Riding the cogwheel train to Jungfraujoch, the 3,466 m peak in the Bernese Alps of Switzerland, is one of the most sought after experiences. To reach the peak you not only get to enjoy the magnificent Jungfrau region near Interlaken, but also experience the Jungfraubahn, Europe’s highest-altitude railway. The train climbs up the mountain at this amazing elevation on a slope that sometimes reaches 25 degrees. Quite impressive, if you think about it.
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How to get to the cogwheel train from Interlaken
Most travelers start this day trip from Interlaken Ost station. Jungfraujoch –Top of Europe station can be reached via two routs. Either by taking the train to Wengen, or the train to Grindewald. Both routes are about the same distance, so you can start on one and return on the other. This segment of the trip takes about 20 minutes.
From Grindewald or Lauterbrunnen (via Wengen) you need to change to a cog train heading towards Kleine Scheidegg (about 45 minutes). From Kleine Scheidegg you change trains again to get to the Jungfraujoch –Top of Europe station.
This last segment of the trip takes about 50 minutes. The cogwheel train goes through a 7 km tunnel that was dug through the rock of the Eiger and Mönch Alpine peaks and then reaches Jungfraujoch.
The total time for the trip is roughly 2 hours and you need to change trains three times. The Swiss Pass covers only the first part of the ride (from Interlaken to Grindewald or Lauterbrunnen), so for the cogwheel train you need to buy a separate ticket (which is discounted with the Swiss Pass).
What to expect on the cogwheel train to Jungfraujoch
From Interlaken Ost to Grindewald or Lauterbrunnen the ride is short and relatively boring, but once you board the cogwheel train to Jungfraujoch the scenery changes dramatically. Riding through the Swiss Alps along the Kleind Scheidegg Pass is amazingly beautiful and peaceful.
Whatever pictures you might have seen of this place, the real thing is ten times better! Alpine villages scattered throughout the hills. Green meadows dotted with grazing cows. Rustic cottages with colorful flowers. And above all these, the stunning views of the Eiger and Mönch in the background. You think you may be in heaven!
This is the most picturesque part of the trip. From here on, once you change to the next cogwheel train, the road continues through a tunnel. But even though is completely dark, this last segment is very impressive. From an altitude of 2,061 m at Kleine Scheidegg the train continues to climb up and up, till it reaches its destination at 3,454 m.
The tunnel is a marvel of engineering that took over 13 years to built and was marked by many blasting accidents, strikes and financial problems. If you are lucky (like we were!) to be invited in the train conductor’s cabin, you can see the tunnel in the beam of the locomotive headlights.
The cogwheel train makes two short stops in the tunnel: at Eigerwand and Eismeer. The stations have restroom facilities and panoramic windows from where you can enjoy the view for a few minutes.
Tips for Taking the Cogwheel Train to Jungfraujoch
1. Make reservations
No matter when you visit Switzerland, Jungfraujoch is a very popular destination and the train is always crowded. If you don’t have reservations you may have to wait for the next train, but you can’t go standing because of the steep slope.
2. Start as early as possible
The best is to board the day’s first train, although it’s pretty crowded. You are competing not only with first-time visitors, but also with locals who routinely go mountain climbing in this area. By the way, I found this quite shocking: you see groups and groups of well-fit people of all ages wearing ski boots and carrying skis and heavy backpacks. And you keep wondering if they came all the way up here just to ski down the mountain. But why would they pay the steep price of the cogwheel train instead of using a ski lift for much less?
And then you discover that in fact they are up here for way more than just skiing. These are rock climbers who ascend the steep rocks in ski boots and then ski down the mountain. Unbelievable!
This must be extremely strenuous not only because of the difficulty of the task itself, but because at 3,454 m the air is very rarefied and doesn’t provide enough oxygen for breathing.
3. Once coming out of a train, go fast to the next one
Seats fill out fast and even if you have a reservation, you may have a hard time grabbing a good seat.
4. Don’t book a non-refundable ticket
The weather is of utmost importance if you want to have an enjoyable experience atop the Jungfraujoch. If it’s too cloudy, or there is a storm coming-up you will be spending your money in vain. Cogwheel tickets are very expensive (we paid around $190/person). For more up-to-date information on the tickets you can go to Jungfrau – Top of Europe website.
5. Take advantage of the “Good Morning” or the “Good Afternoon tickets“
They are available from May 1st to October 25th and are 50% off the regular price. The Good Morning ticket is for the uphill train that leaves from Kleine Scheidegg at 08:00 a.m. or 08:30 a.m. with the latest return from Jungfraujoch at 1:00 p.m. The Good Afternoon ticket is for the train that leaves from Kleine Scheidegg at 3:30 p.m.
A Final Note
Riding the cogwheel train is an experience in itself. The steep grade railway that will take you to Jungfraujoch is not something that you see everyday. The cogwheel is very different from other scenic trains in Switzerland. So if you are still wondering if arriving at the highest railway station in Europe it’s worth your time and money, I can assure you it is. But remember, you need good weather. Don’t start this trip unless you can see the top of Jungfraujoch from Interlaken!
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