Brienz Rothornbahn

After years of good intentions, we finally went up the Brienz Rothornbahn, a cogwheel train that saves you all the hard work of climbing the mountain to catch an amazing view of the Berner Oberland mountain range, including the Eiger and Jungfrau. Our family wasn’t up for a long hike this day, so we were happy to simply ride the train and have a meal with a view.

The train ride takes an hour each way, so you have plenty of time to enjoy the scenery and chat with your neighbors. At the top, there are two restaurants and two short walks (not stroller friendly) to higher elevation lookouts. There are proper hikes, but all quite long and not particularly family-friendly. From the top, it’s about 2hrs to the mid-station, then another 2hrs to the bottom. The trails looked nice enough, but I’d probably prefer to hike elsewhere with my kids. Overall, I thought it was a nice, if a bit lazy, day out. Like nearby Niederhorn or Niesen, this is a particularly good option for those with mobility issues that still want to experience the Swiss alps.

If you’re not hiking, this isn’t really a full-day activity. So you might consider combining this with the nearby Giessbach Falls, which are conveniently accessed by boat from the ferry dock immediately opposite the Rothornbahn. Other half-day options in the area are Reichenbach Falls and Aare Gorge.

Location:   Bernese Oberland Switzerland
Address:
Car: 1hr20 from Zurich
Train: 2hr20 from Zurich
Trail: various, not great options for small children
Open: June through October
Prices: Adult CHF 88, two children under 16 free with adult
SBB Halbtax accepted
Services: restaurant
More info: www.brienz-rothorn-bahn.ch

Getting There

Drive to Brienz. The Rothornbahn is directly opposite of the Brienz train station and ferry dock, so good for those without a car. There are a few parking spots at the train station and a couple metered lots a couple blocks west of the Rothornbahn, behind the Coop.

The train only runs once an hour, so time your arrival. We went on a hot sunny public holiday at mid-day, arriving 5 mins before the train would leave and got the last parking spot and last seats on the train. Lucky us, but not ideal. Get there early in the day and give yourself some time to get settled before catching the train. Although our train was packed, I noticed on our way back that the 14:30 train was quite empty. So maybe afternoon is also a good time to go.

Tickets

This is an expensive train, however, they accept Halbtax and children ride for free. They also run an early bird special, giving you a fare discount if you take the 8:36 train. They have all sorts of special events and experiences. See the website for details.

Impressions

Here’s the view of Brienzersee as you first start up the mountain. I recommend sitting on the left side of the train as you face up the mountain. Both sides are nice, but the left side has more open views.

Looking back towards Brienzersee. The train is open air, but it does have glass windows that slide down in cold and inclement weather.

The train passes through a few tunnels. You’ll also pass a train coming the other way, which was fun for all the passengers. Lots of people waved or gave high-fives to people in the other train as it passed.

One of the many beautiful views as you go up the mountain.

It’s really quite amazing how high up you get on this train. Such ambitious engineers.

After an hour, the train stops here. There is WC here and it’s a two minute walk to the first restaurant.

Here’s the outdoor seating for the first restaurant. There’s tons of seating inside as well, in case the weather is bad. The small gift shop inside sells some really cool retro postcards of the area.

Our table with a view. The food wasn’t anything special, but the setting was top-notch. The menu is typical Swiss (wurst, aelpermagrönen, rösti, salads, etc.) with typically high Swiss prices. They do have children plates for about 9chfs. They also brought us colored pencils and placemats for coloring.

There’s another restaurant a couple minutes further up. That one has sun umbrellas, which we could have really used on that hot day. I’d try that one if we went again. There’s also a cable car that descends into the valley on the other side.

On the far side of the restaurant, there are some stairs on your left leading to a sun terrace with tables. I don’t know if it’s officially part of the restaurant or what. But you could probably picnic up there without anyone bothering you. There are some lounge chairs as well if you want to soak in some rays.

This pic is from the terrace, looking east to the lookout point, our next stop.

The path continues past the restaurants and on to a higher elevation lookout point. The trail starts paved but quickly gets lumpy and quite unsuitable for strollers. In the distance above the restaurant, you can see another lookout point, to which you can also hike. As you can see, our little hiker was not so motivated.

To make things more interesting, we left the path and scrambled up the rocks.

From the lookout point, you get a beautiful view of the valleys to the east.

After a hour and half, we had done pretty much everything we could do up there. We were worried that the descending train would be as full as the one we took up, but happily it wasn’t. We wondered why the conductor didn’t open up all the benches and made everyone fill up the other benches. Then when we reached the middle station in Planalp, many people (perhaps those who had hiked down through the lovely wildflowers below) were waiting there to get on and ride the rest of the way down. So those benches were reserved for them.

 

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2 comments

  1. I just wanted to add that we did this trip last Summer, and it was chaos getting tickets and onto the train. We arrived early, and the line was out of the sheltered ticket area and back down the street. One of us had to stand in line for over an hour just to get tickets. I spoke to a staff member about this and he said it is pretty typical, but they don't allow families or individuals to pre book – only groups. He suggested collecting tickets late the day before you want to travel, which isn't very helpful if you are going on a day trip.

    Coming back down was even worse. The train we waited to catch was full (booked out mostly by groups) and there is no where to wait sitting down or in the shade. They had added extra trains to the schedule, but we still were told we would have to wait another 40 minutes. Thankfully a lovely group from England heard us talking, and offered to move over so we could cram into their carriage with the kids on our laps. It wasn't ideal, but better than waiting.

    I have spoken to several people since and they all had similar experiences, so I think if you do go you should be prepared for long lines and lots of pushing and shoving to get a seat on the train. The trip is amazing and the views spectacular, but I probably wouldn't do it again with young children.

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