December 14, 2020

How to visit Jungfraujoch – aka the Top of Europe – on a budget

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Jungfraujoch is one of those places…

One that makes the bucket list of almost every person coming to Switzerland.

One that causes your jaw to hit the floor once you see those mountains and glaciers.

One that confirms that Switzerland has the potential to make your wallet bleed

And one that, despite the high costs, is worth every penny to experience.

Jungfraujoch is the world's highest railway station

Jungfraujoch is the highest railway station in the world. Hence the name "Top of Europe".

At Christmas of 2016, when I started this blog and began to write about budget-friendly places in Switzerland, I swore to myself that Jungfraujoch wouldn't make that list. 

Ever.

Now, almost four years later, it’s time to break the silence. Expensive as it is, Jungfraujoch has earned its rightful spot on every bucket list and it’s time I stop excluding it from my blog. Instead, let’s take a look at this special part of the world and try to squeeze it into a budget traveller’s bounds of possibility.

Are you ready to rise to the Top of Europe?

1. What is Jungfraujoch?

Jungfraujoch, also known as the Top of Europe, is Europe’s highest railway station and was built for one purpose only.

To attract tourists.

In the late 19th century, Adolf Guyer-Zeller had the bright idea to build a cogwheel railway from Kleine Scheidegg through two mountains – Eiger and Mönch – all the way to Jungfraujoch.

Which, if you think of it, is slightly insane.

The terrain up there is anything but hospitable and blasting your way through two mountains to end up at 3.454 metres (11.300 feet) above sea level is by no means an easy task.

Considering it was the 1890s.

Kleine Scheidegg

The Jungfraubahn starts at Kleine Scheidegg and has some seriously steep terrain to overcome.

Not surprisingly, the undertaking took its toll and 30 people lost their lives during construction. Finally, in 1912, this art of engineering was completed and since then, people from around the globe have been visiting Europe’s highest railway station to enjoy the views, take in the fresh mountain air and play around in the snow. 

2. Where is Jungfraujoch?

Dominantly positioned in the Bernese Alps, where the Cantons of Bern and Valais meet, is the most famous Swiss mountain trio: Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. Jungfraujoch is nestled between the two peaks of Mönch and Jungfrau.

Jungfraujoch

Jungfraujoch lies between the peaks of Mönch and Jungfrau.

3. How do I get there?

Reaching the Top of Europe is a bit of a mission, to say the least. 

First up, you need to make your way to Interlaken. That in itself isn’t too hard as you’ve got frequent trains coming in from Bern and Basel as well as the Golden Pass Line from Lucerne. And with no more than one or two transfers, you can reach Interlaken from every major Swiss train station. 

It’s in Interlaken where things start getting interesting. The saying “the journey is the destination” is alarmingly accurate in our case. Before we dive into your options, take a look at this map on page two to familiarise yourself with the whereabouts.

Option 1: Interlaken - Lauterbrunnen - Wengen - Kleine Scheidegg - Jungfraujoch

Hop on the train from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen, where you transfer to a cogwheel railway to Kleine Scheidegg.

Between Lauterbrunnen and Kleine Scheidegg, you’ll pass through Wengen, where the famous Lauberhorn Ski World Cup takes place every January. If you’ve ever wanted to inspect the slopes where the pros race down at break-neck speed, this is your chance  

At Kleine Scheidegg, the Jungfraubahn awaits you for your last leg up to Jungfraujoch. All in all, this one-way trip takes roughly two hours.

Lauterbrunnen

Option 1: Travel through Lauterbrunnen... 

Jungfraubahn

... and Wengen to Jungfraujoch.

Option 2: Interlaken - Grindelwald - Kleine Scheidegg - Jungfraujoch

Catch the train from Interlaken to Grindelwald, where you transfer to a cogwheel railway to Kleine Scheidegg. This option rewards you with spectacular views of the impressive yet murderous Eigernordwand - the north face of the Eiger Mountain.

Again, at Kleine Scheidegg, the Jungfraubahn awaits you for your final climb. This option, like the first one, takes about two hours.

Eigernordwand

Option 2: Travel through Grindelwald...

Kleine Scheidegg

... and Kleine Scheidegg to Jungfraujoch.

Option 3: Interlaken - Grindelwald Terminal - Gondola to Eigergletscher - Jungfraujoch

As of December 2020, you now have a third option. This one saves you quite a bit of time – 47 minutes to be precise – and includes a ride in a brand new gondola.

Instead of hopping on the cogwheel railway in Grindelwald to Kleine Scheidegg, you can catch the gondola to the railway station Eigergletscher. At Eigergletscher, which is the station after Kleine Scheidegg, you transfer to the Jungfraubahn. 

Options 1 and 2 are combinable, which means you can travel up via Lauterbrunnen to Kleine Scheidegg on the way up and back down through Grindelwald. Or vice versa.

This option gives you the best of both rides and if you manage to schedule your timetable accordingly, it’s the one I recommend.

4. What can I expect at Jungfraujoch?

Phew, where to start… I will try to keep this section short and let the images do the talking instead. 

But in a nutshell, what awaits you at Jungfraujoch is the following: 

  • spectacular views of towering mountains and glistening glaciers
  • a five-minute photo-stop at Eismeer station right before Jungfraujoch
  • insanely steep and slow train rides to Europe’s highest railway station
  • very thin air that will have your heart pound
  • plenty of snow to play around in
  • maybe a little altitude-induced dizziness
  • several souvenir shops to grab a Swiss Army knife or maybe even a Swiss watch
  • an ice palace and lots of signs talking about the history of Jungfraujoch
  • more photo opportunities than you thought possible
  • and, unless you travel during a global pandemic, probably quite a crowd that had the same idea as you
Eismeer

Get off the train at Eismeer station...

Eismeer

... and see for yourself why it's called "ice sea".

ice palace

The ice palace is every bit as freezing as it looks.

Jungfraujoch

If you have time, go for a walk in the snow.

Jungfraujoch

Learn about the history of Jungfraujoch...

Jungfraubahnen

... and see how they built this crazy railway line.

5. How much time should I factor in for my visit?

That depends on what your plans at the Top of Europe are. If you’re happy to just head up, do the tour through the ice palace, the souvenir shops and the viewing platform, you won’t need more than 1.5 - 2 hours.

Which ends up being a half-day trip from Interlaken with the journey up and down.

But if you’re up for a walk during summer, like for instance to Mönchjochs hut, add an extra 2-3 hours. Also, if you’re keen on ziplining, trying out some winter sports or just playing around in the snow, factor in some extra time to visit the Jungfraujoch Snow and Fun Park. 🙂 

Play around in the snow at Jungfraujoch

To spend some quality time in the snow, make sure you factor in enough time at Jungfraujoch.

6. How much does it cost?

This is where it gets tricky.

As you can see in this file, there are two pages worth of ticket options. Which is one too many for me to simply tell you how much your trip will cost. 

The prices also change seasonally.

Your options are plentiful and depending on where you start and end, your price will be a different one. Which is why I suggest you head to the ticket office in Interlaken (or Grindelwald or Lauterbrunnen or wherever it is you’re staying) and tell them where you want to go.

Also show them any travel pass you might have as Interrail, Eurail, Jungfrau Tavel Pass and Swiss Travel Pass holders are entitled to a discount.

To give you a rough idea of what to expect, here’s a point of reference. If you don’t have any kind of travel pass, expect to pay around 210 CHF for a return trip from Interlaken to Jungfraujoch. Depending on the season. 

A travel pass, which I will talk about in a bit, can reduce those costs by 25% to 50%.

Find the perfect itinerary

for your trip to Switzerland...

7. Where can I buy my ticket?

You have several options to buy your ticket.

Either head to any SBB train station that comes with a ticket counter, visit the Jungfraubahnen station in Interlaken Ost or, if you’re comfortable enough and know what you need, jump online to make your booking. 

8. How frequently do trains to Jungfraujoch depart?

Like the ticket prices, the timetable changes seasonally but as a general rule of thumb, you’ve got two hourly connections

To plan your trip in detail, either ask at the Jungfraubahnen station in Interlaken Ost to give you the current timetable, check out this PDF or look for your connection online

9. Are there any ways to save money?

Now we’re getting down to the nitty-gritty…

Most things in life leave room for optimisation if you take a closer look. In our case, I see two options to reduce the expenses on your trip to the Top of Europe.

One of them – you might have guessed it – is to pay with your sweat and tears.

Option 1: Hike parts of the way

While you can’t simply walk to Jungfraujoch, it is possible to skip the train to Kleine Scheidegg and hike parts of the way.

You can either take the train to Lauterbrunnen, hike to Wengen and onward to Kleine Scheidegg, or start in Grindelwald and hike to Kleine Scheidegg from the other side. 

Those hikes take around four to five hours (one way) and might be an excellent opportunity to explore the best the Jungfrau region has to offer. To plan your hike or find other options - as there are plenty in the area - refer to this hiking map

Having said that, I only recommend the sweat-and-tears-option if you’re visiting during summer, are physically fit and have been on a hike or two in Switzerland before.

Also, hiking both ways might be a bit much, unless you set off very early in the morning and don’t mind getting back late. Please come prepared and read my post about hiking in Switzerland in advance.

Bon voyage. 

hiking in the Jungfrau region

Hike parts of the way to save money on your ticket to Jungfraujoch.

Option 2: Get a discount

Option two is to buy a travel pass of some sort as they entitle you to all kinds of discounts. Having a travel pass generally makes sense if you mostly travel through Switzerland by public transport.

Discounts range from 25% with an Interrail / Eurail Pass to 50% with a Swiss Travel Pass, which isn’t too bad considering you start at around 200 CHF.

If you’re in the Jungfrau area for a while, meaning in and around Interlaken, looking into the Jungfrau Travel Pass might be something worth considering. Unfortunately, this one's only available during summer but depending on when you visit, their offer could save you quite a bit of money on certain rides and day trips.

10. What are my cheaper alternatives to Jungfraujoch?

You might be wondering if there are any equally impressive destinations with a lower price tag. While I believe there’s no place quite like Jungfraujoch, I do know a few spots with the potential to knock your socks off.

Alternative 1: Aletsch Arena

Aletsch glacier, the beauty that lies in front of you when you visit the Top of Europe, is the largest and longest glacier of the Alps. It’s over 22 kilometres (14 miles) long and luckily, there’s more than one angle to marvel at it from. 

To access a cheaper spot, you'll need to travel to its other side in the Canton of Valais. During summer, there are countless hiking trails awaiting you and the best way to prepare yourself for your endeavours is by visiting the World Nature Forum near Brig main station.

They know everything about this UNESCO World Heritage site and are happy to share their suggestions with you. If you happen to have any spare time, I highly recommend visiting their museum to learn more about the Aletsch area. 

My favourite hike is the one starting at Riederalp, leading past Riederfurka and through the Aletsch forest, after which you get a spectacular view of the Aletsch glacier.

Aletsch forest

One of the many hikes leads through the Aletsch forest...

Aletsch glacier

... to this viewing point where you can see the Aletsch glacier.

While the Interrail / Eurail pass isn't valid on the gondola from Mörel to Riederalp, the Swiss Travel Pass gets you a 50% discount. But even paying full price won’t break your budget because a return trip is only 20 CHF. Which is way better than 210 CHF… 

Alternatively, skipping the gondola ride and hiking all the way is always an option here. 

Alternative 2: Gornergrat

If you’re looking for high mountain peaks, thin air, steep cogwheel railway rides and glacier views, Gornergrat in Zermatt is another noteworthy alternative to the Top of Europe. 

From Zermatt, the Gornergrat railway takes you up to 3.135 metres (10.280 feet) above sea level, where you’re greeted with impressive views over the Gorner glacier and, unless it's veiled in clouds, the Matterhorn. 

The area is fantastic for hiking and you can cut back on your expenses by walking parts of the way. Just keep in mind that the terrain is steep, the air thin and you’ll need to come prepared. 

Gornergratbahn is a very steep cogwheel railway.

Gornergrat

Gornergrat in winter. Equally impressive as the Top of Europe if you ask me.

Regardless of whether you do it all by rail or hike parts of the way, one place you shouldn’t miss is Lake Riffelsee. This stunning mountain lake is very close to Rotenboden station, the one right before Gornergrat. You can either stop over, walk to the lake and continue your journey on the next train. Or you can get off at Rotenboden, enjoy some time by the lake and hike the rest of the way to Gornergrat. 

Up to you and your budget, your lungs’ capacity and your leg power. 

Matterhorn

Don't miss out on a little side trip to Riffelsee while you're on your way to Gornergrat.

While riding the Gornergratbahn isn’t cheap, it’s cheaper than the Jungfraubahn. Full-fare return tickets range between 80 CHF and 126 CHF.

Their prices change seasonally and you can find the current fares on their website. Alongside with the timetable. While Interrail and Eurail pass holders aren’t entitled to a discount, your Swiss Travel Pass gets you up for half the price. 

By the way, my friend Gabriela shares her insider tips of Zermatt in this interview on my blog.

Alternative 3: Schilthorn

A much-loved day trip from Interlaken is a mountain peak that's enjoyed international popularity since 1969.

Back then, it played a role in the 007 movie “On Her Majesty’s Secret Services” and up until today, James Bond is an important asset to the Schilthorn marketing strategy. They even established a 007 walk of fame with the featured actors and crew members from way back when...

The mountain panorama at Piz Gloria is genuinely impressive and you can admire Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau in their full glory. Along with countless other Alpine peaks.

Schilthorn

Get the perfect mountain panorama at Schilthorn.

Including views over Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.

With 2.970 metres (9.740 feet) above sea level, Schilthorn is a little lower than Jungfraujoch and Gornergrat but don’t worry, walking around should still leave you out of breath and give you that high alpine feeling. 

Swiss Travel Pass and Interrail / Eurail pass holders are entitled to discounts and for the latest ticket prices and timetable, visit their website. A round trip from Interlaken without any discounts should set you back around 130 CHF.

As you can imagine, owning a travel pass goes a long way here.

Alternative 4: Glacier Express or Bernina Express

Another option to see glaciers, mountains and the best that Swiss nature has to offer without visiting Jungfraujoch is on board a scenic train.

I’ve written an extensive post about the Glacier Express and the Bernina Express here. They both accept all travel passes and might be a great way for you to see the best of Switzerland without heading to the Top of Europe. 

If you go for this option, please do yourself a favour and buy a travel pass. Riding the full Glacier Express from St. Moritz to Zermatt costs 152 CHF, which doesn’t include the compulsory reservation fee. With your Interrail / Eurail or Swiss Travel Pass, all you need to pay for is the reservation fee. 

Bernina Express

Bernina Express

Glacier Express

Glacier Express

11. Any insider tips you can share?

Before we close this up, I have a few insights I’d like to share with you after my trip to Jungfraujoch in November 2020. Some might seem random, but I hope you’ll still find them helpful.

  1. To avoid the queues and paying for food at the restaurant at Jungfraujoch, grab your picnic in Interlaken. However, if you bring along anything liquid – like for instance yoghurt or cottage cheese – make sure you put it in a sealed plastic bag. With your destination being at almost 3.500 metres above sea level, the risk of the lid bursting open and leaving quite a mess in your bag is real.
    My carrot salad reminded me why I should have paid more attention in physics class when our teacher explained the correlation between pressure and altitude. Bottom line, seal it or leave it. Or clean it… 🙂 
  2. To make the most of your trip, I recommend travelling up via Lauterbrunnen and down via Grindelwald. Or vice versa. Your ticket will be valid on both sides. 
  3. Wear good shoes and warm clothes. It’s cold up there. Especially inside the ice palace.
  4. If you’re as pale as me, I suggest wearing sunscreen as the sun can be quite aggressive at this altitude. Even more so when it’s reflected in the snow.
  5. Jungfraujoch is very popular and can get crowded. To avoid having to skip several trains to find a free spot, make a reservation beforehand. You can either do that online or at the train station.
  6. You’d expect the souvenir shops in a place like Jungfraujoch to be a rip-off. But they’re actually not. In case you’re looking for an out-of-the-ordinary place to buy yourself a Swiss Army knife or some Lindt chocolate, you won’t pay more at Jungfraujoch than you would down in the valley.
  7. The trains to Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen depart Interlaken as one train and split up in Zweilütschinen. Please make sure you get on the right half when boarding in Interlaken.

12. Is it worth it?

Having done my share of travelling, I’ve come across countless places that cost me an arm and a leg. Some of them, like the Galapagos for instance, were worth every penny. 

While others weren’t so much.

I know the dilemma of weighing up when to lash out and when to do your wallet a favour. But in the case of Jungfraujoch, I can confidently say that I’d be very surprised if it made your regret-list.

In other words. Yes. It is worth it. Even if mountains, glaciers and snow aren’t new to you. There’s just something about this place that’s unlike anything else. 

I hope you’ll feel the same way.

Jungfraujoch

The Top of Europe certainly lives up to its name.

Oh, and in case you were wondering what ever happened to that genius / lunatic with the idea to build the Jungfraubahn, he never lived to see the outcome of his flash of inspiration. He died of pneumonia only one year after they started blasting their way through the mountains.

Life really does hand you lemons sometimes. 

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