One of the coolest (pun intended) experiences we had while traveling in Europe was going to Jungfraujoch, known as the “Top of Europe.” The site is located at the train station that is the highest – over 11,300 feet – in elevation of any in the continent. Travelers can not continue higher except on foot or by helicopter.
We stayed in Interlaken, Switzerland, and left the Interlaken Ost Station around 9 in the morning. We could have started earlier – and would have saved some money – but we took our time instead. The train tickets are expensive, but there are no additional fees for the experiences at the top.
The journey takes about 2 1/2 hours and involves changing trains a couple of times. Some of the trains are cog-wheel trains and some go through tunnels, so the ride itself is very interesting.
The first train traverses the lower parts of the mountain. We traveled from Interlaken Ost to Lauterbrunnen. Although there are some snow shelters to protect the tracks, they are not full tunnels. Looking out of the windows, we saw iconic Swiss chalet homes dotting the hillside. We passed through a couple small villages, taking pictures at every turn.
We transferred to the Wengernalp Railway which took us to Kleine Scheidegg. When we got off to change trains we were greeted with a magnificent view of the north face of the Eiger Mountain.
By the time we got to the third train, we were high in the mountains. The Jungfrau Railway brought us into tunnels through the mountain. There were a couple of stops where we could get out and look out the windows of the viewing areas. Although the windows were weathered, we saw close-up views of the Alps.
There are three mountains in this range that each tower over 13,000 feet; they are the Eiger, Monch, and the Jungfrau. Some say an old folktale tells how the Monk (Monch) saved the Young Maiden (Jungfrau) from the Ogre(Eiger). Of the three mountains, Jungfrau is the highest.
The train finally brought us to Jungfraujoch, the “Top of Europe.” We walked past (ignored) the gift shop and out the door to a bit of a plateau. Even though I’ve seen pictures of the Alps many times, I could never imagine the grandeur that was right in front of me.
It was cold – actually below freezing according to the thermometer on the wall. The ground was icy, but we walked out to take the obligatory pictures next to the Swiss flag. We quickly went back inside to get out of the stinging wind.
There is an ice palace located inside the mountain with its entrance on the same level. Rooms and tunnels are carved into the ice where there are displays of fun ice carvings – penguins, bears and other animals.
One of the most interesting pieces, though, was an indentation in the shape of a hand. As each visitor placed their hand in the hole, it melted just a little more, “carving” it deeper, a tiny bit at a time.
We took an elevator to the top viewing platform called the Sphinx. This point is over 11,700 feet above sea level.
When we arrived, the sun was shining brightly and it seemed a bit warmer than it had been down below. At this point we could see 360 degrees of nothing but snow-covered mountains. Unbelievable!
The warmth of the sun beating on the snow caused fog to rise up from the surface of the peaks, eventually obscuring some of the view and dropping the temperature. We didn’t think much about the weather until the fog appeared and we realized how lucky we were. We will definitely pay attention to the forecast when we go again.
We decided to check out the gift shop before leaving to take the train back to Interlaken.
Since we were there, things have changed somewhat. There are now two restaurants in addition to the self-service area that we experienced. More importantly, there are two interactive exhibits and an outdoor play area – all of which look exciting. I think we need to visit again soon!
Here is a link to the Top of Europe website.