1. Outstanding Universal Value (What does the UNESCO say about the property? Why is it worth your visit?)
4.1 On the way
4.2 Eismeer Station
4.4 Mönchsjoch Hut Hiking Trail
4.5 Alpine Sensation
4.6 Ice Palast
4.7 Glacier Plateau
4.8 Main Complex
1. Outstanding Universal Value
This is part of a series of posts dedicated to the exploration of Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn, a UNESCO World Heritage site covering an entire area of 82,400 ha. The next few paragraphs will be about the site’s universal value (the reason why it is inscribed on the World Heritage list) and a brief introduction to various viewpoints, hiking trails and attractions in different regions in and around the inscribed area. If you have already read other posts related to the property, please click here to jump directly to the main content of this one.
As the UNESCO comments:
The extension of the natural World Heritage property of Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn (first inscribed in 2001), expands the site to the east and west, bringing its surface area up to 82,400 ha., up from 53,900. The site provides an outstanding example of the formation of the High Alps, including the most glaciated part of the mountain range and the largest glacier in Eurasia. It features a wide diversity of ecosystems, including successional stages due particularly to the retreat of glaciers resulting from climate change. The site is of outstanding universal value both for its beauty and for the wealth of information it contains about the formation of mountains and glaciers, as well as ongoing climate change. It is also invaluable in terms of the ecologicaland biological processes it illustrates, notably through plant succession. Its impressive landscape has played an important role in European art, literature, mountaineering and alpine tourism.
自然世界遗产少女峰–阿雷奇冰河–毕奇霍恩峰（最早于2001年被列入）从东部扩展到西部，面积从53 900公顷扩展到82 400公顷。该遗址为阿尔卑斯高山——包括山脉最受冰河作用的部分和欧亚大陆山脉最大的冰川——的形成提供了一个杰出的实例。它以生态系统多样性为特点，包括特别受气候变化冰川融化而形成的演替阶段。该遗址因景色秀美、而且包含山脉和冰川形成以及正在发生的气候变化方面的丰富知识而具有突出的全球价值。在它尤其通过植物演替所阐释的生态和生物过程方面，该遗址的价值无法衡量。其令人难忘的景观在欧洲艺术、文化、登山和阿尔卑斯山旅游中起着重要作用。
In order to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one of the ten Criteria for Selection. Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn meets
Criterion (vii): to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance, because the impressive landscape within the property has played an important role in European art, literature, mountaineering and alpine tourism. What’s the top 1 attraction in Switzerland? The Alps. What’s the most famous part of the Alps? The Jungfrau region. The area around Jungfrau, Aletschhorn and Bietschhorn, which includes the imposing north wall of the High Alpsfeaturing Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau and on the southern side many spectacular peaks and a valleysystem containing Europe’s largest glacier, is globally recognized as one of the most spectacular mountain regions to visit;
Criterion (viii): to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features, because the property provides an outstanding record of the geological processes that formed the High Alps and is abundant in diverse geomorphological featuressuch as U-shaped glacial valleys, cirques, horns, valley glaciers and moraines. 20 – 40 million years ago, through uplifting and compressing, the formation of the High Alps began. Ranging from 809 m to 4,274 m high, the mountains in the property show 400-million-year-old crystalline rocks thrust over younger carbonate rocks due to the northward drift of the African tectonic plate. As the most glaciated part of the Alps, the site contains the largest and longest glacier in Europe – the Aletsch Glacier, which shows a range of classic glacial features. Furthermore, the glacier provides vital information about glacial historyand ongoing processes, in particular related to climate change.
and Criterion (ix): to be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals, because within the property, diverse flora and faunaare represented in a range of habitats, and plant colonization in the wake of retreating glaciers provides an outstanding example of plant succession. Covering a wide range of altitudes and exposures (such as the dry southern side and wet northern side), the property includes diverse alpine and sub-alpine habitats. On the crystalline and carbonate rocks, a variety of ecosystems have evolved without significant human intervention. Particularly worth mentioning is the upper and lower tree-line of the Aletsch forest, a superb example of plant succession. The global phenomenon of climatic change, which is reflected in the varying retreating rates of the glaciers, is particularly well-illustrated in the region, providing new substrates for plant colonization.
As you can see from the map above, the inscribed area is huge, so how can we explore it? Before giving you some suggestions based on my own experience and the information on www.jungfraualetsch.ch, let’s first learn some facts about the property:
- surface of the World Heritage area: 824 km2
- Population of the World Heritage region: 40,000 inhabitants
- 23 municipalities in the cantons of Valais (15) and Bern (8) are involved
- 9 mountains within the area are over 4000 meters and Finsteraarhorn is the highest peak (4274 m)
- around 50 mountains within the area are over 3500 meters
- the glaciers cover a total area of 350 km2
- the longest and largest glacier in the Alps, Aletsch Glacier (23 km) is located at the center of this protected area
- 88% of this area is without vegetation
- the Bernese Alps (Wetterhorn – Schreckhorn – Eiger – Mönch – Jungfrau – Gletscherhorn – Breithorn – Blüemlisalp) are considered one of the most famous mountain ranges in the world
As you might have noticed, most of the inscribed area is not accessible to normal tourists as it’s made up of either high mountains or glaciers. However, there are many viewpoints on the mountains around the property, most of which are conveniently connected to bus stops or train stations by cable cars. Personally, I strongly recommend the viewpoints within and around the Aletsch Arena, which provide amazing views of the Aletsch Glacier, Aletschhorn, Bietschhorn, Jungfrau, Mönch, Fiescherhorn and so on, and within the Jungfrau region including Grosse Scheidegg, First, Schynige Platte, Männlichen, Jungfraujoch, Schilthorn and so on, from which you can see clearly the northern wall of the High Alps featuring the signature Swiss skyline of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. If you are a hiker, you have many more options and can get a closer look at the World Heritage site. Besides the numerous hiking trails in Jungfrau and Aletsch regions, I recommend you checking out the Lötschental Valley, Kandertal Valley (Gasterntal Valley and Lake Oeschinensee), and Rosenlauital Valley (Rosenlaui Glacier Gorge).
Exploring the regions I mentioned above will probably take you a very long time because they offer numerous viewpoints, hiking trails and attractions, and after that, I believe you will have a very good understanding of the universal value of the property such as its unparalleled beauty, exceptional record of the formation of the Alps, excellent demonstration of diverse geomorphological features and remarkable representation of on-going ecological and biological processes. If you are still not satisfied and want to have a completer experience, try visiting the municipalities of Raron, Eggerberg, Guttanen(Grimselwelt), Innertkirchen and Meiringen, where you will find more activities closely or remotely related to the World Heritage site. I read from the official website that there’s a long tour which allows you to hike around the property and discover and learn about it in 15 stages. The booklet providing relevant information regarding the routes and attractions is called «Key to the Alps», which is unfortunately only available in German. I think, even if you don’t speak German or plan to take the complete tour, the booklet should shed some light on the planning of your own expedition. Alternatively, there is a fold-out map available in English with overview and tips regarding highlights of the World Heritage site. I can send the digital version to you upon request and I’m sure it will also give you some inspiration.
- To find out the destinations and highlights recommended by jungfraualetsch.ch please click here.
- To find out the destinations and hiking tours recommended by myswissalps.ch please click here.
As I mentioned above, most of the inscribed area is not easily accessible to normal visitors and some parts of it are not clearly visible from the surrounding viewpoints. How can we gain deeper insights into this mysterious world then? Last but not least, don’t forget to visit the municipality of Naters, where the World Nature Forum Information and Visitor Center of the UNESCO World Heritage site Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch is located. In order to protect this extraordinary natural heritage and to promote sustainable development of this region, 23 municipalities within the cantons of Bern and Valaistogether with the Swiss Federation have agreed to work in collaboration. The World Nature Forum (WNF) is the base camp of this commission and its Information and Visitor Center provides us with necessary knowledge about this region and helps to raise our awareness of the importance of its protection. If it’s inconvenient for you to reach the area, you can also learn about it at home. On the official website, 19 thematic brochures (more in German) giving insights into the uniqueness, diversity and beauty of the region are available and can be downloaded as pdf. The thematic brochures are about agriculture and settlement, tourism and traffic, fauna and flora, water, culture, glacier, climate, and mountains while the regional brochures are about Oberhasli, Naters, Lötschental, “Suonen”, Raron – Niedergesteln, Grimselwelt, Kandertal, Grindelwald, Lauterbrunnen, Aletsch Region, and Bellwald.
I hope my introduction above gives you a general idea of why the Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn region is so valuable and how to explore and learn about it. In a series of posts about the World Heritage site, I’ll focus on the hikes, viewpoints and tours I experienced and provide you with practical information, tipsas well as detailed introduction to the geological and ecological processes, geomorphological features and ecosystems which are related to the property.
2. Why visit Jungfraujoch?
This is my second time visiting the Jungfraujoch in 5 years and I have to say, it keeps amazing me. Some friends ask me whether the visit is worth it or not considering the train ride is a bit expensive, and my answer has always been YES. First of all, let’s see if these reasons can convince you:
- The Jungfraujoch railway station, at an elevation of 3,454 meters is the highest in Europe.
- The Jungfraujoch has the highest-altitude post box in Switzerland, the highest-altitude chocolate shop in Europe and the highest-altitude watch shop in the world.
- From here, you can see Europe’s longest glacier (Aletsch Glacier, 22 km).
- The average temperature on the Jungfraujoch is -7.9 degrees, the lowest average annual temperature in Switzerland.
- 267.5 km/h was recorded here on the Jungfraujoch on 06.01.1998, the highest wind speed ever recorded in Switzerland.
- It can snow all year round, also in the summer.
- MeteoSchweiz has operated a weather station on the Jungfraujoch since 1922.
- Europe’s highest altitude research station accessed by public transport is located on the Jungfraujoch.
- The Jungfrau Railway has generated electricity with trains traveling downhill since 1912.
- The Jungfrau railway has its own hydroelectric power station and its own fire brigade on the Top of Europe building.
- The Jungfraujoch is open every day and every year, over 71 different nationalities visit it.
- A tennis, a football, a cricket, a boxing and a basketball match as well as a 100-meter race have all been held on the Jungfraujoch.
3. Practical information
The Jungfraujoch is open all year round but the train schedule is a bit different in different seasons. For example, in the summer, the train runs every half an hour while in the winter, it runs every hour. Please click here to check the current timetable.
Depending on which train pass you already have and where you want to start your journey, the ticket price to the Jungfraujoch varies. Normally, if you don’t have any travel pass/card and want to start your journey from Interlaken, the round trip to Jungfraujoch costs around 210 CHF. However, the Jungfrau Railway offers many special tickets/passes at more favourable prices. Please click here to check out the offers or calculate how much the round trip costs for you.
Some tips for you:
- The train going up to the Jungfraujoch departs from Kleine Scheidegg. From Interlaken to Kleine Scheidegg, there are in general two railway routes, one through Lauterbrunnen and Wengen while the other through Grindelwald.
- Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald, Wengen and Kleine Scheidegg are fantastic places themselves offering numerous hiking and sightseeing opportunities, and I recommend you to spend some time at those places as well. In fact, why not consider some of the passes of the Jungfrau Railways if you wanna explore the region instead of just the Jungfraujoch. There are some really good deals.
- If you travel on a sunny day or in the high season, it is STRONGLY recommended to reserve a seat for the train running between Kleine Scheidegg and Jungfraujoch. According to my own experience, if you don’t want to waste your time in a line on a beautiful day, you “must” reserve a seat. The reservation doesn’t give you an allocated seat but the privilege to board the train first. Please check carefully which line is for people with reservation and which is for people without.
- It is recommended to print out your tickets instead of showing them on your phone. It’s simply easier for the machines to scan them.
- With your ticket to the Jungfraujoch, you can get a Jungfrau Railways Passport, which introduces the history of the railway, the attractions in and around the Top of Europe building, as well as other attractions in the Jungfrau region. There’s a certificate on the last page confirming your visit to Europe’s highest-altitude railway station, which you can stamp on the Jungfraujoch. It’s a cute, informative brochure and a nice souvenir.
4.1 On the way
As I mentioned above, Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald, Wengen, Kleine Scheidegg and so on are fantastic places and the train ride through them is no less impressive than many travel destinations in Switzerland. Remember to keep your eyes open and get your camera ready once you’re on the way.
4.2 Eismeer Station
The train going up to the Jungfraujoch departs from Kleine Scheidegg and stops at Station Eigergletscher and Station Eismeer. From Eigergletscher, it runs through a tunnel inside the gigantic mountains of Eiger and Mönch, part of the famous Swiss mighty trio Eiger-Mönch-Jungfrau. It could be rather boring sitting in a train through a tunnel for 20 mins as there’s not much to see, but don’t worry, the train will stop midway at Eismeer Station (3,160 meters above sea level), where through three large glass windows you can see the Eiger Glacier. The train will only stop for 5 mins, so hurry up admiring the Sea of Ice and having your souvenir photo taken.
4.3 Sphinx Observation Deck
Once arriving at the final station – Jungfraujoch (3454 meters above sea level), please remember to follow the “TOUR” sign to visit the attractions. The first stops you’ll pass are the Luggage Lockers and the Jungfrau Panorama (360° cinema experience, 4 mins). Then you can take a lift to visit the Sphinx Panorama Terrace (3,571 meters above sea level).
- The observatory is fitted with a dome for astronomical studies.
- Switzerland’s fastest lift takes you up to the observatory (landmark of the Jungfraujoch) in only 27 seconds.
- The terrace offers a spectacular view over the Aletsch Glacier, the longest glacier of the Alps and heart of the UNESCO World Heritage site Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn.
- From nowhere else can you admire the magnificence of the Mönch mountain so close.
- On a clear day, you can even see the Vosges in France and Germany’s Black Forest.
- From here, you can see numerous mountain peaks over 3000 and 4000 meters.
- Please follow the “Tour” sign at all times because there are quite some attractions and you can get lost easily.
- Though there are lockers, I strongly recommend you not to bring luggages to the Jungfraujoch because it would be very inconvenient on the train.
- In the world of ice and snow, sun screen and sunglasses are a must.
- I visited the Jungfraujoch both in the summer and in the winter. Both times I was wearing a down jacket, normal spring/autumn pants, a hat and a thin scarf. On a sunny day, as long as it’s not windy, it won’t be too cold. However, I still recommend you to check the temperature and weather condition before your visit and be prepared.
Considering the Jungfraujoch is one of the best viewpoints to admire the great Aletsch Glacier, let’s learn a bit more about the longest glacier of the Alps.
- Surface: 81.7 km2
- Length: 22.6 km
- Depth: 900 m (the deepest or thickest part)
- Weight: 27 billion tons
- The glaciers of Aletsch, Jungfrau, Ewigschneefäld and Grünegg join together at the Konkordia Square and become the Great Aletsch Glacier.
- The glacier actually flows but is invisible to our eyes. At Konkordia Square the velocity is around 200 m/year while at the altitude of Bettmerhorn it reaches 80-90 m/year. The glacier doesn’t flow steadily and different parts also flow at different speeds. That’s how the glacier crevasses occur. Research shows that due to frictional resistance, the flow slows down on sides and underneath.
- On a hot summer, 60 cubic meters of water can leave the mouth of the glacier in one second and that’s 60 thousand liters of water per second! The glacier can diminish by 20 cm in thickness on a hot summer day and in one year, it can diminish by 12 meters. However, due to other factors, the actual number is smaller.
- If the whole glacier melts , the amount of water will be enough for each person in the world to have one liter per day for six years. The weight of the glacier is 27 billion tons, which is equal to the weight of 72.5 million Boeing-747 planes.
- In 10 years, 1 m of fresh snow is converted into 1 cm of glacial ice.
- Have you ever wondered that in the world of glacial ice, are there living creatures? The answer is yes. The 1.5-2.5 mm long glacier fleas live on the glacier all year round and have a life span of around 3 years. They can survive up to -20 °C but can’t live when the temperature is higher than +10-12 °C.
4.4 Mönchsjoch Hut Hiking Trail
This hike was an absolute highlight of my second visit to the Jungfraujoch and I give it 5/5 stars for experience and 5/5 stars for the view. First of all I’ll show you why you should take the trail and later I’ll give you some practical tips.
- When the hut is open (usually from March to October), the path from the Jungfraujoch to the Mönchsjochhütte is prepared as a piste and its boundaries are marked with poles. Then it is a simple and safe hike, despite being on a glacier 3500 m above sea level. Please click here to check if the hut is open on your day of visit.
- If the hut is closed (unmanned), there is no prepared path and access to the hut requires a high level of experience. Correct roping on the glacier and a safe route choice is vital. In this case, the hike is not recommended to usual tourists.
- From Jungfraujoch, it takes about 50 mins to walk to the hut and the ascent is about 200 meters. Although the ascent doesn’t seem high, considering the altitude of the route (more than 3400 meter), the hike is quite tiring. I have some hiking experience in the Alps, but still I felt breathless a few times on the way.
- When the Mönchsjochhütte is open, I rate the route as easy (though tiring). However, on your way back from the hut to Jungfraujoch, certain sections can be a bit steep and slippery, where I found walking sticks (poles) extremely helpful.
- Though the entire route is groomed, it’s after all on a glacier. Therefore, water-proof hiking shoes are strongly recommended. However, snowshoes are not necessary.
- Sunglasses and sun cream are a must.
- I hiked in August, when the temperature on Jungfraujoch was +3 degrees. It was cold on the viewing platforms and in the Ice Palace so I was wearing a down jacket but for the hike I changed to t-shirt and shorts because the sun was really strong.
- When it’s open, the Mönchsjochhütte serves food and drinks and you can even stay there overnight. It has large rooms with 120 beds in total. If you are interested, please click here to make a reservation.
- By the way, there’s a Snow Fun Park at the starting point of the hike, where you can try sledging, skiing and snowboarding and fly 250 meters across the glacier world attached to a steel cable. It provides a rare opportunity to experience winter fun in the summer.
4.5 Alpine Sensation
With animated models, images, light and music, this attraction presents the past and present of tourism in the Jungfrau region, Guyer Zeller’s incredible ideas and the extreme efforts made during the construction of the Jungfrau Railway.
- Animation of the Jungfrau region in a gigantic snow globe (a lot of fun for kids in particular).
- Learn about the birth of the Jungfrau Railway (how Adolf Guyer-Zeller came up with the idea of blasting a tunnel through the rock of the Eiger and Mönch).
- Witness the early days of tourism in the Jungfrau region.
- Learn about the construction history of the Jungfrau Railway and pay tribute to the fatally injured workers.
- See the highest-altitude karst cave in Europe at 3,482 meters above sea level.
4.6 Ice Palast
The Ice Palace of the Jungfraujoch is one of my favourite attractions. Did you know that:
- Two mountain guides from Grindelwald and Wengen began to hew out an enormous cavern in the ice in 1934?
- The cavern covers an area of over 1,000 square meters, with countless niches and passageways?
- Some parts of the Ice Palace move up to 15 cm per year?
- The warmth generated by thousands of visitors means that the palace has to be cooled to -3 degrees and it has to be constantly recut?
- Numerous crystal-like sculptures such as eagles, penguins, bears and many more.
- It is an extremely cool place for a hot summer day.
- There are many photo points such as an ice chair to sit on and an ice table with the “Top of Europe” sign.
- The color of the eternal ice id simply enchanting.
- The temperature in the Ice Palace is -3 degrees, so make sure to wear something warm during your visit.
- The icy floor can be quite slippery, so walk with caution.
4.7 Glacier Plateau
- In 1912, the Swiss flag was hoisted on the plateau at the opening of the Jungfrau Railway.
- Situated below the Jungfrau mountain and at the edge of the Aletsch Glacier, the views from the plateau are stunning. In good weather, the views extend into neighbouring countries.
- The Swiss flag waves in the breeze and under it is a perfect spot for souvenir photos with the Jungfrau in the background.
- From here you can take a nice photo of the Sphinx Observation Deck and the High Altitude Research Station, Europe’s highest-altitude research station accessed by public transport.
4.8 Main Complex
The main complex is composed of restaurants, WC, the Top of Europe souvenir shop, Tissot Watch Shop and Lindt Swiss Chocolate Heaven.
- There are various restaurants in the main complex. Whether you just fancy a quick snack or a feast in peace, whether simple dishes or fine dining, whether a buffet or full service: at the Jungfraujoch restaurants, everyone will find exactly what they look for.
- In order to avoid large crowds, it is recommended to have lunch before 11:30 am or after 1:30 pm.
- In the main complex, you can find a few spots to stamp (certify) your Jungfrau Railways Passport.
- In the main complex, there is the highest post office in Europe (postal code: 3801). Why not buy a few postcards (and stamps) and send them to your family and friends from here?
- In the Lindt Swiss Chocolate Heaven you can learn about all steps of the manufacturing process of fine Lindt chocolate. Afterwards, don’t forget to pay a visit to the highest Lindt chocolate shop in the world.
- In the Jungfrau Railways Passport, you’ll find a voucher which entitles you to receive a 10% discount in the Top of Europe shops (excluding Swatch and Lindt).
- The Top of Europe Flagship Store is actually located in Interlaken, so if you don’t have enough time choosing souvenirs for your family and friends on the Jungfraujoch, you can always take your time and visit the shop in Interlaken.
All in all, if you ever come to Switzerland, you should visit the Jungfraujoch at least once.