The world on the Jungfraujoch – in the Jungfrau region of Switzerland – was a riot of stormy snow and biting, freezing wind even in mid-June. So unlike the green, lush, temperate sunshine glowing warmly in the town of Grindelwald, where I stayed on a hosted trip, the top of the Eiger and its famous glacier found itself caught in a mad storm.
Snow flurries swirled around my face and the glacier itself was hidden under the whirlpools, but I was literally on the “Top of Europe” as the Jungfraujoch claims to be. Dubbed the “roof of Europe,” the Jungfraujoch attraction sits atop the rugged, glacier-capped Eiger summit at 2.14 miles above sea level.
Achieving such a lofty goal takes engineering excellence, and luckily the Swiss are known for it. We rode the brand new Eiger Express from Grindelwald, Europe’s newest and most modern gondola. Driving it all the way to the top, the views along the way were spectacular and even a bit overwhelming.
Located in the heart of the Swiss Alps, Switzerland is known for its record-breaking transportation systems, which allow you to soar over mountain passes from a glass box attached to a wire. From the big cable cars to the smaller gondolas to the vertical funiculars, Switzerland boasts some of the most extreme and modern forms of mountain transport.
Here are five beautiful gondola rides you can experience in the Swiss Alps for a bird’s-eye view of the best of the Swiss Alps and landscapes.
1. Float to the Jungfraujoch in Switzerland’s newest gondola lift
The brand new Eiger Express cable car, departing from the also brand new Grindelwald terminal, takes just 15 minutes to reach the Eigergletscher station. From there you board the famous cogwheel mountain railway to the Jungfraujoch-Top of Europe station.
Dubbed the “world’s most modern tricable gondola,” the Eiger Express can carry 26 passengers per cable car and up to 2,200 people per hour, cutting the journey to Jungfraujoch by 47 minutes. The new cable car, unveiled in 2020, has heated windows, Wi-Fi, heated seats, and since the electricity is actually generated by the cables that pull the elevators, it’s also one of the most sustainable modes of transportation to date.
“We have invested 470 million US dollars to build the most modern cable car in the world, the Eiger Express,” said Matthias Bütler, Head of Marketing and Sales at Jungfrau Railways. “We built the Grindelwald Terminal and we call it Terminal because it’s more than a cable car station. It really is like an airport.”
“Our goal is sustainability. That’s why we built the train station right inside the terminal. We want people to come by train instead of by car,” Bütler continued.
The Aletsch Glacier is the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Swiss Alps. It is the longest glacier in the Alps surrounded by 13,123 foot peaks.
“We have to take care of the glacier,” said Bütler. “That’s why sustainability is so important.”
The Jungfraujoch is also one of Switzerland’s most popular ski resorts, with two valleys, three mountain ranges and 211km of groomed slopes. However, the summer region is also a great time to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site and enjoy the verdant valley views dotted with wildflowers.
After riding the Eiger Express to Europe’s highest train station at Jungfraujoch, visitors can spend the day exploring the glacier, seeing the stunning sites on the Eiger, going into a tunnel through the glacier and learning about the history of the glacier to learn region. Explore all of this before returning down the mountain to Grindelwald Station.
The long-awaited Eiger Express is the second tranche of the V-Bahn project, which includes two gondola lifts from Grindelwald to the Male and Eiger Glaciers. In 2019, the first stage to the Mannlichen was opened.
Pro Tip: Allow at least 5-6 hours for a trip to Jungfraujoch to allow for the travel time and enjoyment of the experiences at this popular tourist attraction. Note, however, that the Jungfraujoch does not come cheap. The cost to visit with a Swiss passport is well over $150.
2. Explore other mountains with the V-Bahn
The Eiger Express was actually the second stage of the $90 million V-Cableway project, which was the world’s largest new transportation development.
Stage one was the new gondola lift, which floats from Grindelwald to Mannlichen and opened in December 2019. This new Grindelwald-Mannlichen (GGM) gondola replaced the older gondola. It can accommodate up to 10 passengers, now has 111 gondolas and reduces the time to the top station from 30 to 19 minutes.
The Mannlichen is one of the most beautiful mountain views in the world, loved by locals and visitors alike for its numerous alpine hikes and 360 degree views of the Jungfrau region.
After taking the once-a-minute Männlichen Railway from Grindelwald, we spent most of the morning walking the high-altitude trails that lead to Alpiglin and Kleine Scheidegg. The first hike was the Royal Walk.
The Royal Walk, while steep, is a moderate, well-groomed trail. It’s a walk any king or queen worthy of their crown would undertake for their reward of royal views of the trio of peaks of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.
The hike on the Panoramaweg to Kleine Scheidegg takes 1 hour and 10 minutes along an easy path that also rewards hikers with a sweeping view of the Jungfrau Alps region. At the end of the hike, you have a choice of restaurants to refuel and the choice to take either the gondola or the famous train back to Grindelwald.
Pro Tip: The King’s Ride from Wengen to Mannlichen offers a truly “royal” experience. This gondola has a roof balcony on the new cable car cabins. This gondola lift, founded in 1954, takes just under 5 minutes to ascend to the Mannlichen.
3. First find views and adventures in Grindelwald
Grindelwald First might sound like a strange name to non-Swiss visitors, but it’s basically an adventure destination on a mountain that towers over the picturesque town of Grindelwald. Grindelwald First is a family-friendly adventure park amid views of the Swiss Alps that’s popular for skiing, hiking, and some mountain-centric rides.
Located in the heart of Grindelwald, the gondola lift to Grindelwald First hovers in the air over meadows, fields, rugged peaks and more. During the summer months, visitors can admire the wild flowers that transform the fields into paintings while listening to the soft tinkle of cowbells on the beautiful cows that roam the hillside.
Grindelwald First is perfect for multi-generational family outings. The thrill for young and old is when flying through the air First Airman, or “first-time flyer”. It’s a zipline of sorts, using a sturdy harness to race down an 800-meter-long steel cable from First to Schreckfeld at top speeds of 52 miles per hour.
Other adrenaline-pumping activities suitable for children and able-bodied adults include the mountain carts, the scooter bikes, and the First Glider, where guests soar through the mountain air face-down on a large “eagle.”
Grindelwald First also has a beautiful, moderately difficult 2-hour circular hike from First to Bachalpsee and the dizzyingly exciting First Cliff Walk. The First Cliff Walk is a metal walkway that hugs the west side of First Peak at a dizzying height before ending on a platform that extends 150 feet (49 meters) into nowhere for 360-degree views.
The Bachalpsee hike begins with a fairly steep climb, but levels off after about half a kilometer. The idyllic scenery of a high alpine lake and the gentle chirping of mountain marmots more than make up for the breathtaking initial climb.
Pro Tips: Especially in the summer months, come to Grindelwald First as early as possible in the morning. The adventure park fills up quickly and expect queues of up to 2 hours to ride the more popular rides. The two flying rides are suitable for all ages and levels, but the mountain cart and scooter bike are fairly physical, fast excursions that require a bit of courage and a bit of balance.
4. Rotate through the sky on the Titlis Rotair
From the Engleberg Resort in Engleberg to the summit of the Titlis, the TITLIS Rotair is the world’s first fully rotating gondola lift. This gondola slowly rotates 360 degrees and soars 1.8 miles above sea level to the summit and its various restaurants and snack bars.
This mountain destination also offers the TITLIS Cliff Walk, the highest suspension bridge in Europe, which is also free. Visitors can also explore a safe and accessible glacier cave for free, or enjoy stunning views of the surrounding peaks on the Ice Flyer – a chairlift that takes you safely over the snowfields and icy crevasses.
5. Master the Matterhorn
The Matterhorn Glacier Paradise on the Klein Matterhorn above Zermatt is the highest cable car station in Europe. The network has numerous lifts connecting its resort areas to this cable car station, which sits at 2.41 miles above sea level.
A 45-minute gondola and cable car ride, this ride offers Instagram-worthy views of the famous Matterhorn and Weisshorn peaks – a pre-recorded program on the engineering that has gone into the system and a comfortable and safe experience.
Pro Tips: If you’re prone to altitude sickness, ask your doctor about medications that can help offset the effects of altitude. There’s no point in suffering if you don’t have to. In addition, it is good to bring warm layers to the high mountains of Switzerland even in the summer months.
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