With soaring Alpine peaks, chocolate box towns and world-renowned sports resorts nestled in its mountains and valleys, it’s little wonder Switzerland is cited as one of the world’s most beautiful countries.
And, because of its striking scenery and punctual rail service, it is also one of the best countries to explore by train. Here are some of Switzerland’s most stunning scenic rail routes, with details of cultural and natural highlights to look out for along the way.
Zermatt to St. Moritz (Glacier Express)
The 294km route between Zermatt and St. Moritz is served by the iconic red and white Glacier Express, a narrow-gauge train fondly known as ‘the slowest express train in the world.’ Its leisurely pace is what makes the Glacier Express so enjoyable, however, its epic ramble passing through some of the most arresting Alpine scenery on offer. Highlights along the way, all visible through the train’s panoramic windows, include the glacial mountains peaks of the Matter Valley, timber chalets typical of the Goms region, Stockalper Palace and the sweeping wilderness of the Oberalp Pass
Although you need to book this train through Glacier Express's own website, we do sell tickets on the same scenic route, between Zermatt and St. Moritz, just on board a normal passenger train instead. Fewer frills but just as many thrills.
Lucerne to Montreux (GoldenPass route)
Switzerland’s GoldenPass routes connect Lucerne with Montreux, passing through six cantons. The journey is served by a number of rail routes strung together, including two narrow-gauge railways at each end. As you roll out of Lucerne, the train shimmies along the shores of Lake Sarnen before ascending the 1,008m Brünig Pass. Enjoy views of Lake Brienz framed by towering peaks, before arriving into Interlaken, the Swiss adventure capital and gateway to the Jungfrau region. The train then skirts Lake Thun and the Simme Valley, through the Gstaad region, the last leg of luscious views being across the vine-dappled hills sloping down to Montreux.
Montreux to Zermatt
This 148km scenic train journey begins in Montreux, home to the famous summer Jazz Festival in July, before veering south towards Aigle in the Swiss canton of Vaud. Here, among the Chablais vineyards, stop off at the 6th century St.-Maurice Abbey, the oldest Christian abbey in the world, before continuing on into Martigny. The train then chugs along the Rhône and into Visp before heading through the wild landscape of the Kipfen Gorge en route to Zermatt, home of the Matterhorn.
St Moritz to Tirano (Bernina Express)
Travelling on the Bernina Express from Switzerland into Northern Italy is one of Europe’s great rail adventures. Opened in 1910, the iconic red train begins its 154km journey in the chic resort town St Moritz at 1,856m above sea level, offering sweeping Alpine views through its panoramic windows. After glaciers aplenty and infinitesimal wild mountain scenery, the line drops steeply down towards milky blue Lake Poschiavo, a prelude to the spiralling Brusio Viaduct. Once in Tirano, Italy, you can switch over to the Bernina Express bus to continue onwards into the Valtellina Valley in Lombardy, just over the Italian border, where sheer cliffs sweep down into lush vineyards and the shores of Lakes Lugano and Como.
Lugano to Lucerne (Gotthard Panorama Express)
Combining trips by rail and boat, this 182km journey begins in Lugano, in Switzerland’s Italian-speaking south. The Gotthard Panorama Express (you can only buy this locally) weaves its way north towards Bellinzona, where three UNESCO World Heritage castles guard its historic centre. The train then speeds through the world’s longest and deepest rail tunnel, the Gotthard Base Tunnel, out towards Giornico, dotted with chestnut woods and vineyards. Do take a break in Flüelen, where we recommend a boat trip out on Lake Uri, believed to be the birthplace of the Swiss nation back in 1291, and gently cruise on towards Lake Lucerne.
While tickets for the Gotthard Panorama Express can be bought through the train company’s own website, do sell tickets on the same route, between Lugano and Lucerne, just on board normal passenger trains instead.
Image credits top to bottom: Railway station at St. Moritz iStock, Bychykhin_Olexandr, Bernina Express ©Rhaetian Railway, Zermatt and the Matterhorn iStock ©xtravagantni, Lucerne Flickr Commons (cropped) ©edwin.11
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