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Travel: What are the best night train routes to and from Switzerland?

Night trains are back in favour in Europe but where can you get to overnight if you live in Switzerland? Here's a run through of your best options if you're looking for an adventure.

If you are thinking of getting away, why not try a night train from Switzerland? Photo by Chris Henry on Unsplash
If you are thinking of getting away, why not try a night train from Switzerland? Photo by Chris Henry on Unsplash

Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) now hosts 11 overnight routes, including a new destination in a new direction – Amsterdam. 

The daily Nightjet service from Zurich to Amsterdam via Basel has been up and running since December. The journey takes 11 hours and 15 minutes, leaving Zurich at 10pm and arriving in Amsterdam at 9.15am with no changes. 

On the way back, the train leaves Amsterdam at 8.30pm and arrives in Basel SBB at 6.30am, travelling on to arrive in Zurich at the slightly more civilised hour of 8.05am. 

Meanwhile, the much-anticipated new routes to Barcelona and Rome won’t be operational until 2024 at the earliest. The Barcelona route from Zurich will go via Bern, Lausanne and Geneva. 

The SBB night train destinations are offered in collaboration with the Austrian rail company ÖBB and other partner companies. Hamburg, Berlin, Hannover, Vienna, Graz, Prague, Budapest, Ljubljana and Zagreb have been on the timetable for a few years. Most of these journeys take 10 to 12 hours. 

Sleeping options

Sonya Schwaller from Fribourg recently travelled on the Zurich to Vienna night train, sleeping in a six-person compartment. She and her husband were on their way to take part in a triathlon in Bratislava. They joined the train just over the Swiss-Austrian border in Feldkirch so that they could load their car on board too.  

The Schwallers took the cheaper ‘couchette’ (Liegewagen) option, which has four or six bunks and shared toilets outside in the carriage. It was their third trip by night train so they knew what to expect. 

This map is from SBB . You can see it in ore details here:

“The pillows weren’t great but we got a good blanket. Each bunk has a light so you can still read when others are asleep. It’s very quiet – nobody moving around. I slept well and I enjoyed it. They brought us coffee, bread rolls and jam in the morning.”

There is also a ‘ladies-only compartment’ in the couchette class for women travelling alone, which you have to select when booking. The most comfortable way to travel is the ‘sleeper cabin’ (Schlafwagen). There are standard and deluxe options available in this category with single, double and triple-bed compartments. 

Standard sleeper compartments come with a small handbasin, while the deluxe compartments have their own shower and toilet and towels. The budget option would be to travel in reclining seats in the ‘seating carriage’ (Sitzwagen).  


Regular prices range from CHF 116 one way to Prague and CHF219 to Amsterdam for a bunk in a three-person sleeper compartment. Considerably cheaper tickets (Sparbillet / Billet dégriffé / Supersaver) can be found when booking well in advance. 

Not all international connections can be booked through the SBB app or the Webshop. The same applies to finding the best prices.

For the moment, SBB recommends that clients purchase international tickets at staffed travel centres or by phone (SBB Contact Center 0848 44 66 88 (CHF 0.08/Min). It’s possible to book an appointment in advance online. For more info on booking international tickets, see the SBB FAQ

Some of the most popular routes like Zurich-Vienna and Zurich-Berlin are in demand in the busiest travel months of May to September. Early booking is recommended. 

A turnaround

The next plan, in cooperation with ÖBB, Deutsche Bahn and the Czech Railways, is for SBB to run the Zurich night train to Prague through Germany, taking in the destinations Leipzig and Dresden. This should be ready to roll by December 2022. 

European railway companies see great potential in night trains and have their eye on expansion. “We are currently noticing a renaissance and strongly growing demand,” an SBB spokesman told The Local. 

It’s quite a turnaround. “A few years ago, night trains were deemed to be an obsolete model. We are convinced that the demand will increase more and that night trains will also be successful in the long term in the context of sustainable travel,” he said.

A look inside the SBB sleeping cabin on a night train. Image: SBB

A look inside the SBB sleeping cabin on a night train. Image: SBB

Climate bonus

The climate benefit has become a major selling point of train travel – and night trains are even more environmentally friendly because they travel at slower speeds. On the SBB website and app, the Ecocalculator at the end of the itinerary allows you to see the CO2 savings for your trip. 

A train journey can use at least 30 times less CO2 than plane travel over the same distance, and 20 times less than car travel. 

There are other advantages over road travel, such as avoiding traffic jams and being able to lie down and close your eyes. There is no trouble with carrying liquids or other banned items. And there is no waiting time or airport transfer when you travel from city centre to city centre. 

Long-distance train travel can be family friendly with children of the right age and temperament. It is possible to book out a four-person or six-person compartment for a group travelling together. 

Sleeping in a moving vehicle may not be everyone’s idea of fun but there are ways to make it work. Comfortable clothes are a must, and potentially ear plugs or an eye mask if you’re a light sleeper.

It’s best to travel light and to have the essential things easily accessible at the top of your bag. And don’t forget to pack some tolerance for your travelling companions. 

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For members


How to keep safe and avoid problems when hiking in the Swiss Alps

Switzerland is a perfect place to go hiking with its thousands of marked trails. However, hundreds of people get into accidents while trekking every year, and some die. Here is what you need to know to be safe.

How to keep safe and avoid problems when hiking in the Swiss Alps

The Swiss mountains are one of the country’s most notable and most visited sites. There are activities to enjoy during all seasons and hiking the Swiss Alps is something that people of all ages enjoy in the winter or summer months.

However, mountain rescuers are called every year to help people in emergencies. Last year, there were 1,525 cases of hikers in distress – a number higher than in any other type of sport. In 2021, there were only 500 emergency calls from skiers and 342 made by mountain bikers.

READ ALSO: Why getting rescued in the Swiss Alps could cost you thousands

Bruno Hasler, who is responsible for mountain emergency statistics at the Swiss Alpine Club SAC, says that many people overestimate themselves and that is dangerous. “The hikers need to be better informed. The authorities must inform people as well as possible about the dangers of mountain hiking”, he told public broadcaster SRF.

What are the main recommendations when hiking?

The first recommendation is to make a realistic self-assessment. Mountain hiking is an endurance sport and people planning on doing a trek should avoid time pressure and choose their trails and times well.

In that sense, it is essential to make careful route planning and evaluate the length, altitude, difficulty and current conditions (including weather forecast) of the trek. Thunderstorms, snow, wind and cold significantly increase the risk of accidents.

Don’t forget to plan alternative routes and keep emergency rescue numbers on hand (REGA 1414 and the european emergency number 112).

READ ALSO : Should you buy supplemental health insurance in Switzerland?

Take practical equipment for your hiking conditions and the proper footwear too. In a backpack, take as little as possible but as much as necessary, aiming to keep it light but full of valuable things such as sun protection, a first aid kit, rescue blanket, water and a mobile phone.

The most common cause of accidents is falling because of slipping or tripping, so be sure to walk on marked paths (reducing the risk of getting lost) and keep a sure foot and safe pace.

Don’t forget to take regular breaks not only for eating and drinking (necessary to maintain performance and concentration) but also to enjoy the landscape.

Be responsible for the children in the group, treks that require long-lasting concentration are not suitable for children and in passages with risk of falling, and one adult can only look after one child, according to the Swiss Alpine Club. Small groups are the best for hiking because they ensure mutual assistance and flexibility at the same time.

Rega on a rescue mission in the Swiss Alps. Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

The PACE checklist

The so-called PACE checklist helps hikers keep track of the most important things. PACE means plan, assess, consider, and evaluate, Swiss Alpine Club SAC says.

READ ALSO: Five beautiful Swiss villages located near Alpine lakes

Plan your route and duration and give yourself extra time and alternatives. Inform someone else about your trip. Assess if the hike is suitable for you, and do not undertake challenging trips yourself. Consider if you have what you need for the walk, like sturdy hiking shoes, protection against harsh weather and food and water supplies.

Finally, evaluate while hiking. See if you are too tired, keep eating, drinking and resting regularly and pay attention to the time you need and any changes in the weather. Do not leave the marked trail and turn back in time if necessary.

What to do in case of an accident?

If there are accidents during your hike, you should first provide life-saving help to anyone seriously injured and then call emergency services. Do not leave the wounded alone and do not put yourself at risk.

Mark the accident area clearly and give signals. The international emergency call sign consists of giving a sign (such as a flashing light or waving a cloth) six times a minute and then repeating it after one minute.

READ ALSO: Rega: What you need to know about Switzerland’s air rescue service

For helicopters, holding both your arms up (making a V shape) signals that you need help, while keeping one arm up and another down (forming a diagonal line with your arms) means you do not need help.

If you see animals, keep your distance and do not disturb them. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

What do I do if I see animals on my hike?

It’s common to find animals while hiking in the Swiss alps, especially cows in the pastures. A cow will protect their calves, so keep your distance. Do not touch the animals, and keep dogs on a leash.

Slowly and carefully move around at a distance and continue your trek.

You may occasionally find herds that dogs protect. It’s possible to inform yourself online in advance to find out where these herds are and avoid them. Still, remember that packs and their guardian dogs should be disturbed as little as possible. So stay calm and keep your distance – avoid any brisk movements.

If you are hiking with your dog, put it on a leash and slowly and calmly detour around the livestock.

If a guard dog barks and runs in your direction, try to stay calm and give the dog time to assess the situation. Stay far from the herd, don’t run or make sudden movements. You can use a stick to keep the dog at a distance by stretching them out, but don’t raise it or wave it around.

Once the dogs have accepted your presence and stopped barking, continue at a slow pace on your way.

Don’t forget: the Swiss rescue number is 1414 or you can also reach them using the European emergency number 112.