The 5 most beautiful scenic trains in Switzerland

The five most beautiful scenic trains in Switzerland are the Glacier Express, the Bernina Express, the Golden Pass Line, the Gotthard Panorama Express and the Voralpen-Express. Here you can find out everything you need to know about them. The panoramic trains have particularly large and far-reaching window panes for the perfect view. And the best thing is that the ticket is included in the most common train tickets and tourist railway passes. A ride on the scenic train is comfortable and perfect for exploring the most beautiful parts of Switzerland.

We've already talked about the fact that Switzerland has a high affinity for trains as a means of transport in our article about public transport in Switzerland. But did you know that those over 5300 km of railway tracks serve more than just fast transportation from one place to another?

There are several railroad lines that you would love to travel several times in a row. Because that way you could take a closer look at the beautiful scenery that inevitably speeds past your windows. Be that the journey on the intercity train from Zurich to Chur, which passes mystical Lake Walensee. Or the route from Fribourg to Lausanne, where you get an incredible view over the Lavaux vineyards and Lake Geneva after the tunnel.

Train travel and beautiful views usually go hand in hand in Switzerland. If you're looking to embark on a train journey with a focus on these very views, there are some world-famous panoramic trains that will make your heart beat faster.

Swiss Activities Tips: Get he perfect support for planning your trip in the panorama train through Switzerland with the Train Tour App. Also, the panoramic trains are all covered by the Swiss Travel Pass and other railway passes for tourists.

Plan your trip with the Train Tour App (Photo: Swiss Travel System)Plan your trip with the Train Tour App (Photo: Swiss Travel System)
Trains in Switzerland (Photo: Swiss Travel System)Trains in Switzerland (Photo: Swiss Travel System)

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Glacier Express

The Glacier Express is called the "slowest express train in the world" and lives up to this title. It covers a distance of 291 km between Zermatt and St. Moritz, passes 91 tunnels and crosses 291 bridges. It takes no less than 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 can cover under water.

The Glacier Express is operated by the two railroad companies Matterhorn-Gotthard-Bahn (MGB) and Rhätische Bahn (RhB). The MGB operates the section between Zermatt and Disentis, while the part between Disentis and St. Moritz is operated by the RhB.

So if you're making your way 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 scenery. Check out this Glacier Express review for more information on this scenic ride.

Route Glacier ExpressRoute Glacier Express
Glacier Express (Photo: Swiss Travel System)Glacier Express (Photo: Swiss Travel System)

Where does the Glacier Express route pass?

The Glacier Express commutes between St. Moritz in the Engadine and Zermatt, the mountain village at the foot of the Matterhorn. Shortly after its departure in St. Moritz, the Glacier Express travels along the winding Albula line.

On this railroad line, the train passes through six viaducts and three helical tunnels to overcome the altitude between the Albula Pass and Filisur. It was included in the UNESCO World Heritage inventory in 2008. On this route, the train keeps changing the side of the valley and the direction. This does not make it easy to keep track of where you are. So keep a close look out the window.

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 the "Swiss Grand Canyon". If you start the journey in St. Moritz, here you have the best view of the Rhine Gorge on the left side of the train.

After a quick break in Chur, the capital of the canton of Grisons, the journey continues across the Oberalp Pass via Disentis/Mustér to Andermatt in the canton of Uri. Up here, the Glacier Express overcomes its highest point and passes Lake Oberalp, 2044 meters above sea level.

Afterwards, it's more or less all downhill and along the River Rhone to Brig in the canton of Valais. After Brig, the Glacier Express makes another change of direction and begins its final ascent to Zermatt. Here, the Matterhorn hopefully waits impatiently for you and does not hide behind the clouds.

Rhine Gorge (Photo: MySwitzerland)Rhine Gorge (Photo: MySwitzerland)
Landwasser Viaduct (Photo: Swiss Travel System)Landwasser Viaduct (Photo: Swiss Travel System)

Things to know about the Glacier Express

  • The Glacier Express runs three times daily in summer and twice daily in winter.
  • A seat reservation is mandatory for a ride on the Glacier Express. The cost depends on whether you're travelling in summer or winter and whether you're travelling the entire journey or only parts of it. The price for a seat reservation varies between CHF 29 and CHF 49. With the GA or Swiss Half Fare Card, you don't receive a discount on the reservation.
  • Several Rail Passes are accepted on the Glacier Express. If you have a Swiss Travel Pass, a Eurail, an Interrail or a day pass, you don't pay extra for the ticket and only need to buy a seat reservation. With the Swiss Half Fare Card you get a 50% discount on the ticket price.
  • Swiss Activities Tip: If you're interested in the journey, but not in a trip on the panoramic train, there are also "normal" trains running between Zermatt and St. Moritz. However, for this trip you have to change trains in Brig, Andermatt, Disentis/Mustér and Chur. The journey is only a little longer than with the Glacier Express. But you're not bound to the departures or the reservation obligation of the Glacier Express.
  • Service and gastronomy are very important on the Glacier Express. After all, the journey takes almost one full day, which won't go down well on an empty snomach. The easiest way is to order your meal when you get your seat reservation. However, the menu is also available for spontaneous requests.
(Photo: Swiss Travel System)(Photo: Swiss Travel System)
(Photo: Swiss Travel System)(Photo: Swiss Travel System)

Bernina Express

With its 55 tunnels and 196 bridges, which the Bernina Express panorama train crosses and traverses on the 156 km between Chur and Tirano, you could call it 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 means of transportation in between. After about four hours, the panoramic train of the Rhaetian Railway reaches Tirano in Italy. From there, the Bernina Express bus covers the remaining 90 km to Lugano.

Due to the fact that the Bernina Express crosses the Alps, you will be able to marvel at glaciers on this trip in the beginning 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.

Learn more about the Bernina Express in our extensive review we wrote about this panoramic train.

Route Bernina ExpressRoute Bernina Express
Bernina Express (Photo: Swiss Travel System)Bernina Express (Photo: Swiss Travel System)

Where does the Bernina Express route pass?

The Bernina Express begins its journey in Chur and then shares its route with the Glacier Express until 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 train climbs steeply up to Ospizio Bernina, which at 2253 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.

Heading towards 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, across another highlight.

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

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

The Bernina Express at Ospizio Bernina (Photo: Swiss Travel System)The Bernina Express at Ospizio Bernina (Photo: Swiss Travel System)
Circular viaduct in Brusio (Photo: MySwitzerland)Circular viaduct in Brusio (Photo: MySwitzerland)

Things to know about the Bernina Express

  • The timetable of the Bernina Express is not easy to understand at first glance. The rail 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 between May and October.
  • 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 public transport in Italy.
  • A seat reservation is mandatory for the Bernina Express. The cost depends on the time of year you are travelling and whether you use the bus to Lugano or end your trip in Tirano. The price therefore varies quite a bit between CHF 10 and CHF 42 depending on the route and season. With the GA and the Swiss HalfFare Card you don't get a discount on the reservation.
  • Several rail passes are accepted on the Bernina Express. If you have a Swiss Travel Pass, a Eurail, an Interrail or a day pass, you only have to buy a seat reservation. With the Swiss Half Fare Card you get a 50% discount on the ticket price.
  • Swiss Activities Tip: If you're interested in the route, but not in a ride on the panoramic train, there are also "normal" trains running between Chur, St. Moritz and Tirano. Coming from Chur you'll 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 the panoramic train. In addition, the obligation for a seat reservation is omitted.
  • Unlike the Glacier Express, the Bernina Express doen't have a dining car. However, there is a bistro on board where cold snacks and regional delicacies can be purchased. The lunch break is spent in Poschiavo or in Tirano, where you find several catering options.
  • Don't forget: You'll need a passport or identity card to cross the border into Italy.
Bernina Express in winter (Photo: Swiss Travel System)Bernina Express in winter (Photo: Swiss Travel System)
Bernina Express Bus (Photo: Swiss Travel System)Bernina Express Bus (Photo: Swiss Travel System)

Golden Pass Line

The Golden Pass Line is a panoramic train route consisting of three individual stages. The first stage - operated by Zentralbahn - runs between Lucerne and Interlaken. After that, the BLS regional train takes over to Zweisimmen, from where the Golden Pass Panoramic finishes the third section to Montreux. All in all, this scenic route covers 191 km in roughly six hours.

The Golden Pass Line connects the German-speaking part of Switzerland with the French-speaking part and passes some important Swiss lakes along the way. These include Lake Lucerne, Lake Brienz, Lake Thun and Lake Geneva. You can also catch a glimpse of the Giessbach Falls along the way next to Lake Brienz.

Since the Golden Pass Line cuts right through the middle of Switzerland, it's especially easy to integrate it into your Switzerland itinerary.

Route Golden Pass LineRoute Golden Pass Line
Golden Pass Line with the Zentralbahn (Photo: Swiss Travel System)Golden Pass Line with the Zentralbahn (Photo: Swiss Travel System)

Where does the Golden Pass Line route pass?

Coming from the east, the Golden Pass Line starts in Lucerne. Before its ascent to the Brünig Pass at an altitude of just over 1000 meters, 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. After Brienz, you can even catch a glimpse of the Giessbach Falls and the imposing Grand Hotel on the other side of the lake.

In Interlaken Ost, you'll need to transfer onto another train. This train changes the lakeside after Interlaken and travels along Lake Thun to Spiez. The subsequent journey through the Simmental invites you to slow down and dream. The train takes its dear time here and you can enjoy the narrow valley, the dark forests and the charming river.

After a flying change in Zweisimmen onto the Golden Pass Panoramic, the train continues uphill and through the Bernese Oberland to Gstaad. This ride offers another picture-perfect panorama. Green meadows, grazing cows, traditional wooden chalets and snowy peaks of the Alps in the background show you Switzerland as you imagined 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.

Things to know about the Golden Pass Line

  • Since 2022, it is no longer necessary to change trains in Zweisimmen every time. Certain trains travel directly from Interlaken to Montreux, while others still require a transfer in Zweisimmen with good connections.
  • Trains run once an hour all year round on all sections of the Golden Pass Line.
  • Seat reservations on the Golden Pass Line aren't mandatory. Between Lucerne and Interlaken as well as between Interlaken and Zweisimmen you will always find a seat. To be on the safe side, however, the Golden Pass Panoramic customer service recommends a reservation between Zweisimmen and Montreux. This can be bought at the counters of most major train stations in the region.
  • On the Zentralbahn between Lucerne and Interlaken, you can reserve a seat in the panoramic wagon if you don't want to travel on the "normal" car with "normal-sized" windows. You can either make a reservation at the ticket office in Lucerne, over the phone or online.
  • Several rail passes are accepted on the Golden Pass Line. If you have a Swiss Travel Pass, a Eurail, an Interrail or a day pass, the entire journey is covered. With the Swiss Half Fare Card you get 50% reduction on the ticket price.
  • The service on the Golden Pass Line varies between the different train operators. On the Zentralbahn between Lucerne and Interlaken, meals and drinks can be purchased in the Bistro. On the trains between Interlaken and Montreux, there are no meal options for individual travellers. It's best to buy something for the road in Interlaken if you can't stand being without snacks for a few hours.
Golden Pass Line (Photo: Swiss Travel Systm)Golden Pass Line (Photo: Swiss Travel Systm)
Montreux Riviera (Photo: Seraina Zellweger)Montreux Riviera (Photo: Seraina Zellweger)

Gotthard Panorama Express

The Gotthard Panorama Express is, in a way, a historic remnant of Switzerland's impressive railroad history. In summer 2016, the Gotthard Base Tunnel, the longest rail tunnel in the world, was inaugurated. It is 57 km long and shortens the journey to Ticino by 20%. Today, it's no longer necessary to travel via the traditional mountain route between Göschenen and Airolo. The faster route runs from Erstfeld directly to Bodio.

Until 2016, the mountain route was the only way to reach Ticino by train. Today, the traditional route is used by the Gotthard Panorama Express. This train takes its guests through the many helical tunnels and the Gotthard Tunnel, inaugurated in 1882, to the other side of the Alps. This panoramic journey between Lucerne and Lugano is combined with a steamboat-ride on Lake Lucerne and a train ride in the panoramic train through the old Gotthard tunnel.

Route Gotthard Panorama ExpressRoute Gotthard Panorama Express
Gotthard Panorama Express at Lake Lucerne (Photo: Swiss Travel System)Gotthard Panorama Express at Lake Lucerne (Photo: Swiss Travel System)

Where does the route of the Gotthard Panorama Express pass?

The journey from north to south starts with a trip on the boat from Lucerne. On Lake Lucerne you will travel from Lucerne to Flüelen. This trip is served either by a historic paddle steamer or the modern motor ship "Diamant". On the way you will pass breathtaking landscapes and historical places like the Tell's Chapel or the Rütli meadow.

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

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 Swiss band "Lo & Leduc" even dedicated a song to it.

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

On the road in the Gotthard Panorama Express (Photo: Swiss Travel System)On the road in the Gotthard Panorama Express (Photo: Swiss Travel System)
The famous Chileli vo Wassen (Photo: MySwitzerland)The famous Chileli vo Wassen (Photo: MySwitzerland)

Things to know about the Gotthard Panorama Express

  • The Gotthard Panorama Express operates between May and October from Tuesday to Sunday. It departs Lucerne at 11:12 a.m. and Lugano at 9:22 a.m., arriving at its destination 5:30 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.
  • A seat reservation is mandatory on the train route with the Gotthard Panorama Express. Regardless of whether you have a GA, a Swiss Travel Pass or any other railway pass. The reservation costs 16.- CHF and can be purchased either online or at the counter at the train station.
  • On the Gotthard Panorama Express train you always travel in first class, while you have the choice between 1st or 2nd class on the boat. Several railway passes are accepted on the Gotthard Panorama Express. If you have a Swiss Travel Pass or a day pass, the whole journey is covered. With the Tellpass you also enjoy free travel between Lucerne and Flüelen. With the Swiss Half Fare Card you get a 50% reduction on the entire journey.
  • If you have an Interrail or Eurail ticket, you travel free of charge on the rail route (apart from the reservation surcharge), while you receive a 50% reduction on the boat ticket.
  • On the ship as well as on the trainm there's the option to buy food. It's not necessary to order your meal in advance. So you can decide spontaneously for a "cold Plättli Ticino style" or a warm lunch.
Ship in Flüelen (Photo: Swiss Travel System)Ship in Flüelen (Photo: Swiss Travel System)

Voralpen Express

The Voralpen Express is not a panoramic train in the true sense like the other candidates in this article. It neither has oversized panorama windows, nor is it specially designed for tourists. But it's the most comfortable and attractive connection between St. Gallen and Lucerne with beautiful views.

Originally, the Voralpen Express used to serve the route between Romanshorn on Lake Constance and Lucerne. In 2019, however, it was shortened and has since ended or started in St. Gallen.

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

Goodbye leatherback turtle.

Route Prealps ExpressRoute Prealps Express
Voralpen Express (Photo: Swiss Travel System)Voralpen Express (Photo: Swiss Travel System)

Where does the route of the Voralpen Express pass?

In the east, the Voralpen Express begins in the beautiful city of St. Gallen. Shortly after its start, it passes over the 99-meter-high Sitter Viaduct, the highest railroad viaduct in Switzerland. This is followed by another viaduct 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 outside your window.

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 is a wooden footbridge that forms part of the Camino de Santiago and is very popular for walking.

If you want to break up your trip, a short stay in Rapperswil followed by a quick walk along the footbridge to Pfäffikon might be a good idea. In Pfäffikon you can continue your journey on the Voralpen Express. From Pfäffikon the train climbs up the hill to Rothenthurm, where you'll pass the largest contiguous high moor area in Switzerland.

Afterwards, you'll be accompanied by more impressive views of the Alps. Soon Lake Zug and Lake Lucerne join the panorama. After a ride along the lake and one last stop at the Museum of Transport Lucerne you will arrive in the city of Lucerne.

Things to know about the Voralpen Express

  • The Voralpen Express departs once an hour from St. Gallen and Lucerne between 7:00 am and 7:00 pm. You can breatk up your journey on the way as often as you like and always continue one hour later.
  • You don't need a seat reservation for the Voralpen Express. You have free choice of where you like to sit. Unless you travel during rush hour, which you should not do in Switzerland, you are almost guaranteed a seat.
  • The Voralpen Express has a bistro zone where you can stock up on snacks and drinks.
  • Several railway passes are accepted on the Voralpen Express. If you have a Swiss Travel Pass, a Eurail, an Interrail or a day pass, the entire journey is covered. With the Swiss Half Fare Card you get a 50% discount.
  • Swiss Activities Tip: Since you're travelling on a "normal" train here, there are also Supersaver tickets available, which you can buy either on the SBB website or with the SBB app. The earlier you know your travel date, the better your chances of scoring a good deal.
Rapperswil is on the way of the Voralpen ExpressRapperswil is on the way of the Voralpen Express
(Photo: Swiss Travel System)(Photo: Swiss Travel System)

Other panoramic train rides in Switzerland

Granted, these five panoramic trains rightly enjoy a high popularity. But when you consider the several thousand kilometers of railway tracks in Switzerland, there are countless other scenic sections. These may be less well known, but some of them are also very impressive. So, should you be looking for a slightly "more ordinary" and less exclusive route, here's a small selection to finish this article:

  • 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 Lavaux vineyards
  • Regional train from Romanshorn to Schaffhausen, along Lake Constance and the River Rhine
  • Intercity train from Zurich to Chur, passing Lake Zurich and Lake Walen
  • Intercity train from Bern to Brig along Lake Thun and the Bernese Alps
  • Regional train from Chur to Arosa or Davos through the Grisons mountains
  • Regional train from St. Gallen to Wasserauen through the hilly landscape of Appenzell
  • 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 5300 km of railway tracks, you'll find more than enough train rides with stunning views that'll make your heart beat faster. So buy your ticket, grab a window seat and press your nose against the glass.

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