The 5 most beautiful panoramic trains in Switzerland

The five most beautiful panorama trains in Switzerland are the Glacier Express, the Bernina Express, the Golden Pass Line, the Gotthard Panorama Express and the Voralpen Express. They have particularly large window panes that reach far upwards. In the alpine region these panorama trains are unique. A ride on the panorama train is comfortable and perfect for exploring the most beautiful parts of Switzerland. Along the way, guests are also treated to culinary delights.

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

(Photo: Swiss Travel System)(Photo: Swiss Travel System)
(Photo: Swiss Travel System)(Photo: Swiss Travel System)

Glacier Express

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 whopping 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 travel underwater

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 Experience Report for more information on this scenic ride.

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

Where 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.

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

Timetable Glacier Express

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

Swiss Activities Tip: If you are interested in the route, but not necessarily in a ride 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.

Reservation Glacier Express

A seat reservation is mandatory for a ride on the Glacier Express. 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 price for a seat reservation varies between 29 and 49 CHF and with the GA or the Half-Fare Card you don't get any discount here.

How much does the Glacier Express cost?

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. With the Half-Fare Card you get a 50% reduction on the ticket price.

Prices Glacier Express (CHF) in 2021 without reservation surcharge

Adult from 16 years without Half-Fare Card2nd class1st class
St. Moritz - Zermatt152268
St. Moritz - Brig114201
Chur - Zermatt119210
Chur - Brig81143

Service and gastronomy are very important on the Glacier Express. After all, the journey lasts almost the whole day, which is not to be expected of any stomach unfed. 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-filled panorama cars offer an almost unrestricted view of the surroundings, and if you want to get an overview of the interior of the Glacier Express in advance, you'll find it here.

(Photo: Swiss Travel System)(Photo: Swiss Travel System)
(Photo: Swiss Travel System)(Photo: Swiss Travel System)

Bernina Express

What is the Bernina Express?

With its 55 tunnels and 196 bridges that the Bernina Express panorama train 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 panoramic train of the Rhaetian Railway 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, you will be able to marvel at glaciers on this trip on the 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.

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

Where 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 train climbs steeply to the Ospizio Bernina, which at 2253 m.a.s.l. 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.

The Bernina Express at Ospizio Bernina (Photo: Swiss Travel System)The Bernina Express at Ospizio Bernina (Photo: Swiss Travel System)
The Brusio Viaduct (Photo: MySwitzerland)The Brusio Viaduct (Photo: MySwitzerland)

Things to know about the Bernina Express

Bernina Express timetable

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 only between May and October. Here 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

Swiss Activities 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, the obligation for a seat reservation is omitted.

Reservation Bernina Express

A seat reservation is mandatory also for the Bernina Express. The cost depends on the time of year you are traveling and whether you take the bus to Lugano or end your trip in Tirano. The price therefore varies quite a bit between 10 and 42 CHF depending on the route and season. With the GA and the Half-Fare Card you do not get a reduction on the reservation.

How much does the Bernina Express cost?

Several travel passes are accepted on the Bernina 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. With the Half-Fare Card you get a 50% reduction on the ticket price

Bernina Express prices (CHF) in 2021 without reservation surcharge

Adult from 16 years without Half-Fare Card2nd class1st class
Chur - Tirano63111
Chur - Tirano - Chur126222
Chur - Poschiavo5698
Chur - Poschiavo - Chur112196
St. Moritz - Tirano3256
St. Moritz - Tirano - St. Moritz64112

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.

Don't forget: You will 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

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

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

Where 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 1000 m.a.s.l., 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 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.

Things to know about the Golden Pass Line

Timetable Golden Pass Line

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'd like to linger and stretch your legs.

Reservation Golden Pass Line

Seat reservations on the Golden Pass Line are not 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 making a reservation between Zweisimmen and Montreux. This can be obtained at the counters of most major stations

For the Zentralbahn between Lucerne and Interlaken, you can reserve a seat in the panorama car if you do not 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.

How much does the Golden Pass Line cost?

Several passports are accepted in the Golden Pass Line. If you have a Swiss Travel Pass (Flex), a Eurail, an Interrail or a Day Pass, the whole trip is covered. With the Half-Fare Card you get 50% reduction on the ticket price.

Prices Golden Pass Line (CHF) in 2021

Adult from 16 years without Half-Fare Card2nd class1st class
Montreux - Lucerne76133
Montreux - Lucerne - Montreux152266
Montreux - Zweisimmen3358
Montreux - Zweisimmen - Montreux66116
Montreux - Interlaken East5393
Montreux - Interlaken Ost - Montreux106186
Zweisimmen - Lucerne5393
Zweisimmen - Lucerne - Zweisimmen106186
Interlaken East - Lucerne3358
Interlaken East - Lucerne - Interlaken East66106

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's 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 journey between Zweisimmen and Montreux.

Golden Pass Express (Foto: Swiss Travel Systm)Golden Pass Express (Foto: Swiss Travel Systm)
Montreux RivieraMontreux Riviera

Gotthard Panorama Express

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, 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, inaugurated in 1882, to the other side of the Alps.

The entire journey is divided into a boat trip on Lake Lucerne and a continuation on the Panorama Train on the old Gotthard route.

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

Where 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". On the way, you will pass breathtaking landscapes and historical 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.

To overcome the necessary altitude, the train makes some loops here and you have on this section the opportunity 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 pass the medieval castles of Bellinzona until you reach Lugano, where a southern flair with palm trees and Italian gelaterias awaits you.

(Photo: Swiss Travel System)(Photo: Swiss Travel System)
The Gotthard Panorama Express in Wassen (Photo: MySwitzerland)The Gotthard Panorama Express in Wassen (Photo: MySwitzerland)

Things to know about the Gotthard Panorama Express

Timetable Gotthard Panorama Express

The Gotthard Panorama Express runs between May and October from Tuesday to Sunday. Cast off and off it goes in Lucerne at 11:12 and in Lugano at 9:22, arriving at the destination 5.5 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. In order 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

Reservation Gotthard Panorama Express

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 passport. The reservation costs 16.- CHF and can be purchased either online or at the train counter.

How much does the Gotthard Panorama Express cost?

On the Gotthard Panorama Express train you always travel in first class, while on the boat you have the choice between 1st or 2nd class. 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. With the 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

Prices Gotthard Panorama Express (CHF) in 2021 without reservation surcharge

adults Lugano - Lucerne or Lucerne - Lugano2nd class1st class
without Half-Fare Card129153
with Half-Fare Card64.576.5
GA /Swiss Travel Pass 2nd class17.5029.5
GA /Swiss Travel Pass 1st class00

Service Gotthard Panorama Express

On the ship as well as on the train there is a varied culinary offer. There is no need to order in advance, as on the Glacier Express, and you can decide spontaneously on a cold Ticino-style Plättli or a hot lunch.

Ship in Flüelen (Photo: Swiss Travel System)Ship in Flüelen (Photo: Swiss Travel System)
LuganoLugano

Voralpen-Express

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 panoramic 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.

Route Pre-Alpine ExpressRoute Pre-Alpine Express
(Photo: Swiss Travel System)(Photo: Swiss Travel System)

Where 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-meter-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 Lucerne 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.

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)

Things to know about the Voralpen-Express

Timetable Voralpen-Express

The Voralpen-Express departs once an hour from St. Gallen and Lucerne between 7:00 am and 7:00 pm. You can interrupt your journey on the way as often as you like and always continue one hour later

Reservation Voralpen-Express

You do not need a seat reservation for the Voralpen-Express. You have free choice of seats and as long as you do not travel at rush hour, you are almost guaranteed a seat.

How much does the Voralpen-Express cost?

Several travel passes are accepted on the Voralpen-Express. If you have a Swiss Travel Pass (Flex), a Eurail, an Interrail or a Day Pass, the entire trip is covered. With the Half-Fare Card you get a reduction of 50%

Prices Pre-Alpine Espress (CHF) in 2021

Adult from 16 years2nd class1st class
Lucerne - St. Gallen4884
Lucerne - St. Gallen - Lucerne96168
St. Gallen - Rapperswil26.2046
Lucerne - Rapperswil3053

Swiss Activities Tip: Since you are traveling here on a "normal" train, there are also Spartickets available, which you can buy either on the SBB website or the SBB app. The earlier you know your travel date, the better your chances of getting a good deal.

Service Voralpen-Express

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

Other panoramic train rides

Admittedly, these five panoramic trains rightly enjoy a high profile. 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 River
  • Fast train from Zurich to Chur, passing Lake Zurich and Lake Walen
  • Fast 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 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

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