This iconic image is sprawled over a 40 metre giant billboard and catches every tourist’s attention at Zurich Airport immediately upon arrival: The Sphinx Observatory on a steep rock, towering over a great snow field of Aletsch glacier. “Jungfraujoch, Top of Europe”, it screams.
AKA…The most expensive tourist attraction in Switzerland!
This is one of Switzerland’s most popular travel destinations and many of you are likely planning a visit here this year. In this post, I will share with you my experience visiting the Jungfraujoch, including what to see and do, as well as practical information for planning a daytrip.
Read till the end to find out if this mountain excursion is REALLY worth making a special trip for in Switzerland, and how to get tickets to the Jungfraujoch at cheaper rates!
Where is Jungfraujoch?
The Jungfraujoch is located in the region of Bernese Oberland in the Swiss Alps. The name “Jungfrau” in German translates to “virgin” – and is probably made in reference to nuns in a convent which was located at the foot of the mountain.
The Jungfraujoch refers to the mountain range saddled between Mönch and Jungfrau. So just to be clear: you are not actually going up to the top of Jungfrau… but in between!
Is Jungfraujoch the highest mountain in Europe?
No, the term “Top of Europe” is also slightly mis-leading! It actually refers to the Jungfraujoch-Top of Europe station, the highest mountain railway station in Europe, not the altitude of the mountain itself. The Jungfraujoch stands at an elevation of 3,454 meters (11,332 feet). In fact, the highest peak in the Switzerland is the Dufourspitz lying in theMonte Rosa massif. (4,634 m). And the title of “highest mountain in Europe” rightfully goes to Mount Elbrus, located in Russia!
A history of the Jungfrau Railways
The Jungfrau Railways is testament to how formidable the Swiss are when it comes to building train stations!
The incredulous idea of creating a tunnel and train station up to the Jungfraujoch first came from Adolf Guyer-Zeller, while on a hiking trail with his daughter in 1893. Gazing at the vast expense from Lauterbrunnental to Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, he dreamt the possibility of transporting people up to the mountain tops.
The building of the tunnel started on July 27, 1896 and took 16 long years to complete.
Why is Jungfraujoch so expensive?
A trip up to the Jungfraujoch is the most expensive mountain excursion in the whole of Switzerland, at an eye-watering price of at least 120CHF and upwards (and that already includes a discount!).
So why is it so darn costly to come up here?
Well, simply because of the high maintenance cost. At such a high altitudes along with global warming and thawing of the frosted soil, these make the rocks foundation unstable. It thus takes incredulous engineering and manpower to maintain and secure the railway and buildings.
How to Get to the Jungfraujoch
There are two ways to get to Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe. By train, or via the new Eiger Express with a transfer in between.
This is the traditional route with cogwheel trains: From Interlaken-Ost to Kleine Scheidegg via either Grindelwald or Lauterbrunnen. From Kleine Scheidegg, the Jungfraubahn trains go through the mountain to Jungfraujoch-Top of Europe station. The total travel time takes 2 hours.
By Gondola: The Eiger Express (new)
The Eiger Express is the latest transport option up to the Jungfraujoch. This new tricable gondola was only recently opened in 2020, and was built with strong environment conscience in mind. It requires only seven towers spanning 6483 meters, minimising the need to chop off trees and clear land.
To take the Eiger Express, hop on the Bernese Oberland Railway to Grindelwald Terminal (which felt more like an airport terminal than a train station!) From here, you will reach the Eiger Glacier station in a breeze within 15 minutes, shaving off a neat 42 minutes off your travel time. This is definitely a huge plus especially for skiers, for whom time on the slopes are of essence!
You can hang around at the Eiger Glacier station for about half an hour. There isn’t much to do here at the moment, since this is mainly ski station where people like to go down the slopes down to Kleine Scheidegg.
From Eiger Glacier station, hop over for a transfer to the Jungfraubahn: you are now just one station away from the Top of Europe!
What to do at Jungfraujoch
Eismeer Sea of Ice
Halfway through the journey on the Jungfraubahn, the train stops mid-way at the Eismeer station. You can get out here for a terrific window view of the Aletsch Glacier. But don’t stay too long since the rest is only for 5 minutes, and anyway….the best view is at the top!
Sphinx Observation Deck
If there’s one spot you CANNOT miss when you’re at the Jungfraujoch, it has got to be the the Sphinx observation deck.
To get here, you’d first enter a ultrafast lift (it climbs 108 metres in just 25 seconds!)
At 3,571 m (11,716 ft) above mean sea level, the Sphinx is one of the highest observatories in the world. As an international research station, houses two laboratories and two terraces for scientific experiments, a solar spectrometer, a meteorological observation station, a workshop, and astronomical and meteorological domes. However, these are not accessible to the public. Instead, you can spend time outside at the deck where you get incredible views of the Jungfrau and the surrounding mountains.
Take note that it is very cold outside, will likely remain so even throughout summer, the wind was just super strong! I was wearing my winter coat, a fleece jacket, a base layer with snowboots and a hat and I was still chattering away, we stayed for about 10 minutes and rushed back indoors to get some respite from the cold. You need to be sufficiently clothed to stay warm.
You’d be surprised but even at such dizzying altitudes of over 3000m, there were still plenty of black birds up here, known as the Alpine chough birds. You may prepare some bread or seeds if you want to have a little fun feeding these friendly birds, some even flew onto the top of my head!
Up next, you will pass through long corridor called Alpine Sensation, which connects the Sphinx observation deck and the Ice Palace.
This corridor exhibit presents a more historical side of the Jungfraujoch. Visitors get to learn more about the pioneer Adolf Guyer-Zeller, the man who first made the bold dream of building a railway to the top of the mountain. Although he never lived to see its completion, his legacy still lives on as we enjoy the fruits of his vision today.
The entrance is filled with dazzling colourful lights and you’re greeted by huge snow globe, depicting Swiss villagers in the olden days.
As you walk on the moving travellator, there are audios and videos presenting a history of tourism in the Alps, the beginnings of the Jungfrau Railway and the hardships faced by the construction crew.
There is also a section paying tribute to workers who died building the tunnel and Jungfrau railway station.
Step into a frosty, mirror-smooth Ice Palace, a tunnel dug carved through the Aletch glacier and paved entirely out of ice. It might appear very modern and artificial, but in fact, it was built way back in the 1930s with nothing but old-fashioned picks and saws!
As you wander through nooks and crannies, you will find beautiful ice sculptures: penguins, people, automobiles, furniture There’s even a sculpture of Lang Lang on piano who recently hosted an open concert here at the top of Jungfraujoch!
Again, this is another really chilly area with temperatures reaching -3 degrees, the ground is paved with ice making it very slippery as well. So make sure you have those gloves, hats and sturdy boots ready.
Time for another breather outdoors! Head out to Glacier Plateau, where you get an unobstructed, astounding view of the Aletsch Glacier, as well as the surrounding mountains of Germany and France.
The sceneries of the Aletsch Glacier from Jungfraujoch is already spectacular, but if you would like to get even further up close to the Aletsch, then you should head instead to either the Eggishorn or the Moosfluh viewpoints in Valais.
For a guide on how to visit the Aletsch Glacier in Valais, check out my other blogpost here.
Make sure you have your photo taken against the backdrop of the snowy mountains and the Swiss flag!
Good weather is never guaranteed on the Jungfraujoch, and there may be unfortunate encounters when you head all the way up but face dark clouds with all the mountain views hidden (make sure you check the weather cam on the website first). But you’d just burnt a huge hole in your pocket coming up to the Jungfraujoch, and it makes absolute no sense to hurry back down! Luckily, there are plenty of indoor shops and restaurants for you to milk the best out of your time at the top.
Lindt Chocolate Heaven
This is a premium Lindt chocolate store. When you first enter, you will pass a segment dedicated to the history of Lindt, featuring a replica of the mixing machine invented by Rudolphe Lindt. There is also a screen displaying a virtual Lindt Maître Chocolatier, who demonstrates how a chocolate bar is made. Towards the left, there is the store section selling the whole assortment of Lindt chocolates.
For me this was a miss, as I didn’t find that the Lindt Chocolate Heaven did enough justice to the real experience at the Lindt Home of Chocolate
If time avails on your itinerary, you are much much better off visiting the Lindt Home of Chocolate or the Maison Cailler in Gruyeres. Both tours are supremely fun and interactive, and you walk away with much deeper appreciation of the finery of Swiss chocolates. You can refer to my Zurich itinerary or Ultimate Guide to Gruyères where I share about both my experience at Lindt Home of Chocolate and the Maison Cailler.
Dining Options at Jungfraujoch
Time for a bite! There are two restaurant options available at the Jungfraujoch: the Aletsch Self-Service restaurant and the Crystal restaurant serving the usual Swiss mountain cuisine. Previously, there was the hugely popular Bollywood Indian restaurant, but due to absence of overseas visitors during pandemic it has since been closed. I’m not sure if it would re-open soon with the return of global travel in 2022!
There is also a coffee bar for light snacks (they even had Shin cup noodles as well, at a hefty 4.90CHF… but we just closed our eyes and paid since we really craved korean ramen!), and the Sphinx cocktail bar for refreshing aperitif or a cold beer.
We dined at the Crystal Restaurant, and were pleasantly surprised to find that there were Asian vegetarian options available. By then we were already tired of the usual Swiss mountain food like cheese fondue and rosti by then so we gladly swopped for some Indian masala curry!
Based on our experience on other mountains in Switzerland, it is usually pretty rare for asian food to be offered, and In this aspect I think Jungfraujoch pays more attention to catering to Asian preferences given that the largest numbers of visitors come predominantly from countries like China, India, Korea and the Middle East.
In terms of prices, expect a range of 25-30 CHF for mains, and 5-8CHF for beverages per person. Yes food is expensive, but this is Switzerland…and you are on the pricest mountain in the country!
My Honest Review: Is the Jungfraujoch Worth It?
To incoming tourists, Jungfraujoch is “pure” Switzerland. Hundreds of thousands of tourists from China, India, Japan and the Gulf States flock to Jungfraujoch every year.
However, it is rare for Swiss to visit the Jungfraujoch. Most of my local friends have never went up here. When asked, they would rather prefer vacationing elsewhere in local mountains in Valais. Jungfraujoch might be a classic Swiss location, but to put it in Singaporean terms: it’s a bit like the Merlion. Only the tourists rave about it!
The facilities at the Jungfraujoch are modern and state-of-the art, and there are plenty of attraction indoors to keep you occupied. The entire complex is also targeted for overseas visitors so in terms of signages guides they are all in multiple language, which makes navigation and communication very clear. Take note that this might not be the case as compared to when you go to other more local mountains such as Ebenalp in Appenzell, or in Valais.
Well, the price. There’s just no other way to sugar-coat this! At minimally 65CHF per ticket after discount (see section below) You have to be prepared to fork out a significant portion of your travel spending to come up to the Jungfraujoch.
Although the attractions are aplenty, they are mostly indoors and limited to shops and restaurants. In winter, there is the Snow Fun Park where you can try out snowboarding, snow-tubing and skiing. However for summer: if you are hoping to do more outdoor-ish mountain adventures like zip-lining, hiking or tobaggan runs, then this would not be the right excursion choice for you.
THE FINAL VERDICT
Overall, if budget is not an issue, and you are willing to splurge as part of your Post-COVID 19 revenge travel spending…then the Jungfraujoch is a worth it. From the Ice Palace, to the Sphinx observatory tower and the spectacular views from the Plateau, its especially suitable for a family trip with kids, and this can easily be a full day excursion. The ride up the Jungfraubahn and the Eiger Express are also novelty experiences on their own!
However, if you are the type that can’t even tell one Swiss mountain apart from another…then it doesn’t make a difference whether you visit the Jungfraujoch or not. You might actually be better off considering other mountain excursion in Switzerland which have more activities options, without burning a huge hole in your pocket.
For this, check out my itineraries for Mount Titlis and Mount Pilatus in Lake Lucerne region.
Do I have to buy tickets in advance to the Jungfraujoch?
No, you don’t necessarily have to. You can choose to purchase it on-site at the Grindelwald Terminal, or at any train stations in Switzerland once you arrive. In fact that could be a better option since you can check the weather on the day itself before deciding to head up to the Jungfraujoch or not.
However, take note that if you are coming during peak seasons from July to August, there are certainly going to be more crowds, and you will risk longer waiting times without pre-booking.
If you would like to pre-book your tickets, visit the Jungfrau website here.
How Much Does it Cost to Visit the Jungfraujoch? Are there any Discounts?
There are a variety of travel passes that give discounts on travel in this region.
I’ll be honest, I myself found it equally mind-boggling trying to figure our exactly what’s covered by each pass, they have so many different routes and coverage! I’ve done my best here to consolidate the information here, but do your own due diligence too and check the ticket prices before you book.
Jungfrau Travel Pass. This covers all public transportation in the Jungfrau region and most mountain transport, including the train to Kleine Scheidegg. In 2022, this pass costs CHF 190/adult for 3 days. With the Jungfrau travel pass, you will just top up an additional 63CHF (from 1 Sep-23 Oct) or CHF 75 (for peak season from 1 Jun- 31 Aug).
The discounted supplement applies regardless of whether you travel all the way to Eiger Glacier by train, or travel via a combination of train and the Eiger Express cableway. Moreover, the Jungfrau Travel Pass includes free travel for other popular trips in the Jungfrau region including the Harder Kulm funicular, Schynige Platte cogwheel train and the Grindelwald-First cableway.
I personally will recommend this as my top option if your itinerary include these few destinations.
Bernese Oberland Regional Pass. This pass covers all public transportation and most mountain transport in the Bernese Oberland region, which includes from Berne, Brig, Saanen to Lucerne Lucerne. It 250CHF (for the full fare), and 150CHF (with the Swiss Half Fare card).
With this pass, you pay an additional 99CHF to go up to the Jungfraujoch. In my opinion, this pass might make sense for purchase if you are spending majority of your time in central Switzerland.
Swiss Travel Pass allows you to enjoy unlimited traveling throughout the country, with no tickets required for trains, buses and boats. This is the fuss-free option, recommended for tourists who don’t wish to deal with the hassle and complexity of the Swiss transport system and just want to board and enjoy the ride. However this is also the most expensive option. Tourists usually opt for the 8 day pass, which is priced at 389CHF. With the Swiss Travel Pass, it costs an additional 139.60CHF from Grindelwald to Jungfraujoch, or 142.60CH from Interlaken o Jungfraujoch. Choose to depart from Grindelwald because it is nearer to the top and it is thus cheaper.
SBB Half-fare is the most straight forward transport card option. It shaves 50% off all public transport in Switzerland. You pay 120CHF for the half-fare itself, and for your ticket to Jungfraujoch, it is an additional 95CHF. Don’t ask me why, I’m also mightily puzzled why the Half-Fare option has a steeper discount than the Swiss Travel Pass!
I hope this guide to the Jungfraujoch comes in handy for you when planning your next trip to Switzerland! Leave a comment down below if you do visit, and share with me your favourite experience!
This post is written in collaboration with MySwitzerland and Jungfrau Tourism. All opinions are my own.
Till next time,