Looking back through a decade of travel adventures, we are definitely winter vacationers. We specialize in New Year’s travel; from zipping up parkas in Iceland to pulling hats over our ears in Tokyo, some of our best trips have featured photos of us bundled up to the point where we are barely recognizable under our layers. Our trip to Switzerland marked our first time traveling outside of the United States since just before the pandemic, and knowing we were headed to Europe during one of the hottest summers on record, we decided to prioritize a quick daytrip to Jungfraujoch.
Even in the summer, Jungfraujoch is a snowy wonderland. Stretching more than 11,000 feet into the sky, Jungfraujoch, which translates to “ridge between two peaks,” sits between the summits of Mathildespitze and Sphinx. Even in the summer months, the temperatures rarely rise much beyond 35-38 degrees Fahrenheit. Knowing that the journey there could be made easy by booking a guided bus tour, we decided to pack our carry-on bags with summer clothes as well as cold weather gear and spend a day in the Bernese Alps. If you are thinking of a similar day trip, here is what we loved about our day at Jungfraujoch.
The Journey to Jungfraujoch from Zurich
We met our tour bus early in the morning, dodging rain drops as we juggled our vouchers, umbrellas, and freshly squeezed pomegranate juice from Coop (a fabulous market with locations throughout Zurich). Luck was somehow on our side as we boarded a double decker bus and climbed the staircase to the top: we managed to grab two seats in the front row, which gave us a panoramic view of the roads that would take us to Jungfraujoch.
Our visit didn’t quite involve planes, trains, and automobiles, but it did involve a bus, a gondola, and a train that eventually deposited us at our destination. Our bus ride paused for an hour in Interlaken, where we had time to stretch our legs, peek into a few stores, and invest in the local Swiss chocolate scene with a small box of truffles from Laderach. Interlaken is well-known for its beautiful setting between two lakes, and it’s also recognized as an adventure hotspot in central Europe. Waiting for our bus departure time, we watched as paragliders sailed from cloud level toward the ground, effortlessly landing on the lakeshore. With a little more time I might have looked into how I could spend some time in the sky, but we were scheduled for a different adventure.
From Interlaken, we were off to the gondolas. Although it won’t take you all the way to Jungfraujoch, the Eiger Express, which departs from Grindelwald Terminal, cuts the length of the train trip almost in half while also providing some spectacular views of the countryside. We sat at the front of our cable car, although there were no bad seats thanks to the gondola’s glass walls.
We completed the final leg of our trip to the Top of Europe on a cogwheel train. Quickly ushered into a full car, we settled in for a fairly quick ride to the highest train station in Europe. Because the train runs through the mountain, it’s not exactly a picturesque experience; we sped along with our car mostly surrounded by darkness with the exception of a short stop, where we were encouraged to leave the train to admire the view through a glass wall that was famously included in the Clint Eastwood movie The Eiger Sanction. When the doors opened at the last station, we were instantly reminded that we had traveled a long way in a short amount of time. I dug through my bag for the knit hat I purchased while waiting for the gondola, tugging it over my ears and grinning at how refreshing it was to be shivering a bit in the middle of July.
What to Do at Jungfraujoch
Jungfraujoch is a well-organized collection of viewpoints and attractions that don’t need more than a few hours to experience, and despite the fact we were part of an organized tour with a limited amount of time to spend we didn’t feel rushed during our visit. We looked over the map provided by our tour guide, which recommended a clearly marked route through the main attractions.
Our first stop was the Sphinx Observatory, an astronomical observatory with a large outdoor viewing deck that encircles the building and provides exceptional 360° views of Jungfraujoch. Named for the Sphinx Summit where it is located, the observatory is home to laboratories, a weather observation station, and several additional spaces dedicated to scientific study. Most visitors are far more interested in the views from the observatory than they are what is going on inside, and we were among them during our visit as we took in the snow-capped mountains around us.
We spent about 15 minutes on the outdoor observation deck before the unsettling sound of thunder echoed on the other side of the Jungfrau. Instinctively, we darted for an open door, and not a moment too soon: snow and hail began to drop from the sky, and Jungfraujoch staff members hurried to direct the people outside to the safety of the indoors. We watched as thundersnow fell all around us, equal parts glad to have enjoyed the outdoors while we could and shocked by the suddenness and severeness of the weather change. We continued our tour along the recommended route on our map, figuring we would eventually return to spend some more time on the deck, but the storm kept the deck and all other outdoor areas closed for the rest of the day. Since there was plenty more to see, we were glad to continue.
After leaving the observatory, we walked down a lengthy hallway that paid tribute to the 30 miners who lost their lives during the construction of the Jungfraujoch railway station. At the end of the hallway, a huge snow globe depicting the mountain beckoned most visitors looking for a good selfie opportunity.
One of the most popular spots at Jungfraujoch is the Ice Palace, a very cold and very slippery walk through a space made almost completely of ice. The walk through gave us plenty of opportunities to pause in front of ice sculptures and run our fingers over the ice-covered walls as we scuffed across the glossy floor, trying not to lose our footing like a few other visitors did.
With the snowstorm still raging outside, we found ourselves with an hour to spare, and we spent it at Jungfraujoch’s only sit-down restaurant. We both had rosti, a popular dish of shredded potatoes not unlike hash browns served with cheese and, in Adam’s case, ham and eggs. Our seat by the window was perfect for watching the storm clouds that engulfed the building and the snow that fell from them. Elsewhere, the other dining options were far more crowded; a self-service buffet had long lines and full tables when we passed through, but the calm of the restaurant was a perfect option for wrapping up our visit.
Tips for Visiting Jungfraujoch
► Prepare for the altitude
Jungfraujoch is more than 11,000 feet above sea level, and between the gondola ride and the train you may not have enough time to fully acclimate before your experience begins. If you struggle with altitude or suffer from altitude sickness, take some time for self-care before and during your visit. Hydrate, walk slowly, and sit down if you feel out of breath or dizzy.
► Check out the live cam before your visit
If you’re planning a visit, you can watch live views from Jungfraujoch through their webcam stream. This can give you some idea of what conditions you’ll experience while you are there, and if you are planning an independent trip (as opposed to a guided bus tour) it can inform your decision to make the time and financial investment. If the weather looks bad, you may want to postpone your trip until conditions clear up. If it’s especially stormy or snowy, as it was for us, staff will close outdoor access, which can greatly impact your experience if you’re hoping for some time in the cold air or to get some pretty mountain photos.
More Information: Jungfrau.ch
► Dress warmly (even in summer)
It was below freezing when we visited Jungfraujoch, and you’ll have more fun if you are dressed for wintery conditions! Because quite a bit of the experience is indoors a jacket or sweatshirt may be fine, or you might prefer a winter coat if you tend to get cold quickly. I felt comfortable in a fleece pullover and a hat, and I would have been fine if I forgot the fleece in Zurich, but it’s a good idea to remember that Jungfraujoch is cold all year round.
Where to Stay When Visiting Jungfraujoch
Although there are no hotels right at Jungfraujoch, there are plenty of hotels in nearby cities like Interlaken. We stayed further away in Zurich, and because we took a bus tour that departed from Zurich’s main bus station we had no problem getting to and from our destination. We found our hotel on Booking.com, which allowed us to easily find a hotel within walking distance of the tour departure point. Take a look at Booking.com to see if there are any hotels that meet your criteria, too!
When we stepped off the train in Interlaken, the sticky heat that had settled in was quick to remind us our visit to Jungfraujoch was over. Wiping sweat from my forehead with the same hat that had kept me warm just a few hours before, I considered the extremes I had encountered that day. We left Zurich in the middle of a humid rainstorm, spent an hour in Interlaken’s comfortable mid-morning sunshine, embraced the frigid temperatures at the Top of Europe during our time at Jungfraujoch, and finally returned to Interlaken, where Zurich’s heat seemed to catch up with us. Getting to experience so many weather patterns in one day was fun; in all of our travels, it was a unique experience that will be hard to repeat without a return visit. If you’re planning to spend some time at Jungfraujoch, pack something warm to wear as well as your sense of wonder—it’s a magical place to visit!
More Information: Jungfrau.ch
Want to learn about more interesting wild west places we’ve written about? Check out these posts from our archives!