Header Image How to buy train tickets in Switzerland

5 Ways How To Buy Train Tickets In Switzerland (&Travel Tips)

In the German language, there is a saying that goes “der Kluge reist im Zuge,” which I would translate as “smart people travel by train,” and it is true in Switzerland! Exploring the country by public transportation is not only convenient, hassle-free, and eco-friendly, but it is also a great way to enjoy stunning views and catch a glimpse of the Swiss culture. 

As a native Swiss local who grew up without a car, I travel on Swiss trains, buses, and trams daily and, therefore, know a few tips & tricks on how to buy train tickets in Switzerland. In today’s article, I will reveal my five favorite options to purchase your tickets and provide step-by-step instructions on how to do it. In addition, you will also get helpful tips and information to make your journey go as smoothly as a Swiss watch. 

key takeaways

🚂The best way to buy a Swiss train ticket is either via Trainline.com, the official railway company website, via the app, at a travel center, or at a ticket machine.

🚂Each option has its pros & cons, but it’s important to point out that not every ticket type is sold everywhere. For example, international train tickets are not (yet) available via the official app.

🚂 Unlike in some other countries, point-to-point tickets are generally valid for all trains (intercity trains, regional trains, etc.) on a specific day.

5 Best Ways How To Buy Train Tickets In Switzerland 

Before we get started, just a very brief disclaimer: I tried my best to make this post as helpful and actionable as possible while still maintaining a high level of fairness. Therefore, I decided to show you how to buy a one-way ticket without any discount cards from my hometown of Lucerne to Basel for the same train connection on March 4, 2024, in each step-by-step tutorial. 

Buy tickets on Trainline.com – Best for international travelers

trainline.com website screenshot
screenshot trainline.com

The first option to purchase a ticket is via Trainline.com.  Catering primarily to international travelers, this online platform is a one-stop shop for your journey needs. It seamlessly offers ticket-purchasing services for various rail networks across numerous countries, making it ideal for those who plan to buy international train tickets and local point-to-point tickets. 

One thing I like very much about the site is the user-friendly interface and dedication to simplifying travel. You can book train tickets on the platform and find and book accommodation in one place, for example. 

Another unique feature compared to all other alternatives on my list is the option to buy flexible or semi-flexible tickets, which are refundable until the day before travel day. If your travel plans are suspected to change due to bad weather, for example, the added flexibility will definitely give you some peace of mind. The refund process is by far the easiest for non-swiss residents 

Best For International Travelers & people with flexible schedule
Trainline Logo

Available Tickets

International tickets, point-to-point tickets, Swiss Travel Pass 

Pros:
  • Easy to purchase international tickets
  • A refundable ticket option is available
  • User-friendly interface
  • Desktop & mobile app available
  • Supersaver tickets are available
  • PayPal or credit card as a payment option

Cons:

  • Many ticket types (e.g. half-fare cards, combo tickets, etc.) are not available
  • Requires an internet connection
  • Additional booking fee

How to buy train tickets – step-by-step instructions

1) Sign up for an account (optional) 
Trainline.com sign-up form
sign-up form on trainline.com

Registering for an account is actually not a must-must; you can still book tickets as a guest. However, I still recommend it because it will easily allow you to manage and save all your bookings in one place. If you are anything like me, you appreciate any help to stay organized;) It literally took me 30 seconds (I measured it) to sign up via E-Mail. 

All you need to do is enter your best E-Mail and your name, create a password, and voila. Alternatively, you can also register via Apple ID, Google Account, or even Facebook. 

2) Enter travel dates and search connections 
Trainline.com find connections

After the registration process is completed, it is time for the real action. The next thing to do is to search for the best connection by entering the city of departure, arrival, etc. 

3) Choose your connection 
Choose connection on trainline.com
choose connection

Choose the best connection and the desired travel class on the left-hand side. Trainline will automatically suggest the cheapest option. You can also change the ticket conditions.

Important: Check the ticket conditions carefully. Supersaver tickets are non-refundable and only valid for the exact connection you choose. In contrast, regular tickets can be used for any connection on that day. 

4) Add passenger details
add passenger details on trainline
add passenger details on trainline

Add the traveler (s) personal information, which will also appear on the ticket here. Remember to add the name as stated in your official passport or travel document (crucial, especially for international tickets) and click “continue to checkout.”

5) Pay via credit card or PayPal 
Payment options on trainline.com
payment option on trainline.com

The last step is to complete the purchase via credit card or PayPal. You will receive your E-ticket(s) via E-Mail immediately after. 

6) Enjoy your journey

On the travel day, you can conveniently board the train and show the ticket to the staff either on your phone or in print format. No need to validate your ticket beforehand. 

Buy tickets on the official website – most ticket types available 

swiss railway company website
Swiss railway company website

You can also purchase tickets on the official website of the Swiss railway company. The site and the shop are available in German, French, Italian, and English. If you register for an account, you can link it with your Swiss Pass, so you don’t have to add any discounts whenever you buy your ticket manually. However, you can also purchase online tickets without registration.

Personally, I believe the biggest strength of the official site is the variety of available ticket types. For example, if you plan a day trip to Basel, you can buy a “City ticket” for Basel, which includes the train ride and local public transportation in Basel for a slightly lower price. There are also Combo-tickets, for example, for the Zoo in Basel, which include the train ride and the entrance ticket. 

Best for travellers looking for a great variety of ticket types
SBB Logo

Available Tickets

Point-to-Point tickets, international tickets, multi-day tickets, Combo-tickets, Swiss Pass and much more  

Pros:
  • Every ticket type bookable
  • Registering for an account is optional
  • Available 24/7
  • No additional booking fees
  • Various payment options, including Visa & Mastercard
  • Tickets for dogs & bikes are easily addable

Cons:

  • Super saver tickets are sold out quickly
  • Non-standard tickets are difficult to book
  • Refund & Exchange process is more complex for customers without a permanent address in Switzerland

How to buy tickets – step-by-step instructions

1) Find a connection
SBB search connection
Choose connection on sbb.ch

How to search for connections on the SBB website is quite similar to the Trainline example above. All you do is enter the travel details and hit the enter key to show the results. Then click on the connection you want to book to get to the next step. 

2) Enter passenger details
Passenger details on SBB.ch
Passenger details on SBB.ch

You can adjust travel class and ticket details here. From personal experience, I can say that booking a regular return ticket is always slightly cheaper than two single-way tickets so I would recommend you to consider that. Interestingly enough, unlike on trainline.com, the quota of supersaver tickets seems to be sold out already on the SBB site, which is something I see pretty often. 

3) Passenger Overview
Passenger Overview on SBB.ch
Passenger overview on SBB.ch

Just as in the previous example, it’s time to enter your personal details, like your e-mail (for the ticket confirmation), your name, and date of birth. What’s convenient is that you can add tickets for bikes or dogs in one click. 

4) Pay ticket 
Payment methodes of SBB.ch
Payment methods on SBB.ch

Choose your preferred payment method from the options above. As you will notice, there are a few options mainly designed for Swiss residents. The most suitable payment for international travelers is most likely via credit card. Twint is a Swiss Paypal alternative but not (yet) very well known outside the country, the same goes for the other two options. 

5) Enjoy your travel

Similar to the previous method, your tickets will be sent to your E-mail address, and you can either print the tickets or show them on a mobile device. 

Info: Refund & exchange policy for tickets purchased without an account

If your travel plans change and you would like to request a refund for tickets you purchased on the website, you will need to fill out this refund request form. Please note that tickets with a value of less than CHF 10.- are non-refundable. There is also a CHF 10.- administrative fee per request. To make your life easy, I would therefore suggest buying tickets on trainline.com if you are not a Swiss resident. 

Buy a ticket in the SBB app – best for buying tickets on the road 

SBB Mobile App in Google Play Store

The SBB mobile app is ideal for checking the timetable from your phone and also buying tickets. It is available in German, French, Italian, and English, depending on your phone’s language settings. The app is available for Android and iOS devices and comes with a great user experience and intuitive design. 

Important note: If you are using an Android device, make sure you are using software version 6.0 or newer to ensure the app is running smoothly. Older versions are not compatible with the app. 

The app comes with plenty of unique features, for example, live notification in case of disruptions, buying personal tickets or registering friends or family members as co-travelers and buying tickets for them. In short, you have all the features from the official website but in a portable format. 

 If you register with a Swiss Pass account, even tickets you buy on the website will synchronize and show up in the app. The easyRide-feature is another function you can use in combination with a linked Swiss Pass account. Basically, what you can do is hop on board any train in Switzerland, and the app will automatically calculate the cheapest ticket based on the route you traveled. 

Best for use on the road
SBB mobiel app

Available Tickets

Point-to-Point tickets, super saver tickets and day passes, class upgrades, children’s day passes, seat reservations & more

Pros:
  • Great travel planning tools
  • Live notifications & travel updates
  • Tickets available 24/7

Cons:

  • Internet connection required
  • Swiss Travel Pass & International tickets are not purchasable via app

How to buy a ticket – step-by-step instruction

1) Download SBB Mobile app
SBB Mobile App in Google Play Store

Search for the SBB mobile app in the respective app store of your mobile device and download/install the app. The app is available in different languages and will automatically adapt to the language settings on your phone. 

2) Search the desired route

On the home screen of the app, choose the “Trips” tab and then click on “Plan a journey.” There are three ways how to search for a route.

  • Touch timetable: Drag and connect two or more destinations from the list to create your itinerary
  • Map: Select the origin or destination on the map 
  • Timetable: Type and search origin and destination with the search function
3) Choose travel date & time 

No matter which of the options above you choose, eventually, you will enter the travel date & time. After that, pick the best connection. 

Choose travel time in the SBB app
Choose travel time in the SBB app
4) Select ticket options and make the purchase 
SBB ticket options in the app
Ticket options in the app

The options you can choose are the same as on the website

5) Enjoy your trip 

After adding your personal details and the payment method, your ticket will be saved in the “Tickets & Travelcards” tab. Show the ticket inspector the QR code of your ticket when asked to do so. You don’t need to validate your tickets beforehand.  

Buy a ticket at the ticket machine at the train station – ideal for cash payments in CHF & EUR

Buying tickets at an old-fashioned ticket machine may not sound like the fanciest thing in 2024, but you will be surprised how popular paper tickets still are. And you will find multiple of these machines at every train station, no matter how big or small. 

One of the main reasons for the continued popularity is that it is still possible to pay cash at these machines. Believe it or not, many Swiss deem their privacy very important and, therefore, don’t want to give up one of the last payment forms without a digital footprint.

Best for cash payments
SBB ticket machine at the train station

Available Tickets

Point-to-Point tickets, day passes, city tickets, combi tickets & more

Pros:
  • Requires no internet connection or battery
  • Cash payment in CHF & EUR is possible
  • Available in almost every train station
  • Tickets are not personalized

Cons:

  • Swiss Travel Pass & Super Saver Tickets not available
  • No PayPal payments accepted

How to buy tickets step-by-step

1) Change language to English
Change default language at the SBB ticket machine
Change language by clicking on the globe icon

You’ll likely want to change the language to English, since the default language is typically set to one of the national languages. You can do this by clicking on the globe icon at the top of the screen and selecting English from the drop-down menu. 

2) Search or type the destination

Choose your destination from the suggestions or type it out (the German version, e.g., Luzern instead of Lucerne). By the way, you can also change the point of departure if needed. 

3) Choose your connection 
How to select the connection at the SBB ticket machine

Choose the connection you like by clicking on the “select” button on the right-hand side of the site. In our example, it would be the train to Basel SBB departing at 4.54 pm

4) Select the number of tickets and any discounts
Select the ticket types on the SBB ticket machine

In the next step, you choose your ticket type and the number of tickets you need, factoring in whether you prefer one-way or return tickets, etc. You can also add tickets for dogs and bicycles.

5) Pay for tickets

After making the appropriate selections, you can pay for the tickets using cash or a credit or debit card. Don’t forget to take the paper-format tickets with you and show them to the ticket inspector upon request. 

Side note:

If you want to pay for your tickets with Euro bills, that’s possible. However, the change will always be given in Swiss Francs. 

Buy a ticket at an SBB travel center in the train station – Ideal for complex travel plans and personal service

SBB travel center at Zurich Airport
SBB travel center at Zurich Airport, image source @SBB CFF FFS

There’s nothing quite like walking into a bustling Swiss train station. Quite often, they’re a hub of activity, filled with a diverse range of people eager to get to their next destination. You will find SBB travel centers mainly at mid-sized and larger Swiss train stations. 

What’s great about this option is the personal service and tailored advice you get alongside your ticket. The staff knows the Swiss railway system very well, and they sell any ticket type you could think of. Especially for complex travel plans that involve transfers or multiple destinations, this option is as good as it gets.

Best for personal service
SBB travel center inside the train station in Lucerne

Available Tickets

Any ticket you could imagine, including Swiss Travel Pass, multi-day passes, international train tickets, monthly tickets for local public transportation & much more

Pros:
  • Personal service & recommendations
  • Every ticket type available

Cons:

  • Only in selected train stations
  • Limited opening hours (often from 7 am to 8 pm on weekdays, but opening hours vary from location to location)

Things To Know About The Swiss Train System

Now that you know everything about the relevant options to buy your tickets, we would like to give you some tips and travel info some local Swiss don’t know.

Also, we go over the most popular ticket types and & rail passes, the different train types and train companies in Switzerland. 

Overview of the most popular ticket types & rail passes 

I strongly believe train travel in Switzerland is even more fun with the right ticket. Therefore, I give you an overview of the most popular train tickets & rail passes in Switzerland. However, we will also work on a full comparison of all Swiss train tickets and will make it available to you very soon;)

Popular Train Tickets in Switzerland

Are you traveling on a single day and are not (yet) using the Swiss public trains too often? Single train tickets are a good way to start for you then. 

Supersaver Tickets

Y’all want a hot tip? Keep an eye out for these beauties! Supersaver tickets are discounted tickets available for specific trains – grab ’em while you can, they’re up to 70% cheaper than standard tickets. The only pinch is that they’re tied to a specific train and time. 

Standard Tickets

Like a reliable cup of joe in the morning, standard tickets are always there when you need ’em. They’re flexible and valid for any train on the route you’ve chosen for the day of validity. 

City Tickets

This is a literal two-for-one deal! The city ticket combines your train ticket with a day pass for public transport in your destination city. So, you can hop from the train onto a tram or bus without missing a beat. It’s a great ticket for inner-city explorations.

Multiple-Journey Tickets

Can’t get enough of the Swiss rail experience? I feel ya! Multiple-Journey Tickets are your solution. These tickets are a set of six transferable tickets valid for one year. Buy in bulk and save! 

Saver Day Pass

Do you have a day full of adventures planned out? Here’s your golden ticket! The Saver Day Pass is perfect for unlimited travel throughout Switzerland for one day. The earlier you book, the less you pay – it’s that simple. 

Popular Rail Passes in Switzerland

Swiss Rail Pass

The Swiss Travel Pass is a gem, offering unlimited travel on the Swiss Travel System network in either 1st or 2nd class. This network doesn’t just cover trains, but also allows you to hop onto boats, buses, and even some mountain railways!

It’s valid typically for 3, 4, 5, 8, or 15 consecutive days. The beautiful thing is, this pass also provides free entry to over 400 museums. Truly, the Swiss Travel Pass is a ticket to exploring Switzerland’s rich cultural heritage! 

Swiss Travel Pass Flex 

Now, if you’re looking for flexibility (because, let’s be honest, we all like options), then the Swiss Travel Pass Flex has got you covered. It offers the same wonderful perks as the standard pass, but with a twist; you can choose the days on which you travel within a set period (either one month or seven days).

It’s ideal if you’re staying in Switzerland for a while and plan to mix in a bit of train travel with other activities. For those ‘go with the flow’ days😉.

Swiss Half Fare Card 

Last but certainly not least is the Swiss Half Fare Card. As you might have guessed, this pass entitles you to 50% off travel on Swiss railway tickets. It costs 190 Swiss Francs and stays valid for an entire year. In my opinion, the half-fare card is a must-have for longer stays in Switzerland because you will make up the money you invest very quickly. And the best part is it is also available for travelers.

Prices for point-to-point tickets in Switzerland

To prove my point above and give you an impressing, I compared the prices for a single point-to-point ticket between five popular Swiss destinations with and without a Swiss half fare card. To make this comparison fully transparent, all prices are for a standard one-way second-class ticket without any additional discounts. 

RouteNormal Price (CHF)Price with Half Fare Card (CHF)
Zurich to Lucerne2713.50
Geneva to St. Gallen11956.60
Interlaken East to Bern31.2015.60
Zurich to Basel3618
Lugano to Basel 9246
Ticket price comparison

1 class vs 2 class: What is the difference?

The main difference between first and second class on Swiss trains is honestly not huge.It’s all in the small things that make the difference, but unlike in other European countries, there are no additional services (like lounge access or served meals) for travelers in first class (except on some panoramic trains). 

Still, on my various journeys on Swiss trains, I’ve uncovered a few perks that you only get with a first-class ticket:

More spacious seats: The seats in the first-class coaches are considerably more spacious and provide more legroom. Despite having the same configuration as second-class compartments, you’ll find more single-seats in the first class.

Less People: Due to the higher prices, the first class coaches are far less crowded on popular routes, which gives a more quite and atmosphere. In fact, outside peak hours, chances are that you will find first-class coaches practically empty. 

Power socket for each seat: For business travelers and digital nomads, the guaranteed power sockets at every seat in first class are a nice detail. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case in second class. However, if you’re not too distracted by the views, traveling on board can be pretty convenient. Here’s a fun fact – I’m actually editing this article from a first-class coach between Lucerne and Zurich as we speak!)

Is first class worth the surcharge? My honest opinion

In my opinion, a first class ticket can be worth the price on some special occasion. For example if you are travelling with a lot of luggage on a crowded train, I would recommend to buy a first-class ticket for more comfort.  

Train types in Switzerland 

Switzerland’s impressive and efficient railway system consists of numerous regional, national, and international lines, delivering an array of choices to suit your travel preferences.

If you are interested in the train type you can look it up in the online timetable of the website or the app. In addition to that, you will also find an estimation on the occupany level of a specific train. 

How to find out the train type and occupany rate in the SBB time table

S-Bahn

SBB S-Bahn for local public transport
Image source @SBB CFF FFS

 S-Bahn trains are practically the heartbeat of local Swiss public transportation. Known as the suburban rail network, S-Bahn trains provide frequent service in major Swiss cities, and are essentially used for people to get to work. They are quite comfortable but can get a bit crowded in peak hours. 

The beauty is in the frequency of these trains – usually every 15 to 30 minutes. So, even if you miss one, it won’t be long before another comes chugging along😊. 

Regional Trains

SBB regional train
Image source @SBB CFF FFS

Regional ones, for instance, include the Regio Express, often preferred for short-distance trips. It’s a little speedster, connecting neighboring villages and towns quickly so that you can hop in, enjoy the journey, and step off at your destination in no time. The can identify regional trains by the code RE in the timetable. 

Intercity and InterRegion

InterCity train in Switzerland
Image Source @SBB CFF FFS

Then there’s the InterRegion and InterCity, which connect major hubs in Switzerland. These trains are crafted for comfort and speed, often making fewer stops and providing quicker transits between key cities. The short to indicate an Intercity train in the timetable is IC, for an InterRegion train it is IR. They usually run every 30 to 60 minutes. 

International Trains

ICE train

International travelers will find comfort and luxury in the many international trains that operate in and out of Switzerland like – ICE (InterCity Express), RailJet, EuroCity, and TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse). Each of these superfast trains connects Switzerland to a myriad of European countries, reinforcing a tapestry of connections between diverse cultures, landscapes, and people 🚉🗺️. On some occasions you will encounter an international train model on a journey within Switzerland (for example from the ICE from Interlaken to Basel) as they are integrated in the swiss time table. By the way, you don’t need a special ticket for international trains within Switzerland, a regular point-to-point ticket is sufficient.

Helpful Words To Know When Traveling On Swiss Trains

If you have made it this far in the article, congratulations, you are almost a certified expert on Swiss train travel at this point 🙂 The only thing that missing are some important words you should know in German, French or Italian, depending on where you are. 

EnglishGermanFrenchItalian
TrainZugTrainTreno
TicketFahrkarteBilletBiglietto
StationBahnhofGareStazione
PlatformBahnsteigVoieBinario
ArrivalAnkunftArrivéeArrivo
DepartureAbfahrtDépartPartenza
MapsKartenCartesMappe
ConnectionVerbindungConnectionConnessione
ScheduleFahrplanHoraireOrario
Is this train headed to…?Fährt dieser Zug nach…?Ce train va à…?Questo treno corre verso…?
Where is the next stop?Wo ist der nächste Halt?Où est le prochain arrêt ?Dov’è la prossima fermata?

Practical Tips To Explore Switzerland By Train (From A Local Swiss)

Now, to conclude this guide, let’s look at some travel tips & practical advice I can give you from personal experience.

Check with your hotel whether your guest card entitles you to free use of public transportation

Did you know that one of the perks of staying in a Swiss hotel could be free access to local public transportation? Yep, that’s right, I know from my working experience in different Swiss hotels! Many Swiss hotels offer something called a ‘guest card.’ This neat little card is often a golden ticket to the local transportation network, valid on the buses, trams, and, yes, even some local trains. Oh, and the cherry on top? Some of them are even valid on your arrival and departure days! 

Check the SBB app for real-time updates on delays and disruptions

 Want to be the first to know about any unforeseen changes in your travel schedule? The SBB app will come in handy! It sends real-time updates for any delays or disruptions and even suggests alternative routes. 🚄 

Guess what happens when a language barrier comes in between you and your improvised Swiss adventure? Well, don’t worry, the SBB mobile app is a blessing in that aspect too. It’s available in English (and also German, French, and Italian, in case you’re feeling multilingual 😎). 

Arrive at the train station early

Here’s a little tip from my extensive Swiss train adventures: I always make it a point to arrive at the train station at least 20 minutes early. I’ve found it super beneficial for several reasons. One, it gives me ample time to locate the correct platform, buy some snacks for the journey and so on.  

And buying snacks at the train station is for sure cheaper than visiting the restaurant on the train (if it is even available). You will also find Coop and Migros outlets (two of the most popular supermarket chains in Switzerland) at the train stations, and they are also open on weekends and late in the evening. 

Pay attention to the signage on the platform to locate your coach easily

Platforms in Swiss trains stations are divided into different sections (we call them sectors) You can find out in which section to board first class coaches and where to board second class coaches. 

Know the Swiss train etiquette

Swiss trains, as well as being a testament to punctuality and cleanliness, also operate on a certain code of conduct to ensure that every passenger’s journey is smooth and comfortable. It’s kind of an unwritten Swiss train etiquette or ‘netiquette’, and if you’re taking a trip on the Swiss rail system, it’s good to know

When trains get crowded, try not to occupy more than one seat. I remember once when I was on a busy train from Zurich to Geneva, I had my bag on the next seat, and a kindly older woman gave me a gentle reminder that my bag wasn’t a paying passenger! 

PS: If you ask whether you can take a seat even though it is obviously unoccupied, you will collect extra points for politeness. 

Another golden rule is about noise. If you’re listening to music, use headphones – remember, not everyone shares your love for thrash metal or techno beats. 

If you keep these rules in mind, you and everybody else will have a comfortable journey. 

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

Not nessesarily, regular point-to-point tickets never sell out. Therefore, purchasing a train ticket on the travel date is always possible. However, if you know your travel plans beforehand, you can sometimes get cheaper tickets if you purchase them in advance. Tickets for touristic panoramic trains sometimes need to be purchased in advance. 

Yes, but remember dogs need their own train ticket. Aside from that, there are no restrictions regarding traveling with pets. 

No, there are now regular tickets with a discount specifically for students or seniors. However, they have discounts on rail passes, such as the half-board card. 

No, this is no longer possible. You will need to have a valid ticket before the train departs to avoid a penalty fee. 

Only paper tickets which you buy at the ticket machines are transferable. Tickets you purchased online or via app are personal and can only be used by you or a registered travel partner. 

The easiest way to buy train tickets form abroad is online, either from an external ticket broker like trainline.com or the official swiss railway website. 

The price for point-to-point tickets is the same. However, you can sometimes purchase supersaver tickets online in advance. Those tickets are cheaper and can’t be purchased at the train station on the day of travel. 

If you travel without a valid ticket, you may have to pay a penalty fee of 100 swiss francs per person. This fine may increase for repeated offenders.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.