During our vacation in Switzerland in the summer of 2016, we went about exploring regions around Lac Léman often wondering where the crowds were. Gruyères had its tours but the groups were spread out and relatively small. Gstaad was deserted to the extent it felt we had the whole of Bahnhoffstasse to ourselves. Zermatt was alive but it still seemed relaxed going through what could only be the lull before the storm of the ski season.
Then, we reached Lauterbrunnen train station, and suddenly were engulfed in a sea of people from all around the world running, walking, waiting, and talking in every direction and open space available.
It was then that it hit me – well, someone’s backpack hit me around the same time as well, but that’s not what I’m talking about – how major a Swiss tourist destination Jungfraujoch is.
I shall refrain from going into details as to why you should or should not visit Jungfraujoch – that little space at 3400-ish meters above sea level in-between the mountain peaks of Jungfrau and Mönch. It remains one of Switzerland’s premier tourist attractions and a magnificent amalgamation of human determination (building a rail track all the way up) and nature. There are people who swear by the experience that they had at Jungfraujoch and there are those that feel that it is “overpriced and nothing great”. I for one am in the former category and can understand the reason for its popularity.
Taking the train from Lauterbrunnen to Jungfraujoch, I came across all possible types of “tourists”; huge tour groups that would take up to two train carriages, small families – very much like mine – traveling together, large families with grandparents and toddlers, hikers and a few skiers, couples on honeymoon, and friends out on an adventure; Jungfraujoch is a crash-course for any student travel and a great way to learn and understand crowd management keeping in mind cultural and language barriers. The arrangements by the local authorities and train staff are very much applaud-worthy.
With so much information, a couple of train changes, and a lingering uncertainty along with excitement about what to expect can all add up and be a little overwhelming.
Fear not, for you’ve come to the right place as I’ve listed below, from my personal experience, some of the key points and elements to keep in mind while booking and travelling to Jungfraujoch. These will hopefully help you make the most of this once in a lifetime experience:
Get a Swiss Travel Pass – In one of my previous write-ups – 5 Easy Ways to Save Money in Switzerland – I tried to break the myth that Switzerland is expensive, but a trip to Jungfraujoch can pinch the pocket a little bit. That’s where the discount options via the Swiss Travel Pass or Discount Card come in handy. Even if you are not using the train, and are on a self-drive holiday, it might be worth buying the pass just to save on similar excursions. It does require a few calculations to figure out how much the tickets cost in comparison to buying the pass, but trust me, half an hour of your time pre-planning can save you quite a bit of money.
Station Stops – The train to Jungfraujoch stops twice en-route to the top and both the stops serve as closed viewpoints and bathroom breaks. Eismeer Station, where the train stops for roughly 5 minutes, is worth a get down to stretch your legs and catch in some amazing views.
“Always Take the Weather with You” – Crowded House warned you about this decades back and while it is not completely in your hands, if you do have a choice, try and pick a clear and sunny day to go to Jungfraujoch. There are lots of indoor activities, but the real elation is in enjoying the outdoors. From majestic views at the Sphinx Observatory to sledging to zip-lining over the snow, it’s worth going to the top just for these very adventures.
Bundle Up – No matter the weather, dress for all seasons. Keep enough warm clothes because while you might spend a lot of time indoors – train and then up top – it does get cold. Good comfortable shoes, gloves, and thick socks are also important and if they are waterproof all the better as you can be carefree about playing in the snow.
If you are travelling with children, follow the golden rule of keeping extra clothes which includes socks and gloves in this case.
Early Bird Misses the Crowds – Jungfraujoch gets a sudden influx of tour groups around lunch time and that’s also when the interiors get crammed. Therefore, it’s really worth getting up as early as possible and taking one of the earliest trains to avoid this rush as much as possible. It also means you have the option of spending more time on the top.
No Reservations Required – When we bought our train tickets in Lauterbrunnen from the reception of Camping Jungfrau – our abode for the three days we were there – we were advised to reserve our seats at an extra cost.
However, we found this to be completely unnecessary as we ended up taking an earlier train than planned which meant we didn’t even use the booking, and again on the way back, since we had not booked a seat, we weren’t bound by a reservation and could stay for as long as we desired.
While going up and coming back down, there were enough seats for everyone, even in the non-reserved sections, and unless you feel you are travelling with someone who must have a seat at all costs, you can skip on reserving one, and save some money in the process.
Children Friendly They Are – I love the way the Swiss think and more than that I love how they act on their beliefs. Earlier I wrote about some of the Swiss Traits That I Admire, and one of them was their love towards children. Not only do the children travel free (up to a certain age) or get heavy discounts, but the train staff is helpful and forthcoming with storing the strollers and making sure everyone is comfortable. In case you have any inhibitions about taking your children – keeping in mind health issues considering the air does get thin at Jungfraujoch – don’t worry at all.
Take It Slow – Once you reach the top, take your time with everything. You may feel light-headed initially but as long as you take deep breaths, slow steps, and take it easy, there’s nothing to worry about. In case there is any emergency, medical services are available all around.
Plan Your Time – Jungfraujoch comes loaded with a number of activities and options to see and do, so plan your time accordingly, dividing it among things that you really want to do and maybe even skipping one or two that don’t interest you. Again, I cannot reiterate it more, if it’s a beautiful day, make the most of outdoor activities saving the indoor attractions for later. Keep at least 3-4 hours minimum to spend at Jungfraujoch – maybe even more if you want to have lunch.
Pre-Plan What You Like – Jungfraujoch is divided into a number of zones that feature different aspects of the region. Spend a little time on their website and prioritize. This way, you will be able to navigate better and save time as well. Although the entire “complex” isn’t huge since you walk slower and it is cold, moving around does take time. Here are some quick thoughts on a few of the attractions;
Jungfrau Panorama: A 360 degrees panoramic film is a nice breather as soon as you arrive on the top, but when you can see the real views, you won’t feel like looking at a screen for too long.
Alpine Sensation: A walk through all the hardship that it took to reach to the “Top of Europe” and make Jungfraujoch possible. It’s a lovely homage to all the people that are responsible, especially those that lost their lives in the process, but also a celebration of human spirit.
Sphinx: An International Research Station, an elevator ride up to this observatory is a must to take in the breathtaking views.
Ice Palace: Although we skipped the Ice Palace because we had an opportunity to see something similar at Matterhorn, it is worth passing through it, in order to view beautiful sculptures made in ice.
Mönchsjochhütte: To get a glimpse of life in the cold, a 45-odd minute walk during the summer months will take you to this scenic spot. Once again, with kids tagging along, and having not planned our time in advance – we learn from our mistakes – we had to regretfully skip this.
Snow Park: The highlight of the entire trip, Snow Park is oodles of fun in the snow.
Lindt Chocolate Experience: A slightly glorified shop, if you haven’t had your share of a chocolate overdose in Switzerland as yet, you may want to quickly have a run through it.
Camera – This one goes without saying, you will need a decent camera – be it a phone, DSLR, or point-and-shoot – when you go to Jungfraujoch. Quite a few areas indoors are aesthetically lit up and a camera that works well in low-light and one that has a good flash plus stable hands (tripod helps) are all added bonuses when choosing which camera to use.
Eat, Drink, and be Merry – Jungfraujoch comes prepared with multiple places to eat and/or drink, although they are a little expensive – blame it on the location. If you do plan on saving some money, prepare sandwiches beforehand and keep snacks handy to munch on while there.
Pay to Pee? – During my research on Jungfraujoch I remember coming across a few mentions that using the bathroom wasn’t free. However, when we went there, we weren’t charged anything, so it’s a little up-in-the-air if you ask me. Nevertheless, keep some change handy in case there are charges.
Souvenirs and Touristy Things – If you love collecting souvenirs – magnets, pens, tees, posters… – then rest assured you will have ample options once you reach Jungfraujoch. There is a huge shop in the main reception selling various types of Swiss and Jungfraujoch related souvenirs for all possible tastes and prices.
Be Before Time – If travelling without a seat reservation, it is always advisable to reach the train station about 20-odd minutes before time so as to be in the front of the queue.
Take a Hike – This is one of the most important tips that I can give you and one that I personally regret missing out on. On your way back, the train stops at the tiny station of Eigergletscher – it is the last but one stop, just before Kleine Scheidegg. If the weather is good, get off at this station and you will find a little signboard directing you to a primarily downhill, roughly 40-minute hike, to Kleine Scheidegg. The hike, as I’ve been told, is not at all strenuous, and takes you through the beauty of Swiss Alps with spectacular views on the way.
Stop and Look Around – Not exactly related to Jungfraujoch, but if you do go there, then try and make some time to stop and explore the villages that make this region one of the prettiest in the country. Wengen is a beautiful small village in the mountains and Lauterbrunnen boasts of having 70 odd waterfalls. Grindelwald is extremely picturesque and Interlaken, a proper city, is the hotbed for adventure activities in Switzerland. If you arrive at Jungfraujoch early and leave by late afternoon, you can easily do at least one of the villages on your way back.
To make your vacation memorable, stay in one of these villages – as we did in Lauterbrunnen – which not only reduces your train journey time but also gives you ample opportunities to explore the region at a leisurely pace.
Jungfraujoch is an exhilarating affair that one should try and experience given the opportunity. Excursions to peaks are everywhere in Switzerland, but each comes with a different “adventure” – the cable car rides of Matterhorn Express are so different from the less vertigo educing train ride to Jungfraujoch – which makes them unique. Jungfraujoch is a beautiful and enlivening day-trip, memories of which you are bound to cherish.