What exactly is a seat reservation?
A seat reservation is a guarantee that a seat is available for you on a specific train. It's almost always a specific seat number, and often a seat you selected yourself while booking.
Seat reservations are only valid for one specific train on the designated date, departure time and route.
Seat reservations are different from tickets or passes, which you use to pay for the ride.
Price of seat reservations in Switzerland
Prices start at CHF 5 per person. The price can be much higher for premium tourist trains. But in such cases, more is included in the reservation price: you not only get a guaranteed seat, but also other perks like panoramic windows, catering, info about the route, and more staff.
Where to book your seats
Trusted websites to book your seat reservations.
Offered by Gotthard Panorama Express: www.gotthard-panorama-express.ch
- The operator of the Gotthard Panorama Express
- No Extra Support: if you buy here, MySwissAlps cannot assist if you have questions about your order.
How do I know if I need seat reservations?
You don’t need to book seat reservations unless one of the below exceptions applies.
Exception 1: panoramic trains and alpine bus routes
Some of the popular panoramic tourist trains require seat reservations. Examples are the Bernina Express, Glacier Express, and Gotthard Panorama Express. This also applies to a few Postbus routes crossing alpine pass roads.
Exception 2: international trains
Trains crossing the Swiss border into another country may require seat reservations. If so, a reservation is often included if you buy a point-to-point ticket. But you need to arrange for it separately if you have a train pass like the Eurail Global Pass.
Exception 3: theme cruises on the Swiss lakes
Just like trains and buses, boats do not require reservations. They qualify as regular public transport and you can simply hop on and off.
Exceptions apply to special cruises such as dinner cruises. They require a surcharge for the seat, food, music, and other entertainment that may be included.
Exception 4: special cableway rides
Cableways, funiculars, and cogwheel trains do not require reservations. For some popular mountain routes, advance reservation is optional to prevent waiting time. Our mountain trip pages offer details.
Reservations are usually required for special rides like sunrise or sunset trips, dinner rides, et cetera.
Exception 5: special Postbus rides
For some mountain routes serviced by the Swiss yellow Postbuses, seat reservations are required. Find an overview here.
When to book seat reservations
Seat reservations are typically available from 3 months prior to the travel date, but sometimes even earlier. They can be purchased online, or at staffed rail stations shortly before traveling. However, it makes sense to book as early as possible because seats can sell out.
The difference between tickets, passes, and seat reservations
Essentially you pay for two “services” when you travel by train:
- the ride
- the seat
The ride and the seat are completely separate components.
You can pay for the ride in several ways:
- with a rail pass that includes free traveling, such as the Swiss Travel Pass. In that case, you don’t need an additional ticket.
- with a rail pass that offers a discount, such as the Swiss Half Fare Card. In that case, you need a discounted train ticket.
- with regular full-fare train tickets, required if you don’t have a pass.
You can purchase the pass/ticket for the ride and the seat reservation together, or you can do so separately. You don’t need to have a rail pass at hand to purchase a seat reservation. It’s all fine, as long as you possess both your reservation and your pass/ticket when boarding.
How to use seat reservations
Your reservation is usually a digital ticket or pdf file. The coach number, seat number, and departure date and time of the train can be found on your seat reservation ticket. Train stations have displays indicating the train composition. This allows you to wait at the correct section of the platform (for example: platform 5, section C).
Seat numbers can be found in the train coaches: either over the windows or on the seats. Especially mind the coach number, as a train has multiple seats with the same number. It’s the coach number that makes them unique (coach 3 seat 22 is different from coach 5 seat 22, for example).
When the ticket controller comes, you’ll show both the seat reservation and the ticket or pass you’re traveling with.
If you have booked a seat for a bus, you’ll need to show the seat reservation to the driver when you board. The seat numbers can be found either over the window or on the seats.
Switzerland seat reservations FAQ
Will I have a seat if I don’t book one?
Yes, normally there are plenty of seats. The Swiss train system is a flexible subway-like network that assumes people get on and off frequently.
A seat is not guaranteed though. Trains can be crowded during rush hour around the bigger cities. If there are no seats left, you’ll be able to get a seat once people get off along the way.
My train does not require booking seats, but is it still possible to do so?
If seat reservations are not required for your train, it may still be possible to book a seat. Not all trains offer seat reservations.
We recommend not booking seats to be more flexible, unless you’re traveling in a group and want to be sure you can sit together.
What if the train is full and I haven’t booked a seat reservation?
Unless seat reservations are obligatory for your train, you are always allowed to board.
I booked a seat but I missed my train, can I take the next one?
Seat reservations are only valid for the train you booked. If your pass or ticket is valid for the next train (which is usually the case), you can take the next train but you will not have a seat reservation for that train.
I booked a seat but I want to cancel it: what to do?
Cancellations are often not possible. To be sure, check with the vendor you purchased from.
Other websites of interest
- www.postauto.ch: Postbus rides with mandatory reservations