All Aboard: Discover the Marvels of Switzerland by Train
Switzerland’s trains are renowned for their punctuality and pristine condition, seamlessly blending convenience and scenic beauty. The country’s extensive rail network reaches even its most remote corners, whether it’s winding its way up to rugged Alpine passes, skirting the shores of brilliantly blue lakes, or gracefully gliding through valleys adorned with wildflowers. For an exceptional train journey through Switzerland, look no further than the 800-mile Grand Train Tour of Switzerland. This series of train trips encompasses 11 stunning lakes, five UNESCO World Heritage sites, and four of the country’s distinct cultural regions. It offers a delightful way to embrace travel at a leisurely pace, fusing urban sophistication with high-altitude alpine adventures.
Logistically, it’s a breeze: all these routes are covered by the Swiss Travel Pass, and a dedicated app is available to assist with navigation. From classic routes through charming towns to three-day getaways by the lakes and extended tours through winter wonderlands, there’s an itinerary to suit every traveler. And if you’re pressed for time, fear not, as there are several shorter, yet equally breathtaking, segments to savor. Let’s dive into three of the best train journeys Switzerland has to offer.
1. Glacier Express
With a name like “Glacier Express,” you know you’re in for a treat. This luxurious eight-hour train service embarks from the mountain resort of Zermatt, where the majestic Matterhorn presides over the landscape, and wends its way to the opulent town of St Moritz. As you traverse the high Alps that stretch across the southern part of the country, prepare to be captivated by views of dense forests, meandering rivers, meadows sprinkled with wildflowers, and majestic glacial peaks, all from the comfort of a modern panoramic carriage.
Along the journey, you’ll encounter a wealth of places worth exploring. From the historic castles of Brig to the lofty peaks of Fiesch, where you can hop on a cable car to the awe-inspiring Aletsch Glacier. Disentis, famous for its eighth-century Benedictine monastery, Chur, Switzerland’s oldest town, and Thusis, the gateway to the dramatic Viamala gorge and its thrilling over-the-mountain trail to Italy, are popular stops en route. For those with a head for heights, the train’s route takes you over the Furka, Oberalp, and Bernina passes. However, the true highlights are the 2,000-meter-high Oberalp Pass and the six-arched Landwasser viaduct, which gracefully spans the gap between Tiefencastel and Filisur.
Top tip: The Glacier Express operates year-round (with a brief hiatus from November to mid-December), but spring is particularly enchanting, with snow-dusted mountaintops and blooming meadows.
Constructed over a century ago, the Landwasser Viaduct is 213 feet high and 446 feet long, making it a highlight of the Bernina Express rail route.
2. GoldenPass Express
A relative newcomer to Switzerland’s portfolio of scenic rail routes, the GoldenPass Express offers a three-hour journey through some of the country’s most picturesque natural landscapes. Departing from Interlaken, nestled deep in the Bernese Alps, where the snow-capped peaks of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau mountains loom in the distance, this train ride is a visual feast. It winds through the lush valleys of the French-speaking Pays-d’Enhaut, culminating in Montreux, on the eastern edge of Lake Geneva.
As you settle into your seat, soak in the sights as you glide past the stunning blue waters of Lake Thun, with its vineyards and castles, the charming wooden chalets of Zweisimmen, and the glitzy Alpine village of Gstaad, where you can hike in the summer and ski in the winter.
As the journey draws to a close, you’ll arrive at the penultimate stop, Château-d’Oex. Here, you might catch sight of hot air balloons soaring high above jagged peaks, especially during the January International Hot Air Balloon Festival. Be sure to hop off for a visit to Le Chalet fromagerie, where you can witness and taste cheese being made in the traditional way over a wood fire. Your train will then continue westward until you reach the destination of Montreux, perched on the sparkling eastern shore of Lake Geneva. This modern city is nestled beneath verdant hills and in proximity to the medieval fortress of Château de Chillon. While the trains run year-round, summer visitors can revel in Montreux’s world-class summer jazz festival.
Top tip: Consider reserving a seat in the Prestige Class for an elevated view and an immersive experience (the leather seats have a 40cm lift and can be rotated 180 degrees upon request).
The GoldenPass Express operates four times a day, shuttling passengers between Interlaken and Montreux.
3. Bernina Express
Spanning a 90-mile journey that connects Switzerland’s oldest city, Chur, with Tirano in Italy, the Bernina Express is a testament to early 20th-century Swiss railway engineering. It winds its way high into the Alps, plunges through 55 tunnels, and gracefully crosses 196 bridges during its four-hour adventure. This train ride vividly embodies the idea that the journey itself is the destination. The segment between Thusis and Tirano is even designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, treating passengers to breathtaking views of towering glaciers, deep gorges, sapphire lakes, and peaks reaching nearly 3,000 meters.
Panoramic windows in every carriage ensure you won’t miss a moment of this awe-inspiring journey. Watch as the train gracefully traverses the single-track, six-arch Landwasser Viaduct, navigates the 180-degree Montebello curve beneath the Morteratsch Glacier, and ascends to the route’s zenith at the 2,300-meter-high Bernina Pass. Don’t forget the captivating loop around the 360-degree Brusio Spiral Viaduct before descending into Lombardy, Italy. Once you’ve arrived in Tirano, be sure to find a picturesque piazza to savor some gelato or a plate of pizzoccheri (buckwheat pasta with potatoes, chard, cheese, butter, and garlic). If you catch the first morning train from Chur, you’ll arrive in Tirano just in time for a delightful lunch.
Top tip: The Bernina Express operates year-round and is particularly enchanting when snow blankets the landscape. Be sure to make seat reservations.
The Bernina Express offers a journey through some of Switzerland’s most remarkable railway engineering feats.
Plan Your Trip
To embark on this Swiss train adventure, you can fly directly to Zurich or Geneva from Heathrow with SWISS or take the Eurostar to Paris, where you can then connect to a high-speed TGV train to Basel (three hours), Zurich (four hours), or Geneva (three hours). For these panoramic rail routes, it’s highly recommended to make reservations. For more detailed information, visit myswitzerland.com.
So there you have it—a thrilling journey through Switzerland’s breathtaking landscapes by train. Whichever route you choose, you’re in for an unforgettable ride. All aboard!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Swiss Train Journeys
Q: How do I book tickets for the Glacier Express, GoldenPass Express, or Bernina Express?
A: You can book tickets for these iconic Swiss train journeys through the official Swiss Railways (SBB) website, at train stations, or through authorized travel agencies. It’s recommended to book in advance, especially during peak travel seasons.
Q: Are seat reservations necessary for these train journeys?
A: Seat reservations are highly recommended, especially if you want specific seats or are traveling during busy times. They ensure you have a comfortable and guaranteed spot on these popular scenic routes.
Q: Can I use the Swiss Travel Pass for these train journeys?
A: Yes, the Swiss Travel Pass covers these routes. It’s a convenient way to explore Switzerland by train, offering unlimited travel on the Swiss Travel System network, which includes these iconic routes.
Q: When is the best time to experience these train journeys?
A: The best time to enjoy these train journeys depends on your preference. Spring offers blooming meadows and snow-capped peaks, summer brings lush greenery and festivals, and winter transforms the landscapes into a snowy wonderland.
Q: Can I bring luggage on board these trains?
A: Yes, you can bring luggage on board, but it’s advisable to travel light and store larger bags in designated luggage areas or compartments. Check the train’s specific luggage policies for details.