Scenic rail journeys guaranteed to ignite your wanderlust
Travelling by train in Switzerland is undoubtedly the most civilised and most practical way to get from A to B, with the chance to relax in comfort and admire the magnificent passing landscapes in summer or winter. Trains run like clockwork and the whole country is covered by an efficient and easy to use integrated travel network. Here are some of our favourite rail journeys.
Arguably the most scenic of all train journeys in Switzerland if not the whole of Europe, the glorious Bernina Express is a narrow gauge train with panoramic sightseeing cars that runs south from Chur / St. Moritz in eastern Switzerland to Tirano, just across the border in northern Italy, linking regions with diverse cultures and languages. During its journey, the Bernina Express passes through 55 tunnels, across 196 bridges and climbs up steep inclines with ease, with a peak altitude of 2,253m above sea level. The train winds its way slowly through breathtaking scenery, each view more spectacular than the last, climbing up to glistening Alpine glaciers before descending into Italy far below. During the summer, open, windowless, scenic carriages are attached to the Bernina Express between Davos and Tirano, guaranteeing reflection-free photos of the beautiful landscapes - a world of pristine emerald fields, snow-capped Alps, and high altitude glaciers. Scenic delights apart, many passengers ride the Bernina Express to marvel at the engineering achievements, particularly the Brusio spiral viaduct - a single track, nine-arched stone spiral viaduct that corkscrews above an emerald field between Brusio and Campascio just a few kilometres from the Swiss-Italian border and the end of the line. For train-loving skiers, you can choose to start (or end) the journey in Davos, or catch a connecting train from neighbouring Klosters.
The other contender for the title of “Most scenic train journey in Switzerland” is the world-famous narrow-gauge Glacier Express, often called Europe’s slowest Express as it takes almost 8 hours to cover just over 290 km. At this speed, passengers can enjoy spectacular views and unfolding mountain landscapes from the train’s panoramic sightseeing carriages as the train winds its way through some of Europe’s most beautiful scenery between St. Moritz and Zermatt. Shortly after leaving St. Moritz the train passes Samedan and Bever on the high Engadin plateau, before entering the Albula Tunnel under the Albula Pass. After reaching Filisur at the end of the valley, the train continues along the Landwasser Viaduct, one of the main landmarks of the journey, before following the course of the Rhine, through the famous Rhine gorge (or Swiss Grand Canyon) from Chur towards Sedrun. Here the line becomes steeper to finally reach its summit, the Oberalp Pass at 2,033m, before descending into the village of Andermatt. After Andermatt, the train continues to the historic town of Brig before the last section of the journey from Visp through beautiful larch woods, long tunnels and avalanche protection structures, before arriving in the car-free town of Zermatt at the foot of the majestic Matterhorn. There is one daily Glacier Express in each direction in winter, and up to three per day in summer. For skiers, the railway connects two of the world’s great mountain resorts, St. Moritz and Zermatt, with the added bonus of the off-piste playground of Andermatt en route.
Golden Pass Line Montreux - Lucerne
The Golden Pass Line is a mainly narrow-gauge route from Montreux on Lake Geneva to Lucerne via the well-known ski resort of Gstaad. It is another beautiful, scenic journey incorporating mountains, meadows, fields, rivers, lakes, villages, ski resorts and cities in a few hours. Although it is a commuter route for many local residents, the trains are modern, spotless and well-equipped, with specially designed windows offering exceptional panoramic views. Reserve in advance and book a seat at the front of the train for an even more memorable experience. The lakeside town of Interlaken is a perfect stopover point, where you can take a boat trip on the unspoilt lakes of Thun or Brienz - often included in some rail passes at no extra cost.
Furka Steam Train
Enjoy a nostalgic trip back in time to the golden age of steam on the historic Furka cogwheel steam railway mountain route in central Switzerland. Connecting Realp to Gletsch, the train ascends the Furka Pass midway, the route’s highest point at 2,160m, travelling through the spectacular mountain landscape of the Central Alps over what was once a part of the scenic Glacier Express route. The trains are operated entirely by volunteers with funding coming mostly from passengers’ ticket fares and a fund-raising foundation.
The Train des Vignes
The vineyard train, or Train des Vignes, takes passengers on a fantastic route through the UNESCO listed terraced vineyards of the Lavaux region from Vevey on the shores of Lake Geneva to Puidoux-Chexbres. Apart from the beautiful views over the terraces of vines, there are simply breathtaking panoramic vistas across Lake Geneva to the French Alps. There is just one stop en-route at the station in the village of Chexbres, from where there are many delightful waymarked walks through the wonderful, steep terraced vineyards, with signposts detailing the grape varieties grown and the history of the vineyard. If you don’t want to walk up the hills, then simply remain on the Train des Vignes all the way to Puidoux-Chexbres, and join the Lavaux Panoramic Tourist Train - a little tourist train with rubber tyres, which runs through the vineyards, making stops at local winegrowers for tastings and providing commentaries on viticulture and the history of the area. Monks established the cultivation of vines in this region in the 11th century and nowadays it is a major industry for the Swiss.