Public Transportation in Switzerland: All You Need To Know

historic train switzerland

Traveling by public transport in Switzerland is one of the best ways of getting around. Car rentals are very expensive and parking is too. On top of that, the public transport system is so extensive, it often makes sense to go with a train. Especially if you are not moving around a lot.

Parking is also a pain in Switzerland and costly, so even if you have a car, it is often more of a burden when you get to your destination.

So, what are the options when it comes to Swiss public transport? What modes of transport in Switzerland exist and how much is it going to cost you?

Let’s find out…

Trains

Inter-city train switzerland
Swiss Intercity Train

Trains are everywhere in Switzerland, and they are the best way of traveling long distances (city to city) or even to regional towns if there is a rail network. Which there often is.

The trains also connect with one another very well and are almost always on time.

Buses

There are a few companies offering long-distance bus travel in Switzerland, like Eurobus and Flixbus, however, they are something I would use more to travel outside the country than within.

The more common mode of bus travel in Switzerland is either with a Post Bus, which is a train alternative in more mountainous and regional places. Or with a local bus within a city or town.

Trams

Trams are quite common in larger Swiss cities like Zurich, Basel, Bern and Geneva. They are super convenient and quite punctual. Usually, when you are in a city you will combine a tram with a bus or another tram to get to your destination.

Boats and Ferries

lake zurich boat
Boat in Lake Zurich

Switzerland is also full of lakes. And getting around on these wonderful blue jewels is often done with a local boat or ferry. Don’t sweat it because the Swiss have also made this really simple. Boats are an integral part of the public transport system and are another way to you can get conveniently to a specific location.

Cable cars

Switzerland is also full of ski resorts and therefore has a lot of cable cars or mountain railways. So, once you get to the bottom of the mountain by train or bus, your next step may well be to take one to the top.

Travel cards for Public Transport

If you are visiting Switzerland then it is more than likely that you will benefit from a travel pass while you are here and the best option is the Swiss Travel Pass.

Swiss Travel Pass

Swiss Travel Pass
Swiss Travel Pass

The Swiss Travel Pass is a prepaid pass that will allow you unlimited travel on all modes of public transport (except some cable cars and mountain railways – but you get a discount – usually 50%). It also includes a huge range of museums that you can enter for free.

You can choose to have a pass that runs for all days or a specific period of a certain number of days in a period.

That way, you can use the pass to cover the more expensive legs of your journey, including connections with other trains and buses to your hotel. Then, if you have smaller trips when you are there, you can pay for those separately and save money in the process.

Half Fare Travel Card

This is how locals get around in Switzerland. The Half Fare travel card or Half Tax as it is often known is a card you buy once and get 50% off all public transport from then on.

As a visitor to Switzerland, you can opt to get a Half Fare Card for a month, you just have to work out if 50% off all your major journeys adds up to more than the cost of the card. Then it makes sense to get this instead of buying tickets separately.

Individual Train Tickets

If you wish to buy a train ticket for just one journey, whether that is one way or return, you can always do that at a railway station. There is always a ticket machine or ticket office at major train stations and you can buy them ahead of time or on the day.

If you are just visiting and don’t wish to learn the intricacies of the Swiss federal railways I would always go to the ticket counter to be sure you get the right one. The machines are convenient, but often confusing for a visitor I find.

City Tickets

If you are heading to any of the major cities you can also choose to get a City Ticket which includes the public transport within that city too. That way, you can just arrive in your destination city and get on any bus, tram, or train within the city limits for the whole day.

Supersaver Tickets

Another great creation from the SBB is their supersaver ticket. If you buy your train tickets ahead of time for a specific journey (day and time) they will give you a discount. It is often quite decent, you just have to be sure that you are really going on those exact trains on that day. Otherwise, you will get a fine.

You can grab these on the SBB website directly or via the SBB app.

Zone Tickets

Another thing to be aware of is the zone system within Swiss regional areas. This especially applies around major cities and the like.

When you buy a bus ticket or even local train or tram tickets you will be asked on the machine either to choose a destination or which zone you want.

The trick is to explore the map on or near the machine and work out where you are going or will likely go that day. It can be confusing and tricky to get it right, which is why I always recommend either city tickets or going to the ticket counter at the main station.

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