Question: When traveling in Switzerland, what is the difference between 1st and 2nd class rail tickets?
Short Answer: First class tickets offer more legroom and a generally quieter experience. And, if you buy 1st class tickets on a Swiss boat, then you’ll typically enjoy upper deck seating with phenomenal views.
Long Answer: It must be said that 2nd class tickets are perfectly fine. Second class seats are clean, safe, fun and they’re less expensive than 1st class seats. That said, the majority of people that travel through Switzerland do so in 2nd class, so 2nd class seats tend to see more wear-and-tear, and are sometimes more crowded, than 1st class seats. This varies by region and train. On some trains, the difference between classes is negligible. On others, the difference is more noticeable. On all the trains, however, the upholstery and carpeting tend to be a bit nicer in 1st class (less wear-and-tear), there’s more legroom, and it’s usually easier get a seat by your self (or with your friends). One caveat: First class seats can be quite crowded with business types during intercity rush hours.
So, should you splurge on 1st class tickets?
That’s your call. Having traveled both for many decades, we have to admit that 1st class offers a more comfortable experience. If you value quiet time to yourself, you like the extra legroom, or you’d rather be surrounded by businessmen than families, then by all means, go for 1st class. If you’re on a budget, you don’t need absolute quiet, or you’d like to mingle a bit more with the Swiss public, then choose 2nd class.
Note: Smoking is not allowed on any Swiss train.
It’s also worth stating that traveling by train in Switzerland is NOT like flying. Second class seats have plenty of legroom. You won’t feel cramped just because you chose the less expensive option. Also, we almost never have trouble finding seats in 2nd class. The 2nd class cars are just generally busier and more full than in 1st. Again, this varies by train, region and time of day. In some cases, you might have an entire 2nd class car to yourself.
Regardless of what you choose, you’ll have a wonderful time traveling through Switzerland. The Swiss Travel System, which includes trains, buses, boats, funiculars, trams and cable cars, is one of the most efficiently run transportation systems in the world. It is also, in our opinion, one of the most fun.
Photo: View from the train to Grindelwald, Switzerland. By Chris Pranskatis.