You know that moment when you see a photo, a video, or just hear about an experience or place in the world that captures your heart and imagination immediately and you think “I have to go there!” Well, this is one of those experiences. To me, the Swiss Alps have always been some of the most majestic mountains in the world. So years ago when I learned that it was possible to take a train to the “top of Europe,” also known as Jungfraujoch on the Jungfrau Mountain in Switzerland, it immediately went on my bucket list as something I would do on my first trip to Europe.
What is the Jungfrau?
The Jungfrau is a mountain in central Switzerland, and the Jungfrau train line actually runs all the way to the top. This station, Jungfraujoch, took 16 years to build and has been accessible since 1912. It is the highest train station in all of Europe, at an elevation of roughly 11,300 feet above sea level! The train station is actually connected to a number of different buildings and viewing platforms. Surrounded by year-round snow, glaciers, and rock, the lookout platforms provide amazing views of the clouds and surrounding mountains.
Legends of the Mountains
As with other majestic natural wonders, the Jungfrau and neighboring mountains, the Eiger and the Monch are a part of folklore. The mountains got their names because of a bit of imagination. The legend says that the Jungfrau (maiden or virgin) was kidnapped by an ogre (Eiger) and later rescued by a monk (Monch). If you look closely at the three mountains, you might be able to envision this unfolding above the glaciers.
How to get to the Top of Europe?
Luckily, I didn’t have to wait too long until I could achieve my goal of reaching the top of Europe. On my first trip to Europe I made sure to plan a stay in Lauterbunnen, Switzerland. Here you can hop on the Junfraubahn, the train that will take you on the journey up the steep mountain. Because of Switzerland’s sophisticated rail network, you can actually get to Lauterbrunnen from just about anywhere else in Switzerland, including Interlakken, another popular tourist town in the Alps.
A roundtrip ticket from Lauterbrunnen will cost you $176. It is best to head out in the morning so that you will have plenty of time to explore, but you can get a discounted ticket if you go in the afternoon. Also, the weather can be unpredictable. Some days it will be clear with a beautiful view, and other times it may be completely blocked by fog.
Visit Picturesque Alpine Villages Along the Way (or on the Way Down)
From Lauterbrunnen to Jungfraujoch, the train ride takes about 2 hours (each way). Along your steep journey up the mountain, the train will stop at a number of quaint alpine villages. It is amazing to see village life so high above the valley floor and the unique lifestyles in the area. Many of these towns will have some shopping and restaurants, so you can exit the train and explore for a bit. Personally, I enjoy walking around some of the paths around these towns and even in between them in the countryside. The scenery is right out of a postcard.
Have You Ever Walked INSIDE a Glacier?
One of the coolest things that I did while at the top of the Jungfrau was walking around inside tunnels that are carved inside a giant glacier. How crazy is that?!?! In fact, there are a series of tunnels that go all around through the glacier, complete with handrails and lighting! There are also some pretty cool carvings you can check out and take photos with.
Beyond the glacier walking (or sliding yes it’s very slick) you can pop out to one of the viewing platforms. It’s actually a pretty large area, so be sure to take a look at the map and plan your journey. I recall getting a lost up there a few times!
Prepare for the Altitude
The Jungfraujoch is over 11,300 feet above sea level, meaning that most of us will not be acclimated to that environment. Oxygen is much thinner up here, which can affect you physically and mentally. To help prevent altitude sickness (which is very serious), be sure that you get plenty of rest and drink lots of water before & during your trip. If you being to feel strange, take a break and visit one of the oxygen bars at the top. Resting and breathing in the oxygen will help you feel better.
Enjoy Your Journey to the Top of the Jungfrau Mountain!
Taking the train to the Top of Europe is an experience that I will never forget. First, it personally felt so good to be able to mark this item off of my bucket list. But it’s not just about checking the box on a list, but actually experiencing the moment. We stayed up there for quite a while exploring different areas. Sometimes we would pop out and we couldn’t see because of the clouds, but 15 minutes later it was perfectly clear! It was pretty awesome to feel that sense of accomplishment, but it only made me want to discover more of the world!