When I hear someone describe their trip to Switzerland, very often it’s about visiting the Swiss Alps. The Swiss Alps is a generic term and there are more mountains than you can shake your hat at in Switzerland. Previously, I had blogged about Zermatt, a ski resort for the rich and famous. Unlike Zermatt which is all about the majesty of the Matterhorn, Jungfraujoch is all about ‘in your face’ Swiss Alps tourism.
The Jungfrau forms part of the Bernese Alps and at 4,158m tall is one of the highest mountains in Europe. Together with the Eiger and Monch summits, they form a massive mountain wall and are very distinctive of the Swiss Alps. Jungfrau means virgin maiden in German. So I guessed it was named by some horny cowherd with an active imagination when he looked at the mountain ?
I visited Jungfraujoch in 1997 when I was stationed in Switzerland for a while. The starting off point is the town of Interlaken which is connected to the other major Swiss cities by SBB rail. From Interlaken the private Bernese Oberland Railway runs trains to Jungfraujoch through several villages.
Depending on train schedules and choices, you can take the train from Interlaken to Grindelwald or Lauterbrunnen. I would recommend to go to Lauterbrunnen for a more scenic route. The village of Lauterbrunnen lies in a valley under huge cliffs. During summer, the melting snow flows as spectacular waterfalls that fall from the cliff on to the village.
From Lauterbrunnen, I had to take another train to Wengen. And from Wengen, another train brought me to Kleine Scheidegg, where I finally changed to the Jungfrau Railway. This railway runs through a 9km long tunnel into the mountain and will bring visitors to Jungfraujoch station at 3,454m above sea level. If you decide to take the train to Grindelwald instead, you can continue straight to Kleine Scheidegg instead of going through Wengen. It does save time and hassle of changing trains but you will miss out on the waterfalls at Lauterbrunnen.
It’s incredible how the engineers could have cut through solid mountain for 9km, taking into account that it was built from 1898 to 1912. With a steep gradient of 25%, the train relies on a cogwheel system to climb up the mountain. There a couple of stops inside the tunnel where visitors can alight and look at the glaciers through windows. The windows in the tunnels were made when the engineers had to extract rock from the tunnel.
Finally, I reached Jungfraujoch Station which is the highest train station in Europe, even until now. So what can you do up there? There are several viewing points and a couple of man made ice caves for visitors to explore. There is a hotel and 2 restaurants, and there is also a observatory and ski school.
So now that you are interested in visiting Jungfraujoch, should you go? It’s not the cheapest place to visit and there are other mountains in Switzerland that are more ‘economical’ to visit if you just want to experience the Swiss Alps. The price of the return train ticket from Interlaken to Jungfraujoch is more than 200 Swiss Francs per person for second class (First class is just a bit more). The journey itself takes 2~2.5 hours one way. So if you are not staying in the mountain villages or Interlaken, you will have to factor this into your visiting hours. I did not stay in the area, but I would say that hotels there are not the cheapest either.
At an average height of 3,500m altitude sickness can be a problem. My first time there I almost fainted because I was too excited in running out of the train upon exiting at Jungfraujoch. A lady tourist actually fainted and paramedics had to resuscitate her with oxygen. So don’t over exert yourself when you reach the top.
But if you have just only one place to go when you are in Switzerland then I would say “Just do it!” for the experience.