This analysis of the wheelchair accessibility in the Bernese Oberland is from our trip in Summer 2022.
Interlaken Ost, Eiger Express Gondola, Jungfraujoch (Top of Europe), and Lauterbrunnen
We took a day trip from from Lucerne to the Bernese Oberland via Interlaken Ost. This trip took us:
- Through the gorgeous countryside and around the gorgeous lakes of Interlaken Ost
- On a tricable gondola (the Eiger Express)
- On a cog-wheel train to the Jungfraujoch, the highest train station in Europe (3,454 meters high) and a UNESCO World Heritage site
- Through the picturesque town of Lauterbrunnen, with its grand cliffs and many spilling waterfalls
And almost all of it was wheelchair accessible. This was a fantastic day–probably one of my best ever.
OVERVIEW OF ROUTE — GONDOLA VS. TRAINS
The first leg was via SBB train from Lucerne to Interlaken Ost, which is a picturesque town situated between two large lakes at the bottom of the mountain range.
For the journey into the mountains, we booked the remaining portion (two more trains and a gondola) through the Jungfraujoch website–I wanted one point of contact for accessibility for the entire trip up the mountain. The service from Jungfrau crew was amazing–they were excellent guides as to the accessibility for each of the ways up the mountains. The new and recommended route is to take a train to Grindelwald, and then take the Eiger Express gondola to the last train up to the Jungfraujoch station. This takes a total of 45 minutes, and requires no accessibility assistance. The other route is to take trains through Lauterbrunnen to Little Scheidegg to Jungfraujoch. This trip is longer, and is not always wheelchair accessible–you need to book the exact times of your trains in advance to ensure you are on wheelchair accessible trains and people are there to assist.
Note: The last leg of the trip for either route is the same train up to the Jungfraujoch. The real difference is how you get to that train: you either go through 1) Grindelwald and the Eiger Express gondola or 2) trains through Lauterbrunnen and Little Scheidegg. I was a little confused as to the routes, but the staff walked me through the options and assured me it was smooth and easy. They were right.
We watched YouTube videos about the Eiger Express–this YouTube video showing the point of view ride from start to finish was particularly helpful. We opted to do the gondola route, and I am so glad we did so–it was accessible, required no advance planning or rigid timetables, was a novel experience, and was absolutely gorgeous.
And the price was right for us–my wife (as my personal care attendant) was able to accompany me for free. The Jungfrau agents even refunded our seat reservations because they did not apply for wheelchair spaces.
I found the easiest way to contact the agents was via e-mail: email@example.com.
Train from Lucerne to Interlaken Ost and the new Grindelwald Terminal
We took an SBB train from Lucerne to Interlaken Ost. We opted for first class, which came with bigger windows and a quieter riding experience. As with our previous trips, the station in Lucerne was flat and smooth, and the train was roll-on, roll-off without any need for assistance. The wheelchair space had a platform for drinks, a call button to request meal/beverage service, and an outlet for charging the scooter.
The scenery during the ride was fantastic and worth the trip itself. Even on a cloudy, rainy day (or maybe because of it), the lakes were electric blue and the mountains a deep emerald.
We disembarked at Interlaken Ost, which was again barrier free and required no wheelchair assistance. The station had long ramps down to the underground walkway that took us to the other platforms. Again, not waiting for an elevator was fantastic–I really appreciated the wheelchair accessibility in the Bernese Oberland!
The train from Interlaken Ost to Grindelwald was also barrier free, and easily accessible. There were no assigned seats, so we just hopped on and grabbed the open wheelchair space. There were again outlets for charging my scooter. The bathrooms were tight, but a standard wheelchair would likely fit. It is a short ride (~20 minutes), so I did not test it with my scooter.
Tip: We could have purchased the train tickets from Interlaken Ost to Grindelwald through SBB or from the Jungfrau website. I chose to purchase from the Jungfraujoch, as I thought it would streamline any issues by only have one agency/one ticket responsible for the whole trip.
Not all of the stops were roll-on, roll-off, so it was important to confirm my desired stations were wheelchair accessible with the synaptic map, contacting SBB, or contacting Jungfraujoch’s staff. But even the non-accessible stations were under construction, and will likely be accessible in the future.
The Grindelwald Terminal and the Eiger Express Gondola
The Grindewald Terminal
The train was again roll-on, roll-off, and so we disembarked at the new Grindelwald Terminal without assistance. Wheelchair accessibility in the Bernese Oberland strikes again–amazing!
The new terminal was still under construction in some areas, but was fully accessible, functional, and beautiful. There was a long walkway from the train to the gondola station, but there were moving sidewalks to help with the walk and wide hallways for easy passing. There are some shops in the terminal, including a fairly robust grocery store (Coop).
The station also had a fantastic accessible bathroom—my only complaint was I did not figure out how to lock the power doors, but that was likely user error.
Tip: There are only a few dining options at Jungfraujoch, and they can be expensive and have long waits. So we purchased from the Coop at the Grindelwald Terminal some prepackaged pasta as well as fresh bread for a picnic at the Jungfraujoch station. It was cheap and delicious food, all with no wait and a million-dollar view.
The Eiger Express Gondola
There were signs in English that lead to the gondola, as well as workers to help assist. Once at the gondola station, a worker hopped onto a gondola to flip up the necessary benches to make room for my scooter. The worker then stopped the gondola for a few seconds (which is all they can do), and I was able to roll straight onto the gondola. The few seconds was more than enough to get on, park, and get ready for the gondola to start moving again.
Tip: Ask the worker to put the benches up on the front of the gondola (typically the right side). The front gives the best views as well as the closest feeling to flying.
The gondola ride was smooth and even, with only a few moments of slight dips at the hoist stations. The Skyliner at Disney World or the tram into the mountains in Palm Springs, CA are both wilder rides, and both are very doable. The scenery was breathtaking, especially as we went through the low-lying fog—we were swallowed in the fog and the spit out into blue skies above the clouds.
The stop at the end was equally smooth—the worker spotted our car and told us instructions on how to get off. The worker then stopped the car, and I again had enough time to roll over the barrier-free entry without a problem. Even if the car were to move again, the cars are moving slow enough that I could just drive off and be fine.
The train to Jungfraujoch
We went through the station to catch the next (and last) train up to the Jungfraujoch. Workers took us down the elevator and told us where to wait on the platform for the train. The workers helped us board, but the train was again roll-on, roll-off—there was a minimal gap between the train and the track of maybe an 1”.
There are designated wheelchair areas, but the train gets crowded and is largely standing room only. So we had to defend our territory a bit and were prepared for people standing near and over us at times.
Tip: Similar to the Zermatt train, the ride can be quite steep. I recommend sitting facing uphill at all times—this means sitting facing the front of the train on the ride up, and then facing the back of the train on the ride down.
The train makes one stop on the way up. This stop is at an overlook, and people can get off to see it before getting back on to continue the trip. This stop is not wheelchair accessible.
Note: In actuality, the stop is a ruse of sorts—it’s a viewpoint lookout that keeps people occupied while the trains pass each other. There is only one track, and so the upgoing train parks at a side track at the lookout to let the downward going train pass. So, the stop is more functional than fun, and the views from the top of the Jungfraujoch make up for any missed sights at this pitstop.
There was a small gap between the train and the station, but it was still roll-on, roll-off with no assistance required. And the walkway from the platform into the station had wheelchair ramps over the cogs/rail lines so we could cross them easily and on the same path as everyone else.
Once in the main station, we encountered the first viewing platform, which overlooks a large glacier. We ate our pre-packaged lunch overlooking the glacier. There is an elevator there as well that goes to a gift shop, restaurants, and a Lindt chocolate shop. Those were not our scene, so we stayed looking at the glacier and the natural beauty.
We then took another set of elevators up to the top of the station, which has an indoor and outdoor observation station. The indoor station was fully accessible, whereas the outdoor station had a 2” lip to get out the platform. I may have been able to do it in my scooter, but it would have been tough and quite the bump. It also wasn’t much of a different view from inside, except with cold air.
After the observatory, we went back down to the main platform and explored the tunnels of entertainment in the station. The tunnels create a circuit, and include a tunnel of ice, various simulations, and light shows. There is also an ice castle showroom, but it is only accessible by riding a moving platform down a series of staircases. And the platform cannot be accessed by calling an attendant to operate it. We called the button and eventually someone came to operate the lift, but my wife had already scouted and determined it wasn’t worth the hassle. It was also freezing in the tunnel, so I agreed with foregoing the ice castle. This was the only problem with wheelchair accessibility in the Bernese Oberland that we had that day–and it wasn’t bad.
We backtracked our route to Interlaken Ost—we took the train back down to the gondola, took the gondola back to Grimmelwald Terminal, and then the train back to Interlaken Ost. Interlaken Ost was the accessible station at which we could transfer to go to Lauterbrunnen. Interlaken Ost is basically the station at the bottom of a “V” route, with Grimmelwald at the top of one side and Lauterbrunnen on the other side.
The train to Lauterbrunnen was very similar to the one to Grimmelwald. The wheelchair locations were not reserved, so we had to position with other people with wheelchairs. The train was roll-on, roll-off, and the wheelchair locations had outlets to charge my scooter (even if only for the ~20 minute ride).
The train station at Lauterbrunnen was also roll-on, roll-off, and had ramps down to an underground tunnel to walk between the platforms (and to the town). We disembarked, and then headed into the town.
Lauterbrunnen and Return to Lucerne
The train station was at one end of the town, with a main street running from it through the town. The town is gorgeous—huge cliffs surround the town, and there are waterfalls running over the cliffs. We walked and explored the main street, and then stopped to charge my scooter for a bit. The road were smooth and drivers were careful–another great example of the easy wheelchair accessibility in the Bernese Oberland.
We then walked back to the train to go back to Interlaken Ost. The trains were getting very busy as the day went on, and there were a lot of people traveling with suitcases. As such, many people rode the train wherever they could, including us—we moved some bags and sat in the luggage area.
Tip: Don’t wait for the last train back to your destination. Instead, catch the second to last (or earlier). The trains got very, very busy as the day goes on, and there were people who could not fit on the train with us. Thankfully, there were other trains coming to get them, but there is always the chance of not fitting on the last train and being stranded.
We then took the SBB train from Interlaken Ost back to Lucerne. It was just as gorgeous as it had been on the way out that morning.
From start to finish, wheelchair accessibility in the Bernese Oberland was a dream…much like the scenery.