A fairytale journey through mountains and valleys
When it comes to train journeys with a view, Switzerland is second to none. The country’s extensive rail network and diverse landscapes mean that even a short journey guarantees picture-postcard views. Gaze up in glaciers, valleys, gorges, rivers, lakes, charming towns, and craggy mountains. Ride across the highest viaducts and through the longest railway tunnels. Created with tourism in mind, the Swiss panoramic trains have been designed so that travellers can fully enjoy the view outside the windows.
Fully glazed carriages, comfortable armchairs, spacious tables, gastronomic delights, and headphones with guided commentary along the route all make up a unique travel experience. Some trains impress with their retro style, others with their sleek, modern design, however the most popular of the panoramic routes are served by characteristic red trains, including the iconic Glacier Express. And it is from here that we will begin our list of Switzerland’s fairytale railway routes.
The Glacier Express
The Glacier Express is not only one of the most popular panoramic train routes in Switzerland but also the slowest “express” train in the world, with an average speed of just 36 km per hour! The iconic red cars travel a total of 291 km, connecting the well-known ski resorts of St. Moritz and Zermatt. The full Glacier Express journey takes about eight hours and, during this time, the route passes through 91 tunnels and over 291 bridges. Some of the most important points along the route are the 65-meter-high Landwasser Viaduct, the Rhine Gorge, and the majestic Matterhorn mountain.
Travellers have a dining car at their disposal, as well as a choice of first- or second-class seats. For those who value maximum comfort, take a trip in Excellence Class, where you’ll share your carriage with just 20 other people and can enjoy a guaranteed window seat and a multi-course menu included in your ticket price.
The Bernina Express, a UNESCO World Heritage journey
The Bernina Express offers a unique panoramic train journey through Switzerland. The route, or more precisely, the section from Thusis-Valposchiavo-Tirano is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Taking just over four hours, this route gives you plenty of time to admire the typical glacial landscape of Switzerland along with the palm trees of Italy in a single journey! The Bernina Express runs along the Chur-Tirano route and in the warmer months, travellers can continue their journey by coach from Tirano to Lugano. The section is 144 km long, passing through 55 tunnels and over 196 bridges along the way. The highest point on the route is Ospizio Bernina at 2253 meters above sea level and you can also enjoy spectacular views at the Montebello bend and the Morteratsch glacier, along with the famous Brusio spiral viaduct.
The Bernina Express does not have a dining car, however, travellers can enjoy cold snacks. Tickets are available in both first and second, and in winter it is also worth looking out for the Bernina Panorama Winter on the St. Moritz-Tirano line.
The Golden Pass Line – a golden journey through Switzerland
The Golden Pass Line is a route connecting Lucerne with Montreux, with the journey itself divided into three stages (Lucerne-Interlaken-Zweisimmen-Montreux). The entire route is 191 km long and takes about five hours, with a train change en route. The Golden Pass Line is an excellent choice for lake lovers; on the way you can admire Lake Lucerne, Lake Brienz, Lake Thun and Lake Geneva. The UNESCO-listed vineyards of Lavaux are also a great backdrop for your photos.
An additional attraction of the Golden Pass Line is its retro-style cars and The Golden Pass Belle Epoque train is particularly charming, running along the final section towards Monteux. It is also worth adding that in December 2022, the Swiss authorities launched The Golden Pass Express, connecting Interlaken with Montreux and enabling travel between these towns without needing to change.
Switzerland’s thematic routes
Would you like to admire the Swiss Alps from your train seat? Try the Grand Train Tour, which is a multi-day journey along the most popular railway routes. At over 1,200 km, the entire route takes around seven or eight days to complete. Hop on and off at your leisure, and choose where to spend the night and which sections you want to travel. All the aforementioned trains, along with many others pass along The Grand Train Tour route and there is a dedicated app to help you with your planning. If visiting in winter, take a ride through the Jungfrau region with its numerous ski, hiking and toboggan run.
Another recommendation is the Gotthard Panorama Express, which leads through one of the world’s longest railway tunnels. This route between Lugano and Lucerne runs from April to October and requires a boat transfer.
Or how about a chocolate train? The Train du Chocolat is a seasonal service that runs from spring until autumn on the Montreux-Berner Oberland route. Travellers can enjoy tasty refreshments on board, along with a visit to a chocolate factory as well as a cheese factory. For spectacular views, try the Gornergrat Cog Railway. The route from Zermatt to the top of Gornergrat Mountain is approximately nine km long and takes 30 minutes. This gives you time to admire the glaciers and mountain landscape, including the famous Matterhorn. The carriages may not be fully glazed as in The Glacier Express, but the windows are certainly large enough to fully admire the snow-capped peaks and a ticket will cost you 88 CHF or 44 CHF if using a Swiss Travel Pass.
How much do Swiss panoramic train tickets cost?
How can you buy a train ticket in Switzerland? Organizing your trip is easy – if you decide to take the panoramic train, you’ll need to buy tickets and make a seat reservation. This is subject to an additional fee and is obligatory on the most popular panoramic trains. You can buy your tickets online, at ticket offices in Switzerland or at major train stations abroad. Prices depend on the route, selected travel class, and date. For example, at time of writing, a Glacier Express ticket costs CHF 152 in second class and CHF 268 in first class. Seat reservation is at a surcharge of CHF 29-49, and Excellence Class will cost you CHF 470. How much is a Bernina Express ticket? The booking fee is around CHF 20, while ticket prices start at around CHF 70. You can buy tickets up to two months in advance and can usually book seats about 90 days before your date of travel.
If you plan to travel by train in Switzerland, do consider buying a Swiss Travel Pass, which will allow you to travel freely by public transport throughout the country – including by panoramic train – as well as enter a number of museums and obtain discounts on paid mountain railway entries. Tickets for panoramic trains are also included in the price of Eurail or Interrail tickets. Please note that additionally-charged seat reservations are still required for anyone over the age of six years.