First and foremost, a big thank you to “My Swiss Alps” which would have to be the most helpful website for travel in a specific country I have ever come across.
The following is a report that mentions things I think may be of interest to other travellers interested in visiting Switzerland in December. Our dates were 30th November through to 18th December 2017.
We flew into Geneva and after clearing customs and collecting our baggage we purchased train tickets for 6CHF each and headed off to Geneva city. In our 18 days of train travel not once did we have difficulty taking our bags on and off trains. There was always room for storage at the rear of each carriage and the bags were very easy to keep an eye on while travelling as well.
We purchased a 15 day Swiss Travel Pass (first class) a few weeks prior to leaving, but as we were travelling for 18 days, we used the local city transport pass from the Hotel for the first couple of days until our travel pass start date kicked in.
We purchased our Swiss Travel Pass online via Swiss Railways and it was emailed to us in .pdf format within minutes. We folded each pass and laminated a couple of copies each, just to give them some longevity while travelling and they were accepted on every occasion we were required to present it with no problems at all.
It is without question my opinion that the Swiss Travel Pass is worth every cent in terms of convenience and value for money. I had done my homework in terms of costings, figuring out what journeys we would definitely be doing and what journeys we would most likely be doing over its 15 day life, and even when purchasing first class passes, it worked out to be extremely good value for money in our case.
In regard to 2nd class versus first class, ours was purely a personal choice as I had chosen it in part as a special gift to my wife who had just taken a redundancy. However, personally I would do the same again as we noticed over and over that the first class carriages were always much less crowded and offered just that little bit of extra room and comfort and of course were always therefore a little more quiet in general.
Having said that, the times we travelled second class were perfectly satisfactory also and if your budget and calculations for your train travel don’t warrant a First Class pass, you will not be disappointed with 2nd.
We purchased a Salt sim from the store at the Geneva train station for 30CHF and the gentleman there was most helpful, installing it for us and setting it up. This had to be the best bargain of our whole trip as it came with unlimited 4G internet access, and there were only a few places throughout our 18 days that we could not get signal, such as when travelling through long tunnels, and a couple of times we lost signal travelling form Interlaken through to Lauterbrunnen as we passed through some narrow valleys. Otherwise it enabled us to keep contact with the family back home via Facebook Messenger and email, and most importantly it enabled us to use the SBB app to check train schedules and figure out our journeys. The SBB app is priceless, not only does it enable you to check train travel schedules and times, but it also gave us warnings a couple of times when our trains had been cancelled and it also offered alternatives. I totally recommend it.
We spent 2 nights in Geneva, did a little shopping and visited the Reformation Wall, and then went on to Montreux for one night to enjoy the Christmas markets there.
In Montreux we caught the bus (using the Riviera Card – free from Hotel) to the Chateaux De Chillon and spent a couple of hours walking around the castle. Personally, I found parts of it very “over done” tourist wise, and was disappointed at times with the lack of authenticity, but I think overall it is still worth seeing. We walked back to Montreux via the path along the lake foreshore, (4.5km’s) and I managed to get quite a few great photos looking back at the castle using this as a vantage point.
Had a lovely Chinese dinner at a small Chinese Restaurant in Montreux, lovely staff and great food.
The Christmas markets in Montreux were the best we encountered in our 18 day stay. We checked them out both during the day and at night. At night the crowds were extremely large and we spent several hours moving about the stalls and still didn’t get anywhere near seeing it all.
We had booked VIP seats on the Golden Pass from Montreux to Zweisimmen, and it proved to be one of the highlights of our trip. Sitting right up front of the train as we climbed out of Montreux and wound our way through the mountains and valleys covered from head to foot in snow was simply incredible. I took huge amounts of video as we travelled as I was able to point the camera directly out the front window of the train, and this has made for some amazing viewing since we have been back home. Definitely worth the small added cost when booking ( 20CHF – again, booked online and received .pdf tickets within minutes) Changing trains at Zweisimmen for Interlaken complete with 2 suitcases and backpacks was not a problem at all time wise, and there was no need to rush.
A quick word in regard to Panoramic trains. Personally we enjoyed them all, but with the exception of the Golden Line VIP seats, I have serious difficulty seeing that the view of the Panoramic trains is any better than any of the other trains we travelled on. In fact when in St Moritz, our Bernina Express trip to Tirano was cancelled due to heavy snow and once the line re-opened we boarded a standard train that in my opinion was not only far more comfortable than the Bernina Express train itself (Which we took from Tirano back to Pontresina) but we were able to board the very front carriage of the standard train and sit right behind the drivers cabin. The view through the window at the front where the driver sits was exceptional. This once again also enabled some great photos and very different video footage.
Arrived in Interlaken for a 3 night stay. I had read a few disparaging reports about staying in Interlaken, but we certainly found it to be the perfect location for access to the various mountains around about and would certainly stay there again should we return.
We kept a close eye on the weather every day in the hope of being able to plan our mountain trips, and the main thing I found was that even right up to one day before, the weather could change very quickly. Prior to arriving in Interlaken it was predicted that we would be encountering several days of heavy snow and our chances for a great view from Jungfraujoch didn’t look good. But on the day we arrived everything changed and we ended up with two full sunshine days that were simply perfect.
In fact our whole 18 day trip we only encountered rain on one occasion and that was in Lucerne and was just a couple of hours of light drizzle. All of our other days were either snowing or sunny, both of which were what we wanted. Maybe we struck it lucky, I’m not certain, but we couldn’t have asked for better weather in December from our point of view.
We spent our first day at Interlaken tripping off to Lauterbrunnen and then up to Murren.
I accidentally left my backpack on the cable car that went to Grutschalp. Never realised till I got off the train in Murren, so we told the driver who radioed through for us and we took the 30 minute round trip back to Grutschalp and back to Murren to retrieve it. The staff were most friendly and helpful. Murren was beautiful. Covered in heavy snow, sun shining, we walked to the Skyline Chill for a hot coffee and something to eat before walking back. Schilthorn was out of the question for the dates we were there, (we knew this) so we left that for another time. We also walked about Lauterbrunnen, the waterfall is such a picture.
Before leaving for Switzerland, my wife and I both purchased some waterproof footwear which I have to say was a great investment. Neither of us ever once encountered cold feet, and that was just wearing normal socks, and the extra grip these shoes gave us in the snow and wet, meant we only had a few near misses at slipping over during those times when one had to walk through a bit of slush and ice.
The trip to Jungfraujoch is awesome, the tunnels, the views, the whole journey is varied and interesting. Yes, it is expensive and if I returned to Switzerland, I would probably not do it a second time, but you have to do it at least once. The views at the top were amazing, though the outside viewing platform was quite crowded as it is not large. The extras such as the ice caves are interesting, I could imagine even more so for children, but overall I think worth doing even though it is rather expensive.
I have read a few times that people ask should they go to Jungfraujoch or Mt Titlis or Pilatus or some other mountain. To be truthful they are all unique in their own way and all worth seeing if one has the time. But if I was taking a whole family and the cost was an issue, I think that the journey to Mt Titlis is just as terrific and the sky bridge views just as spectacular. The Gondolas, Cable car and Cog Wheel rail at Pilatus along with the views is also quite exceptional as well and Pilatus is completely covered by a Swiss Travel Pass. That’s hard to beat.
I will post a continuation of this trip in the next few days. Feel free to ask any questions if it may help someone. My wife kept a journal of sorts and a collection of receipts that just may assist to answer your question.
A few pics attached below if you are interested.