Sphinx Observatory – Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland - Atlas Obscura

Sphinx Observatory

A historic observatory precariously perched at the "Top of Europe." 


Scientists have long traveled to Earth’s ends to conduct their studies. Mountaintops are a classic example of a harsh environment that serves as an ideal setting for experiments ranging from the physiological to the astronomical.

When the Jungfraujoch station in Switzerland’s Bernese Alps opened in 1912, it became the highest railway stop in all of Europe. It also opened the door for eager scientists awaiting easy access to a high altitude site to do their work.

The Sphinx Observatory, completed in 1937, is a result of this influx of research. Perched on a shockingly steep precipice at the so-called “Top of Europe,” the observatory is the highest-altitude construction in the entire continent.

With multiple laboratories, a weather observation station, astronomical and meteorological domes, and a 76-cm telescope, the Sphinx has served as a headquarters for researchers in fields such as glaciology, medicine, cosmic ray physics, and astronomy. And over the years, the building has adapted to meet scientists’ needs. Today, the observatory is fully outfitted with electricity, water, telephone, internet, and even a machine to produce liquid air.

In addition to the science, the observatory also provides visitors with vertigo-inducing, panoramic views of the snowy Alps, green valleys, and the Great Aletsch Glacier. From the metal grating terrace that surrounds the building, one can see over 11,000 feet below, with views stretching as far as Germany and Italy.

Even getting to the observatory is a wondrous journey itself. Riding along the historic Jungfrau railway, passengers have a chance to peer through windows built into the mountainside and browse the peculiar Eispalast (Ice Palace), where ice sculptures depicting everything from people to automobiles are carved within a chilly glacier.

Know Before You Go

The Jungfraujoch station is serviced by the Jungfrau railway, which can be boarded in the city of Interlaken.

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