day 3 Train from Wengen to Grindelwald via Kleine Scheidegg, then bus from Grindelwald to Meiringen over the Grosse Scheidegg and train from Meiringen to Luzern (Stay in Luzern)
Day 4 Train from Luzern to Zurich and fly.

In 3 nights from Montreux:
Day 1 Train from Montreux to Spiez then train from Spiez to Luzern (the whole GoldenPass Line) (Stay in Luzern)
Day 2 Train from Luzern to Zurich then from Zurich to Bern (Stay in Bern)
Day 3 Train from Bern to Lausanne (Stay in Lausanne)
Day 4 Train from Lausanne to Geneva and fly.

Heading into France.. or Switzerland?
We are sometimes asked about Lac d'Annecy in France as a destination after the Tour du Mont Blanc. It is a popular holiday lake and town, and in theory it fits after a trek that starts and ends in Chamonix which is also in France. We generally advise that heading into Switzerland instead, which is easy via Martigny, gives more enjoyable travels. Train routes on the French side of the Alps are not intuitive or always convenient and the coordination with buses to further rural destinations is harder to plan. Once there, Lac d'Annecy is liable to underwhelm. By contrast Switzerland has so much and is so simple.

Heading into Austria.. or Switzerland?
If you will be hiking the Adlerweg then you could explore Austria for several more weeks if you had time. Following your bold East-West trajectory, however, once at St. Anton you could jump on the train towards Zurich. Get off at Sargans, which is a pleasant example of a mildly historic working Swiss town, and change for Chur, to give yourself many options for the famous scenic rail lines.

At Brig, the train to Milan pulls in
  At Brig, the train to Milan pulls in    Walker's Haute Route
Which Swiss cities are worth a stay?

As a note on the big seven Swiss cities, we would say that Bern, Basel, St. Gallen and Lausanne are lovely, Luzern is touristy and neat, Zurich is businesslike and neat, and Geneva is possibly the least appealing of all but has plenty of interest. Please see our short opinions of each of these cities:

Travel in the Alps: Cities

Geneva and Zurich airports.. and Basel

It is simple to continue by train to Geneva Airport and Zurich Airport. Every one of the express trains from the Lausanne direction going into Geneva, continues for the 6-minute journey to Geneva Airport. It could hardly be easier and the airport is very close-in to the city. This means that even from far away, as in Zurich, Bern or Brig, you can time your Geneva Airport arrival quite precisely.

At Zurich the airport is on the main line towards Winterthur and your train might continue there, or else it is a simple change to the ultra-frequent airport trains.

Basel is a different situation as the aiport, despite its size, is not on a train line. It is necessary to reach Basel's main station (called Basel SBB to distinguish it from the minor French-side station) and change for the frequent airport bus which departs outside. As with everywhere in Switzerland you can include the bus fare on your ticket by setting your destination as Basel airport.

Rail works at Zweisimmen station on the GoldenPass line
  Rail works at Zweisimmen station on the GoldenPass line    Via Alpina
Swiss trains themselves

What are Swiss trains like onboard? Generally, trains are long inter-city types with a diesel or electric locomotive at the front. Smaller rural lines might have electric sprinter-type trains with a driver in the front of the first carriage and a mix of modern seats. Most often, carriages are sparsely populated and you will find a whole seat, often a 4 around a table, for yourselves. Seat reservations are almost unheard of. At peak times in and out of large stations on the inter-city routes, trains can be busier and you might share your 4 with laptop-tapping commuters.

Trains do not generally wait for connecting trains to come in, if late, but in some local situations the branch line would wait for the mainline express. I have only been caught out once, at Brig, where I did make my connection but had to run. It was a shock!

Nothing is perfect and the Alpine Exploratory team has experienced delays on the Swiss network, but they are so rare. This is quite simply the best rail network in Europe.

The iconography of the Swiss railways is rather fine and not just the black and red 'Swiss station clock' that has become an international clock image. The logos and materials, as well as the paintwork on rolling stock, has its own simplicity and flair. Various cantons and individual lines have their own graphics and colours, to add local interest as you travel cross-country. For example, the mountainous line from Spiez to Brig has its own grey-and-green scheme.

Do not be purturbed by graffiti on the side of some rolling stock. In a very neat and safe country it seems that graffiti is a form of expression that is tolerated more than we'd expect, a safety valve one might conclude. Train interiors are uniformly spotless.

Otherwise, the thundering red-grey-blue express trains in the valley and the golden yellow postbuses winding their way over a pass, are sights to stir the emotion.

In the upper level of a Swiss double-decker train looking at a single-decker
  In the upper level of a Swiss double-decker train looking at a single-decker    Via Alpina
Some confusing places Swiss rail is very easy to work out on the ground: screens are clear, platforms are well marked, and so on. However, in a few places we have been confused and managed, or not, to avoid getting on the wrong train.

Interlaken Ost is all you need to know about Interlaken
We say Interlaken on this page, where what we really mean is Interlaken Ost station.. the second one in Interlaken that you stop at, coming from the Bern direction. It's the one that has the connections into the Bernese Oberland resorts of Wengen, Grindelwald and Murren, and also the ongoing main line to Meiringen and Luzern. In fact both Interlaken stations are handy for Interlaken the town, each at one end of the busy high street.

Chatelard-Le-Frontiere and Vallorcine
Traveling the whole way from Chamonix to Martigny, we enter the Swiss network at Chatelard-Le-Frontiere. Listen for announcements! Historically some trains run all the way through to Martigny, while some trains turn back at Vallorcine (inside France) or Chatelard-Le-Frontiere making it necessary to change. We try to advise our Tour du Mont Blanc and Walker's Haute Route clients on the evolving system, in our Season Updates each June.

Look out when traveling from Orsieres into Martigny, for a potential change of trains at Sembrancher. On the way out from Martigny to Orsieres, again look for a change at Sembrancher. Not all trains do the same thing!

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Why Swiss travel is so enjoyable

Switzerland has no high-speed rail but what it does have is medium-speed rail done reliably, frequently and comprehensively across the country. The reliability makes it such a pleasure. It is the mass movement of people, in the interests of the people, without fuss. As it happens it is also, in large part, intensely scenic.

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At Alpine Exploratory we are delighted to advise on wider travel after your hike. We make it our business to know the country in which we trek. Please ask us about your Swiss plans. Thank you.

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Alpine Exploratory
Alpine Exploratory is a system of knowledge on the best mountain trekking in our areas, giving clients superb holidays based on this exploration.

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