The highlight of our week in Switzerland was our trip to the Jungfraujoch. We were here with our four children and had an amazing day. Here’s our advice on visiting the Jungfraujoch with children…
During our stay in Lauterbrunnen, the one excursion that stood out amongst them all as the big one to do was the trip up to the Jungfraujoch – Europe’s highest railway station and an alpine ‘wonderland of ice, snow and rock’ at one of the highest points that ordinary tourists can physically get to in Europe (second only I believe to Chamonix’s Aiguille du Midi).
– The observation tower at the Jungfraujoch –
The Jungfraujoch is heavily promoted all over the Bernese Oberland region that we were staying in – as well as further afield in Switzerland (as it’s well serviced by rail from across the region).
It’s hard to describe exactly what the Jungfraujoch actually ‘is’. It’s basically a visitor centre with a variety of attractions and activities perched high up between the peaks of the Jungfrau and Monch mountains.
There are viewing platforms, restaurants, a ‘snow fun park’, a network of tunnels inside the ice of the glacier known as the ‘ice palace’, a Lindt chocolate factory – and more, all surrounded by some of the most mind-blowing mountain views across the Swiss Alps that you can possibly imagine.
– “It’s an incredible, unique experience and one which you literally won’t find the likes of anywhere else in Europe”
The Jungfraujoch is accessible by a train, which runs up and down the highest mountain railway in Europe and which is a pretty incredible experience in its own right.
– Views of Lauterbrunnen from the first leg of the train journey up to the mid-station –
It is a major attraction, heavily hyped up, but one which definitely lived up to – and exceeded – our expectations.
It’s an incredible, unique experience and one which you literally won’t find the likes of anywhere else in Europe. But if you’re heading up to the Jungfraujoch with children and family, there are a few things you should know to make the day more enjoyable – so read on…
When to go
We were visiting in summer (July) which is certainly the best, and most-popular, time to visit the Jungfraujoch. One thing I would strongly recommend is making sure you do this on a clear, sunny day. The weather was mixed during the week of our visit with several days of cloud and rain but with sun forecast for the end of the week.
I’m pretty sure if you visit Jungfraujoch on anything other than a clear day you’re going to be disappointed or, at the very least, underwhelmed by what, if the weather is good, would be an experience you’ll remember for a lifetime.
Of course everyone else had the same idea and the two clear, sunny days of the week saw enormous numbers of visitors – so it’s essential to buy your tickets several days in advance. Keep your eye on the forecast and if the weather looks good, get down to one of the stations and get your tickets booked early; they’re extremely likely to be sold out if you try to buy on the day.
Getting up there
Jungfraujoch is only accessible by train – and the journey itself is one of the most memorable you’ll ever take.
We really struggled to get our heads around the ticket options to start with, particularly the differences between the Jungfraujoch tickets and the Jungfrau ‘Regional Pass’ lift passes we already had.
– Views approaching the Kleine Scheidegg ‘mid-station’, another train on its way up in the distance –
– “Tickets are not cheap (nothing in Switzerland is!) but they are definitely worth the money.”
Ultimately it boiled down to our regional lift passes being valid to get us up to the ‘mid point’ station (Kleine Scheidegg) but we needed to purchase additional tickets to get us from there up to the top (on which you get a discount if you already have the Jungfrau Regional Passes).
The tickets are available from the local railway stations including Lauterbrunnen station, Interlaken and Wengen. They are not cheap (nothing in Switzerland is!) but they are definitely worth the money.
We took the train from Lauterbrunnen station, which was only 5-minutes drive from our chalet. We got there early, conscious of the likelihood it would be busy, and ultimately wished we’d made the effort to get there even earlier.
The trains from Lauterbrunnen up to the Kleine Scheidegg mid-station were only running once an hour so we would strongly recommend getting up as early as you can and catching the earliest possible train up.
When we bought the tickets, we were given an option for standard tickets or ‘reserved seating’ tickets, which were more expensive. With a family of six, already fast running out of money thanks to the high cost of pretty much everything in Switzerland, we went for the standard tickets – a decision we ultimately regretted, as explained below. If you can stretch to them, we’d highly recommend the reserved seating options.
– The world’s highest chocolate factory –
– “The views from the window of the train have to be literally some of the best anywhere in Europe”
The first leg of the train journey is incredible. The views from the window of the train have to be literally some of the best anywhere in Europe. If you get the choice, sit on the side of the train that faces Lauterbrunnen town (where you’ll have the best views) and have your camera ready.
The end of the ‘normal’ train line is at Kleine Scheidegg, a small resort with a hotel, a restaurant and some incredible mountain views. But the predominant feature is the railway station, at which you switch from the ordinary train to the special cog-wheel train that takes you all the way up to the Jungfraujoch.
It’s at this point that we wished we’d bought the reserved seating tickets. Numerous trains coming up from Lauterbrunnen and Wengen deposit their loads of travellers at Kleine Scheidegg, where they all have to get on to the single track train up to the top. It’s a real bottleneck and we got off here to find hundreds (possibly even thousands) of people all queued up on the mountainside train station waiting for the limited space on the train to the top.
If you have ‘reserved seating’ tickets, you basically get to skip the queue and get straight on the next available trains (although even the reserved passengers were having to queue on the day we visited).
– Train station at the top of the Jungfrajoch –
If, like us, you have the standard tickets, you then have to wait for whatever seats are left once all the reserved passengers are on board which, in our case, was almost none. We queued here for an hour and a half, watching while two trains arrived and filled up with people who were able to just walk on in front of us with hardly any wait at all.
It was extremely frustrating and we wondered if we’d ever make it up to the top given the number of reserved passengers that just seemed to keep on coming – leaving very few spare spaces for us 2nd class travellers.
Eventually we got a space on one of the cog trains and started what turned out to be an unexpectedly long journey up to the top station.
Don’t expect amazing views on this leg of the journey – it’s 95% through a tunnel through the mountainside. It’s an unbelievable feat of engineering considering this tunnel was made hundreds of years ago largely by hand, but there’s not much to see other than darkness – though there are a couple of brief stops for a rest on the way up at viewing stations with amazing views over the glaciers.
I lost track of time, but I think we finally arrived at the Jungfraujoch some 3-hours after we’d set out from Lauterbrunnen. It was a pretty arduous journey but one we quickly forgot about and was well worth the effort.
Up at the Jungfraujoch
Stepping off the train the first thing that hits you is that it’s cold! When we departed Lauterbrunnen the temperature had been over 30-degrees. The average temperature at the top in July is just 3-degrees so make sure you dress accordingly.
You’re 3,500-metres above sea level at the top and it’s a different world of ice and snow. We had a perfect sunny day and, in the sun, it was warm enough to be in a t-shirt. But out of the sun, or when the wind picked up, it was as cold as a winter’s day so be ready for the full range of temperatures.
Something else to bear in mind is the potential for altitude sickness. This is something that affects people very differently, with some individuals more susceptible than others.
I could instantly feel it and got very out of breath and light-headed very quickly, but Bev and all the children were completely fine. I did see another guy who was obviously suffering with it and he’d been given oxygen by the first aiders. It’s unlikely to be a major problem – this isn’t exactly Everest Base Camp, but it is high enough to have some effects and is just something to be aware of so it doesn’t take you by surprise.
– “Nothing quite prepares you for the utterly breathtaking sights from high mountain vantage points like Jungfraujoch.”
Stepping out of the railway tunnel and out on to snow, all the waiting and the long journey instantly proved totally worthwhile. Virtually everywhere in Switzerland is stunningly beautiful and we’d spent the whole week so far in total awe of the views and scenery. But nothing quite prepares you for the utterly breathtaking sights from high mountain vantage points like Jungfraujoch.
There’s a variety of things to see and do up there including a ‘snow fun park’ with the opportunity for sledging, snowboarding, an amazing looking zip-wire ride (all at additional cost) or just generally messing about in deep, pristine white snow.
Back inside, in a network of tunnels, spaces and platforms carved out of and built on to the mountainside are a series of restaurants, viewing points, shops, virtual tours and so on.
Our two highlights were the ‘Ice Palace’ – a network of tunnels carved in to the glacier featuring various displays of amazing ice sculptures – and the viewing platform up at the ‘Sphinx’ observatory.
– Inside the Jungfraujoch ‘Ice Palace’ glacier tunnels –
All the man-made activities and attractions are impressive, but for me it’s the views and sights to be seen that really stole the show, particularly up on the Sphinx viewing area. Even if there were nothing else at the Jungfraujoch other than this platform, with its views across the Alps, the time, effort and money required to get up here would still be well worth it.
Heading back down
After several hours enjoying the experience, we headed back to the train platform to find queues even longer than on the way up! Again, the same rule applied for the reserved seating ticket-holders, who were able to just waltz straight past us an on to the trains with minimal waiting, while those of us with standard tickets just had to stand and watch in dismay as just a small trickle of us were allowed on to the trains each time.
The day we visited was probably one of, if not the, busiest day of the year at the Jungfraujoch so I doubt this is typical of the experience every day, but we stood, including all four children, for over 2-hours waiting to get on a train back down – increasingly cold and agitated.
– “As the crowds built, I began to worry a bit about the situation we were in.”
I have to say, as the crowds built and became increasingly frustrated at the long wait, I began to worry a bit about the situation we were in. There is literally no way out other than to get on these trains that only turn up every half-an-hour and then disappear off on their hour or more journey back down to civilisation and there just seemed to be more people wanting to go back down than the facility could cope with.
But I had to hand it to the staff, they dealt with the situation extremely well. There was a kids film for those like us at the Jungfraujoch with children (Ice Age, appropriately enough) being screened on TVs on the wall next to the queues and staff wandering around giving out free Lindt chocolates to everyone in the queue, doing their best to successfully keep the crowds happy and good-natured.
The queuing was certainly an unpleasant experience but we all agreed we would do it again without a second thought in order to experience this amazing place. But, for sure, we would have paid the extra for reserved seating.
On the way back down, having been stood up for hours and crammed on to the train for ages, we decided to stop off for a rest in the famous ski resort of Wengen, to stretch our legs, get a drink and some snacks and to sit around enjoying the sun and views before getting back on the train for the final leg down to Lauterbrunnen.
We finally arrived back at our chalet after a long day, tired but thoroughly glad we’d made the trip on such a beautiful (albeit busy) day, but with memories and photos of views and places – truly amazing, incredible ones – that we’ll remember, I believe, for the rest of our lives. We absolutely loved it!