Last updated on October 7th, 2018
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The last time I was in Switzerland, it was with my family the summer before I started fifth grade. I was ten years old, just entering puberty, and at the prime age for complaining and refusing to do things with my family. As you can probably expect from any ten year old, I was no fun. We would go on hikes and I would complain the whole way. My parents paid the astronomical prices for train tickets to the top of the Jungfraujoch, and I refused to leave the train station. I claimed I had altitude sickness. In reality, I was just in one of those moods. Who even knows where I came up with the altitude sickness excuse.
Looking back on all of this, I realize now that I passed up some seriously amazing opportunities as a whiny ten year old (as well as in the years following). I don’t think I’ll ever stop kicking myself over that. Thankfully, this past March I was finally able to return to Switzerland after ten long years. This time, I told myself, there was no way I wasn’t going to appreciate every last second of it. As an added bonus, I was traveling solo this time, which meant that I could do just about whatever I wanted (within reason, at least – I was on a student budget after all!).
The number one thing I wanted to do during my three days in Lucerne was hike Mount Rigi. I figured at first that I would do this on the second or third day that I was there. After doing some research, though, I decided that the best time to go would be right off the train from Bern on my first morning there. Part of the reasoning behind this was because I wasn’t sure if I would be able to use the 50% Eurail pass discount on Rigi Railways if it wasn’t one of my designated travel days. In the end, I don’t think it actually would have mattered. But I was glad to have been safe, rather than sorry.
So, after getting everything together in Bern that morning, I set off on my way to Lucerne. It was a short, one hour train ride that went through pleasant scenery. Before I knew it, my train was pulling into the Lucerne train station. I dropped my backpack off at a luggage locker (CHF7 for 24 hours) and transferred what I would need for the day into a daypack. Then I walked out of the station, ready to take on what I had deemed my first proper Swiss hiking experience.
But first, a boat.
Just across the street from the Lucerne train station lies a small ticket and informational office for boat trips on Lake Lucerne. This was my destination. When I stopped at the window to ask for information I was told that the next boat was departing in two minutes and I that I could buy my ticket onboard.
I booked it to the soon-departing boat, presented my Eurail pass for a 50% discount (god bless), and went to find a seat at the back of the boat, ticket in hand. I was especially proud of myself because all of these interactions happened in German, a language I’ve been studying since I was 8 years old. Finally, I’d reached a point where German speakers wouldn’t immediately switch to English when I spoke to them! It was pretty darn satisfying.
I settled into my seat just as the boat started moving, excitement stirring in my stomach. The sun was out to play, and I could tell that it was going to be a beautiful day for a hike. I didn’t stay seated for long, though. As the boat pulled away from the dock, I quickly realized that this wasn’t going to be just any boat trip. This was going to be a damn beautifully scenic boat trip. I pulled my camera out as quickly as I could and started snapping – and so did everyone else.
It took me a while to fight my way to the back of the boat, which was the most popular place for picture taking – and for good reason. At the back of the boat, a Swiss flag flapped triumphantly with views of Mount Pilatus in the background. Totally insta-worthy.
Riding the Rigi Bahn
In a little less than an hour, the boat docked at my destination: Vitznau. This seemed to be where the lion’s share of passengers disembarked. Which makes sense considering that Vitznau is the departure point for the popular Rigi cogwheel train. The train station was easy enough to find, as it was literally right across from the boat dock. You pretty much couldn’t go wrong (which was a good thing for me, as I tend to get lost very easily).
While a few people had to stop by the ticket office to pick up tickets, most of the passengers (including myself) seemed to have booked their tickets ahead of time – which was good, because the next train left only a minute or two after the boat dropped us off.
As far as I can tell, the train’s schedule is organized to run in relation to the boat’s, so it’s definitely a good idea to buy your tickets ahead of time. You can either do this directly through the Rigi website, like I did, or at the ticket office in Luzern (in combination with your boat ticket). Here’s a great informational post that will help a lot if you’re planning your own trip up Mount Rigi.
Since the next train was departing soon, I presented my ticket. To my pleasant surprise, the inspector handed me a Lindt truffle in return. I was pretty convinced I was living in luxury at that point. After that, I boarded the train and settled into my seat (well, as much as you can settle into a seat when you’re facing backwards on a train going up a very steep mountain… my abs got a real workout that day). Soon enough, we were off!
A minute or so later we had cleared the tree line and were greeted with some pretty amazing views. Swiss chalets dotted the fields, mountains rose up on the horizon, and Lake Lucerne spread out, sparkling below us. I know I say this all the time, but these views really did take my breath away.
Although the train stopped at a few stations along the way, my destination was the tippy top – Rigi Kulm. Perhaps twenty minutes after the train departed the Vitznau station, we arrived. For some reason, all of the snow surprised me, even though it was barely the beginning of spring and I was on top of a mountain. Thankfully, I brought along a pair of blue sparkly mittens with me, so I was all set.
It was actually a bit of a walk from the train station to the top of the mountain. I was pretty much starving at this point though, so I decided to pop a squat and eat the sandwich I had packed for myself while taking in the view. Even though I was alone, I had a whole group tour taking pictures to keep me company.
After I finished up my lunch, I decided it was time to warm up. The perfect way to do this, of course, was to make the quick hike to the very top of the mountain. From there, the entire world seemed small – both in the sense that everything below me looked tiny, and in the ‘It’s a small world after all’ sense.
Two girls about my age stopped me and asked if it would be alright to take a video of me saying Happy Birthday to one of their friends. People were playing in the snow. There were some pretty cute kids rolling around in strollers. I smiled as I people watched for a moment. I had a hunch there wouldn’t be as many people around when I started hiking, so I wanted to take as much of it in as possible. Even if for a brief moment, I thought, I wasn’t alone.
Hiking Mount Rigi
After I got my fill of Rigi Kulm, it was time to start my hike. Of course, although I say it was a hike, it was really more of a leisurely stroll. Thankfully, this was exactly what I was expecting and had planned for. As a solo traveller, I didn’t really want to do anything that was too strenuous or would lead me off the beaten path when it came to hiking. So instead, I chose to hike the ‘Rigi Classic’ – a short, one hour paved path down from Rigi Kulm to Rigi Kaltbald. From there, I would catch a cable car down the rest of the way.
The first five minutes or so went a little bit slower than I expected. With so much snow and ice, I was doing my best to not slip and fall. I must have looked pretty silly with my arms held out to the side as I shuffled my way slowly down the mountain. Thankfully, as I went lower the snow started to clear up. That was when I really started to enjoy myself.
Every once and a while uphill hikers passed me, but for the most part I had the mountain completely to myself. I took my sweet time making my way down the mountain, stopping at every opportunity to enjoy the views. The sun was shining so bright that the next morning I had a sunburn, but I hardly cared about that in the moment. The air was that crisp, fresh mountain air that everyone always talks about. I was in love with all things Switzerland and mountain in that moment. So much so that I even considered hiking all the way down the mountain before I reminded myself that I wasn’t that crazy.
Pretty shortly after I convinced myself that hiking five hours down a mountain wasn’t my best idea in the world, I arrived at Rigi Kaltbald. Much to my dismay, this was the end of the hiking portion of my trip. I stopped at the viewpoint for a few minutes, but nothing I saw there compared to what I saw on my hike. Maybe I was just seeing things with rose-tinted glasses, but I felt sorely sorry for those who simply rode the train back down from Rigi Kulm to Rigi Kaltbald in order to catch the cable car. They had no idea what they were missing.
From Rigi Kaltbald, I hopped on the next cable car that would fly me down to the village of Weggis. I was packed in with a load of other people, but thankfully I was the first in line. This meant that I was able to get a great front-facing view, which was perfect. As the cable car started moving, people genuinely ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’. I’m not kidding.
Five minutes later, we were back down in the real world. This time, the boat dock wasn’t as easy to find. It was a bit longer of a walk than it had been to find the train station in Vitznau, but only because it wasn’t right across the street. I’m not really sure what happened to the other 30 people that were on the cable car, but I was the only one at the boat dock. My best guess is that a tour bus met them somewhere.
It was a bit of a wait until the next boat arrived, but I wasn’t mad at all. The view from the docks was just as beautiful as everything else I had seen that day.
I fell asleep on the boat ride back to Lucerne, probably with a big goofy smile on my face.
Looking back on it, I have to say that this was my absolute favourite day of my first solo trip. I had a lot of ups and downs, especially when it came to feeling lonely, but while I was on Mount Rigi I really didn’t have a single care in the world. I’m so glad that this was my first proper Swiss hiking experience… even though it would have been even better if I had allowed that to happen ten years ago!
If You Go:
Boat trips on Lake Lucerne cost CHF19 for Lucerne to Vitznau and CHF14 for Weggis to Lucerne. Swiss Travel Passes and Eurail/InterRail passes are entitled to a 50% discount. Check here for full details on pricing and here for boat departure timetables. You can buy your ticket on the boat, and there is no need to buy head of time.
A Rigi Hiking Ticket, which includes a ride on the train from Vitznau to Rigi Kulm and the cable car from Rigi Kaltbald to Weggis, costs CHF62,50 full price. Swiss Travel Passes and Eurail/InterRail passes are entitled to a 50% discount. Buy ahead of time to avoid missing the cogwheel train.
Alternatively, you can book a package like this one instead of buying each part seperately. I would only suggest doing this if you don’t have access to any of the 50% discounts mentioned above. Otherwise, it is much cheaper to buy separately and take advantage of the discounts.
Be sure to bring a warm coat even if you go in the summer time. Due to the altitude, it will be much colder at the top than in the towns below. The path from Rigi Kulm to Rigi Kaltbald is paved, so you don’t need special hiking boots to walk it. I would suggest sturdy shoes, though – no flip-flops!
Have you ever hiked on your own or had a similar experience to mine? Let me know in the comments down below!
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