Things I Wish I Knew Before I Went to Switzerland

These Switzerland tips aren’t flowery, poetic, or otherwise incredibly entertaining. But hopefully if you’re preparing for a trip to Switzerland, you’ll find it informative! These were questions I had when I was planning our visit to the Swiss Riviera and the Berner Oberland region that I found hard to find much information about. So without further ado, here are my questions, and the answers I discovered:

St Gringolph town in Switzerland, on lake Geneva.
Ferry stop at the cute town of St. Gingolph on the Swiss Riviera.

Question: Train fares are offered in both first class and second class. What is the difference (besides price)?

Answer: Almost nothing! But not TOTALLY nothing. The seats are slightly larger, the cars are a little bit cleaner, and there is a little more leg room. However, the real reason to spring for first class is because some trains can be very crowded so forget about leg room, you may just want more breathing room.

It’s hard to tell when pre-buying tickets though, if the fare difference will be worth it. Brian and I used the app and bought tickets basically while we were stepping on the train and assessing the crowd situation so we could decide on the fly if we wanted to splurge on first class (which unlike airfare is not a huge difference in price). Train personnel walk through regularly and when you show your ticket they do check to make sure you’ve bought the right fare class.

We opted for a quiet first class car when we realized we were boarding right as the nearby middle school was letting out.

Question: What about first class versus second class on the ferry that goes around Lake Geneva? Is there a big difference and should I splurge on first class?

Answer: There is a bigger difference between classes on the ferry* than between classes on the train. The first class passengers get access to the upper deck which has better views, more fresh air, better seating (nice deck chairs versus wet benches), and is less crowded. The plebes in second class have to stay on the main level which still has nice views but you’re crowded onto benches with other people and there are a lot more of them! (People, that is.)

*The ferry is operated by CGN and my comments refer to their usual passenger ferry. They do offer fancier pleasure tours and dinner cruises too.

First class on the normal ferry is a nice splurge.

When we bought tickets I wasn’t sure what the woman asked me. (She was speaking French and I was too proud to switch to English, serves me right!) So kind of accidentally, we got second class. We tried to walk up the stairs and promptly got a severe reprimand. I didn’t totally understand what she said but judging from her finger point and tone of voice it was something like “I literally just told you upstairs is for first class passengers but you picked the cheap ass tickets.” The benches on the main deck were fine, but mostly wet. We sat on them anyway.

I mean, second class views were still nothing to sneeze at.

Question: I love biking vineyards. Can I rent a bike and tour around the Lavaux Vineyards?

Answer: Not really. The Lavaux vineyards are on a steep terrace and not conducive to biking. I found some internet sources that made it sound possible but am still unclear how much crack they’d been smoking.

This is no place for a casual bike ride.
We were happy to be on foot, and not on bikes.

Question: I am traveling Switzerland by train and want to take the Golden Pass line between the Swiss Riviera and the Alps. Should I book a ticket on the Belle Epoque train or the Panoramic train? What is the difference and which one should I choose?

Belle Epoque train car in Switzerland
Exterior of the Belle-Epoque train.

Answer: The Panoramic train is modern with huge windows that go up the sides and over part of the ceiling. The Belle Epoque train is quaint and old fashioned yet still offers good views out the window. We chose the Belle Epoque train and felt like the old timey-ness of the train made the pretty views that much more romantic. I don’t have photos of the panoramic train but I did find a blog post that has good photos of both.

A good view of the windows and seating on the Belle Epoque train.

Question: Which side of the Golden Pass train should I sit on and does it matter?

Answer: The views are nice from both sides, but there is definitely a side that is better. The easiest way to figure this out is to look at a map of the train route and figure out which way you’re headed. Then pick whichever side of the train you need to sit on to be on the side closest to the mountains. You definitely should make advance reservations to select your seat.

Map of the Golden Pass train line in Switzerland.
Golden Pass train map courtesy of HappyRail.

Question: Do you need hiking shoes to hike around in the Swiss alps or will sneakers be fine?

Answer: Sneakers are totally fine! Unless you have weak ankles or otherwise need special support or unless it’s super muddy, there’s no reason regular tennies won’t work on the general hiking trails.

hiking in Switzerland
Brian is wearing hiking boots because he needs the ankle support, but the trails are totally doable in tennies.

Question: What is the main form of payment in Switzerland – cash, credit, Apply pay?

Answer: All of the above! Apple pay was way more prolific there than in the states and it was awesome.

That’s about it for my mundane, yet necessary tips about things you’ll want to know before heading to the Swiss Riviera or the Swiss Alps. If you have other questions for me, ask away! Or if you want to share any random information you wish you’d known ahead of time, leave me a comment. I’m always curious about the little things that guidebooks don’t cover. πŸ™‚

Enjoy This Article? Subscribe Now!

Get new posts sent directly to your inbox.

I will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.

10 Replies to “Things I Wish I Knew Before I Went to Switzerland”

    1. Thank you! and thanks for reading and commenting. πŸ™‚

  1. Great blog content, very well written. Pictures are so vivid.πŸ‘πŸ‘

    1. Thank you! Thanks for reading and commenting. πŸ™‚

  2. i just love posts about sneakers…

    1. Footware is underestimated!

  3. Very informative β™₯

  4. I’m sorry to correct you but I think you’re wrong about cycling in the Lavaux vineyards. There are some wonderful (albeit undulating) concrete vineyard ‘roads’ which are perfect for cycling, walking or jogging, if you prefer. Yes, you may have to climb a little to begin with but it’s worth it. Or, better still, you could catch the funicular from Vevey up to, say, Chardonne or even Mont PΓ¨lerin (where I used to live) and it’s pretty much all down hill from there! πŸ˜ŠπŸ‘πŸ‘

    1. Ah, yes you’re right Mike! I bet some bikers would have a blast with it – we did see a few there. For me, even going downhill would be a bit scary lol.

Leave a Reply