How to Go on the Best Swiss Scenic Trains in One Trip
It’s a fact: train travel is simply the best way to take in everything that the magnificent country of Switzerland has to offer. There’s something about the sedate pace, the proximity to the mountains, valleys, and lakes, the painfully impressive punctuality and accessibility, and the compelling old-world charm that accompanies a Swiss rail journey. It’d take many months to fully appreciate all the ins and outs of Switzerland and her rail network. But if you’re up for it, there is a way to take in some of the most celebrated Swiss scenic trains in a matter of days.
Swiss scenic trains: Where to start
The most convenient place to start an intense few days of Swiss scenic rail journeys is usually one of the big cities – Zurich or Lucerne. There are regular international flights to each city, and they also serve as ideal start and end points for this itinerary.
Scenic trains: GoldenPass Line – Jungfraujoch – Glacier Express – Bernina Express
Swiss scenic trains #1: GoldenPass Line
The GoldenPass Line is a major route that connects Lucerne with Lake Geneva in Montreux. It’s also effectively a mini Switzerland highlights package, rolled into a single journey. From the window of your panoramic carriage you’ll spot lakes, wine estates, fertile plains, vast mountain ranges, and quaint villages. You’ll also travel through six different cantons, three mountain passes, and two language regions.
Despite the sheer spectacle that is the GoldenPass Line, it also happens to be one of the most cost-effective and easily accessible scenic rail routes in the country. It’s free for Eurail Pass holders, it doesn’t require a reservation (though it may be wise to book a seat in peak seasons), and it runs regularly throughout the year. You can read more on the blog about what to expect on the GoldenPass Line.
Fast facts about the GoldenPass Line
Route: Lucerne – Interlaken – Zweisimmen – Montreux
Duration: 5h 08m
Distance: 191 kilometres
Don’t miss: The GoldenPass Classic railcar between Zweisimmen and Montreux.
Covered by the Eurail Pass: Yes. Reservation not required.
Insider tip: The GoldenPass Line runs through the popular town of Interlaken. It’s a perfect destination for breaking your journey. Eurailers get free passage on the nearby ferries, as well as discounted tickets to the incredibly picturesque valley of Lauterbrunnen.
Swiss scenic trains #2: Jungfraujoch
Don’t travel all the way to Montreux just yet – hop off the GoldenPass Line at Interlaken. It’s a popular city for adventure sports enthusiasts, but it also gives you easy access to Europe’s highest railway station at Jungfraujoch. This train ride takes you from Interlaken all the way to a dizzying 11,000 feet above sea level. You can choose to go via Lauterbrunnen or Grindelwald.
A journey to the Jungfraujoch is incredibly popular during the summer months. It’s not cheap, but Eurail Pass holders get 25% off on the regular fare. When combining some of the best views of the Alps with taking a ride on a modern-day marvel of engineering, this is one train ride worthy of a spot on your bucket list.
Fast facts about the Jungfraujoch
Route: Lauterbrunnen – Wengen – Kleine Scheidegg– Jungfrau or Interlaken – Zweilütschinen – Grindelwald – Kleine Scheidegg – Jungrfrau
Duration: Approximately 2 hours one way
Don’t miss: The towns you pass through. They’re pretty special – so plan to stop in Wengen or Grindelwald.
Covered by the Eurail Pass: No, but there’s a 25% discount on the ticket for Eurail Pass holders.
Insider tip: If you’re traveling from Interlaken, then you can go up one way to Kleine Scheidegg and another way down. This will let you take in different sides of the mountain.
Swiss scenic trains #3: Glacier Express
The Glacier Express is possibly the best known of these Swiss scenic rail journeys. You can reach its starting point in Zermatt with an easy 2.5 hour regional rail trip from the end of the GoldenPass in Montreux.
Trains on the Glacier Express line travel daily between the towns of Zermatt and St. Moritz. It’s one of the most luxurious train rides in the world. It also brings you unsurpassed views of some of the country’s most dramatic scenery, whether it’s summer or winter.
As the name suggests, you’ll glimpse views of impressive glaciers. You’ll also see dramatic peaks, isolated villages, fertile fields, beautiful rivers, and stunning lakes. Although the route runs between two famous towns, you can break the long journey with an overnight stay at any town along the way.
Fast facts about the Glacier Express
Route: Zermatt – St. Moritz
Duration: 8h 03m
Distance: 291 kilometers
Don’t miss: The Matterhorn in Zermatt, and the nearby Glacier Paradise, is a bucket list-worthy item in its own right.
Covered by the Eurail Pass: Yes, excluding Zermatt to Disentis (Eurail Pass holders receive 50% discount). A reservation is required.
Insider tip: If you’re looking to save money, then pack a few snacks and complete the journey in one go – the reservation fee is required for every day of travel, regardless of the distance.
Swiss scenic trains #4: Bernina Express
When you get off the Glacier Express, you can easily connect to another celebrated Swiss rail line – the Bernina Express. It’s possible to begin this journey from either St. Moritz or nearby Chur.
The Bernina Express is an astonishing rail route. It takes you from the serene lakeside town of St. Moritz, then whisks you up and over the Alps to the Italian town of Tirano. Along the way you’ll skirt turquoise lakes, snow-capped mountains, and gigantic glaciers. In the spirit of ticking off the best rail routes in Switzerland, you should book a ticket all the way through to Lugano (Italy) on the Glacier Express bus.
Fast facts about the Bernina Express
Route: Chur / St. Moritz – Tirano (with additional bus leg to Lugano)
Duration: 4h 13m (train from Chur to Tirano); 3h 10m (bus from Tirano to Lugano)
Distance: 156 kilometres (Chur to Tirano); 90 kilometres (Tirano to Lugano)
Don’t miss: The Brusio spiral viaduct. You’ll get the best views of this if you sit on the right side heading north to south.
Covered by the Eurail Pass: Yes. Reservation required for the official Bernina Express, which has panoramic windows. No reservation required on regional trains that follow the same route.
Insider tip: Regular regional trains run along the same line, and they also offer the same views without the need to pay additional reservation fees.
If your goal is to take in as much scenery in as little time as possible, you could tick off each of these epic Swiss scenic trains in a matter of days. This route is comfortable and (somewhat) circular, which leaves you time to explore neighboring countries with your Eurail Select Pass or Eurail Global Pass. There’s so much scenic beauty around every corner of Switzerland though. So you may want to slow down, stay overnight in a few villages, and soak up everything that this impressive little country has to offer.