The Jungfraujoch Mountain Railway IN Switzerland
Switzerland is famous for its snow-capped peaks and its excellent railway network so it’s not surprising that one of the country’s most popular experiences is an excursion on the Jungfrau Railway to the highest station in Europe at 3,454 metres above sea level.
Located in the Bernese Oberland in the centre of Switzerland, the Jungfraujoch rail excursion is not a modern invention – the railway was completed more than 100 years ago – but it is still a bucket list experience for most visitors to Switzerland.
So what exactly is the Jungfrau Railway?
Construction of the railway began in 1896 and it took sixteen years of back-breaking work to reach the summit of Jungfraujoch. This incredible feat of engineering, particularly impressive as all work was done by hand, resulted in a railway line that transported passengers all the way from the valley floor, through the rock of Mt. Eiger, before emerging at what has become known as the Top of Europe.
The excursion to Jungfraujoch is one of the top highlights mentioned in every travel brochure or guidebook about Switzerland, so if you are planning a visit to the Jungfrau region, chances are it will be on your bucket list, too.
Experiencing the Jungfrau Train
I’ve been fortunate to ride on the Jungfraubahn (Jungfrau train) on numerous occasions and it is always exciting. The journey starts in either Lauterbrunnen or Grindelwald (with connections from Interlaken) and the train winds its way up the hillside to the mountain village of Wengen.
After a brief stop at Wengen, the train continues to Kleine Scheidegg, passing beside lush pastures and waterfalls. At Kleine Scheidegg all passengers change to the Jungfrau cog railway for the last part of the journey. The final seven kilometres of track pass through a tunnel carved through the mountain.
Just before reaching the summit, the train makes a five minute stop at Eismeer Station (Sea of Ice) for passengers to disembark and look through windows on the platform that offer stunning views of 4,000-metre high peaks. On a clear day, the view is absolutely breathtaking.
Then it’s back on board and just a few minutes until the train makes its final stop at Jungfraujoch – The Top of Europe.
The train ride – which takes around 1 hour and 20 minutes from either Grindelwald or Lauterbrunnen – is definitely a highlight of your excursion but there is plenty to see and do at Jungfraujoch, too.
For fantastic views of the Aletsch Glacier and the surrounding alpine peaks, head up to the Sphinx Observatory, which can be reached by elevator. Stretching for 23 kilometres, the Aletsch Glacier is the highest in Europe and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a truly spectacular sight.
Other attractions indoors include the Ice Palace, where you can see a range of ice carvings, and the Alpine Sensation which provides a look at the history of the Jungfrau railway and the development of tourism. There are also a range of restaurants and souvenir shops and a Lindt Chocolate shop.
If you are visiting during summer, there are numerous outdoor activities to enjoy, too. These include snow tubing, sledging, skiing and snowboarding, a flying fox over the snow, and the hole-in-one golf competition. For visitors who haven’t seen snow or ice before, the outdoor Snow Park area is the perfect place to experience the sensation of touching snow for the first time.
The views from the Sphinx Observatory are still what I love most about visiting Jungfraujoch, though. With a sea of ice and snow-covered peaks all around me, it’s hard not to be overcome with emotion. It’s here that you can get a real sense of how small we are compared to the world we live in and why it is so important that we do everything we can to protect our planet.
Useful tips for visitng Jungfraujoch
There is so much to see and do at Jungfraujoch that I recommend you spend at least three hours at the summit. The complex covers a large area – both indoors and out – and being at such a high altitude, you’ll need to slow down and take things at an easier pace due to the lack of oxygen in the atmosphere.
As you’d expect, the temperature at the summit is chilly all year round. In fact the average temperature is -7.9°C, so make sure you dress accordingly and bring a coat, gloves and woollen hat, as well as sturdy shoes.
Trains to and from the Jungfraujoch operate every day of the year and services depart twice per hour from early morning until early evening. Thanks to the seamless train connections on the route, it is easy to do the excursion independently but guided tours are available from Interlaken, Lucerne and Zurich.
Both Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald can be reached by public transport (regular train services from Interlaken) or by car. Interlaken is the region’s main rail hub if you are travelling from further afield.
Tip: In December 2020 the Eiger Express Cableway between Grindelwald and Eiger Glacier opened. This means that passengers wishing to visit Jungfraujoch now have the option of travelling most of the way by cable car, shortening the trip by 47 minutes. The Jungfraubahn is still the only way to travel the final leg of the journey from Eiger Glacier to Jungfraujoch.
As the Jungfrau railway trip is a major highlight of the excursion to Jungfraujoch, I’d encourage you to travel at least one way by the traditional route. Fares remain the same regardless of which mode of transport you choose.
Whichever way you reach Jungfraujoch, it is sure to be an experience you’ll remember forever.
About the Author
Carolyn Schönafinger is the founder of Holidays to Switzerland and the host of the Holidays to Switzerland Travel Podcast. She fell in love with Switzerland over 30 years ago and now returns annually in her quest to explore every inch of this beautiful country.
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