We all know that taking a Swiss train journey usually means everything runs on time but where they run is even more amazing. Who would have thought to build train tracks to the top of a mountain? The Swiss did!. To the highest train station called the Top of Europe in fact.
There are other spectacular train journeys in the world but this Swiss train journey goes the highest. To an elevation of at 3454 meters in fact to a genuine alpine region with snow all year round. The Swiss completed the line to the top of the Jungfraujoch peak in 1912.
A century later, the train still runs most days so get ready for a spectacular journey. This trip is made for those with a head for heights. But in reality, everything is run to a very safe high Swiss standard. Maybe this Swiss train journey is a good way to face those fears of vertigo.
Take a Swiss train Journey to the Top of Europe
You can start your Jungfraujoch train journey in Interlaken and choose two routes. One goes via Lauterbrunnen and Wengen, the other via Grindelwald, both meeting at the train station of Kleine Scheidegg. You will change trains en route so you could start and stop your trip at any of the stations.
Wengen is a particularly pretty Swiss alpine village. There where you can wander and enjoy the view over the spectacular U-shaped valley with Lauterbrunnen below. It is also vehicle free apart from the train passing through and a farmer’s occasional tractor. In summer you will pass by herds of brown Swiss cows munching contentedly on lush green grass. The cow bells around their necks tinkle all day so the farmer knows where they are.
If you are feeling energetic you could even hike, mountain bike or take cable cars along some sections. Or for those not so fit, choose some alternatives on the downward journey. Hiking trails are well marked, even sealed pavement. You can take your time to enjoy the views and stop off to sample some local fare. Sample Swiss mountain cheese and homemade schnapps to make the trip even more interesting.
Cog Wheels are the Key to Alpine Ascents
When you look up from Kleine Scheidegg station, you will wonder how on earth a train can make it further up the sheer rock faces to the summit?
Up until this point, you will have travelled in normal comfortable Swiss trains that snake their way up the lower mountain slopes. But normal trains can only handle between 7-10o of slope as steeper than that and their wheels would just slide and slip on the tracks.
Nothing phased those Swiss train engineers from long ago. They just decided to dig a tunnel up into the mountain. The resulting tunnel from Kleine Scheidegg to the Top of Europe station is seven kilometres long. It is carved through rock into the Mönch and the Eiger mountains reaching the Jungfrau, almost 1500m higher. The only way up to the Jungfraujoch is by this Swiss train journey or to mountain climb, literally.
At Kleine Scheidegg you will board a special cogwheel train that climbs the track safely through the tunnel all the way to the Jungfraujoch. Some of the slope is at 25 degrees so it’s probably better that you can’t really see how steep it is. There are other cog wheel trains in Switzerland and other parts of the world, but nothing quite like this one up the Jungfraujoch.
Windows out of a Mountain Rockface
Once you are in the tunnel you can no longer see the fantastic view but the Swiss thought of that too. They cut windows out of the rock so you can see just how high you are. The train stops in the tunnel a couple of times and you get some minutes to stare out of the mountain. Inside the Eigerwand you look directly out of the sheer rock face of the North Eiger with massive drops below. You wonder who they employ to clean the outside of the window? At Eismeer (meaning Ice Sea) you gaze out over glacier ice and snow.
“All onboard,” the guardsman calls! You climb back into the train to the top of the Jungfraujoch. This part of the trip takes just under an hour. On arrival at the Top of Europe, you can’t quite believe you are on top of a mountain. Just two hours prior you were deep in a valley in the tourist town of Interlaken.
The Top of Europe
It is somewhat surreal to be at the Top of Europe with other tourists who seem even more disorientated than you. Who would wear high heels to the top of a mountain? Some people obviously. On the other end of the spectrum of travellers are those wearing serious mountaineering boots unloading ropes and skis. They look at home in the mountains and head off to conquer nearby peaks.
Inside the building, everything is warm and cosy so you can relax inside in viewing areas and find something to eat and drink in the restaurants. The lower oxygen level at such a high altitude can affect you up there. You may start to feel a little ill or sleepy so don’t be surprised to find people dozing on the floor. However, hot chocolate helps. Swiss hot chocolate always helps.
Step outside onto viewing decks for some fresh air and feel the lower alpine temperature immediately, especially if there is a wind blowing. This is the best place for photos and to really understand how high you are.
From the station, you can explore current alpine exhibitions and check out the carved Ice Palace. If you want more action, take a trip venturing onto the long Aletsch Glacier which flows away on the other side of the range, even ski if you want or go husky dog sledging.
Some Booking Advice
- The “early bird catches the worm” so plan to go early to make the most of the day.
- Check for ticket specials and discounts if you have a tight budget.
- Check the likely weather before you buy a ticket
- Take warm clothing and wear sensible footwear to enjoy the viewing deck or the glacier.
I know that, aside from flying in an aeroplane, that The Top of Europe will probably be the highest point in my life. And I got there so easily with a Swiss train journey! Enjoy your time on the Top of Europe, taking in the awesome scenery and selfies with a view.
If you are feeling inspired to explore The Alps check out Hiking in Wilder Kaiser Mountains in Austria .