Long live Switzerland, one of the most beautiful countries in Europe, beautiful both in winter and in summer! It is also perhaps the best country for traveling by train, as its rail transport is a completely independent attraction. Let’s imagine what the itinerary for traveling in Switzerland by train could be. Book your train tickets now.
Highlights of railway travel in Switzerland
The Swiss Railways (SBB) holds several world records; some sections of the track are deservedly included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. In terms of accuracy, Swiss trains compete with Swiss watches, and in terms of area coverage they are in no way inferior to a car. They provide an excellent view from the windows, also they are comfortable and perfectly adapted for tourists with limited mobility. In a word, get in the coach and have fun just moving from point A to point B.
It’s easy to create an interesting and beautiful winter route in Switzerland. The Swiss have combined the most picturesque routes into a single Grand Train Tour of Switzerland. These are 1280 km of railroad tracks that wind through the entire territory of the country and, like beads, string one attraction after another. There is no beginning and end of the path, just as there is no predetermined direction. You can jump on the train at any point on the route, or you can stay as long as you want in the place you like.
We generally recommend buying train tickets for Europe here. But for traveling around Switzerland, it is much more convenient to use the Swiss Travel Pass system. They are valid from 3 to 15 days within a month and allow travel by train, bus and water transport, as well as free admission to 500 museums throughout the country. You can choose and buy the ticket that best suits your purposes here. And everyone’s favorite booking system will help you book a hotel room in any Swiss city or village.
So let’s go! We will start our journey in Geneva and end in Basel. It will be a complex cocktail consisting of several ancient cities and Alpine resorts. We will have time to visit the mountains and plunge into the history and culture of Switzerland!
Pre-Christmas Geneva welcomes guests with the cold expanse of Lake Geneva, snow-capped mountain peaks and not always friendly skies. While the mean rays of the winter sun are trying to warm the earth, take a walk along the embankments, admire the Jet d'Eau fountain, beating right out of the water. Make sure to reach the viaduct de la Jonction, from where you can see how two rivers merge into a single stream: the turquoise Rhone, flowing from Lake Geneva, and the muddy brown Arve, originating among the Alpine peaks.
Do not forget about cultural heritage. Geneva is a city where the old and the new are intricately intertwined: St. Peter’s Cathedral here is easily adjacent to the nuclear research center and the international museum of the Red Cross. As a rule, tours in Geneva museums are conducted in French, German, Italian, English and Spanish. And it will be very interesting to walk around the city with a local guide who will introduce you to the history and traditions of Geneva, and even to its cuisine.
The fun begins on the second weekend of December, when residents celebrate the Escalade holiday, a kind of city day, rooted in antiquity. It is accompanied by street bazaars and concerts, festive illuminations and processions in historical costumes. Confectionery counters are strewn with thousands of symbolic chocolate pots: customers break them for good luck. And the culmination of the holiday is a night fire on Saint-Pierre Square and a treat for everyone with vegetable stew.
All this is great, but keep in mind that on the eve of the holidays in Geneva it is difficult to find a convenient and beneficial accommodation option, so book your hotel in advance here.Choose a hotel in Geneva
Lausanne is a small town with a slight French charm, but very status and modern. Firstly, Lausanne bears the title of the world Olympic capital, in which the International Olympic Committee meets and the Museum of the Olympic Games operates. Secondly, it is the smallest city in the world with its own subway. And finally, exactly here the world-famous Maurice Béjart Ballet settled down.
If you want to feel like in a winter fairy tale and feel the atmosphere of the upcoming Christmas, you should go to the historical part of Lausanne. The center is the Cité hill with the medieval castle of Saint-Mer and Notre Dame Cathedral, as well as the Lower Town with the old town hall on Palu Square and land arched bridges. Shite is almost devoid of cars, but since the end of November, open-air Christmas markets have been open here, and the streets are decorated with sparkling illuminations. You can learn more about the sights and history of Lausanne on a walking tour. And be sure to look at the city from a height, from the observation deck of the Lausanne Cathedral!Book a hotel room in Lausanne
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The city of Montreux on the shores of Lake Geneva is traditionally considered to be a summer resort, moreover, focused on very wealthy tourists. And yet, some of the sights of Montreux are accessible to everyone and any time of the year. For example, Chillon Castle (skip-the-line tickets can be purchased here). Once Lord Byron was so impressed by the inspection of his dungeons that he wrote the poem «Prisoner of Chillon».
The surroundings of the city offer many excursions, ranging from visits to wine cellars and ending with a chocolate factory. Here you can fully experience the alpine relief of the Swiss Riviera, and if you wish, go on a one-day mountain hike with a guide. Majestic mountain landscapes, lakes and climbing the alpine two-thousander, Grammont Peak, are waiting for you.Compare hotel deals in Montreaux
Zermatt is small even by the standards of Switzerland, but the number of tourists here is much higher than the number of local residents. How did it happen that a godforsaken village in the canton of Valais became a world-famous resort? Firstly, Zermatt is an ecologically clean holiday destination. Even modern hotels are built mainly from wood and natural stone. Contrary to technological progress, only horse-drawn vehicles are still used in Zermatt (although electric cars were allowed not so long ago), and the natives, along with sophisticated tourists, passionately support this tradition.
And to find out the second reason of Zermatt’s popularity, just look at the mountain peaks. You won’t find such a cluster of four-thousanders as in the Pennine Alps of Switzerland. A trip along the Gornergrat cog railway promises to be an unforgettable experience of Zermatt (tickets can be bought in advance here). You will see the observation deck located at 3150 m height, from where you can enjoy a magnificent view of the glaciers of the Monte Rosa mountain range and 29 Alpine peaks, including the world-famous gorgeous Matterhorn. By the way, the highest mountain hotel in Switzerland is located here, the famous 3100 Kulmhotel Gornergrat.More hotels in Zermatt here
» READ MORE – Alps in December: a great time to relax
Glacier express and Andermatt
And now attention please! For tourists traveling by train, a very special adventure begins. The panoramic Glacier Express starts exactly here in Zermatt, it has received the status of the slowest express in the world. This train travels through the unique Swiss landscapes, while passengers enjoy the convenience and excellent visibility at this time. Bridges and tunnels, lakes and snow-capped peaks float past the panoramic windows, the train overcomes steep ascents and descents. Glacier Express is an extra-class train, so even with a SwissPass ticket, an additional payment for advance reservation of seats in the car is required.
And don’t forget to grab your sunglasses so you don’t get blinded by the glow of the snowy slopes!
The Glacier Express route starts in Zermatt and ends in St. Moritz, but we suggest making an intermediate stop in Andermatt. Unlike its hyped counterparts, Andermatt is not the most fashionable ski resort in Switzerland, but it is actively developing, and the snow cover in these places is wonderful.Book your stay in Andermatt
Glacier Express never stops to astonish. On the next section of the path get ready to meet the 65-meter Landwasser Viaduct and numerous turns of serpentine along steep mountain slopes. Finally, the train arrives in St. Moritz, the recurrent capital of the Winter Olympic Games, which has become famous for the record number of sunny days per year and many sports tracks. Downhill and cross-country skiing, luge, bobsleigh, snowboarding and curling are just some of the sports that sophisticated tourists do in the Engadine region. And at the end of winter, horse races are held right on the ice of a frozen lake.
If you want to enjoy cultural attractions, make sure to check out the «Leaning Tower of Pisa» in Switzerland, the angle of which is even greater than that of its Italian party. You can also visit the museum of the Italian artist Segantini and try the local treat, the Engadine nut pie. We suggest choosing a hotel in St. Moritz here, but please be aware: most of them are aimed at wealthy tourists.Compare hotel deals in St. Moritz
Bernina express and Chur
The section of the route «St. Moritz — Chur» runs along the oldest railway line in Switzerland, the Rhaetian Railway (RhB), which has been operating since the century before last. You have already traveled part of this route called Albula on the Glacier Express, and now it’s time to experience the equally famous train, the Bernina Express. Huge panoramic windows and audio guide comments are, of course, impressive, but you will have to pay extra for booking a seat on the express, despite the availability of SwissPass. If you want to save money, you can travel the same way on an ordinary interregional train, especially since in winter the Bernina express cars function as trailers.
And so you arrive in Chur, the center of the canton of Graubünden. In all of Switzerland you will not find a city older. The ancestors of the ancient Rhaetian tribes still live in Chur and speak a rare Romansh language. Several thousand years of the history of the canton are carefully preserved in the exhibits of the Rhaetian Museum. Unfortunately, the ancient city itself was almost completely destroyed in fire, but several medieval towers, the Gothic Assumption Cathedral, as well as many buildings of the 15th–16th centuries have survived. The historic center is completely pedestrian. Explore the Old Town and explore Chur on your own with an audio guide.Find a hotel in Chur
It is easy to guess that the city of St. Gallen is named after St. Gall, an Irish monk. On the site of the hut where he was a hermit in the mountains above Lake Constance, people founded a monastery. Soon a city grew up around the monastery, it became famous for its skilled weavers and embroiderers. The monks were really nice people as well: they kept a historical chronicle, collected a rich library, and welcomed poets and musicians in the abbey. Now medieval treasures are on display in the monastery library, and also you can visit the Baroque cathedral.
If you are not really interested in ancient history, St. Gallen also has more modern sights, such as a red-carpeted pedestrian square or a textile museum. Or you can enjoy a tour of the Chocolarium Maestrani’s chocolate factory and see with your own eyes the process of making real Swiss chocolate. Fun for both kids and adults!St. Gallen: book a hotel
Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland and its financial center, which has gained fame as one of the most expensive and most comfortable cities in the world to live in. It looks especially cozy during the winter holidays, it becomes a real capital of Christmas. The fun begins right at the station: a huge Christmas tree decorated with Swarovski crystals is set up here, and the largest Christmas market opens. Another large market is located in the Niederdorf quarter, it is open all year round.
In the evening, illumination lights up on the streets of the city. It becomes especially pleasant to walk, but don’t expect peace and silence: Zurich turns into one big shopping and entertainment area. Visit the Lindenhof park, enjoy the view from the observation deck at the quarters on the opposite bank of the Limmat river, see the Fraumunster and Grossmünster churches with towers that are so different from one another, and listen to Christmas carols performed by local choirs. And if you want to touch the history and learn all the legends of Zurich, sign up for a tour here.Compare hotel deals in Zurich
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Then we follow up to the fabulous Lucerne, the city of water and light! With its architecture, it resembles gingerbread: you can spend hours looking at painted houses, elegant embankments, pointed tiled roofs and church spiers. In Lucerne, even a section of the fortress wall with towers has been preserved, this is a rarity for Switzerland. Some of them are available for visitors, including the Zitturm tower with the city’s oldest clock. They have been given the special privilege of announcing the coming of the new hour one minute ahead of all other city clocks.
The best way to get to know Lucerne is on a city tour with a guide. You will learn what the touching monument to a dying lion, carved right into a sheer rock, means, take a walk in the Glacier Park, visit the Jesuit church and an old pharmacy.
All year round, the life of citizens and tourists revolves around Lake Lucerne and the Reuss River, among water and bridges, and the most important among them is the wooden Kapellbrücke bridge with the Wasserturm tower in the middle. Summer in Lucerne opens up almost limitless opportunities for recreation on the water. But even in winter, you can take a cruise on Lake Lucerne, take a boat trip to the ski slopes or go canoeing.Lucern: choose the best hotel
Morning comes, and a comfortable express train is ready to take you from Lucerne to the capital of the Bernese Highlands, Interlaken, in a couple of hours. The «city between the lakes» can be called the center of winter tourism in Switzerland without exaggeration and the starting point for many alpine routes. No less than 45 cog lifts and funiculars start from Interlaken, leading to ski slopes, toboggan runs and winter hiking trails. But a journey along the highest railway in Europe, the Jungfrau, promises to be the most exciting adventure.
The end point of this trip is the high-mountain station «Top of Europe», located 3.5 thousand meters high. After a high-speed elevator in the blink of an eye takes tourists to the observation deck of the Sphinx observatory, from where you can enjoy marvelous panoramic views of the Jungfrau mountain peak, Lake Thun and the Aletsch Glacier. Another miracle is hidden in the thickness of the glacier, the Ice Palace, consisting exclusively of ice frozen in bizarre forms.
Climbers and heights lovers won’t stop there and will try to climb even higher, to one of the mountain peaks of the Young Maiden. If you are a bit tired of the alpine slopes, welcome to any of the high mountain restaurants. Or you can go back to the valley and enjoy winter kayaking tour on Lake Brienz for example.Best hotel deals in Interlaken
Small and cozy Bern does not boast of its capital status. The main attraction of the city with a bearish name is, of course, bears. Actually the brown bear is the heraldic symbol of Bern, approved in the distant XIII century. Many people go to Bern specifically to look at the bears that live right in the center, in a natural reserve on a slope near the river. Of course, in winter, bears hibernate, and tourists have no choice but to be content with images and cute plush toys from souvenir shops.
In general, Bern is an old and very atmospheric city, setting you in a leisurely mood. Endless arcades stretch along the first floors of the houses of the Old Center. You can walk for hours through the streets and shops, completely ignoring the weather. Among the attractions of Bern there are ancient fountains and bridges, the Bern Cathedral (the highest in Switzerland), the Zytglogge clock tower with mechanical figures that play a midday musical performance every day. Climb up to the observation deck of the Rose Garden, and the fabulous town will spread out in fornt of you.Book your stay in Bern
And the best end of our mega-adventure will be Basel, located on the corner between three countries: the right hand is in Germany, the left hand is in France, and the legs are firmly planted in Switzerland. Among Swiss cities, it ranks third in size, there are a lot of attractions and the highest density of museums in Europe. The Kunsthalle, the Historical Museum, the Museum of Antiquities, a large ethnological collection and even a firefighting museum, enough for at least a week. Basel itself resembles a huge open-air museum. To understand the intricacies of the old streets, learn about the amazing myths, traditions and symbols of the city, book a walking tour of Basel on the website.
If you’re traveling in February, you might catch the famous Basel carnival. And don’t forget to buy souvenirs and treats: brunsli cookies, Basel gingerbread and, of course, cheese and chocolate is a must.Basel: compare hotel deals
All good things come to an end and so does our trip to Switzerland. You can fly home from Basel, or return to Zurich airport, or head towards Germany, down the Rhine. We wish you unforgettable emotions and rich impressions from traveling around the wonderful Switzerland!
Enjoy the journey!