“So, what else is there to do on the Jungfraujoch – the ‘Top of Europe’ as it is also called?” we ask the hotel receptionist on our way out to the train station. “Are there any trails we could hike on the mountain of the everlasting snow?”
“There is a 45-minute walk to Monchsjoch Hut, a rest station where you can enjoy some authentic Swiss food. It’s one of the best hikes in Switzerland,” she said. It sounds tempting. Since we have an early start this morning maybe we can aim for lunch at the Monchsjoch Hut, so off we go.
Table of Contents
- Getting to Jungfraujoch
- What to Expect at the top of Jungfraujoch
- What to Do on Jungfraujoch, the Top of Europe
- Tips for Visiting Jungfraujoch
Getting to Jungfraujoch
Riding the cogwheel train to the top of the Jungfraujoch is in itself is a great experience and one of the unique things to do in Switzerland. Once you get up there you feel like in a totally different world. Ever since I first saw Switzerland in winter, I keep thinking that God must have created this place to show the humankind what Paradise looks like.
Yesterday when we watched the majestic summit of Jungfrau from atop the Harder Kulm, I thought there can’t be a much better view of this peak. But no matter how impressive Jungfraujoch looks from a distance, it doesn’t compare to the feeling you get when you step out unto the viewing platform of the Sphinx Observatory, at 3,500 meters altitude. Standing amidst this world of glaciers and everlasting snow makes your heart skip a beat.
What to Expect at the top of Jungfraujoch
One of the best UNESCO sites in Europe, Jungfraujoch seems to be really at the Top of Europe. I can’t imagine being any higher that this and still be on the Earth. As the train stops, we just take a few steps from the dark train platform and find ourselves in the middle of a glass building flooded by light.
This building is the Sphinx Hall and wow, it’s so bright! The reflection of the clean, white snow outside is so strong that it almost blinds our eyes. Not much to do here though. Some souvenir shops, restroom facilities and a couple of small restaurants.
So we continue to the outside snow platform for our first encounter with the windy and cold reality of this place. “Brrr! Hang on to something, you’ll be blown away!”
What to Do on Jungfraujoch, the Top of Europe
From the snow platform you can take the elevator down to the Alpine Sensation, Ice Palace and outside to the “snow fun” area, or up to the observation deck of the Sphinx Observatory. Unfortunately, the signs here are pretty confusing, so we wander around for a while ending up in the same place before we finally figure out which is where.
Admire the panoramic views from the Sphinx Observatory
We finally make it up to the observation deck of the Sphinx Observatory, the highest elevation structure in Europe that was named after the rocky summit on which it is located. The 360º panorama of the Aletsch Glacier and the surrounding peaks is absolutely fantastic!
Visit the Alpine Sensation Museum
If you take the elevator down from the Sphinx Hall you will descend into the heart of the rock at the Alpine Sensation. This is a 250 meters long subway-like corridor where you can explore the touristic development in the Alps and history of the Jungfrau Railway with images, light and music. There is also a film-projection room with a giant snow dome and original photographs made during construction of the Jungfrau Railway.
Stroll through the Ice Palace
From the Alpine Sensation the corridor continues to the Ice Palace, another big area inside the mountain, where all the corridors and the halls are carved in solid ice. Here you can see various sculptures made of ice, like wildlife and other exhibits. Walkways here may be very slippery, depending on the kind of footwear you have.
From the Ice Palace we proceed towards the large corridor carved in the mountain. “Is this the way out?” we ask someone who seems to be working there. “If you keep walking you will eventually end up outside, at the foot of the Sphinx Rock.”
Spend some time in the ‘snow fun‘area
So here we are, in the cold sunny spring morning that feels more like winter. At least the wind doesn’t blow so hard at the foot of the rock. We are not at the “snow fun” area where you can zip line, sled, or stay in the sun and enjoy the white panorama.
Take a diabolical hike to the Monchsjoch Hut
When we started our hike to the Monchsjoch Hut we had no idea how difficult it was going to be. After leaving the “snow fun” area behind, we continued towards the hut. The path seemed pretty well groomed and not very steep, so I was thinking it was going to be an easy hike. I am used to very difficult, steep hikes, like the ones we did in Patagonia.
Altitude sickness on the Jungfraujoch is real!
As we go along, a group of skiers with backpacks passes us. They glide with so much ease, I almost envy them. Soon though there is no one around us and we can’t even see the observatory anymore. I look at my watch. It’s been 50 minutes since we started hiking and our destination is nowhere in sight. I struggle. Didn’t she say 45 minutes? I feel a little short of breath, but I don’t want to panic.
The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful, so I’m going to concentrate on that. My husband doesn’t seem tired, so why am I so tired? I didn’t really make masuch a big physical effort and still I feel unusually fatigued and light-headed. I’m almost gasping for air!
At almost 3,500 m altitude, my body is showing clear symptoms of altitude sickness. Now I am in panic. I would like to turn back, but by now we are probably closer to the Monchsjoch Hut than to the Observatory, so we better continue. But my feet seem so heavy, as if they are made of lead. Every 4-5 steps I have to stop and rest.
Have lunch at Monchsjoch Hut
We finally reach the little restaurant at the Monchsjoch Hut. This place looks very primitive, but I’m so glad to see it! So what was estimated to be a 45 minute hike ended up by being almost two hours. And the food is not even that great. What a mess! The view from up here is so rewarding though…
Tips for Visiting Jungfraujoch
If you are planning a trip to the Jungfraujoch – the Top of Europe as they call it, here are a few tips to consider:
- Come early. The best time to visit is in the morning. It is less crowded and the weather is better. Usually the clouds gather mid to early afternoon.
- Come prepared. No matter when you visit, remember this is the place of the everlasting snow. Bring a warm jacket, shoes for walking on snow, a hat, gloves, sunglasses and especially sunscreen.
- Wait for good weather. Jungfraujoch is all about the magnificent views. Coming up here when it’s foggy or cloudy is a waste of money and a big disappointment.
- Bring drinking water. If you buy it at up here you’ll pay around $8 for a small bottle. Water is supposed to help minimize and even prevent altitude sickness.
- Watch out for altitude sickness. Higher altitudes will impair your physical performance, so a hike that you usually do effortlessly my seem like a strenuous exercise at a high elevation.
Did you know that the Jungfrau region is a training base for the olympic athletes? Whether they are training for running, triathlon, cycling, open water swimming, or other sports many of the world’s top athletes use this area as a training base for improving their physical capabilities.