From Zurich to Geneva on a Swiss ICN Tilting Train

This review shows you how the train journey is like from Zurich to Geneva on a Swiss high-speed ICN tilting train, and provides practical information about tickets.

Zurich to Geneva by train

Having travelled from Chur to Zurich by train following my ride on the fabulous Bernina Express, my journey on the Swiss railway tracks was far from over.

In Zurich, I would immediately connect to a train bound for Geneva, where I would spend the night.

Although I had already travelled quite a bit around Switzerland by train, this would be the first time that I would take a train from Zurich to Geneva.

chur zurich IC train first class
On board a Swiss IC train from Chur to Zurich. ©Paliparan
zurich hb train station
Arriving at Zurich HB station, where I would change trains to Geneva. ©Paliparan

Zurich HB

Zurich HB – which stands for Hauptbahnhof, meaning ‘main station’ in German – is the largest and busiest train station not only in Zurich, but in entire Switzerland.

It’s a sprawling station with departure platforms spread out across different levels.

Indeed, at times it feels more like you are navigating a large underground shopping centre instead of a railway station.

The trains to Geneva usually depart from underground platforms 31 to 34 at Zurich HB – but make sure you double check this when you arrive at the station.

zurich hbf hauptbahnhof
Zurich HB, the city’s main train station. ©Paliparan
train departure board zurich hb
The giant train departures board of Zurich HB. ©Paliparan
zurich hb station underground platforms
Waiting at one of the underground platforms of Zurich HB. ©Paliparan

Zurich to Geneva by ICN train
Train IC 526 – Departure: 3.04pm – Arrival: 5.47pm
Duration: 2h43m – Distance: 265 kilometres

icn train zurich geneva switzerland
The route of my Swiss ICN train from Zurich to Geneva, with all intermediate stops shown. ©OpenStreetMap/Paliparan

Different routes

The train service between Zurich and Geneva is frequent, with departures available every half hour.

Half of these Zurich-Geneva trains take the railway line via Neuchâtel, while the other half takes another route via Bern.

The route via Neuchâtel takes approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes, making it about 15 minutes quicker than the trains running via Bern.

There is also a difference in the type of train used: The Zurich-Neuchâtel-Geneva route generally has ICN tilting trains, while the Zurich-Bern-Geneva route is usually operated by double-deck trains.

Both train types offer similar comfort levels, featuring both 1st and 2nd class seating as well as a dining car.

I would be travelling from Zurich to Geneva on the route via Neuchâtel on one of the ICN tilting trains in first class.

icn tilting intercity train switzerland first class zurich geneva
First class seats on an ICN tilting InterCity train in Switzerland. ©Paliparan

Ticket price

Before I’ll show you how the actual train journey is like between Zurich and Geneva, let’s first take a look at ticket prices.

The price of a train ticket from Zurich to Geneva (or vice versa) depends on how far in advance you buy it.

The full price ticket for a second class train ticket from Zurich to Geneva is 88 CHF (€91), while a full price first class ticket costs 154 CHF (€160).

However, if you book in advance you might be able to get a discounted super saver ticket, which could net you a discount of up to 70%.

Super saver fares in Switzerland are significantly more affordable, potentially enabling you to travel from Zurich to Geneva for as low as approximately 38 CHF (€39) in second class or 47 CHF (€49) in first class.

It’s however important to note that super saver tickets are valid exclusively for the train departure listed on your ticket, while a full-price ticket are flexible as you can choose any train along the route on the day you buy your ticket for.

If you value flexibility – for example when you arrive by plane in Zurich and need to travel onward to Geneva by train, but want to take into account a possible delay – then a flexible ticket will be the way to go.

If you are planning to travel a lot through Switzerland by train, it may be worth it to invest in a half-fare travel card (called a “halbtax”), as this gives you a 50% discount on any train ticket you buy.

Travellers with an Interrail or Eurail pass can freely board any train between Zurich and Geneva, as no supplement or seat reservation is required on Swiss trains.

trains zurich hb switzerland
Trains at Zurich HB. ©Paliparan

Where to buy your ticket

You can book your ticket online on the website of Swiss national railway company SBB, or use third-party booking website Omio to buy your Swiss train tickets.

Omio’s search engine is more user-friendly, and they offer train tickets at the same price, accepting all foreign debit and credit cards.

Since Omio has access to the internal booking systems of almost every national railway company in Europe, you can use this highly rated website (4.3 out of 5 rating on Trustpilot) to book all your bus and train tickets for your European trip in one go!

Be careful when booking through SBB, as their website will automatically assume you possess a half fare travelcard (‘halbtax’), given that this 50% discount card is held by most of people in Switzerland.

The ticket prices initially displayed on the SBB website reflect a 50% discount, which is applicable only if you possess a corresponding travel card.

If you do not hold such a discount card, you will need to manually disable this setting to view the regular prices.

Of course, you can also buy your ticket on the day of travel at the train station, although this way you will likely pay the most for your journey.


On board a Swiss ICN tilting train

Back to my actual train journey.

After a short wait at one of the underground platforms, my train to Geneva pulled into Zurich HB.

This train, the SBB RABDe 500, is better known in Switzerland as an ICN, which stands for InterCity Neigezug or InterCity tilting train when you translate it into English.

As the name implies, this train can slightly tilt into curves, which allows for higher speeds than conventional trains travelling on routes with relatively sharp curves.

In a mountainous country like Switzerland, that certainly is an advantage, and the ICN tilting train can reach speeds of up to 200kph (124mph).

The ICN train has the same comfort as you might expect from a long-distance train in Switzerland.

In second class, seats are arranged two abreast at either side of the aisle, while in first class seats are arranged in a 1-2 configuration, providing a better seat comfort, more personal space and a quieter environment.

Seats in both classes have power sockets and Swiss ICN train are equipped with Wi-Fi internet.

icn tilting intercity train switzerland first class zurich geneva
My train to Geneva arrives at Zurich HB. ©Paliparan
switzerland icn tilting train second class geneva zurich
Second class seats on a Swiss ICN tilting train. ©Paliparan
switzerland icn tilting train first class geneva zurich
First class seats on a Swiss ICN tilting train. ©Paliparan

First class seat

Although it is possible to make a seat reservation for 5 CHF (€5.20) on Swiss InterCity trains, it is not obligatory and very few people seem to be doing so on normal domestic train services.

Simply board the train and take any available seat you want!

There were plenty of empty seats in both first and second class when I boarded the train.

I picked a forward-facing seat on the left-hand-side of the train, with the seat opposite me remaining empty for the entire duration of the journey.

The seat itself was highly comfortable and I certainly enjoyed the quiet surroundings of the first class carriage.

first class train switzerland icn tilting
My comfortable seat in first class. ©Paliparan

Departure from Zurich

The first part of the train journey from Zurich to Geneva was rather uneventful.

As the train emerges from the railway tunnel, you’ll traverse through the outskirts of Zurich.

At this point of the journey, the train runs parallel to a river on its right, while from my seat on the left-hand side, I could see some distant hills.

Soon the train stopped at its first two stops: The station in the cities of Aarau, and the one in Olten.

zurich
Riding out of Zurich. ©Paliparan
double-deck train
Passing by a double-deck train. ©Paliparan
zurich aarau train
Making our way from Zurich to Aarau. ©Paliparan
aarau station
The station of Aarau. ©Paliparan
olten
Arriving at Olten. ©Paliparan
olten train station
Stop at the station of Olten. ©Paliparan

Olten to Solothurn

Just south of Olten, you can see the impressive fortified church and castle of Aarburg on your left-hand side.

The rest of the journey to the next stop at Solothurn was less remarkable, with mainly agricultural fields and industrial areas with ugly warehouses visible from the window.

train aarburg castle church
The fortified church and castle of Aarburg as seen from the train. ©Paliparan
olten solothurn railway
View between Olten and Solothurn. ©Paliparan
solothurn station stop swiss icn tilting train
Stop at Solothurn station. ©Paliparan

Biel/Bienne

The station of Biel/Bienne marks the border between the German-speaking lands of Switzerland and the French-speaking part of the country.

In the German language, this bilingual city is called Biel, while the French-speaking Swiss refer to the city as Bienne – hence the double name!

Shortly after leaving Biel/Bienne, the Zurich-Geneva train traverses the railway line running along the north-western shore of Lake Biel.

railway line view
Scenery around Biel/Bienne. ©Paliparan
lake biel
Lake Biel as seen from the train. ©Paliparan

Lake Biel

Lake Biel is the first of three big lakes that the Zurich-Geneva train will pass by, as the railway line also follows the shores of Lake Neuchâtel and Lake Geneva.

For the best views over these beautiful lakes, make sure to sit on the left-hand side of the train in the direction of travel when going from Zurich to Geneva.

The train passes through vineyards and orchards on the hilly northern side of the lake, offering picturesque views.

lake biel zurich geneva swiss icn tilting train
View from the train over Lake Biel. ©Paliparan

Towards Neuchâtel

After traversing along Lake Biel, our Swiss ICN tilting train briefly headed inland before passing by another lake.

The second lake along the route is Lake Neuchâtel, which is Switzerland’s largest lake entirely situated within the country’s borders (Lake Geneva and Lake Constance are bigger, although the former is shared with France and the latter with Germany and Austria).

Though much of the railway line alongside Lake Biel runs closely along the lakeshore, the line is constructed at a higher elevation along Lake Neuchâtel.

Due to the slightly elevated position of the railway line, the views over Lake Neuchâtel and its vineyards are even more scenic.

This is certainly the case when the train approaches Neuchâtel, as you have some gorgeous views over this lakeside city from the window.

switzerland countryside icn tilting train view
View from the train during the stretch between Lake Biel and Lake Neuchâtel. ©Paliparan
Lake Neuchâtel
Lake Neuchâtel comes into sight. ©Paliparan
Neuchâtel
Approaching Neuchâtel. ©Paliparan
train station Neuchâtel zurich geneva icn tilting train switzerland
The station of Neuchâtel is one of the most important stops on the train route from Zurich to Geneva. ©Paliparan
Neuchâtel switzerland
View over Neuchâtel shortly after departure from the city’s station. ©Paliparan

Neuchâtel to Morges

Upon passing through additional vineyards along the hills of Lake Neuchâtel, the scenery gradually transitioned to a more flat and less captivating landscape.

The worsening weather, marked by encroaching dark clouds, further added to the lessening appeal of the scenery.

I decided that it was a good time to get a drink – and right after the stop at the station in Morges I walked a few coaches ahead to the dining car of our train.

lake Neuchâtel vineyards icn tilting train zurich geneva
Vineyards south of Neuchâtel. ©Paliparan
Lake Neuchâtel view
Lake Neuchâtel view. ©Paliparan
Lake Neuchâtel train view
The train ride along Lake Neuchâtel is certainly scenic. ©Paliparan
countryside switzerland
Countyside aroung Morges. ©Paliparan
morges station
Morges, the last stop before Geneva. ©Paliparan

A visit to the dining car

The Swiss ICN tilting train has a dining car where you can get drinks, snacks and even full meals.

As I had already eaten in the dining car of my Swiss InterCity train from Chur to Zurich, I decided to just have a drink only this time around and ordered a beer.

icn tilting train dining car zurich geneva
The dining car on the ICN tilting train from Zurich to Geneva. ©Paliparan
swiss beer dining car
I enjoyed a Swiss beer in the dining car. ©Paliparan

Arrival in Geneva

A while later the last of the three big lakes – Lake Geneva – came into view.

The sight of this lake, called Lac Léman in French, meant that we were getting close to our final destination of Geneva.

After passing through some stations in the Geneva suburbs we arrived on time at Geneva Cornavin, the main train station of the city.

Although the train would continue onward to its final stop of Geneva Airport after, it seemed that almost all passengers were disembarking at Cornavin.

lake geneva train view
View over Lake Geneva from the train. ©Paliparan
geneva railway line
On the final stretch towards Geneva. ©Paliparan
geneva suburban station
Riding non-stop through one of the suburban stations of Geneva. ©Paliparan
Geneva Cornavin
Arriving at Geneva Cornavin station. ©Paliparan
geneva icn tilting train switzerland
Disembarking the ICN tilting train at the station of Geneva. ©Paliparan
swiss icn tilting train zurich geneva
The ICN tilting train from Zurich has arrived at the station of Geneva. ©Paliparan
Geneva Cornavin station
Platforms of Geneva Cornavin station. ©Paliparan
train station geneva
Shops in the train station of Geneva. ©Paliparan
geneva cornavin train station
The main hall of Geneva Cornavin station. ©Paliparan

Conclusion

I had a comfortable journey on the Swiss ICN tilting train from Zurich to Geneva, which turned out to be a rather scenic ride passing by three major lakes.

The views over Lake Neuchâtel, its vineyards, and the city of Neuchâtel were particularly scenic.

I also appreciated the quiet and peaceful ambiance in the first class coach, as well the dining car of the ICN tilting train, where I enjoyed a tasty Swiss beer.

When travelling between Zurich and Geneva, the trains of the Swiss Federal Railways SBB are clearly the way to go!

Trip report index

This article is part of the ‘Scenic Trains Around Switzerland and the Italian Lakes‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:

1. Bergamo: A Visit to Lombardy’s Beautiful Hilltop Town
2. Travelling From Bergamo to Milan by Train
3. From Milan to Varenna and Tirano By Trenord Regional Train
4. A Varenna Visit: A Day Trip to Lake Como’s Most Beautiful Town
5. Tirano: The Italian Gateway to the Bernina Railway
6. Bernina Express Train: Guide to Switzerland’s Most Scenic Railway
7. Review: Swiss InterCity (IC) Train Chur to Zurich and Basel
8. From Zurich to Geneva on a Swiss ICN Tilting Train (current chapter)
9. Cheap Geneva Hotel: Stay Across the Border in Annemasse!
10. Around Lake Geneva by Train: From Geneva to Montreux
11. A Visit to Montreux and the Freddie Mercury Statue
12. Golden Pass: Guide to a Scenic Railway Route Across Switzerland
13. Swiss Chique: The MOB GoldenPass Belle Époque Train
14. From the Mountains to the Lake: Zweisimmen to Spiez by Train
15. Spectacular Spiez: A Visit to a Scenic Swiss Town
16. Spiez to Interlaken by Train: A Trip on the Lake Thun Railway Line

** rest of the chapters to follow soon **

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Koen

Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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