TripAdvisor: AskMeFi edition
July 3, 2022 2:06 PM   Subscribe

Help! I am broken hearted, studying in school, and have an international holiday that my ex-partner was supposed to be planning and did not and then broke up with me. I am now going solo on this trip to Switzerland & Austria, but I do not have the time/energy/bandwidth to plan. It's in 3 weeks. Details below...

It was supposed to be 1 week in Norway, then a week at a workshop in Austria. The Norway portion is not planned at all and is was way too much planning and coordinating in the midst of not being able to eat, being in school, etc, so I rearranged my flight to fly into Zurich. The workshop facilitators have offered to host me in their home for a few days in Feldkirch, so my asks are:

- What should I do in/around Zurich for a few days?
- Should I stop in between Zurich & Feldkirch somewhere, if so where and what to do?
- While I love train traveling and have even solo trained around India, every time I travel by train I end up crying at some point. I've missed trains before and it just causes me anxiety - explain it like I'm 5 on where/how to book train tickets online please?! Or should I wait till I get there?

Me: 41 year old femme person, have traveled solo internationally with some regularity, including extended time in India solo. I will be traveling light.

What I like: museums, theater, good music, food, nature

The vibe I'm going for: healing, chill, cheapish
posted by vividvoltage to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The Man in Seat 61 has an exhaustive (but happily not exhausting) website for folks travelling by train seeking much the same info as you. Here is his general guide to trains in Europe and here are his specific Swiss and Austrian guides. Have a great time! 🏔🛤
posted by mdonley at 2:20 PM on July 3, 2022 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I live in Zurich but will be in the UK when you’re here. Perhaps some of this will be useful.

The Swiss train operator SBB speaks English.

Trains here are frequent, reliable and very safe. Google maps will also give you the appropriate public transport connections. Unless you’re looking at one of the panoramic, tourist routes there is no need to book train tickets before the day of travel. Download the SBB app to buy tickets. You can always add a local transit ticket by adding a ‘city ticket’. Some cities also let you use local transit for free if you stay in a local hotel. The hotel gives you a ‘ticket’.

The train station is right under the airport in Zurich. Plan to spend a day in Zurich and then head to Zug, Lucerne, Berne or any other place that takes your fancy. Switzerland is small and very well developed infrastructure. The cities aren’t massive. You can easily do day trips. All three of these cities can be reached in between 25 mins to 1 hr 15 mins from Zurich main station. Zug, Lucerne and Zurich are all by lakes. A number of boats on them count as local transit.

If you want to go a bit further afield you can get to Lugano or Geneva in under 3 hrs from Zurich. If you want to go to Lugano the train gets quite busy on certain days and times because people take weekend trips/have 2nd homes they visit. So that’s the only time a seat reservation might be advisable. But you’ll see if the train is expected to be busy when you book your ticket. Did I mention the connections are very frequent?

Cash wasn’t strictly necessary before the pandemic but since then you really don’t need any. Contactless payment is pervasive. I have used a cash point once in the last 12 months. If you haven’t got one try to get a card that doesn’t charge an arm and a leg for overseas transactions and you’re good to go.

Food and drink will feel very expensive. Know you’re not expected to tip much, just round up to the nearest frank or round number.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:00 PM on July 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Switzerland is generally much more expensive than Austria, so you may want to factor that into your plans.

Go to Lake Constance, it's lovely (though likely to be busy at this time of year); there are scenic towns like Lindau around the lake edge that are great for just wandering around and looking at nice buildings. Bregenz has an opera stage in the lake itself, which is worth going to look at even if you don't go to the opera itself. Take one of the ferries across the lake for the views (if you pick the right one you can visit three countries in one boat ride).
posted by Vortisaur at 3:33 PM on July 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, and the Austrian train operator OBB has an English site where you can book digital train tickets without any fuss. I've used them on multiple occasions for travelling from Switzerland to Austria and it has always gone smoothly. I've tended to book those cross-border ones with OBB because they were the ones running the train, but my experience has been that booking SBB trains via OBB or OBB trains via SBB has been absolutely fine as well. With the OBB Scotty app you can look at where the (OBB) train you want to catch is in real time, if that helps the anxiety.
posted by Vortisaur at 3:41 PM on July 3, 2022

Train travel in Switzerland is one of the marvels of the world. You can do whatever - book online, book in person on the day of travel, just walk up to the station five minutes before your expected departure. Everyone speaks enough English to be able to book a trip easily. The trains are shockingly on time, and frequent enough that missing one won’t ruin your day - there’s another one soon. You’re likely to end up in tears riding Swiss trains, but they’ll be tears of joy.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:38 PM on July 3, 2022

many travel guidebooks have sample itineraries that tell you what to do on day 1, day 2, day 3 so i would just go to a large new bookstore near you and look at the guidebooks and buy whichever one has the most appealing sample itineraries then do what the book says
posted by Jacqueline at 11:13 PM on July 3, 2022

Best answer: Reply from a Bregenz local; feel free to memail me so I can pass on any requests for more info!

First of all: You will be very fine – in Switzerland and Austria as well! You will be in the midst of the
alps, so your trip will be full of mountains and nature. But you will also find plenty of very decent
museums of all kinds (not just art or history).
Switzerland is extremely neat and extremely expensive (Please keep in mind: Right now the Swiss
Franc and the EURO are about the same value). If it’s affordable to you, stay in Switzerland for a
couple of days, watch and be flabbergasted. Switzerland is small, from the border to France to the
border of Austria it’s not more than four hours. So you could do several day trips to different regions
(Zurich is good for one day) to get an impression what Switzerland feels like. If your travel budget is
not too big you will like it better in Feldkirch. It’s a pretty small town (about 35,000 inhabitants) but it
gives you the possibility of visiting Lake Constance as well as going further to the Arlberg with its
exclusive winter resorts that are also worth a visit in summer (or for a hike).
Lake Constance is a marvel, Konstanz, Meersburg, Lindau, Bregenz, you will find something – just
walking through the ancient towns, the museums (maybe the Zeppelin museum in Friedrichshafen or
the Kunsthaus in Bregenz). Also the region of Lake Constance lies in the heart of Europe: 2 hours to
Munich, 2 hours to Innsbruck, 4 hours to Milano;
Riding the train is a pleasure in Switzerland and in Austria. The train will be clean and on time, if you
miss one, you don’t have to wait too long for the next one. Booking tickets online works very well in
both countries ( in Switzerland, in Austria – if you cross the border you can choose on
which platform you want to book)
Enjoy a great trip and please reach out if you have further questions!
posted by pendrift at 2:22 AM on July 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

The Swiss Trains are a destination by themselves. I would explore the country, criss- crossing by train, bus and boat.
And I would do it (and have!) with the all included Swiss Travel Pass. Four days is CHF 281 and six days CHF 359. If you can swing it first class is CHF 447 /570 and worth it for the extra solitude. The Swiss Frank is $1.04/ so about parity and exactly one Euro right now.
It is possible to buy individual tickets for maybe less money, but the extra dosh gives you the freedom to catch any train at all, and eliminates any stress about catching "the right one". That freedom is worth a whole lot.
We celebrated our honeymoon in Switzerland 20 some years ago, and been back numerous times. Ask here for specific recommendations (The Lauterbrunnen Valley! Hot springs in Leukerbad! Italian cool in Lugano!) or by Metamail.
We have a lot to say about our favorite destination.
posted by Tunierikson at 4:01 AM on July 4, 2022

Best answer: I was in Switzerland recently for a long weekend, and the one additional tip that I didn't see yet provided is that the SBB transit app has a "swipe to ride" (or something similarly named) feature. You basically open the app when you're going to get on a tram / bus / any public transit and then swipe off once you get off. It calculates the cheapest fare for you to get between the two destinations. We did it for our whole trip and while still expensive (everything is), it several times purchased us "day passes" that saved a lot of money over individual trips.

My other tip - if you have an unlocked phone, buy a prepaid SIM card for your trip and you can get really cheap data. Not sure what country you're living in, but my German plan only covers EU countries, and my costs to use that plan in Switzerland were going to be extremely high. The prepaid plan which I bought at the central station from a cell phone vendor was 10 franc and included somewhere around 15gb of data for a week.

Otherwise, wherever you end up going will be stunningly beautiful. I have been to Switzerland twice now, and constantly think back to my memories in the alps as some of the most beautiful moments I've experienced. Enjoy.
posted by unid41 at 12:48 PM on July 4, 2022

If you've traveled in India, I can't imagine some of the best-run trains in the world will have any problems you can't handle! I do recommend searching using Trainline, they have very helpful cross-border searching that will tell you when another country's train is the better choice. Sometimes the national operators only include their own trains. I personally also buy my tickets there, they handle any currency and card issues. I have heard of occasional problems folks have had at the stations when trying to get a refund because Trainline is a third party, but it's never happened to me. Their interface also easily shows the price of choosing a fully-refundable fare, or first class.
posted by wnissen at 10:22 AM on July 5, 2022

Seeing some of the sites around Lake Constance/Bodensee seems like a good idea. You can mix trains and ferries and it lets you sample austris, Switzerland and Germany. One warning, we tried lindau in 2018, by car, and it was a nightmare, we gave up in the end and went to friedrichshafen and them Meersburg. We liked the latter so much we stayed there in 2019. It's a good jumping off point for Konstanz (the city) and the other side of the lake by ferry. It's got a quaint old town and a nice stretch on the lake.

Perhaps also consider its about two hours on the express train from Zurich to Freiburg (German not Swiss), which would set you up nicely for trips to the black forest, which scores well on the nature front. Freiburg is a nice city too, easy to get around and a leader on green transport etc. I think Germany has some sort of cheap deal on train travel at the moment too?
posted by biffa at 1:57 PM on July 5, 2022

Response by poster: Thank you everyone, this is all extremely helpful information in planing! Beyond that, having a few less things to worry about in this super stressful time is such a relief to me, I have so much gratitude for this.
posted by vividvoltage at 6:42 AM on July 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

Just to confirm the cheap deal on German rail travel. We are in Bavaria currently, it's €9 for a month of local travel , local trains, U bahn, S bahn, busses - nine euro for the month.
posted by biffa at 2:05 PM on July 10, 2022

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