Jungfrau – For Indians is a destination made famous by Bollywood films.
Switzerland is a little spoiled to be filled with picturesque landscapes. And for those of you who know the Swiss Alps, it is probably no surprise to learn that the Jungfraujoch or Jungfrau is in a UNESCO World Heritage area. In fact, it was the first such Alpine World Heritage site in the world.
The mountains in this part of Switzerland are some its highest, and most stunning. And, when you add to that the Aletsch Glacier, the longest in Eurasia, you know you have a winner.
As someone who lives in Switzerland, I have had the chance to explore a huge portion of the Jungfrau region. I want to make sure you get the most out of your visit if you get a chance to come here. There is so much to do in the area, it helps to know what is possible, how to get there and what suits your interests the most.
So, without further ado, let’s dive right into it…
The Famous Jungfraujoch
One of the most renowned spots to visit on any trip to Switzerland is – the Jungfraujoch. It is actually a mountain saddle (“Joch” in German) that sits between the Jungfrau and Eiger mountains. It presents a unique opportunity to get to the crazy heights just by relaxing and taking a train!
The train ride to Jungfrau or Top of Europe
This railway line takes you right to the “Top of Europe” as they call it. Just the train journey is an experience in and of itself. It begins with panoramic scenery on the train from Grindelwald, but the fun really begins after Kleine Scheidegg.
Here the train actually “enters” the side of the Eiger mountain via a tunnel that was carved into the mountain. It’s quite the engineering achievement, especially when you consider it took 16 years to build and was completed over a century ago, in 1912! Yes, a lot of people broke their backs chiseling their way through this mountain.
The train stops along the way for a view on one of the many glaciers in the area. I definitely recommend you get off when you can. At the Eismeer (Sea of Ice) on the way up there are some great Instagram snaps! That is not the only highlight of this train ride though.
It also has some windows (yes windows) in the mountain as you pass through the tunnel. There is even a small side tunnel to look out for, that is often used to rescue climbers stuck on the Eiger. It happens more often than you may think.
Highest Railway Station in Europe
The train ride then ends at the highest railway station in Europe. Situated at 3454m (or over 11300ft), you are deep inside this UNESCO World Heritage area.
There is so much to see and do, you could actually spend a few days here. Aside from the 2.5-hour train and potential stops along the way, there is year-round snow on the saddle. After all, it’s pretty darn high. Some people come here to ski in summer, although it’s not great quality snow. However, if it’s your only chance to see snow, then go have fun!
The owners of the Jungfraujoch have also built a stunning observatory on top of the saddle, along with some shops, a panoramic experience you should do in case the weather is bad. But for me, it is the ice caves (called the Ice Palace), which I first saw when I was 5 years old, albeit in a snowstorm, which is the most jaw-dropping! The skill and time it takes to carve and maintain this each year is astounding. And, it makes for some cool photos too!
There are other fun and sometimes crazy things you can do from here. Some examples are hitting a hole in one, going for a hike to a mountain hut, or even heading for a longer expedition on the glacier. The latter requires either alpine experience or a guide and a few days time. But. if you do have more than a few days, overnighting in the Concordia hut on the side of the Aletsch glacier is a once in a lifetime experience!
Eiger, Jungfrau & Monch
The Jungfrau mountain actually stands in a chain of mountains in the Berner Oberland that are all around 4000m high. If you are not an alpine enthusiast, let me tell you, anything over 3000m will make you out of breath in no time!
Although the Jungfraujoch is actually a huge tourist attraction in Switzerland, its neighbor the Eiger is far more infamous. It has a sheer north face that is almost impossible to climb and has lead to dozens of deaths over the decades.
In fact, it is still held in awe today as one of the hardest mountains to climb in the Alps. If you happen to spend some time in Grindelwald, at its base, you should grab some binoculars and see if you can spot some climbers on it. Even in the winter!
Hike the Eiger Trail
An even better way to get up close and personal with this beast of a mountain is to hike the Eiger Trail. We did it with friends a few years ago, and it’s a great day out. Take the train or ski lift up to Kleine Scheidegg, and then hike down along the base of the Eiger.
You should definitely stop to look straight up and imagine what it would be like to “try” to climb it yourself – the climbers start from this trail too. It takes normal mountaineers days, but some “nutters” like the late Ueli Steck took just over 2 hours! It’s hard to imagine.
One of my other favorite ways to get a more panoramic view of these three jewels of the Alps. Take the Gondola up to the top of the First Ski Resort. There you can take a quick hike (more of a walk) to the Bachalpsee where the mountains are reflected in its clear alpine waters.
For those feeling a little more energetic, you can continue to the Faulhorn hut where you can also take a peek over the other side to the mountains in the north. It’s worthwhile if you have the time and energy, but it will take you 3-4 hours return.
The team at First won’t leave you any time to get bored though. They have a string of fun adventures you can partake in while you are up there. You can take the jaw-dropping First Cliff Walk, ride the First Flyer or take what the locals call a “Trotti” (we call a fat-wheeled scooter) down the mountain instead of taking the gondola back down!
The Aletsch Glacier & Surroundings
Beginning its life in the heart of the mountains around the Jungfraujoch, the Aletsch Glacier is a sight to behold. It is the longest glacier in Europe at over 23km (14 miles) – majestically sliding its way, ever so gradually, down the valley behind the Bernese Alps.
You can take a guided walk on it from the Jungfraujoch, as I mentioned above. But there are even better ways to get a stunning view of the whole glacier. My favorite is to take the lift up to the mid-station from Fiesch and then do a half-day hike (there and back) to a viewpoint over the glacier. You also get to walk through a rather dark man-made tunnel on the way, fun for some, not so great for claustrophobics! Be sure to take a flashlight.
There is another option you can take along the ridge behind both Eggishorn and Bettmeralp. It’s called the Aletsch Panorama Trail and takes about 4-5 hours time. You can hike it in either direction, so you will need to plan a bit ahead (both gondola and train/bus). And make sure you check if it’s all open before you go. As there were some parts closed due to landslides in mid-2018.
For those you don’t want to, or can’t, do any walking, you can just catch one of the Gondolas up to the top of either Bettmeralp or Eggishorn (from Fiesch) to get a panoramic view of this marvel of nature. As with all things Alpine, it pays to do it in good/great weather so that you can really appreciate the view. At these heights, you won’t see much if the clouds roll in.
However, no matter how you come to see the Aletsch glacier, you won’t be disappointed.
Where To Base Yourself in Jungfrau
If you plan on visiting the Jungfrau and the surrounding mountains, the best places to base yourself are Interlaken, Grindelwald or Lauterbrunnen. There is a range of accommodation, from hotels to AirBnBs all around the region. However, it is extremely popular, both with locals and tourists alike, so be sure to book ahead.
To visit the Aletsch Glacier, you actually need to go to the other side of the Alps, unless you hike down from the Jungfraujoch. I imagine 99.9% of you won’t be doing that! However, it is on the way to Zermatt, which is handy, if that is on your itinerary.
You can spend a night in the valley below the mountains there – either in Fiesch, Brig, Visp or somewhere nearby. Or, you can also spend overnight somewhere like Bettmeralp and be very close to the best viewpoints when the sun rises.
Keep in mind that the train system in Switzerland is extensive, reliable and punctual. So no matter which location you choose, you can be sure you can get where you are going easily.
Weather & Best TImes to Visit Jungfrau
Unfortunately, like all places filled with mountains and glaciers, the weather in Switzerland is a little unpredictable. Take the time of year I am writing this – May 2019, there is snow down to valley level and lots of rain. But that is not entirely “normal”.
However, in general, the warmer and more stable months are July, August, and September. Although, hiking and Alpine regions, in general, can be great to visit all the way through October (and on rare occasions into November). May and June can also be ok, as they are certainly less busy (summer school vacation in Europe is in July/August). But you just never know if you will get great weather or not.
One thing is for sure though. You should always be prepared for anything – sun, rain, and snow. Especially if you are heading up into the mountains where the weather can change in five minutes.
A Stunning Region Not To Be Missed
Whether you only make it up to the Jungfraujoch or also take in the sweeping views of the Aletsch from the southern side of the mountains, you can be sure that this UNESCO World Heritage region is an absolute must see. The only choice you have to make is how much time to spend taking it all in!
This is a guest post by Anna Timbrook.
Anna was born to travel the world having studied languages all her life. Although she has traveled the world, she now calls Switzerland home. And spends her time writing about her experiences on her travel blog with her husband.