Top 6 mountain railways in Switzerland
As a country well known for its mountains, Switzerland is home to a number of mountain railway lines. The cog, winch and narrow-gauge railways of Switzerland are able to reach some of the country’s most stunning vistas in relative comfort, making them very popular with locals and tourists alike.
Best mountain railways to see the Swiss Alps
Switzerland has 52 mountain railways in total, dotted across all but a few Swiss cantons. Many are attached to ski resorts and provide a fast and comfortable way to scale the mountains to sample the view or start your ski day in style.
Many of the longest railways are able to reach the very summit of some peaks, more than 3.000 metres above sea level. For some ideas for your bucket list, here are seven of the best mountain railways in Switzerland:
Jungfraujoch Railway in Canton Bern
Perhaps the most famous mountain railway in the country is the Jungfrau Railway in Canton Bern. Nicknamed the “Top of Europe,” the railway earns the title by reaching 3.454 metres above sea level as it arrives at Jungfraujoch.
From its stations in Lauterbrunnen or Grindelwald - one and a half hour's rail ride away from Bern - the train whisks you up to near the top of the Alps themselves, taking in the majestic scenery as you go. The final leg of the journey is up a cog railway to the very top, arriving at Europe’s highest-altitude station.
Over 1 million visitors from around the world use the railway each year to see one of Europe’s best views. For any newcomer to Switzerland, taking the Jungfrau Railway is a must-do.
Video: Jungfrau Railways / YouTube
Rigibahn in Lucerne
From the most famous mountain railway to the oldest. The cogwheel railway from Vitznau to Rigi Kulm in Canton Lucerne has been in operation since 1871, making it the oldest cog railway in the world.
The best way to reach the top of Rigi is to take a boat from Lucerne to the railway stop in Vitznau. From there, riders can get stunning views of the surrounding mountains and the lake as the train ascends to the peak. The rail journey takes 30 minutes, and from the top you can see a 360-degree panorama of the Oberland and the Alps of central Switzerland.
Schynige Platte Railway
For fans of heritage railways, look no further than the cog railway at Schynige Platte. Traversing forests and valleys on their way to the top of Schynige Platte, riders get a great view of the three best known Bernese mountains - Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.
The train itself is from the Belle Époque era and has been lovingly preserved to its original standard. The company also operates three original steam locomotives on the route!
Once at the top of the Schynige Platte, take a walk to sample the beautiful landscape or visit the alpine herb garden, which has over 700 native plant species. Bear in mind that the Schynige Platte Railway only runs between July and mid-October.
Video: Jungfrau Railways / YouTube
Brienzer Rothorn in Brienz
Offering stunning views of the local lake, the Brienzer Rothorn is a mountain railway connecting the lakeside community of Brienz with the local ski resort. This open-air railway, towed by a steam engine, will take you from 566 metres above sea level to over 2.000 in just an hour.
Once again, this route is only available during the summer months between June and October. However, if you want to take in the magnificent views at the top of the mountain during winter, a cable car is also available.
Stoos funicular railway
While the Stoos funicular railway may be one of the shorter railways on this list, it has the honour of being the steepest. The railway climbs 744 metres over a distance of just 1.74 kilometres, an incline of 110 percent!
One of the ways it achieves this feat is by having train compartments that rotate. The sphere-like design is truly unique and something to experience for yourself. Once you arrive, Stoos is a great base for hiking, skiing and snowboarding.
Gornergrat Railway in Zermatt for views of the Matterhorn
Finally, what list of mountain railways would be complete without mentioning the Matterhorn? The Gornergrat railway offers stunning views of the Matterhorn and Gorner Glacier - some of the most well-known Swiss views around the world.
While not climbing the famous mountain itself, its terminus at Gornergrat offers a sweeping view of the surrounding landscape. When you are finished, you can take the train back to Zermatt, one of the most chocolate-box-like towns in the world.
Mountain railways are at the heart of Swiss identity
Much like regular public transport in Switzerland, mountain railways are woven into the Swiss identity. For those visiting for the first time or people who want to make the alpine nation their home, a mountain railway is a great way to experience Switzerland at its best.