Mon. Jul 15th, 2024

So you’re getting ready to ride Swiss transportation, huh? Is it your first time? Ah, so you’re one of those Swiss transportation rookies!

Be sure to read about these tourist mistakes so you don’t get fined, reprimanded, or look and feel like a total newbie.

Mistake #1 | Boarding before other passengers exit

The #1 question travelers ask us is about Swiss transportation. We know you’re nervous and a bit unsure, but just take a deep breath, and when the train comes into the station, don’t stand on the platform with your nose to the door and rush on-board. Always allow passengers to get off before you try to get on.

looking at the vip section of the goldenpass panorama train

On trains and buses and pretty much all forms of transportation, there is a staff person who is watching to make sure everyone gets off or on safely. So if you’re already on the platform when the train or bus arrives, you have plenty of time to allow other travelers to exit before hopping on-board and finding a seat.

And if you’re already on board, it’s acceptable and encouraged to be waiting at the doors so you can efficiently get off at your stop.


Mistake #2 | Stressing about buying tickets in advance

We have good news for you! In general, transportation tickets in Switzerland don’t sell out and the prices are set so that they won’t increase as your travel date gets closer. And this is true not only for tickets but for train passes too!

Standard Point-to-Point tickets allow you to travel your chosen route at any time that day — and you can literally buy your ticket while you’re standing on the platform, which is what we usually do! (Hint: Use the SBB App!)

Swiss train ticket

And since a train from the airport will cost the same amount on the day you arrive as it would if you bought it months in advance, there’s zero reason to stress. Just buy a ticket on your day of travel to enjoy ultimate flexibility with your Swiss itinerary, without sacrificing your budget!


Mistake #3 | Making seat reservations when they’re not necessary (and not making them when they are necessary)

We’ve lived in Switzerland for over a year now, and have spent nearly 3 cumulative years traveling this country, and here’s how many seat reservations we’ve ever booked: 4

Frankly, you hardly ever need them. But the rare times when you do need them are for the official scenic train rides like the Glacier Express, GoldenPass, Bernina Express, etc.

goldenpass express prestige class seats

For these, you’ll need to purchase both a seat reservation and a ticket. It’s super important to reserve these seats in advance, and they can be booked directly through each company’s website.

But you don’t really need to buy your ticket ahead of time — you could even wait to buy it until the day of travel. And these tickets can be purchased through the scenic train company or just through SBB, which is the Swiss national railway company.

And we already know you’re gonna ask if you can make seat reservations on normal trains. Yes you can, and they cost 5 CHF per passenger. We’ve never actually done this and generally don’t think it’s necessary. But if it’s peak season and you really want to guarantee that you’ll make it to your destination with plenty of time to spare, then a seat reservation might be cheap insurance and peace of mind.


Mistake #4 | Standing at a closed door waiting for it to open

There’s a saying: “When one door closes, another door opens.” But while that may be true of circumstances in life, it’s not necessarily true of Swiss transportation!

We had some friends come visit and they called us from the airport to say that they had missed their train. They were on the right platform standing in front of the doors for a full minute before the train departed, but the doors were closed and they thought they weren’t allowed to board. In their severe jet lagged state they didn’t realize that all they had to do was to push a button.

open door button on Swiss train
handicap entrance on switzerland trains

We have a local friend who works for the railway, and he sees this so often that sometimes he jokes with tourists that you need a special door-opening app on your phone! Obviously he’s silly and that’s not necessary.

So, if you’re waiting on a platform and find yourself in this same situation, just push the button next to the door and it’ll magically open. And sometimes when you’re inside, you also have to push a button to open the doors.

By the way, never, ever, ever press or pull the red button/lever at eye level — that’s the emergency brake!


Mistake #5 | Not Buying a Train Pass (or buying the wrong one)

Not buying a Swiss train pass is like throwing your money in the garbage. Let’s take the example of a typical 1-week trip to the Jungfrau Region. Buying the right Swiss train pass would save you approximately 200 CHF per person compared to buying individual tickets everywhere you go! Not to mention it’s way more convenient because you’re not having to buy a ticket every single time you hop on a bus, boat, train, cable car, funicular, or gondola.

But you could waste just as much money buying the wrong Swiss rail pass. Because sometimes the wrong pass costs even more than no pass at all!

So what’s a traveler to do when choosing the wrong train pass is worse than having no train pass, but having no train pass is an expensive mistake too?


Swiss Train Pass Checklist

We’ve helped more than 6000 travelers pick a train pass with confidence using our super simple and free Swiss Train Pass Checklist.

Just follow the questions to plug in your itinerary and then it tells you exactly which pass — or passes — you’ll need! Here’s a link to help make one part of your trip-planning process a little bit easier.

FREE SWISS TRAIN PASS CHECKLIST DOWNLOAD

 

And if you want to learn more about Swiss train passes in general, watch the video at that link as well!

bonus-1-ultimate-swiss-train-pass-checklist-ultimate-guide-to-swiss-transportation-aplins-in-the-alps

Mistake #6 | Misunderstanding the Validity Area of your pass(es)

Look at you, you confident traveler! You’ve got your Swiss train pass in your hand, or on your phone, but your job isn’t quite finished yet.

Your next responsibility is to know which transportation routes your pass does and doesn’t cover. I mean, who wants to accidentally pay for a route that’s technically free with your pass, and you also want to avoid getting fined because you didn’t buy a ticket when you should have.

SBB timetable board in Zurich Airport train station
  • For example, all of the regional passes only work in a specific area of the country (thus the name “regional!”), and you need to know where that coverage area ends.
  • The Swiss Travel Pass doesn’t cover you all the way up to most mountain destinations, so you’ll often have to buy a ticket, although it does give you a discount.
  • And the Eurail and Interrail Passes don’t cover buses in Switzerland or any of the mountain transportation lines in Zermatt.

So your homework is to master those validity maps.

And if you have our Ultimate Guide to Swiss Transportation or any of our itineraries, there’s a handy spreadsheet showing which routes are covered, not covered, or discounted. In other words, if you really want things to be simple, that’s the place to go!

transportation opening dates in the jungfrau region spreadsheet by aplins in the alps

Mistake #7 | Putting your feet on the Seats

We’ve had so many Swiss people ask us what’s up with Americans putting their feet up on stuff. We are Americans and we don’t really have an answer for that — except, I guess it’s kinda comfy and we like being comfy. But here’s what we’ve experienced: putting your feet up on the seats is a big no-no!

bench seating area on train in switzerland

We’ve seen countless train staff and even old ladies swat your feet until you take them down. So, I know you might be tempted, but just don’t do it. And no, it doesn’t matter if your shoes are on or off — you should still just keep your feet on the ground.


Mistake #8 | Thinking you can drive up to the top of the mountain (or to Zermatt!)

We have a friend from our church in Interlaken who is a police officer, and he told us a few stories of tourists who tried to drive up to Harder Kulm and Grindelwald First…and got stuck because you can’t drive up there. And there was even one person who literally drove their car down the stairs under the platforms at the train station…because their navigation told them to.

Don’t be fooled: you cannot drive up to most of the mountains in Switzerland. In fact, you can’t even drive to many of the tourist villages, such as Zermatt, Mürren, Gimmelwald, or Wengen.

sunnegga rothorn funicular with views of the matterhorn mountain and zermatt village
Rothorn cable car

No matter how your GPS tries to navigate you, always read the signs or go ask the local tourism office for directions. And just assume that if there’s a cable car or gondola, you should probably take it and leave your car at the bottom.

But if you are going to make this mistake, at least let us know in advance so we can capture it on video for our next round of tourist mistakes!!


Mistake #9 | Being stuck somewhere after the last train/cable car departs

We’ve heard about many travelers who didn’t realize that most cable cars and gondolas stop running for the day by dinner time. So they either had to sleep in the mountain hotel or hike all the way down the mountain in the dark. And it’s not unusual for trains and buses to stop running by 10 or 11pm either, although they do run later in the big cities.

Our best piece of advice is to get in the habit of checking the timetable when you arrive at a place, so you have an idea of when you’ll need to leave.

The opposite can also be true for morning travel. For example, if you have a flight at 7 or 8am but you’re staying a few hours away, you might not be able to catch a train early enough to arrive in time for your flight. This is an awesome strategy to snag just one more day in Switzerland, but we still wouldn’t recommend it!


Mistake #10 | Expecting your destination to show up on the Departure Board

Swiss trains, trams, and buses are identified by a number and a direction. And that direction is the end destination of the train.

But that end destination often will not be your end destination. So make sure you know which direction you need to go to get to where you want to go.

platform display board on platform bern switzerland

Sometimes the departure board in the train station will list some major stops along the way. But that won’t always be the case, and many small villages won’t be listed at all. However, there’s usually a screen on-board that lists the next few upcoming stops. So once you’re actually riding the transportation, it’s pretty easy to know when you reach your stop.


Mistake #11 | Buying tickets at the ticket office

Buying tickets from the station isn’t really a mistake, and it’s totally fine to do this if it gives you peace of mind that you’re buying the right tickets. But waiting in unnecessary and unpredictably long lines can be just as stressful!

So what if you could ride all over this beautiful country without ever stepping foot in a ticket office? Well, you can with the SBB Mobile App!

SBB train station ticket office at Zurich Airport in Switzerland

Nearly every ticket in this entire country can be purchased on the app. Plus you can see which platform you’re departing from and arriving on, if there are any delays along your route, and the amenities on board each train.


SBB APP Tutorial & Ultimate Guide to Swiss Transportation

The SBB app can literally prevent you from making the last 3 mistakes we mentioned: not knowing when transportation stops running, not understanding which train to board, and having to buy all of your tickets in the station.

If you have our Ultimate Guide to Swiss Transportation, don’t forget that Part 2 includes step-by-step instructions with screenshots on everything from downloading the app to buying tickets and following your route.

learn more in part 2 of the ultimate guide to Swiss Transportation by aplins in the alps

Mistake #12 | Buying Tickets for children

In case you haven’t heard, kids under 6 are free on transportation in the entire country of Switzerland. And kids ages 6 to 15 are normally 50% off.

But this small country is awfully friendly to little ones, because kids under the age of 16 could theoretically travel with you for free on your whole Swiss vacation — here’s how.

If you have the Swiss Family Card, your kids can ride with you for free. You can also buy the Junior Card or Children’s Co-Travelcard if you’re traveling with kids who aren’t your own, such as nieces or nephews or grandchildren.

And in the unusual chance you won’t be able to use one of these, many regional passes also offer a super cheap children’s version of their pass as well.


Mistake #13 | Paying to use a toilet in the station

Free toilets seem like they should be a basic human right. But you’ll often have to “pay-to-pee” at the larger Swiss train stations. In general, we’ve observed that SBB train stations (which are most of the major ones) have paid toilets, while smaller non-SBB stations have free toilets.

But either way, there’s no need to pay since trains and boats all have free toilets on board! Just keep in mind that mountain funiculars, gondolas, and cable cars don’t have bathrooms on board, but almost every mountain station that we’ve been to does have free bathrooms.


Mistake #14 | Thinking a city Guest Card replaces the need for a train pass

Did you know that many Swiss cities offer a free Visitors Card to overnight guests? These usually cover city-wide transportation and provide discounts to some local attractions.

Guest Cards are awesome if you’re only sticking to the cities or traveling with nothing but a Half Fare Card because you will definitely benefit from the free local travel. But when we say local, we mean really hyper local!

boat on lake thun switzerland

For example, the Interlaken Guest Card can get you to Interlaken Ost, Interlaken West, and Wilderswil, but not to Harder Kulm, Schynige Platte, Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald, or any of the mountain peaks.

And while the Lucerne Visitor Card will take you to sights such as the Lion Monument or Swiss Museum of Transportation, it won’t get you up any mountains either.

The bottom line is that you shouldn’t ignore these visitor cards entirely. Take advantage of the free local transport and discounts on activities and museums. But most of the time, having a Visitor Card doesn’t mean you won’t need a train pass too.


Mistake #15 | Taking up a seat with your luggage (when others are standing)

If there are hardly any people on board with you, it’s okay to keep your bag next to your seat. But when transportation is full, please don’t take up a seat with your suitcase or block the aisle with your bag!

Instead, keep the seats open for passengers by storing your bags on the luggage racks. On trains, there are usually luggage racks near the doors and above the seats, and space in between the seats, too. On buses, there’s often an open area in the middle of the bus where you can stand with your bags.

luggage racks in first class and prestige class goldenpass express panoramic train

By the way, a lot of people ask us if they can bring a giant suitcase or 2 bags per person. There’s technically no limit, as long as you can carry it up the stairs and put it on the racks all by yourself! But we always prefer having just a small suitcase and backpack. If you’re curious what you need to bring to Switzerland, we’ve got a free packing list for all 4 seasons!


Mistake #16 | Sitting in handicap seats

If you’re nervous about public transportation, you’ll probably snag the first seat you can find. But just a heads up that the seats next to the doors are often marked with a sign like this, which means they’re reserved for the elderly, handicapped, or parents with small children.

handicap sign and seats for expectant mothers

Once again, if there are not a lot of people on board, then it’s fine to sit here. But if someone comes along who needs that seat, be respectful and give it to them.

In fact, anytime your ride is really full, it’s kind to offer your seat to the elderly, handicapped, or parents with small children — even if you aren’t sitting in the reserved section. A little kindness goes a long way!


Mistake #17 | Forgetting to request a stop

Most trains will stop at every station along the route. But sometimes you’ll need to request a stop at the smaller stations. Be on the lookout for the phrase “Halt auf verlangen” or “Stop on request” listed next to your stop on the on-board screens. That means it’ll only stop if someone actually requests it!

To request a stop, press the “open door” button. Don’t worry, it won’t actually open the door until you arrive at the station!

first and second class carriage on trains in switzerland

And you’ll pretty much always need to request a stop on the bus. To do so, just hit the button that says STOP.

By the way, mountain transportation like cable cars and funiculars will nearly always stop at each destination, and even though gondolas move continuously, they’ll slow down so you have plenty of time to exit when you’re ready.

Now there’s so much more we could say, so read this next to ride public transportation like a pro before you ever step foot in Switzerland, and then read through part 3 of our Ultimate Guide to Swiss Transportation to find answers to even more of your transportation questions.

Source: https://aplinsinthealps.com/

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