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Zurich to Zermatt: 10 Tips for Getting There by Train

The trip from Zurich to Zermatt is one of my personal favorite train rides. I first made the trip down to Zermatt when my wife and I were spending a week of our honeymoon there. Needless to say, we immediately fell in love with Switzerland.

As it is with all Swiss rail travel, this is a relatively painless, straightforward trip. The most direct route takes about three and a half hours and involves only a single transfer. It’s also easy to take a less direct, more scenic route, depending on how much time you have.

These ten tips will help you with some of the most common questions and concerns. Some are general Swiss train tips. Others are specific to the Zurich to Zermatt journey.

Whether you’re a first-timer or a Swiss travel pro, these tips are good things to keep in mind when you’re hopping on a train and making your way down to the Matterhorn.

#1 Buy Your Ticket Before Boarding

This is an important one, regardless if you are a first-timer or if you have previous experience with Swiss rail from years back.

It used to be that, like with many railways, you could simply hop on a Swiss (SBB) train and buy your ticket on-board. At that time, railway workers would make their way around the train for passengers to purchase tickets from. This is no longer the case.

Today, almost all SBB trains are self-check. This means that conductors will not necessarily make their way around the train after it departs and it’s possible that no one will check your ticket.

However, the railways frequently send in crews to do random ticket checks and you’ll be in for a hefty fine if you’re found without one. An honest mistake of assuming you can purchase a ticket on-board could easily turn into a very expensive ride.

Save yourself from a potential headache and purchase your ticket at the station before you intend to board. You can use a kiosk or purchase at a counter. Either way, it will only take a moment and it could save you from losing a chunk of cash before your trip even truly begins.

#2 Download the SBB App

The Swiss Federal Railways has their own app and even though it does have some quirks, it’s a great tool to have at your disposal.

First of all, the app gives you quick access to all of the timetables. This is way easier than trying to hunt them all down on the website or on Google. They’re all laid out in blocks and you can click/swipe your way into a ticket in a matter of seconds.

SBB Mobile App Screenshot - Switzerland Train Tips
A screenshot from the SBB mobile app.

You can purchase all of your tickets (and Swiss rail cards/passes) within the app. All of them will be kept on the app, eliminating the need for a printed physical ticket.

There are a ton of other features like sharing your itinerary through WhatsApp, automatic suggestions for alternative connections in the event of a missed train, and even an alarm that will wake you upon arrival. Quite a few little things add up to add some nice quality of life features for Swiss rail travel.

Here’s a link to the SBB mobile app’s web page. It provides the complete list of features and additional info.

#3 Consider a First Class Ticket During Busy Season

I’m a fan of upgrading to First Class tickets on Swiss trains any time of year, but even more so when things are busy. Ski season, for example, can sometimes cause things to be a bit congested in Second Class. That said, even busy Swiss trains are quite a bit more comfortable than the vast majority of what you’ll deal with elsewhere. First Class is just the cherry on top.

If it’s not busy on the train, Second Class will be perfectly fine for the vast majority of travelers. The difference between First and Second isn’t nearly as dramatic as it is in most other countries. Just keep in mind that Zermatt is a very popular destination when ski season is at its peak.

#4 Don’t Be Late!

This one is short and sweet and it applies to all Swiss public transit: Don’t be late.

Unlike many other railways, Swiss railways are very efficient in their operation. Things tend to move like clockwork. That means that you shouldn’t even assume that you can be a minute late and still make your train. You’ll quickly learn that you’ll be promptly left in the dust.

Fortunately, you never have to wait long for another train in Switzerland if you do happen to miss a connection. Many routes will have another train available in a matter of minutes. The longer waits you could possibly encounter are almost never more than about an hour.

#5 Make a Quick Stop in Bern

Bern is an absolutely perfect spot for a half-day trip and the main route from Zurich to Zermatt cuts right through Bern. The stop is an easy one and it’s a lot of fun.

Bern Switzerland - Zurich to Zermatt

The best thing about a quick stop in Bern is that the train station is right in the middle of the best part of Bern, the Aldstadt (Old Town). The Aldstadt is Bern’s medieval city center and one big UNESCO World Heritage site. Incredible cathedrals, Renaissance fountains, and other architectural marvels abound in this beautiful city.

Great food is also a recurring theme in Bern. You’ll have no trouble at all finding a good meal at any number of outstanding restaurants.

Almost all of Bern’s best sites, attractions, and restaurants are at most a 10 or 15 minute walk from the train station. The Aldstadt is definitely one of the most walkable destinations in Switzerland, so there’s no reason not to check it out if you have a few hours to spare while traveling to Zermatt.

#6 Opt for the Glacier Express for a More Scenic Trip

There is more than one way to get to Zermatt from Zurich. The most common route is the one that passes through Bern, but if you don’t mind taking your time, there’s another route that offers one of the most beautiful train experiences in the world.

The Glacier Express is a panoramic train that offers up some of the most amazing views on the planet. It’s the slowest express train in the world, allowing you to take it all in.

Glacier Express Train - Swiss Travel Tips

The Glacier Express route spans 150+ miles, starting in St. Moritz and going all the way to Zermatt. It’s split into four sections: St. Mortiz to Chur, Chur to Andermatt, Andermatt to Brig, and Brig to Zermatt. If you’re adding it to your Zurich to Zermatt trip, you’ll be taking a regular SBB train from Zurich to Chur and hopping on the Glacier Express there. This is perfect, as you only miss one leg of Glacier Express route (St. Moritz to Chur). The best part of the trip is from Chur on anyway.

Again, this is truly one of the most incredible train experiences in the world. Your camera will stay glued to your hands as you meander through vivid mountain passes and valleys.

First Class is something I highly recommend on the Glacier Express. This is a special trip and the extra comfort is 100% worth the premium.

You can visit the Official Glacier Express website to get more info or to book your trip.

#7 Be Ready to Transfer Quickly in Visp

The main train route from Zurich to Zermatt includes a connection in Visp, Switzerland. When you take a look at your ticket timetable, it’s very likely that you’ll notice that it’s a very quick (usually about 10 minutes) connection.

This isn’t a big deal, but it pays to be prepared to quickly hop off one train and quickly hop on the other. It can be stressful when things are busy and you’re trying to get switch trains in such a short amount of time.

Right before your train pulls into the Visp station, collect your luggage and head for the doors. This will allow you to exit the moment the doors open and eliminate the stress involved with quickly trying to collect your belongings without forgetting anything.

You’ll need to go down a flight of stairs (or a ramp). From there, you’ll go under the train tracks to a platform on the other side. The signs will make it easy to find the right one. The walk will take only take you about 3 minutes or so.

#8 Protect Your Belongings

Swiss railways are among the safest in the world. Incidents occur at a much lower rate than much of the rest of the world. However, this can sometimes lull people into complacency when it comes to paying attention and protecting themselves.

In the years following Switzerland’s entry into the Schengen Area (a collection of European countries that allow for easy travel without border security or the need for a visa/passport), pickpockets have become more common. They are still not nearly as much of a problem as they are elsewhere, but they do still exist.

Visp is the station at which you should be the most careful, as it’s a spot that’s often frequented by pickpockets. The commonly frantic connections and tight spaces make it a prime spot for ne’er-do-wells to take advantage.

Just keep your wits about you and pay attention to your luggage and pockets. A little bit of common sense goes a long way.

#9 Take Advantage of Your Window

Your window is your friend. You’re going to be covering a lot of ground on the train, passing through some of the most beautiful places in Switzerland. Even the most basic train routes will provide you with some great views.

Swiss trains are clean and comfortable. Unless your train car is packed with loud travelers, most experiences can be very relaxing. It’s a great opportunity to put down the phone for a while and get a good taste of the Swiss countryside.

So don’t keep your head down for an entire trip!

#10 Ask Your Zermatt Hotel to Pick You Up at the Station

You’re probably well aware at this stage of your planning that Zermatt is totally car-free. You won’t find a single regular motor vehicle on the streets. Instead, you’ll find tiny electric taxis that look like shrunken buses.

Taxi trips around Zermatt are quick and efficient, but they are expensive relative to how short the trips are. 99% of the time, you’d rather walk in Zermatt, but probably not with all of your luggage.

To streamline the process, call your hotel before you arrive at the station and ask them to send a taxi for you. Plenty of hotels in Zermatt will provide this for you free of charge. One less thing to worry about when you’re weary from travel!

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