The 5 most beautiful panoramic trains in Switzerland

Travel Guide

1. the Glacier Express

About the fact that Switzerland has a high affinity to the railroad as a means of transport, we already agree. But did you also know that the more than 5,300 km of rails serve more than just fast transport from A to B?

There are several rail routes that you would prefer to travel several times in a row, so that you can take a closer look at the beautiful landscape that inevitably speeds past your windows

Whether it's the trip on the express train from Zurich to Chur, which takes you past the mystical Lake Walen, or the route from Fribourg to Lausanne, where you'd love to pull the emergency brake after the tunnel above the Lavaux vineyards and Lake Geneva to gain some time for the next Instagram Story.

Train rides and beautiful views always go hand in hand in Switzerland. And for those who want to embark on a train journey specifically with that focus in mind, there are a handful of panoramic trains that will make any visitor's heart beat faster

Starting with the slowest express train in the world and ending with what I consider to be the most beautiful commuter train in Switzerland. For a perfect planning of your trip, I recommend the Train Tour App, which is designed to inform you about all the sights along the way

By the way, why four of the five following trains, which obviously do not aim at reaching a destination quickly as their top priority, have the word "Express" in their names, I cannot for the life of me explain

1. the Glacier Express

1.1 What is the Glacier Express?

The Glacier Express is called "the world's slowest express train" and lives up to its title. It covers a distance of 291 km, passes through 91 tunnels, crosses 291 bridges and takes a staggering eight hours to do so. This results in an average speed of 36 km/h, which is roughly equivalent to the speed that a leatherback turtle under water is able to cover

So if you're heading from St. Moritz to Zermatt on the Glacier Express, you'll have more than enough time at turtle speed to get your fill of the enchanting landscapes

1.2 Which places does the Glacier Express pass?

The Glacier Express shuttles between St. Moritz in the Engadine and Zermatt, the mountain village at the foot of the Matterhorn. Shortly after its departure from St. Moritz, the Glacier Express travels along the confusing Albula Line

This railroad line, on which the train passes through six viaducts and three helical tunnels to overcome the altitude between the Albula Pass and Filisur, was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2008. On this route, the train repeatedly changes the side of the valley and the direction, which does not make it easy to keep one's bearings.

This segment of the Glacier Express also includes the impressive Landwasser Viaduct, which leads directly from the bridge structure into a tunnel. The viaduct is 146 m long and 65 m high.

Next, the Glacier Express travels through the Rhine Gorge, also known as "Ruinaulta" or "Swiss Grand Canyon". If you start the journey in St. Moritz, you will have the best view of the Rhine Gorge here on the left side of the train

After a short stopover in Chur, the capital of the canton of Grisons, the journey continues over the Oberalp Pass via Disentis/Mustér to Andermatt in the canton of Uri. Here the Glacier Express overcomes its highest point and passes Lake Oberalp, which is 2,044 meters above sea level

After Brig, the journey is more or less downhill along the Rhone into the canton of Valais. After Brig, the Glacier Express makes a final change of direction and begins its last ascent to Zermatt, where the Matterhorn will hopefully be waiting impatiently for you and not hiding behind a cloud cover.

1.3 What else there is to know about the Glacier Express

1.3.1 Timetable Glacier Express

Normally, the Glacier Express runs three times a day. Since everything is a little different this year due to Corona, there will be two daily departures each in St. Moritz and Zermatt in 2021. The latest timetable can be found on the Glacier Express website.

Seraina's tip: If you are interested in the route, but not necessarily in a trip with the panorama train, there are also "normal" trains between Zermatt and St. Moritz. However, for this trip you have to change trains in Brig, Andermatt, Disentis/Mustér and Chur. The journey does not take much longer than with the Glacier Express and you are not bound to the departures of the Glacier Express. In addition, there is no obligation to reserve a seat. For planning I recommend you the timetable of the SBB._

1.3.2 Reservation Glacier Express

For a trip with the Glacier Express, a seat reservation is mandatory. The cost depends on whether you are traveling in summer or winter and whether you are traveling the entire route or only part of it. The current prices can also be found on the Glacier Express website. When you buy a ticket, the reservation is always included in the final price

1.3.3 Tickets Glacier Express

Several travel passes are accepted on the Glacier Express. If you have a Swiss Travel Pass (Flex), a Eurail, an Interrail or a Day Pass, you pay nothing for the ticket and only have to buy a seat reservation.

Otherwise, depending on the distance traveled, second class fares vary between CHF 72 and CHF 152, with a Half-Fare travelcard entitling you to one trip at half price. You can find the individual fares listed here

Service and gastronomy is writ large on the Glacier Express. After all, the journey takes almost the whole day, which is not to be expected of an unfed stomach. The easiest way is to order your food right away when you reserve your seat, but the menu is also available for spontaneous requests

The window-rich panorama cars offer an almost unrestricted view of the surroundings and if you would like to get an overview of the interior of the Glacier Express in advance, you will find it here. All further information about the Glacier Express is also listed on the website

2. the Bernina Express

2.1 What is the Bernina Express?

With its 55 tunnels and 196 bridges that the Bernina Express Panoramazug passes over and through on the 156 km between Chur and Tirano, it is more or less the little brother of the Glacier Express. In terms of speed, the two roughly balance each other out, as the Bernina Express also glides along the rails at leather turtle speed.

What's special about the Bernina Express is that it crosses the Swiss border and you have to change modes of transportation in between. After about four hours, the train reaches Tirano in Italy, from where the Bernina Express bus covers the remaining 90 km to Lugano

Due to the fact that the Bernina Express crosses the Alps, on this trip you will be able to admire glaciers on one hand and be surrounded by palm trees only a few hours later. A more contrasting train ride in such a short time will be hard to find.

2.2 What places does the Bernina Express pass?

The Bernina Express begins its journey in Chur and then shares its route with the Glacier Express as far as St. Moritz. Thus, this panoramic train also passes through the Rhine Gorge, over the Landwasser Viaduct and along the confusing Albula Line into the Engadine.

From St. Moritz, the route climbs steeply to the Ospizio Bernina, which at 2,253 meters above sea level is the highest point on the Bernina Express route. On the way there you have a wonderful view of the Morteratsch glacier as well as the ice-cold and deep blue Lago Bianco.

After this steep climb, it's all downhill. Literally

In the direction of Italy, the Bernina Express travels over various viaducts, through the fertile Val Poschiavo, past Lago di Poschiavo and, shortly before crossing the border into Italy, to another highlight

The circular viaduct in Brusio allows the train to overcome the required height on a small area and to demonstrate to you for a moment the effect of centrifugal force.

In Campocologno the train crosses the border and ends in Tirano, a small town in Lombardy. From here, the Bernina Express bus runs in summer, taking you back to Switzerland in Lugano in three hours through the Mediterranean Valtellina and past Lago di Como.

2.3 What else there is to know about the Bernina Express

2.3.1 Bernina Express timetable

The Bernina Express timetable is not easy to follow at first glance. The railroad segments are divided into two different routes. One runs from Chur to Tirano, while the other starts in St. Moritz and also ends in Tirano. The train that starts in Chur does not stop in St. Moritz, but goes directly to Ospizio Bernina via Pontresina.

The panoramic train between Chur and Tirano runs daily, while the one between St. Moritz and Tirano runs only between May and October. The bus between Tirano and Lugano also runs only between May and October. Here](https://www.rhb.ch/de/panoramazuege/bernina-express#info) you can find the current timetable, which has been adjusted for the year 2021 due to the corona pandemic.

If you travel outside the operating hours of the Bernina Express bus, your only option is to travel back to St. Moritz or Chur, or to travel individually to Lugano using Italian public transport

Seraina's tip: If you are interested in the route, but not in a trip with the panorama train, there are also "normal" trains between Chur, St. Moritz and Tirano. Coming from Chur you have to change trains in Samedan and Pontresina, while between Tirano and St. Moritz you have a direct train. The advantage is that the trains run hourly, which gives you more flexibility than waiting for a panorama train. In addition, there is no obligation to reserve a seat. For planning I recommend the SBB timetable._

2.3.2 Reservation Bernina Express

A seat reservation is also mandatory for the Bernina Express. The cost depends on the time of year you are traveling and whether you are using the bus to Lugano. The current prices can be found on the Bernina Express website. When you buy a ticket, the reservation is always included in the final price

2.3.3 Tickets Bernina Express

Several travel passes are accepted on the Bernina Express. If you have a Swiss Travel Pass (Flex), a Eurail, an Interrail or a day ticket, you pay nothing for the ticket and only have to buy a seat reservation.

Otherwise, depending on the distance traveled, second class fares vary between CHF 32 and CHF 63, with a Half-Fare travelcard entitling you to one half-price trip. You can find the individual fares listed here

1.3.4 Service Bernina Express

Unlike the Glacier Express, the Bernina Express does not have a dining car. However, there is a bistro on board where cold plates and regional delicacies can be purchased. The lunch break is spent in Poschiavo or in Tirano, where there are catering facilities.

By the way, you need a passport or identity card to cross the border into Italy

3. the Golden Pass Line

3.1 What is the Golden Pass Line?

The Golden Pass Line is a panoramic train route consisting of three individual stages. The first train - operated by Zentralbahn - runs between Lucerne and Interlaken. After that, the BLS regional train takes over to Zweisimmen, from where the Golden Pass Panoramic takes the third section to Montreux under its wheels. All in all, the route covers 191 km, for which the most direct route takes about six hours.

The Golden Pass Line connects German-speaking Switzerland with French-speaking Switzerland and passes by several important Swiss lakes. From Lake Lucerne to Lake Brienz and Lake Thun to Lake Geneva, all are included. You can also catch a glimpse of the Giessbach Falls along the way

3.2 Which places does the Golden Pass Line pass?

Coming from the east, the Golden Pass Line starts in Lucerne. Before its ascent to the Brünig Pass at a good 1,000 meters above sea level, the train passes three smaller lakes: Lakes Alpnach, Sarner and Lungern. After crossing the Brünig Pass, it begins its descent towards Brienz and winds its way along Lake Brienz to Interlaken

The views on this section are breathtaking. Stop after Brienz view after the Giessbach Falls and the imposing Grand Hotel on the southern shore of the lake

In Interlaken Ost it is necessary to change to another train. This changes the lakeshore after Interlaken and travels along Lake Thun to Spiez. The subsequent journey through the Simmental, from where, by the way, the Diemtigtal Nature Park can be reached perfectly, invites you to slow down and dream. The train takes its sweet time here and you can get your fill of the narrow valley, the dark forests and the bubbling river

After a flying change in Zweisimmen onto the Golden Pass Panoramic, the journey continues up the mountain through the Bernese Oberland to Gstaad, the equally famous and expensive resort. This ride offers another picture-perfect panorama. Green meadows, grazing cows, traditional wooden chalets and, in the background, the snowy peaks of the Alps show Switzerland as you would imagine it

On its final stretch to Montreux, the Golden Pass Line passes through the Vaud and Fribourg Alps and ultimately down through the vineyards to Lake Geneva. Here, an extremely contrasting journey comes to an end.

3.3 What else there is to know about the Golden Pass Line

3.3.1 Golden Pass Line timetable

Trains between Lucerne and Interlaken run hourly, while those between Interlaken and Zweisimmen run only every two hours. However, there are hourly connections on this section with an uncomplicated and well-timed transfer in Spiez.

The Golden Pass Panoramic between Zweisimmen and Montreux also runs once an hour. So you have complete freedom in planning your trip and can schedule stops at places where you would like to linger a while and stretch your legs.

3.3.2 Reservation Golden Pass Line

A seat reservation on the Golden Pass Line is not mandatory. Between Lucerne and Interlaken and between Interlaken and Zweisimmen, you will always find a seat. To be on the safe side, however, the Golden Pass Panoramic customer service recommends making a reservation between Zweisimmen and Montreux. This can be obtained at the counters of most major stations

But as I said: Depending on your willingness to take risks, you can also do without.

For the Zentralbahn between Lucerne and Interlaken, you can reserve a seat in the panorama car if you don't want to travel in the "normal" car with "normal-sized" windows. You can either make a reservation at the ticket office in Lucerne, by phone or online.

3.3.3 Tickets Golden Pass Line

In the Golden Pass Line several passports are accepted. If you have a Swiss Travel Pass (Flex), a Eurail, an Interrail or a Day Pass, the whole trip is covered.

Otherwise, the second-class fare between Lucerne and Montreux is CHF 152, with a Half-Fare travelcard entitling you to half-price travel. You can find the individual fares listed here

3.3.4 Service Golden Pass Line

The service on the Golden Pass Line varies between the different route operators. On the Zentralbahn between Lucerne and Interlaken, meals and drinks can be purchased in the bistro

On the BLS trains between Interlaken and Zweisimmen, as far as I know, there are no food options and it is best to buy something for the road in Interlaken if you can't stand it without something to nibble on

But there is a culinary offer in the Golden Pass Panoramic, which will feed you during your trip between Zweisimmen and Montreux.

4. The Gotthard Panorama Express

4.1 What is the Gotthard Panorama Express?

The Gotthard Panorama Express is, in a way, a historical remnant of Switzerland's impressive railroad history

In the summer of 2016, the Gotthard Base Tunnel, the longest rail tunnel in the world, was inaugurated, thus shortening the journey to Ticino by 20%. Until then, the mountain route was the only way to reach Ticino by train. Today, the Gotthard Panorama Express operates on this route and takes its guests through the many helical tunnels and the Gotthard tunnel, which was inaugurated in 1882, to the other side of the Alps.

The entire journey is divided into a trip by boat on Lake Lucerne and a continuation on the panorama train on the old Gotthard route.

4.2 What places does the Gotthard Panorama Express pass?

It starts with a trip on Lake Lucerne from Lucerne to Flüelen. This trip is carried out either by a historic paddle steamer or the modern motor ship "Diamant". Along the way, you will pass breathtaking scenery and historic sites such as the Tell's Chapel or the Rütli Meadow

In Flüelen the panorama train is waiting for you and continues the journey southwards. It climbs over various helical tunnels up to Göschenen, where the old Gotthard tunnel leads to Airolo. The special thing about this route is the "Chileli vo Wasse", a small chapel in Wassen, which the train passes three times.

In order to overcome the necessary altitude, the train makes some loops here and you have the opportunity on this section to view the cute chapel from different angles and altitudes. This "Chileli" is so famous among the Swiss population that the dialect band "Lo & Leduc" even dedicated a song to it

After crossing the original Gotthard tunnel, the descent follows through the Mediterranean Ticino countryside. You'll pass the medieval castles of Bellinzona until you reach Lugano, where a southern flair awaits you with palm trees and Italian gelaterias.

4.3 What else there is to know about the Gotthard Panorama Express

4.3.1 Timetable Gotthard Panorama Express

The Gotthard Panorama Express operates between May and October from Tuesday to Sunday. It departs Lucerne at 11:12 and Lugano at 9:22, arriving at its destination five and a half hours later.

If you travel outside this season or prefer a different departure time, you can take the "normal" train through the old Gotthard tunnel. This train runs once an hour between Locarno and Zurich, with the section between Bellinzona and Flüelen being relevant for you

The boats on Lake Lucerne also run all year round. However, in winter there is only one direct trip between Lucerne and Flüelen. To arrange your trip, it is best to visit the SBB timetable for the train trip and the Luzerner Schifffahrt timetable for the boat trip

4.3.2 Reservation Gotthard Panorama Express

A seat reservation is mandatory on the train route with the Gotthard Panorama Express. The supplement costs 16.- CHF and can be purchased either online or at the train counter. If there are still seats available, you can also board the train without a reservation and pay the surcharge directly to the train staff.

On the ship, you can travel without a reservation and choose your seat according to your heart's desire

4.3.3 Tickets Gotthard Panorama Express

Several travel passes are accepted on the Gotthard Panorama Express. If you have a Swiss Travel Pass (Flex) or a day pass, the whole journey is covered. With the Tellpass you also enjoy free travel between Lucerne and Flüelen.

If you have an Interrail or Eurail, you travel for free on the rail route, while you get a 50% reduction on the boat ticket

Unfortunately, there is a catch. On the ship you have the choice between 1st and 2nd class. On the panorama train, however, only 1st class tickets are valid. So if you don't have a ticket or a passport in 1st class, you need a class change for this route. You can obtain this either in advance online, at the train counter or on site from the train staff

Otherwise, the fare for the entire journey between Lucerne and Lugano without a Half-Fare Card is CHF 153.00, whereby the Half-Fare Card entitles you to one trip at half price. You can find the single fares listed here

4.3.4 Service Gotthard Panorama Express

On the ship as well as on the train there is a varied culinary offer. It is not necessary to order in advance, as on the Glacier Express, and you can decide spontaneously for a cold Ticino-style Plättli or a warm lunch.

5. the Voralpen-Express

5.1 What is the Voralpen-Express?

The Voralpen-Express is not a panorama train in the true sense of the word like the other candidates in this article. It does not have oversized panorama windows, nor is it specially designed for tourists. But it is the most comfortable and attractive connection between St. Gallen and Lucerne with beautiful views

Originally, the Voralpen-Express served the route between Romanshorn on Lake Constance and Lucerne. In 2019, however, it was shortened and since then ends or starts in St. Gallen.

On the one hand, it is used as a commuter train, but is equally popular with excursionists due to the varied and scenic route. The Voralpen-Express "only" takes just under two and a half hours to cover the approximately 125 km, which puts it in the kangaroo category with an average speed of 55 km/h

Goodbye leatherback turtle.

Still, in my opinion, the title "Express" is a bit of a mouthful here. But let's let him have his fun.

5.2 Which places does the Voralpen-Express pass?

In the east, the Voralpen-Express starts in the beautiful city of St. Gallen. Shortly after its start, it passes over the 99 m high Sitter Viaduct, the highest railroad viaduct in Switzerland. Shortly after, another viaduct follows in Herisau, which scores with its unrestricted view over the Alpstein mountains

Afterwards, the train winds through green, hilly and typically eastern Swiss landscapes that pass by the windows on the right and left.

After two long tunnels through the Wasserfluh and the Ricken, the Voralpen-Express arrives in Rapperswil on Lake Zurich. This pretty little town with its striking castle is located at the eastern end of the lake dam that leads across Lake Zurich to Pfäffikon. Along this dam runs a wooden footbridge that forms part of the Jakobsweg (Way of St. James) and is very popular with walkers

If you want to split the trip up a bit, a short stop in Rapperswil followed by a walk along the footbridge to Pfäffikon would be a good idea. In Pfäffikon, the journey can be continued on the Voralpen-Express. From here, the train climbs the hill to Rothenthurm, where you will pass the largest contiguous high moorland in Switzerland

You will then be accompanied by more impressive views of the Alps and soon Lake Zug and Lake Vierwaldstättersee join the panorama. After a ride along the lake and a last stop at the Swiss Museum of Transport you will arrive in the city of Lucerne.

5.3 What else there is to know about the Voralpen-Express

5.3.1 Voralpen-Express timetable

The Voralpen-Express departs once an hour from St. Gallen and Lucerne between 7:00 and 19:00. You can interrupt your journey on the way as often as you like and always continue one hour later. You can find the exact departure times on the SBB timetable

5.3.2 Reservation Voralpen-Express

You do not need a seat reservation for the Voralpen-Express. It is possible to reserve a seat but in my opinion you can save this money and invest in an ice cream in Rapperswil instead

5.3.3 Tickets Voralpen-Express

Several travel passes are accepted on the Voralpen-Express. If you have a Swiss Travel Pass (Flex), a Eurail, an Interrail or a day ticket, the whole trip is covered.

Otherwise, the price for the entire journey between St. Gallen and Lucerne in second class is CHF 48, with a Half-Fare Card entitling you to half-price travel. In some cases, Spartickets are also available, which you can buy either via the SBB website or the SBB app. Here, the earlier you know your travel date, the higher your chances of getting a good deal.

4.3.4 Voralpen-Express service

The Voralpen-Express has a Bistrozone, where you can stock up on snacks and drinks. By the way, the bistro's assortment currently also includes hygiene masks and disinfectants.

6. the list goes on..

Admittedly, these five panorama trains enjoy a high degree of popularity, and rightly so. Here, train travel is truly celebrated and, at least on the first four trips, the train ride is touted as an experience

But when you consider the several thousand kilometers of track in Switzerland, there are countless other scenic stretches that are less well known but at least as impressive. So should you be looking for a slightly "more ordinary" and less exclusive route, I'll give you a small selection here to finish:

  • Regional train from Bern to Lucerne through the idyllic Emmental and the Entlebuch Biosphere
  • Regional train from Lausanne to Montreux, along Lake Geneva and the vineyards
  • Regional train from Romanshorn to Schaffhausen, along Lake Constance and the Rhine
  • Fast train from Zurich to Chur, along the Lake Zurich and Lake Walen
  • fast train from Bern to Brig past the Lake Thun and through the Bernese Alps
  • regional train from Chur to Arosa or Davos through the mountains of Grisons
  • regional train from St. Gallen to Wasserauen through the Appenzell hills
  • Regional train from Solothurn to Moutier through the Jura landscapes

This list could also be continued at will. But you probably understand what I'm talking about

In a country with 5'300 km of rails and more mountains than cheeses, you will find on most train rides one or the other view that will make your heart beat faster. So buy your ticket, grab a window seat and press your nose against the glass

Everything else will happen by itself.