An excursion to Jungfraujoch – the Top of Europe, as it is also called – is the highlight of any visit to Switzerland. And to reach the peak you not only get to enjoy the magnificent Jungfrau region near Interlaken, but also experience the Jungfraubahn, Europe’s highest-altitude railway. The cogwheel train climbs up the mountain at the amazing elevation of 3454 meters (11,333 feet), on a slope that sometimes reaches 25 degrees. Quite impressive, if you think about it. No wonder this is one of the most popular train journeys in the world.
Most travelers start this day trip from Interlaken Ost station. Jungfraujoch –Top of Europe station can be reached either via Wengen, or via Grindewald. Both routes are about the same distance, so you can start on one and return on the other. This segment of the trip takes about 20 minutes. From Grindewald or Lauterbrunnen (via Wengen) you need to change to a cogwheel train heading towards Kleine Scheidegg (about 45 minutes). From Kleine Scheidegg you change trains again to get to the Jungfraujoch-Top of Europe station.
This last segment of the trip (about 50 minutes) goes through a 7 km tunnel that was dug through the rock of the Eiger and Mönch Alpine peaks.
The total time for this trip is roughly 2 hours and you need to change trains three times. The Swiss Pass covers only the first part of the ride (from Interlaken to Grindewald or Lauterbrunnen), so for the cogwheel train you need to buy a separate ticket (which is discounted with the Swiss Pass).
From Interlaken Ost to Grindewald or Lauterbrunnen the ride is short and relatively boring, but once you board the cogwheel train the scenery changes dramatically. Riding through the Swiss Alps along the Kleind Scheidegg Pass is amazingly beautiful.
Many times before you go to a new destinations you look at pictures of that place that are so beautiful that you are almost disappointed when you the real thing. But not in this case. Whatever pictures you might have seen will not do justice to this place.
The alpine villages with colorful houses, the meadows with cows grazing all around, the views of the Eiger and Mönch are simply stunning. This is the most picturesque part of the trip because from here, once you change to the next cogwheel train, the road continues through the tunnel.
This last segment, although in complete darkness, is very impressive. From an altitude of 2,061 m at Kleine Scheidegg the train continues to climb up and up, till it reaches its destination at 3,454 m. The tunnel is a marvel of engineering that took over 13 years to built and was marked by many blasting accidents, strikes and financial problems. If you are lucky (like we were!) to be invited in the train conductor’s cab, you can see the tunnel in the beam of the locomotive headlights.
The cogwheel makes two short stops in the tunnel, at Eigerwand and Eismeer. The stations have restroom facilities and panoramic windows from where you can enjoy the view for a few minutes.
1. Make reservations. No matter when you visit Switzerland, Jungfraujoch is a very popular destination and the train is always crowded. If you don’t have reservations you may have to wait for the next train, but you can’t go standing because of the steep slope.
2. Start as early as possible. The best is to board the day’s first train. You are competing not only with first-time visitors, but also with locals who routinely go mountain climbing in this area. By the way, I found this quite shocking: you see groups and groups of well-fit people of all ages wearing ski boots and carrying skis and heavy backpacks. And you keep wondering if they came all the way up here just to ski down the mountain. But why would they pay the steep price of the cogwheel train instead of using a ski lift for much less?
And then you discover that in fact they are up here for way more than just skiing. These are rock climbers who, believe it or not, climb up the steep rocks in those heavy ski boots, using ropes and then ski down the mountain.
This must be extremely strenuous not only because of the difficulty of the task itself, but because at 3,454 m the air is very rarefied and doesn’t provide enough oxygen for breathing.
3. Once coming out of a train go fast to the next one. Seats fill out fast and even if you have a reservation, you may have a hard time grabbing a good seat.
4. Don’t book a non-refundable ticket. The weather is of utmost importance if you want to have an enjoyable experience atop the Jungfraujoch. If it’s too cloudy, or there is a storm coming-up you will be spending your money in vain. Cogwheel tickets are very expensive (around $190/person).
5. Take advantage of the Good Morning or the Good Afternoon tickets. They are available from May 1st to October 25th and are 50% off the regular price. The Good Morning ticket is for the uphill train that leaves from Kleine Scheidegg at 08:00 a.m. or 08:30 a.m. with the latest return from Jungfraujoch at 1:00 p.m. The Good Afternoon ticket is for the train that leaves from Kleine Scheidegg at 3:30 p.m.
After reading all these you might be wondering if the experience is really worth it. For us it was. Arriving at the highest railway station in Europe at an altitude of 3,454 meters makes you feel you are at the top of the world. But remember, you need good weather.