Use special discounts and transportation passes for cheaper travel tickets on Swiss trains, buses, boats, trams, and cable cars – families save with the Junior Card, everyone does with the half-fare card travel pass.
Switzerland has an excellent public transportation system that smoothly integrates train, bus, tram, boat, and cable car rides. Transportation in Switzerland is often not cheap but several special tickets and transportation cards are available to bring costs down significantly. Working through all the transportation passes and ticket options is a bit cumbersome but the potential savings are well worth the effort. Dogs and bicycles need their own tickets.
Savings on Swiss Railway Tickets
The most important savings options for travelers using public transportation in Switzerland are the Junior Card, Half-Fare Card, and international offers. A special regional pass Léman-Alpes is useful in the Lake Geneva region while visitors to the region may also benefit from discount passes for the Geneva (Unireso) and Lausanne-Vaud (Mobilis) public transportation networks. The Léman Pass covers mostly Geneva and neighboring French territories including Evian and Thonon-les-Bains.
Most savings offers aimed at local Swiss residents are available to foreign visitors visiting Switzerland too. Special international offers are usually available only to travelers not resident in Switzerland or Liechtenstein.
Almost all passes are valid for use on any line indicated on the Switzerland map of the Half-Fare Card routes. All public transportation timetables and most train tickets are available online from Swiss Railways. Tickets must be bought before boarding any Swiss train — buying on the train will involve a CHF100 “surcharge” per person. This is also essential for buying tickets with a smartphone — the transaction must be completed before the time the train departs from the station, or a fine will automatically follow.
Swiss Pass Card
Almost all special transportation passes in Switzerland are currently loaded onto a Swiss Pass. This is a credit card size plastic card with the name and photo of the bearer and RFID chips. It is used for amongst others travel passes and ski lift tickets.
Anyone may apply for a Swiss Pass for free at any station but the actual Swiss Pass card is only mailed to a physical address — around ten days in Switzerland, longer for foreign addresses. (For immediate travel, temporary travel passes may be issued for a two-week period.)
→ See How to Get and Use the Swiss Pass Card for more details.
Note that most deals specifically aimed at foreign travelers are NOT linked to the Swiss Pass card.
Families Save with the Junior Card and Children’s Co-Travelcard
A fantastic deal for families with children aged between 6 and 16 is the Junior Card (Junior-Karte / Carte Junior). It cost only CHF30 per year and allows the child free travel on almost all trains, buses, trams, boats, and cable cars in Switzerland when accompanied by a parent bearing a valid ticket. Children under 6 travel for free.
A similar deal is the Children’s Co-Travel Card (Kinder-Mitfahrtkarte / Carte Enfant Accompagné). It also cost CHF30 per year but allows the child to travel for free with any adult named on the travel card – every adult-child combination requires a separate card. (The previous Grandchild Card is no longer sold.)
The Junior Card is included for free as the Swiss Family Card in some international offers (must be requested at the time of purchase) but may also be acquired from any manned train ticket window – a Swiss residential address is not required.
- See Save with the Swiss Junior Card for more details
International Saving Offers for Swiss Trains and Public Transportation
The Swiss public transportation system has several savings offers available only to non-resident visitors. These special offers are mostly aimed at short-term visitors – visitors staying longer than a month or visiting twice in a year may find better value in the regular savings offers such as the standard Junior Card and the Half-Fare Card. The international deals do not require a Swiss Pass card.
See the Pdf-format Map of Switzerland for the area of validity of international Swiss transportation passes.
The following are the main offers to international tourists:
- Swiss Travel Pass – The Swiss Travel Pass is a traditional transportation pass and allows for unlimited travel on most forms of public transportation in Switzerland (and 50% discounts on most mountain cable cars and trains). It also includes a Swiss Museum Pass – free admission to around 500 museums in Switzerland and some further discounts. The Swiss Travel Pass is available as regular pass, flexi pass, savers pass, and youth pass (16 to 25 years). The Swiss Travel Pass may be bought for travel on between 3 and 15 days. (The Swiss Travel Pass was long known simply as the Swiss Pass but since 2015, the Swiss Pass is used for domestic travel passes mostly used by Swiss residents only.) Available online from Get Your Guide / Swiss Tours.
- International Swiss Half Fare Card – the international Half-Fare Card is valid for a month and gives most of the same advantages as the regular Half Fare Card, i.e. 50% discount on most transportation in Switzerland.
- Swiss Travel System Family Card – the Swiss Family Card works like a Junior Card but is given free to children under 16 traveling with their parents, if a parent bought any of the above international travel tickets. It is easiest added at time of purchase, otherwise it may be obtained from a station inside Switzerland.
See International Savings Passes for the Swiss Public Transportation System for more details and prices of international offers, which are available internationally through RailEurope. Trainline and Omio are great sources for buying Swiss railway and bus tickets and are often easier to use than SBB which assumes a half-fare ticket as default.
Eurail passes may also be good value if the journey through Switzerland is part of a larger European tour. Some British travel specialists also offer trips by train from the UK to Europe for train enthusiasts e.g. Great Rail Journeys and Rail Discoveries.
Save on Transportation with the Swiss Railways Half-Fare Card
The main savings deal for regular users of public transportation in Switzerland is the very popular Half-Fare Card (Halbtax / Demi-Tarif). Bearers of this card receive 50% discount on almost all public transportation travel in Switzerland including trains, boats, buses, trams, and many cable cars. The discount is available for travel in both first and second class.
The Half-Fare Card is CHF185 per year and in the new Swiss Pass system automatically renews for the next year if not canceled around a month before its expiration / renewal date.
An international half-fare card valid for one month is CHF120 and available only to non-resident travelers. (Own children under 16 may be added to travel for free.)
Bearers of Half-Fare cards also qualify for further benefits including day-tickets, a month rail pass per year, child day tickets, and discounts on cross-border rail journeys. The seven25 card allows youths between 16 and 25 to travel for free from 7 pm to 5 am.
- See Save with the Swiss Half-Fare Card for more details.
Regional Savings Offers for Lake Geneva Area, Genève, Lausanne & Vaud
Switzerland has 20 regional public transportation associations, which combine tariffs and coordinate timetables in various regions. In the Lake Geneva region, the two relevant transportation associations are Unireso (Genève) and Mobilis (Lausanne and Canton Vaud).
Different day tickets and travel passes are available for travel within the specific association areas. Passes for Unireso and Mobilis may be combined in Region Léman tickets. The Léman Pass covers mostly Geneva and neighboring French territories including Evian and Thonon-les-Bains.
Special savings tickets, including day tickets, are available for sailing on CGN Lake Geneva cruise boats.
The regional pass Léman-Alpes is a special vacation pass aimed at tourists and leisure travelers in the Lake Geneva region. It is valid for 5 (or 7) days allowing for unlimited travel on any two (or three) days and discounted travel on the other days. It is especially useful for visitors who enter Switzerland in Geneva and not traveling long distances through Switzerland while on vacation in the Lake Geneva region.
Dog Tickets on Swiss Railways
Dogs often need their own tickets when traveling on Swiss Railways. Dogs smaller than 30 cm shoulder height may travel for free only if kept inside a cage or basket at all times – or at a minimum while the inspectors move through the carriage.
Other dogs require a dog ticket, which is half the adult fare for a second class ticket or travel pass. The second-class fare dog ticket is also valid for first-class travel without surcharge. If buying a rail pass, DOG rather than the name of the owner must be written on the ticket. A dog day ticket is CHF35 (or CHF350 per year) – valid in both first and second class.
Bicycle Tickets on Swiss Railways, Boats & Buses
Bicycle tickets are needed for travel on most trains, buses, and boats (not all accept bicycles). On short journeys, a bicycle ticket is the same as an adult second class ticket (half fare for bearers of a half-fare card).
For longer journeys, or when using several trains or buses, buy a day ticket for a bicycle at CHF14. An annual bicycle pass is CHF240. Children with a Junior Card may take a bicycle for free if the accompanying parent has a bicycle ticket.
More Tips for Saving on Swiss Transportation:
- Swiss Transportation Savings Deals (include information on dogs and bicycles too!)
- Omio and Trainline sell train and bus tickets for Switzerland and most of Europe. Both are easy to use and often have very good deals for specific trains.
- How to Get and Use the Swiss Pass Card
- Swiss Railways English website for timetables and online tickets — note half-fare tickets are the default choice.
- Switzerland Transportation Map (PDF File showing where the discount deals are valid)
- Save with the Swiss Half-Fare Card on Public Transportation
- International Savings Passes on Swiss Transportation (including information on the Swiss Family Card and international Half-Fare Card)
- Families Save with the Cheap Junior Card on Swiss Public Transportation
- Using the Swiss Travel Pass and Flexi Swiss Travel Pass.
- Buying Swiss Travel Passes from Get Your Guide.
- Book holidays by train from Great Rail Journeys (UK).