The magical scenery of Switzerland can be one of the most stunning landscapes of anywhere in the world to gaze upon. From lush green hills to rigid snowcapped peaks, it is an adventurer’s playground. However, navigating this topography was not always as easy as we find it today. One can find themselves to have levitated from the base town of Interlaken to the literal “Top of Europe” on the Jungfrau Mountain, climbing an astonishing 9,500 feet in just a few hours.
In true Swiss innovative fashion, the cable car offers many logistic advantages that stretch far beyond practicality. For starters, the cars run on electric energy through cables, so their carbon footprint is quite low (the cars themselves do not have engines). Not only are cable cars friendly to the earth, but they are also friendly to the local wildlife. As the cars travel in air, they cause very little harm or disruption to the habitat of the area. With over 100 million visitors coming to Switzerland each year(!), maintaining the integrity of the region has been of utmost importance.
In addition to being practical and environmentally friendly, cable cars offer a convenient and comfortable means of reaching these mountainous destinations. Passengers are treated to awe-inspiring panoramic views of the surrounding landscape from one of the most unique vantage points available. Since their birth in 1905, the design and operation of cable cars has come a very long way. Please see below for some of our favorite routes and cars and the unforgettable journeys they offer!
The Eiger Express: Jungfraujoch
Deemed “the most modern tricable gondola in the world”, Eiger Express unveiled in 2020 and has boasted what Swiss engineering is capable of in modern times. This route runs between Grindelwald (3,074 ft.) and Eigergletsher (Eiger Glacier) Station (7,638 ft.) – previously taking 1 hour and 2 minutes. Now? Visitors complete the four-mile journey in just 15 minutes, 47 minutes FASTER than before(!). This has been monumental in shifting passengers along their “Tope of Europe” journey, eliminating almost two hours of round-trip travel time. With 44 gondolas running at a constant, each holding a maximum of 26 passengers, the line can transport approximately 2,000 passengers per hour. Not only will you be offered stunning views of the iconic landscape, but you can do so in comfortable (heated!) seats. Whether you are ascending for leisure or sport, we recommend opting for the Eiger Express over the train option. *Please note, you will still need to complete the final leg to the top via cogwheel mountain railway train.
The Grindelwald-Männlichen (GGM): Jungfraujoch
As part of the cable car project in the Jungfrau region, the GGM line carries visitors from Grindelwald Grunt up to the Männlichen in just 19 minutes (compared to 30 minutes previously). When built in 1978, it was, at the time, the longest cable car of its kind in the world (later broken by the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway in Australia in 1995). The 10-seater cabins offer incredible panoramic views of the region along a 3.8-mile track. We recommend this route to visitors and families who are active and looking for hiking or active activities in the Jungfrau area. In summertime, once you step off the gondola you will enter a spacious playground. We recommend two specific walks/hikes for those interested: the Royal Walk and the Panoramic Trail to Kleine Scheidegg.
Royal Walk (1 mile r/t – Moderate): with a slight incline, we love this well-groomed path for more than the awe-inspiring views it offers. It combines the “royal views” of the trio peaks of Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau. In 30 minutes, you will reach the ultimate lookout point, which now includes a beautiful crown-shaped structure to enhance the experience of all kings and queens (or princes and princesses!) who make the trek.
Panoramic Trail to Kleine Scheidegg (3 miles r/t – Easy): This 1.5-hour trek is considered one of the most popular hikes in the Jungfrau region as it is easy and very family friendly. The trail is mostly downhill and offers iconic views of the trio Jungfrau, Monch, and Eiger peaks, as well as Lauterbrunnen Valley. It is perfect for families not only with smaller children who may not be capable of a more arduous hikes, but also for those who may have limited time but wish to do a shorter/less effort required hike with all of the same rewards as an “off the beaten path” hike.
Grindelwald First: Jungfraujoch
A thrill-seekers paradise, Grindelwald First is an adventure destination resting atop a mountain that looms over the picturesque village of Grindelwald. The gondola system, that originates in Grindelwald, floats effortlessly over the meadows, fields, and jaggedly peaks below. In summertime, this is especially pleasant with the lush colors of the local landscape merging together as a perfect blend, as well as the echo of distant cow bells. Here, however, it is not the traditional gondola that we feel deserves a mention. It is, instead, the First Flyer and First Glider cable car “inspired” modes of transport. The First Flyer variant gives visitors the thrill of open-air transport like no other. In a sitting position, strap yourself into what seems like a zipline and descend at speeds that max at 52mph(!). If that isn’t enough thrill, the First Glider variant, similar to the First Flyer, allows visitors to feel the freedom of a bird, soaring through the skies in a Superman position. We promise both of these activities are perfectly safe and they operate year-round. Fore more adventure, you may wish to do the mountain carts (think mario cart!) or the trottibike, a cross between a scooter and a bike. Please see below for our favorite hike in the area(!):
Grindelwald First to Lake Bachalpsee (3.7 miles r/t – Moderate): This two-hour hike is great for casual hikers and families alike. It begins with a rather steep incline but begins to level out after about a half mile. Although this portion of the trek can be tough, the crystal-clear alpine lake and the surrounding mountain peaks reflected in it more than make up for this! Aside from the adventure that awaits (as described above), the hike also includes an unparalleled First Cliff Walk. A nightmare for someone like Randy who has a fear of heights, it is a unique vantage point to view the surrounding landscapes. The cliff walk extends out into the valley, so when one stands at the end, it truly feels as though you are one with the rolling green hills that are un-obstructively located below.
Titlis Rotair: Titlis (Lucerne)
At 10,000 feet elevation, we love the concept of the Titlis Rotair cable car. It is the world’s first revolving aerial cable way, offering 360-degree rotating views to passengers of the incredible rugged landscape of Mt. Titlis. This is the second leg of the journey one will take from the base village of Engleberg via the Xpress gondola to the middle station where you can hop on this revolving cable car. The advantage this provides is unique only to the Rotair, providing inclining and declining views to those who experience it. There will be no views missed! The ride itself only takes five minutes and takes you right into the heart of the Titlis glacier. Once you arrive at the top, the adventure only begins. We love the various activities to be had, such as the Ice Flyer glacier chairlift, glacier cave, suspension bridge (the highest in Europe!), scooters, and more!
Mt. Titlis Special Mention
Although not unique in design, we feel this Mt. Titlis route deserves a mention for its creativity! Prior to taking the aforementioned Rotair cable car, you will take this more “simple” route from Engelberg to the middle station. It’s no secret that Randy spent a large chunk of his life working at Korean Air (and now has an obsession with K-drama’s!), so it was to his delight that upon stepping into the gondola in Engelberg, he had the honor of riding in the Korea cable car. You see, each gondola on this segment is dedicated to a specific country and bears its flag as it soars through the crisp Swiss air. We love this nod to pay homage to all the visitors that come to Switzerland each year from all parts of the world. It is Mt. Titlis’ way of thanking their guests, from both near and far, for making the trek to come and see their magical mountain!
*Randy couldn’t get a picture of the Korean flag gondola since he was inside of it(!), but he got this incredible shot of the Norway car going by as seen below. Yay for our Nordic friends!
Matterhorn Glacier Paradise: Matterhorn (Zermatt)
We have to make special note of the highest cable car station in Europe, the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise! The cable cars lead you up to the Klein Matterhorn, where one can step out and take in the freshest mountain air provided by the glaciers. On the ride up, the Matterhorn peak becomes an intimate figure just beside you (see photo above from K&C’s own Kayla, taken during her journey in 2019), intimidating and beautiful conjointly. She recalls this experience as one of the most incredible in all of her (many!) Swiss travels, feeling a sense of peace and unique silence at the very highest point (12,800 feet!). From this outlook, you can see 14 glaciers stretching out in the distance, as well as three countries (Switzerland, Italy, and France). If you decide to take the voyage up, we recommend lots of layers as it will be COLD, and altitude sickness medication if you are prone.