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Ideas & Inspiration Where to stay to best explore Switzerland by train

Where to stay to best explore Switzerland by train

Discover your optimum location for a Swiss Holiday, so that you can travel on the railways on your wish-list as simply and cheaply as possible!

| Last Updated: about 2 months ago

It's clear from the questions asked by users of the travel planning service that the choice of wonderful rail experiences to be enjoyed on the railways of Switzerland can be overwhelming.

How best to experience them can also be confusing thanks to the multiple types of rail passes which are intended to enable visitors to Switzerland to save money compared to the costs of buying tickets.
The passes also have significant variations in price, but what matters more is the differences in how they can be used.
Some of the passes work out to be better value for money, only if specific routes are taken, while others are only valid in certain areas. Note that there isn't a Eurail pass solely for use in Switzerland, when Eurail is used in the guide it's referring to how 'global' types of Eurail passes can be used, when travelling through Switzerland.

Hence a choice of location for a Swiss holiday can matter, not only to the cost, but also how easy it will be to take the ultimate journeys on a wish list.
With trains departing at least hourly on every route, plus the connections between them designed to be as simple as possible, having easy access to any Swiss station opens up the possibility of experiencing the best of Switzerland by train.
However, it's best to avoid assuming that if because the charms of an Alpine village are irresistible, that it will also be the optimum location for exploring the routes you also want to take.
If you prioritize choosing a scenic location, you may then discover that taking more than one scenic journey from it can be tricky and comparatively expensive.

Introducing the Eight Optimum Locations

So this guide features eight locations which can be the optimum choice for a Swiss holiday:

  1. Basel = access to multiple locations and routes across Switzerland + easy trips into France and Germany.
  2. Chur = the Albula and Bernina routes + other long scenic journeys, with no additional costs for pass users.
  3. Interlaken = access to Europe's highest station + numerous cable cars, but they come at a cost.
  4. Lausanne = Five mountain railways within 50 minutes + easy access to Gruyères.
  5. Locarno = stay in a lakeside town + easy access to stunning experiences at three other lakes.
  6. Lucerne = three mountain top railways + multiple cable cars, funiculars and adventure parks within easy reach.
  7. Olten = Simple access to 11 mountain railways + room rates which tend to be comparatively inexpensive.
  8. Zurich = easy access by train + day trips to pretty much anywhere in Switzerland, from Tirano to Zermatt.

from Zurich

Six good reasons for choosing Zurich as an ideal location for a holiday dedicated to seeing the best of Switzerland by train.

1: It's main station has the most trains to other Swiss destinations.
Chur, Luzern, Locarno and now Interlaken all have direct trains from Zurich, so if exploring on the trains on more than one of these locations is on your wish-list, you can tick them off by taking day trips from Zurich

2: It's possible to take epic day trips to the extremities of the Swiss national network and beyond from Zurich:

  • to Tirano, typically depart Zurich at 09:38, returning at 21:22.
  • to Gornergrat; typically depart Zurich at 10:02 (or earlier), returning at 20:58 (or earlier),
  • to Jungfraujoch; departing Zurich at 11:02 on a direct train to Interlaken, going there via Grindelwald and returning via Lauterbrunnen.

3: So if you'll want to have experiences of a lifetime in multiple areas across Switzerland, you can save the bother of transferring your accommodation between multiple locations by spending your entire holiday in Zurich.

4: Zurich is blessed with more international trains than any other Swiss city, so getting to and from it by train is straightforward - and it's also often a wonderful experience.
The daytime trains which travel between Zurich and Bologna, Budapest Bratislava, Genova, Linz, Milano, Salzburg, Stuttgart, Verona, Venice and Vienna all take some of the most scenic rail routes in Europe.
There are also direct daytime high speed trains between Zurich and Amsterdam, Dijon, Paris, Utrecht and a swathe of German cities including Frankfurt (Main) - though the locations in Germany which currently have direct trains to/from Zurich is altered until December 9th.
The number of night trains serving Zurich has also significantly increased in recent years - it now has overnight links with Amsterdam, Berlin, Budapest, Hamburg, Ljubljana, Prague and Zagreb.

5: Up to 10 x trains per hour connect Zurich airport to the city centre.

6: Two trains per hour typically link Zurich to Schaffhausen and the journey, which takes less than 40 minutes, features arguably the most stunning view which can be seen from a train in Switzerland.

Using rail passes

If you take journeys from Zurich to comparatively distant locations such as Grindelwald, Locarno, Lugano, St Moritz, Tirano and Zermatt, it's highly likely that you'll save money by using rail passes.
If the extra benefits of the Swiss Travel Pass such as the inclusion of the Swiss Museum Pass don't matter to you; and destinations such as:

  • the summits of Mt Generoso, Mt Rigi, Mt Rothorn and Mt Titlis
  • the Gornergrat Railway
  • Grindelwald
    aren't on your wish-list then you'll likely save money by using InterRail passes for Switzerland compared to Swiss Travel Passes.
    (There isn't a Eurail Pass solely for use in Switzerland).
    Though if these destinations are on the itinerary, you can obtain discounts / cheaper prices with Swiss Travel Passes, that aren't available to InterRail users

When choosing between passes also keep in mind that Swiss Travel Passes and InterRail Passes for Switzerland have the same inclusions and discounts on these routes and railways that can be easily accessed from Zurich:

  • the journeys beyond Chur to Arosa, St Moritz, Davos, Klosters, Tirano and Dizentis - and on towards Andermatt and Brig
  • to Zermatt
  • the Pilatusbahn
  • Luzern ↔ Interlaken
  • the Centovali Railway

Taking epic looping day trips:

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.

1: The Golden Pass route: Zurich → Visp → Montreux → Zweisimmen → Spiez → Interlaken Ost → Luzern → Zurich

2: The Bernina Express route #1: 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 Express and The Gotthard Express route: Zurich → Brig → Domodossola → Locarno → Zurich

5: The Mount Rigi route: Zurich → Luzern boat to Vitznau Rigi-Kulm Arth-Goldau → Fluelen boat to Luzern → Zurich

6: The Voralpen Express and Schaffhausen Falls: Zurich → Schaffhausen → St Galllen → Luzern → Interlaken Ost → (Bern) → Zurich

7: The Mont Blanc Express route and The Lotschberger: Zurich → Lausanne → Martigny → Le Châtelard → Martigny → Brig → Thun or Bern via Kandersteg → Zurich

8: The Bernese Oberland Railways: Zurich → Spiez → Interlaken Ost →* Grindelwald →* Kleine Scheidegg →* Jungfaujoch →* Kleine Scheidegg →* Lauterbrunnen →* Interlaken Ost → Zurich

Journeys with a single * are those which Eurail/InterRail users have to pay a reduced fee.
Journeys with a double ** are those on which all rail pass users have to pay a reduced fee.
Users of Saver Day Passes don't qualify for the discount on the Berner Oberland routes unless they also have the Half Fare Card.


Simon Harper

I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.


This is one of more than 100 train travel guides available on ShowMeTheJourney, which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make. As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.


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