If you are looking at the Swiss Travel Pass for your next journey through Switzerland, then you likely already know most of the great benefits. Free travel all over Switzerland on all forms of transport, save for mountain excursions (where there are big discounts).
However, if you are wondering whether paying for first class makes any sense, then let me break it all down for you.
On Trains – 1st Class vs 2nd Class
You will be spending most of your time traveling in Switzerland on trains. So, this section is probably the most important to you when you have a Swiss Travel Pass.
The main differences between first and second-class trains in Switzerland are:
- Space – seats are bigger, and more spaced out
- Comfort – seats are generally more plush & comfortable
- Working – there is more space to work on a table with power outlets nearby
- Less crowded – lots more free seats any time of day
- Quieter – less people means less noise and its easier to relax/sleep
- Photos – when there are less people you can move around and take pictures more easily
Panoramic Trains – Glacier Express etc
Another place where first-class trains can make a big difference is when you make a journey on a route like the Glacier Express.
With these trains, it is all about the experience and on the Glacier Express you get seating configurations of two on one side and one on the other. This means that if you are alone, or just two of you, you can isolate yourself by a lovely large window!
In second class, it is two on other side of the aisle, so there is no guarantee you will get a window seat or have the area to yourself.
First Class Is Great When Trains Are Busy
You might be asking yourself if it is worth it because all Swiss trains are comfortable and spacious, and that is certainly true. But when things get busy, you will be fighting for a seat, looking for a seat, struggling to stow your luggage and a lot more challenges.
The difference between the classes is not as big as on a flight from the USA to Europe, but when a train is busy you will appreciate the space, quiet, and chance of a seat.
When does it get busy? Early in the morning, late in the afternoon (commuter times) and on Friday afternoons/weekends (Swiss love to use their trains for weekend trips). During these times it can be stressful to ride on any train in Switzerland, even with a Swiss Travel Pass.
I often upgrade when things get busy, which is another option. But you need to remember to do it, otherwise, you will get a fine.
On Boats – First vs Second Class
One of the great things about public transport in Switzerland is the boats on the lakes. Not only are they a great way to get around, but they also make for a fun day trip.
One such place where they are even better is on Lake Lucerne. Here you can ride historic steamships across the river and then take a mountain railway up a mountain once you arrive.
If you have second class, you are confined to the lower more crowded deck and usually cannot go outside.
If you have first class, you are allowed on the upper deck where it is far less crowded and you can sit outside.
On all Swiss public transport, you can always choose to “upgrade” to first class on just one leg of your journey. So, if the price of first class is still out of your reach, you can choose to do it for one or two particular journeys.
Just head to the ticket office before your journey (or on the boat is an option) and ask for a class upgrade for your trip.
Another thing to consider if you are staying in Switzerland for a long time is whether to use a half fare card instead of a Swiss Travel pass.