Switzerland is one of Europe’s most beautiful and train-accessible countries with excellent international links and breathtaking scenery around almost every corner. In Switzerland, the journey is definitely as great an experience as the destination.
The national railway company is SBB (Schweizerische BundesBahn), there are over a dozen other operators, but one ticketing system covers the entire country. The Swiss have one of the top-rated rail systems in the world, known for their punctuality and frequency they are also very eco-friendly (most trains use ultra-clean hydroelectricity, and some even generate energy-saving electricity when travelling downhill). Swiss Travel Passes are a money saving option as they not only provide access to the SBB railway mainline network but also dozens of local, private companies that operate mountain trains, cable cars and buses as well as providing free entrance to some Swiss museums.
The train journey between the great cities of Genève and Zürich offers visitors the opportunity to experience a little bit of everything that Switzerland has to offer. Although it’s feasible to enjoy this journey in one day, we would argue that it is more beneficial to split the journey over several days as there are plenty of places along the way that are worth exploring.
Switzerland’s second largest city Genève is located between the Alps and the hilly terrain of the Jura and alongside the largest lake in Western Europe, making it perfect for scenic treks into the mountains as well as gentle lake-side promenades. The city centre boasts extravagant shopping, hotels and restaurants but there is also plenty of cultural activities and a thriving art scene. The Cathédrale St-Pierre twin towers can be climbed for a small fee which is worthwhile for the great view over the city and its iconic water fountain Jet d’Eau. Nearby there is also the Palais des Nations where some of the many international organisations that shape our world have their headquarters.
We begin our journey departing from Genève-Cornavin, the city’s main railway station. The train skirts the edge of Lake Geneva before reaching the pretty little town of Nyon on the banks of the lake, set amongst the La Côte vineyards. The town has an array of Roman ruins to explore as well as a striking castle which is now a local history museum and includes an interesting display of porcelain. From the castle terrace, visitors can enjoy a magnificent view over Lake Geneva and the Alps.
The next stop is picturesque Morges, the “City of Flowers”. The town has an elegant lakeside promenade and a car-free old town with numerous boutiques and cafes as well as the historic Morges Castle which houses four museums. Morges is also the starting point of the 30-kilometre narrow gauge railway to the villages of Bière and L’Isle Mont la Ville in foothills of the Jura mountains (ERT Table 502). This short picturesque route passes through one of the main wine-growing regions of Switzerland and there are various marked hiking and bicycle trails to help visitors explore this corner of Switzerland, as well as the opportunity to sample some of the local delicacies.
Continuing around the shores of the lake, the train now arrives in the city of Lausanne, renowned as the Olympic Capital. Built on three hills, surrounded by UNESCO-listed vineyard terraces and with a wonderful lakeside setting, Lausanne is a popular holiday destination with plenty to offer. The useful metro system connects the various parts of the hilly town to the main railway station. Dominated by the cathedral, which is often regarded as Switzerland’s most impressive piece of early Gothic architecture, the attractive old town is small enough to explore on foot. As you might expect, there are also plenty of boat cruises on offer which will give you an alternative view of the beautiful surroundings.
Last week we reached the city of Lausanne with its spectacular setting overlooking Lake Geneva. From here there are a variety of options for rail travellers wishing to explore this region. A popular choice is to continue along the shoreline of Lake Geneva to Montreux (Table 570) from where you can join the scenic Golden Pass route through the Simmen valley to Interlaken (Tables 566, 563, 560).
Table 505 presents us with two choices of route from Lausanne to Olten and beyond. The first option is the direct route via Palézieux and Romont to the Swiss capital, Bern, from where there is a high-speed link to Olten. The other route via Yverdon is definitely the more scenic option traversing the Jura foothills and also closely following the shorelines of both Lake Neuchâtel and Lake Biel. The choice is therefore some wonderful lakeside scenery or the chance to visit Switzerland’s charming capital city. On our journey today we are taking the scenic option.
Yverdon-les-Bains is located in the Jura mountain region at the southern tip of Lake Neuchâtel. The town is famous for its thermal springs as well as its rich history, with ruins of the Roman town and a 13th-century castle to explore. The town also boasts Europe’s only science fiction museum, Maison d’Ailleurs! Continuing to take in the lovely scenery along the lake shore, we reach the small town of Neuchâtel located at the northern end of the lake. In the historic Old Town, there is a medieval castle and a gothic church as well as a colourful market and lakefront promenade.
From Neuchâtel, it’s a short hop to the city of Biel / Bienne located at the north-eastern tip of Lake Biel. The city is officially bilingual with German and French equally spoken and is renowned as the hub of Swiss watchmaking with Swatch, Rolex and Omega all located here. There are boat trips along the Aare river as well as lake cruises, locations for swimming and multiple mountain hiking trails. From Biel / Bienne there is a direct rail route to the city of Bern (Table 513) from where you can continue your journey via the high-speed route.