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Which train pass to get

(aka Is the Swiss Travel Pass worth it?)

One of the most common questions regarding travel in Switzerland is which (if any) pass to get for public transport. I mentioned this a little bit in my main transport post, but this is more of a deep dive.

A few points:

  • For a small country there are an overwhelming number of options with various time frames and levels of coverage. I have tried to cover all the main points, but I would suggest reading through the details for any small benefits I didn’t include in the interest of post size.
  • Unsurprisingly the more flexibility and the more coverage you get, then the more expensive the ticket will be.
  • The boring answer is still that if you really know which offers the best value, then you need to make a rough outline of your trip and do the maths by looking at the costs on the websites for the SBB and any cable cars etc. I have put a few example fares at the end of the post to give some context.
    Note: when looking at prices on the SBB website/app the default price it shows is with the Half-Fare applied, if you log in or select to be a guest without reduction it will show the full price.
  • For families children either travel free, or with large discounts for example you often get the Swiss Family Card with a pass so kids travel free with an adult.
  • Mostly it is all fairly easy and simple, but there can be a few little surprises. A seat reservation with an extra charge is required on some of the scenic trains regardless of pass (e.g. Glacier Express, Bernina Express), some cable cars don’t give discounts to any of the passes (check the cable car website for prices and discounts before going).
  • All of the information and prices (including conversions) are current as of March 2022, using 2nd class tickets at full adult price.

1. For visitors

1.1 The options

1.1.1 No pass

Buying single tickets as you go along is simple and if you are just staying within a very small area then it might be the most cost effective (eg if you fly into Zürich airport and then just spend a few days in/around Zürich) but if you are moving around the country it will quickly become the most expensive option. Ticket prices are constant regardless of how far in advance you buy them, what time of day it is, or if you take a fast or slow train. The exception is that you can buy Supersaver tickets which can reduce the cost by up to 70%, but these are only available in limited numbers during off-peak times of day and lock you to a set train.

Many places/regions offer a guest card to visitors who stay overnight which often includes some free/reduced transport. Mostly this is just for getting around in the city or a very small area, but in some places this is really extensive. In canton Ticino the Ticino ticket covers public transport in the whole canton, and in the Upper Engadin the guest card covers transport and even a number of cable cars, both of which might make getting a pass pointless. Check very carefully that you book accommodation which is valid for these (especially for the Engadin which is a bit selective).

You can buy a Saver Day Pass which gives you all the transport options of the Swiss Travel Pass for a day (see this post for a deeper analysis of the benefits and limitations). You can buy them 2 months ahead of time and it gets cheaper the further in advance you buy it – down to 52 CHF (29 CHF with a Half-Fare). Full price if you buy at the last minute is 119 CHF, expensive but this would still save you a significant amount of money if you wanted to do a day trip from Zürich to Zermatt (120 CHF each way) There are limited number of tickets (curiously separate amounts for with and with-out Half-Fare it seems) and no refund so you have to be certain you will want to travel on that day. If you only have a few travel days planned and have a very rigid fixed plan then this could be the cheapest option for full coverage without having to buy a multi-day pass.

1.1.2 Passes for the whole country

There are three passes that cover the entire country over multiple days:

  • Swiss Travel Pass. Gives the most coverage, but has the highest price.
  • Half-Fare. Cheap, is valid for a whole month and it is very easy to recoup the initial cost, but doesn’t have a price cap on how much you might end up spending. This can seem unappealing because of that but it is often be the best option.
  • Eurail/Interrail. Cheaper than the Swiss Travel Pass in most (but not all) cases. Good for city hopping, but it doesn’t cover as much of the transport network and offers less discounts on mountain transport.
Staying for more than 15/30 days or making frequent trips to Switzerland each year?

In addition to the tourist Swiss Travel Pass and Half-Fare for international visitors you can also obtain a SwissPass (their naming system is terrible) and get the 1-month GA or 1-year Half-Fare to travel at much more favourable prices.

These are not advertised to tourists, but anyone is able to buy them regardless of where you live – you just need to go to set up the SwissPass. This requires a little bit more effort and a passport photo, but is well worth it for longer stays.

I have put some example comparisons in the table below. The numbers of travel days and lengths of time don’t always line up between the passes, so I have just selected the closest examples. Check the respective websites for more information.

Swiss Travel PassHalf FareInterrail (Swiss pass)Eurail (global pass)
Short4 days in a month for 323 CHF
(81 CHF/day)
30 days for 120 CHF4 days in a month for 177 CHF
(44 CHF/day)
4 days in a month for 260 CHF
(65 CHF/day)
Medium8 days in a month for 409 CHF
(51 CHF/day)
30 days for 120 CHF8 days in a month for 263 CHF
(33 CHF/day)
7 days in a month 355 CHF
(51 CHF/day)
Long15 days for 429 CHF
(29 CHF/day)
30 days for 120 CHFNone15 days for 470 CHF
(31 CHF/day).
Extras• Includes the Museum Pass
• Covers local transport, boats, and even some cable cars (plus discounts on most of the rest).
• For an extra 20-30 CHF it can be bought as the Flex Pass for X many days in a month rather than in a row.
• Works on most boats and cable cars.
• Can be combined with Day Saver and Supersaver tickets.
Some boats or mountain transport are included or discounted.Some boats or mountain transport are included or discounted.
LimitationsOnly a few cable cars are included for free.You still have to buy every ticket.Does not provide full coverage of all trains/buses/boats and has inferior discounts.Does not provide full coverage of all trains/buses/boats and has inferior discounts.
Youth Discount?Under 25NoUnder 28Under 28
Alternative option1 month GA. Gives almost all the transport (apart from the mountain peaks), but no museums.
• 420 for a month (14 CHF/day). Requires setting up a SwissPass. Youth discount for under 25s
1 year for 185 CHF. Requires setting up a SwissPass. Youth discount for under 25s.Interrail global pass.

1.1.3 Regional passes

There are localised passes which just cover a certain region like the Jungfrau Travel Pass for the Jungfrau region, The Berner Oberland Pass, or the Tell-Pass for the Lucerne / Central Switzerland region (there is a full list here).

These are limited to a certain area, but are usually cheaper than passes which cover the whole country and in most cases include almost all of the cable cars in their area of coverage for free. So they are best used when staying in one area and wanting to do a number of day trips up local mountains. If you want to spend a week in Lucerne or Interlaken and do lots of trips out then this might be the best option for you.

If you have the Swiss Travel Pass/Half-Fare/GA you can get a discount on many of the regional passes. For example it is 25 CHF cheaper to buy the 1 month Half-Fare (120 CHF) and use that to buy a discounted 10 day Berner Oberland Pass (275 CHF) than it would be to just buy the full price 10 day Berner Oberland Pass (420 CHF), then you also get the use of the Half-Fare across the whole country still.


1.2 Swiss Travel Pass (STP)

The big one. This covers just about everything: trains, buses, trams, boats, most museums, and even a number of cable cars (and discounts on most of what isn’t included for free).

  • The SBB webpage provides all the information you can need, including a map of which lines are covered (be careful not to confuse the dashed and dotted lines!).
  • Apart from the basic transport it also works as the Museum Pass, and includes a free ride to a few mountain tops (these change each year; in 2022 it is Rigi, Stanserhorn and Stoos).
  • Includes the Swiss Family Card which allows a parent to take children under 16 along for free.
  • The STP Flex lets you choose the travel days over a month rather than just having them in a single block. Surprisingly this only costs 20-30 CHF more in total than the rigid consecutive day pass. For the 15 day STP Flex you are paying a mere 1.3 CHF per travel day more than the standard pass.
  • On first glance the STP is horrifically expensive. It helps to remember that it covers so much and to think of the cost per day. It can pay for itself very fast. My mum stayed with me in Solothurn and used the STP for a number of day trips. Going from Solothurn to St Gallen and back (126 CHF) whilst visiting the Textile museum (12 CHF) and Abbey exhibitions (18 CHF) there repaid a third of the cost of the 15 day pass in a single day. With a weekend trip to Lugano (92 CHF each way) that was almost the whole thing paid off in 3 days of travel.
  • You don’t have to travel for hours by train every day for the pass to be worth it. Even if you are just staying in a resort for a few days the discount that you can get on a cable car might be worth more, or at least break-even with, the per day cost of the STP.
  • The freedom to just jump on any train, and the motivation to get out and use what you paid for is something beyond simple monetary value. On a grey/rainy day it will at least get you out for a ride, and a big tour to a different valley or area might pay off more than just staying inside.

1.3 Half-Fare (HF)

All tickets cost half price (including most cable cars). Simples.

  • Again the SBB webpage has all the information you need.
  • For tourists this comes in a single form costing 120 CHF for a month (4 CHF per day). This can very easily pay for itself with a few days of travel, and pretty much any little trip you do will cover the daily cost. The obvious disadvantage being that you are still paying for each ticket and that could add up to a higher cost than the STP over the trip.
  • This can be combined with the Supersaver tickets for further discounts, or used to buy the Saver Day Pass at discount. When buying these tickets check first class too as that can sometimes be cheaper than second class for whatever reason (just don’t forget to switch back to 2nd class the next time you buy a ticket).
  • The HF also works for some of the regional passes. You don’t usually get the full 50% off, but the saving can be more than the price of the HF in the first place.
  • If you are using the phone app with an account that has payment setup you can turn on the Easyride function which tracks your trip and generates a bill afterwards. This makes the whole process much more flexible without having to worry about buying an exact ticket or being unable to jump off somewhere that looks interesting without wasting money. Just try not to forget to turn it off at your destination (though it is quite good at noticing when you stopped).
  • If you are spending longer in Switzerland (or coming back and forth) the 1 year HF is much cheaper for the length of time at 185 CHF. You don’t need to be a resident of Switzerland to buy this, you just need to provide an address they can use.

1.4 Interrail/Eurail

Despite all the scepticism towards these passes they can actually be a good value option (especially if you can get them on sale).

  • Swiss trains are expensive but don’t require reservations (other than the Glacier Express or Bernina Express) so the passes work better in Switzerland than most other countries in Europe.
  • MySwitzerland has a good overview of what they offer.
  • This is best suited to flexible city hopping as it only covers normal trains (and not even all trains at that, you only get a discount from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen/Grindelwald for example). Only 1 boat is included and the discounts on cable cars/mountain trains are very poor in comparison to the STP or HF.
  • If you are 27 or younger then the youth tickets are a fair amount cheaper.
  • The 3-4 days in a month options are cheaper than the SBB offers and might be a good choice for anyone who just wants to just get from an airport to somewhere in the Alps, change location once or twice, then get back to the airport.
  • Interrail (residents of Europe) has a one country pass for Switzerland, in addition to the more general global pass.
  • Eurail (for those living outside of Europe) only has a global pass.

2. For residents of Switzerland

The situation can also be a bit confusing for residents with numerous offers.

  • Generalabonnement (GA). This is effectively the STP but without museums. 3860 per year (11 CHF per day). Having it built into the Swiss Pass card (or the app on your phone) means no extra ID is needed, and it works on included cable car gates too which makes life a little easier. You get discounts on travel into the surrounding countries, a 30% or so discount if someone else in your household also has the GA, and if you have an hour or so commute by train each day then the tax deduction might effectively pay off the GA itself.
  • Point-to-point Travelcard a monthly or annual pass for a specific connection. This can be great value if you are taking the same 20 minute commute to work through a few zones each day, but once the travel time starts to get near to 1 hour or you are going between cities then it often ends up being only slightly cheaper than the GA.
  • Half-Fare for residents. At 185 CHF for a year (165 CHF for the 2nd year onwards) this is worth having even if you only take a train every so often or sometimes go up on cable cars.
  • The Leisure Travelcard effectively acts as a very flexible GA. Letting you pick 20 days in a year for 900 (45 CHF per day) or 30 days in a year for 1200 CHF (40 CHF per day).
  • Community pass. Each political community offers a limited number of day passes which can be reserved for around 45-50 CHF. Google your community and Tageskarte (or the local term) for more information, there is also tageskarte-gemeinde.ch but that does not cover every community yet.

3. Some example costs

There isn’t any simple fixed rule of XX minutes or YY km = ZZ CHF. Distance is the biggest factor (a slow regional or fast intercity going to the same place have the same ticket price), but that still seems to vary a bit.

Everything is nicely integrated by the SBB website/app for easy ticket purchases, but there are a number of different operators and some routes are presumably much more subsidised than others as there are some very big price discrepancies between journeys of similar lengths.

Prices are given as full adult 2nd class tickets.

Trains (one way):

  • Zürich to Luzern (41 mins) = 25 CHF.
  • Zürich to Solothurn (56 mins) = 38 CHF.
  • Zürich to Bern (1 hour) = 50 CHF.
  • Luzern to Interlaken (1 hour 49 mins) = 33 CHF.
  • St Moritz to Ospizio Bernina (45 mins) = 14 CHF. Slow, but it takes you past glaciers and climbs to a lonely alpine pass on a route which has to be cleared of snow.
  • Geneva to Montreux (1 hour) = 30 CHF.
  • Zürich to Zermatt (3 hours 12 mins) = 125 CHF.
  • Basel to Lugano (3 hours) = 88 CHF.
  • [Postbus] Bellinzona to Chur (2 hours 16 mins) = 53 CHF.
  • [Postbus] Sion to Arolla (1 hour 16 mins) = 24 CHF.
  • [Ship] Flüelen to Luzern (3 hours) = 48 CHF.
  • [Ship] Brienz to Interlaken (1 hour 13 mins) = 32 CHF.

Mountain train/cable car discounts:

  • Zermatt to Gornergrat, 126 CHF full price for a return. Reduced to 63 CHF with STP/HF discount.
  • Grindelwald to Grindelwald First, 64 CHF full price for a return. Reduced to 32 CHF with STP/HF discount, free with Jungfrau Pass.