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
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.
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.
Chur to Zurich by ICN train
Train IC 526 – Departure: 3.04pm – Arrival: 5.47pm
Duration: 2h43m – Distance: 265 kilometres
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.
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.
Where to buy your ticket
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
** rest of the chapters to follow soon **