Falling in love with Jungfraujoch

  • Inspiring places
  • Further afield
  • 7 min read
Falling in love with Jungfraujoch

Rachel Ifans explores the Jungfraujoch region, including its breathtaking (literally!) new gondola which whisks you to the Top of Europe in no time

The Jungraujoch – a perfect holiday destination

The Jungfraujoch mountain region in the Bernese Alps in Switzerland has long been on my list to visit; it’s been the much-loved location of many extended-family holidays I’ve always managed to miss and I’ve ogled a million snaps of picture-postcard peaks and verdant valleys over the years. 

Turns out it’s a great time to visit. There’s a new tri-cable gondola which offers faster, all-year-round access to the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains and delivers views of the Aletsch Glacier which, at 22km, is the longest in the Alps (and it’s 1km deep – gulp!).

The new Eiger Express and a day hike at high altitude to a mountain hut was an experience I’ll never forget but what surprised me was how much the Jungfraujoch region has to offer visitors besides this big hitter: there are numerous other extraordinary peaks to explore including Harder Kulm and Schynige Platte, and there’s lots of sunny family fun to be had at the much lower Grindelwald First mountain too. 

The view down from Top of Europe railway station to a snow-covered valley with the Eiger Express gondola cutting across the mountain

The Jungfraujoch train network 

The sight of a yellow and red Swiss train snaking up through the wildflower-strewn mountain meadows brings out the Heidi in us all and the cogwheel train, which has been operating in the Jungfrau since 1912, was a real pioneer in mountain railways. It takes people from Kleine Scheidegg and Eigergletscher to the Top of Europe railway station at 3,454m altitude and much of its 9km track was hewn through the actual rock of the Eiger and Mönch mountains.

An old yellow and mountain train sits on snowy tracks with snow-covered mountains in the background

There are two obvious routes to Top of Europe: one is to take the new Eiger Express gondola from Grindelwald’s Terminal station to the Eigergletscher station where you then pick up the Jungfrau railway to the top. The second is to take the train all the way, leaving from Grindelwald via Lauterbrunnen and Wengen to Kleine Scheidegg where you change onto a Jungfrau train to the top. 

The latter is slower but does allow extra time to acclimatise to the altitude; 3,500m is pretty high and some people can feel breathless or dizzy if they go up too quickly. 

My recommendation is to go up via the glitzy gondola and down with the train to get the full experience – or vice versa – and I advise buying a Jungfrau Travel Pass for 3-8 days, which includes unlimited travel on trains, cable cars and funiculars to all the main destinations in the area including Harder Kulm, Schynige Platte, Grindelwald First and Interlaken.

Visiting the glacier on the Eiger Express 

The new gondola is as impressive a feat of engineering as the Jungfrau railway was for its creator Guyer-Zeller back in the early 1900s. The new state-of-the-art cable car is heated, has a whopping 26 seats and wifi in each of the 44 gondolas, and covers 6.7km, cutting the total journey time to Top of Europe by 47 minutes and getting skiers to the slopes in just 15 minutes.

A brand new, sleek grey cable car hangs off a three-cabled line against a backdrop of grassy valley and snowy peaks

I was lucky with the weather on my ascent and the 15-minute ride seemed almost too brief to properly enjoy the sunny views you get through the floor-to-ceiling windows. It was also all-too-easy to miss details like the windows cut in the side of Eiger and the path that helter-skelters its almost-vertical face. (If you want to hike back down from Eigergletscher station on the Eiger Trail to Alpigen, it will take a couple of hours at a fair lick. Make sure you allow enough time to get the last train at Alpigen or you’ll end up having to walk the whole way.)

Back to my ascent. The gondola and train journeys seemed to be over in a heartbeat and I wondered how my body would deal with the speedy rise in altitude and drop in temperature (it was 25 degrees lower at the top than in Grindelwald on the day I went) when I started my hike to Mönchsjochhutte for lunch. 

To let my body catch up, I explored the Top of Europe complex and its ice tunnel, 360-degree cinema, photo gallery and high-end watch and chocolate shops. It seemed like climbing any further was just not possible, but a 117m lift proved me wrong, rocketing me up through the rock and popping me out on the mind-blowing Sphinx Observation Terrace to unforgettable views of the Aletsch Glacier, and Italy, France and Germany beyond. 

Slightly breathless, I then started my 45-minute hike through the high alpine glacial world to the mountain hut, more aware than I’d ever been of my insignificance and infinitesimal smallness in this great big world. I felt intrepid and very proud as I pushed on uphill (yes really… further up!) to the hut and rewarded myself with a sausage and potato salad swilled down with some class Swiss beer before the return leg.

Other top sights in Jungfraujoch, Switzerland 

Wengen and Kleine Scheidegg 

My rail descent via Wengen was dramatically different to the blinding glacier at the top. Cow bells rang, peace reigned, and everywhere was green. The juxtaposition of the high-tech gondola with this old-world charm is like comparing apples and pears; ultimately pointless as they’re both so different and wonderful in their own right. I had a 20-minute wait at Kleine Scheidegg which was just enough to refill my water bottle and look at the view and I’m so glad I did it rather than zoom back down in the gondola.

A yellow and green mountain train snakes through a huge expanse of green mountain meadowland

Harder Kulm 50

“You’ve been much higher than this,” I kept telling myself. “This is NOTHING compared to the Eiger.” But the old-style mountain peak experience that is Harder Kulm (at a mid-level 1,321m) is very different to the glacial peaks of Top of Europe and, for those prone to vertigo, it’s a challenge. A wonderful challenge, of course. The twin funiculars that push up and down the incredibly steep track from Interlaken Ost to Harder Kulm have been doing the same for over 100 years and it takes 10 sweaty-palmed minutes to get to the top where you get incredible views of Interlaken, Eiger, Monch, Jungfrau as well as the Thun and Brienz lakes. An Aperol Spritz and some “Look at me!” selfies distracted me from my nerves and the sunset over mist in the valley was spell-binding.

An aerial view of Harder Kulm peak and panorama restaurant with the mountains beyond Interlaken behind

Grindelwald First

A group zip wire descends the Grindelwald First mountain. The flyers are lying face down and the zip is decorated like a big bird

On the sunny side of the valley lies a playground. Take the cable car in Grindelwald to one of three levels, depending on what activity you fancy. 

Right at the top you’ll find a lake hike, a cliff walk, a restaurant and the start of two zip wire rides. At the middle cable car station, you can pick up mountain carts and whizz down to the lowest station where you can then swap your transport to trottibikes (scooters) to get you back to town. There are lots of walking trails and the views back towards the dark jagged edges of the Eiger and Mönch are arguably the best around. The cable car is included in the Jungfrau Travel Pass but you need a different pass for the activities or you can buy each ride individually. 

A manmade walkway snakes along the side of Grindelwald First mountain – the Eiger glacier in the background

Schynige Platte

Talk about Switzerland on steroids, this peak has views, a botanic garden bursting with Swiss mountain flowers, hikes, alpine horn concerts and another iconic rail journey, this time in the form of a steam locomotive. Take the train to Wilderswil station and pick up the old train there.

Travel to Jungfrau with LeShuttle

LeShuttle is the perfect way to start your journey to the Swiss Alps. I based myself in Grindelwald, a nine-hour drive from Calais and I suggest an overnight stop in Dijon. As bait to the care-worn drivers out there, I promise you won’t use your car from the moment you arrive until you leave – thanks to Switzerland’s enviable railway and cable car network.

About the Author: Rachel Ifans

I am a journalist and editor, covering a wide range of lifestyle and travel subjects but always returning to my first love, France. Born unfortunately to non-French parents, I have spent my life trying to make up for it by spending as much time as I can in France or writing about it, studying the language, tirelessly dragging my children round all six sides of l'Hexagone, and endlessly chuntering to my husband about moving there.

To read more from Rachel, click here.

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