All aboard for some of the best train rides in the world with this guide to the most scenic train rides in Switzerland.
Why Travel By Train in Switzerland
Ah, travel by train in Switzerland. One of my favourite things to do, even if I’ve discovered it relatively late in life.
Forget the British experience of squashed and sweaty armpits, late schedules and nothing but a pot noodle to eat, served with scalding water if you’re lucky.
Swiss trains exist on a whole different level.
The travel network itself is clean, reliable and comfortable. And then, there are the special trains. The trains where the windows nearly merge with the roof so you can see the beauty all around. The trains that dash through glaciers and funnel through fjords. The routes that make up the most scenic train rides in Switzerland, if not the world.
But enough talking in vague terms. Let me share with you what I learned on the recent Great Swiss Train Chase about these routes: the most scenic train rides in Switzerland.
The Swiss Travel Pass
The first thing you need to know about when it comes to travel by train is the Swiss Travel Pass. I tested this out on a four day challenge earlier in the year, which was a blast.
The pass gives you unlimited travel on trains, boats and buses across the country and you can buy it for different periods of time. And in case you, like I, think you’re too old for all that luggage heave-ho any more, you can also pair your pass with a luggage service, so that you can explore and your luggage is simply picked up for you and transported to your new destination – right to the hotel, door to door.
The Grand Train Tour of Switzerland
Finally, there is the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland, a route that takes in many of these gorgeous, scenic train rides. Travel on these panoramic trains is also included in the Swiss Travel Pass, although you do need to pay a reservation fee on top to guarantee your place.
Right, logistics aside, let’s talk scenic train routes!
Disclosure – my most recent journey to Switzerland was in partnership with Swiss Travel Systems and Switzerland Tourism. However, as ever, I kept the right to write what I like. I’ve also travelled by train in Switzerland many times before over the years. Finally, if you book or buy through any of the links on this page, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you!
The Most Scenic Train Rides in Switzerland
Now, then. Sadly, I haven’t experienced each of these – yet. But I so enjoyed the trips I have, that this will function as a kind of bucket list for me over the next few decades. However, I did interview, research and casually ask around. And all put together, these are the recommended most scenic train routes in Switzerland. Let’s go…
- Route with Stops: Zermatt, Brig, Andermatt, Disentis Mustér, Chur, Tiefencastel, Filisur, Samedan, St Moritz
- Distance: 291 km
- Ride Duration: 7.5 hours
Part of the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn, the Glacier Express paints a picturesque journey from Zermatt to St. Moritz, taking in some of Switzerland’s most beautiful landscapes. This train quite literally takes you on a journey to the clouds, reaching an altitude of approximately 2,033 metres at the Oberalp Pass before descending into the valleys.
An interesting fact about this train is that it’s often dubbed as the world’s slowest express train, traversing the 291km route in a leisurely 7.5 hours. But it’s the perfect pace to take in all those views.
- The Matterhorn – Keep an eye out for the unmistakable pyramid-shaped marvel of the Matterhorn, one of the highest peaks in the Alps. You can catch the best view as the train leaves Zermatt.
- Landwasser Viaduct – As you approach Filisur, the train seems to ‘leap’ across this 65m high and 136m long icon of Swiss engineering. Nothing but a big void beneath you and the amazing nature that surrounds it.
- Albula Line – This stretch of track from Thusis to St. Moritz is a UNESCO World Heritage site, highly praised for the use of the landscape’s topography.
- Oberalp Pass – This is the highest point in your journey, where you can capture a stunning sight of snow-capped mountains.
- Chur – You can also cut short your journey at Chur if you don’t have time for the whole route. Chur (pronounced something like Koo-er) is the oldest town in Switzerland, with picture perfect charm. The settlement is more than 5,000 years old.
Tip: For taking spectacular shots of snow-capped peaks without window reflections, check out this article on taking photos from a train.
The Bernina Express
- Route with Stops: Chur, Filisur, St Moritz, Poschiavo, Tirano
- Distance: 122 km
- Ride Duration: 4 hours
Originating from the quaint city of Chur and snaking its way through Filisur, St. Moritz, picturesque Poschiavo, and eventually Tirano in Northern Italy, this train route travels a distance of 122km over 4 hours.
Praised as one of the most scenic train rides globally, this particular route tops out at the Bernina Pass, reaching a staggering 2,253 meters above sea level.
Take in the sublime panorama from your seat through the panoramic windows of the train.
Be prepared: the train may be bustling during the summer months, so it’s wise to make a seat reservation well in advance.
- Landwasser Viaduct –This high limestone cliff curves into a mountain tunnel.
- Brusio Spiral Viaduct – An architectural marvel designed to allow the train to descend gracefully while treating you to a 360-degree view of the surroundings.
- Morteratsch Glacier – Nothing is quite as ‘cool’ as the Morteratsch Glacier, the second-largest glacier in the Eastern Alps.
Tip: Grab a Swiss Travel Pass. It covers all Swiss trains, trams and boats making it an ideal way to explore Switzerland. You do need to pay for a reservation fee for some of the specialist trains, though. Find the full details here.
Also, consider investing in a Eurail pass to save on individual train tickets, particularly if you’re planning to explore multiple scenic Swiss train rides or travel between different countries.
- Route with Stops: St Gallen, Wattwil, Rapperswil, Arth Goldau, Lucerne
- Distance: 125 km
- Ride Duration: 2 hours 15 minutes
The Voralpen-Express, making a 125 km artful bend from St Gallen to Lucerne, lavishes passengers with a seasoned blend of nature’s best: verdant hills, gentle valleys, azure lakes and quintessentially Swiss villages. The ride lasts something along the lines of two hours and fifteen minutes, the train gliding up to 90 metres above sea level in Arth Goldau before heading downwards. Did you know? This stretch is one of the steepest non-rack railways in Switzerland.
- Arth-Goldau – Located at the foot of Mt. Rigi, this stop provides the opportunity to take a detour to the ‘Queen of the Mountains’ via the oldest mountain railway in Europe.
- St. Gallen – The final stop, distinguished by its Abbey of Saint Gall, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has one of the richest medieval libraries in the world.
The Gotthard Panorama Express
- Route 1: Lucerne(train), Flüelen, Lake Lucerne (boat), Lugano
- Route 2: Lugano(boat), Flüelen(train), Lucerne.
- Ride Duration: 182 km
- Distance: 5.5 hours
Step aboard the Gotthard Panorama Express in Lucerne, a charming city in central Switzerland, and commence an enthralling 5.5-hour journey through some of the country’s most magnificent landscapes. The train climbs steep alpine gradients, with views of deep valleys and emerald panoramas from your large-window carriage.
As a bonus, this train offers an optional boat ride section across Lake Lucerne, connecting charming small towns dappled on the lakeside.
- Lake Lucerne – Among the most stunning bodies of water in the country, Lake Lucerne offers views of quaint villages, steep mountainsides, and the imposing Rigi Kulm mountain in the background.
- Flaeselen – As the train approaches Flaeselen, look for the panorama of crystal-clear lakes, lush green hills, and rustic chalets – a quintessential Swiss sight.
- Gotthard Tunnel – This historic tunnel was once deemed impossible to exist and yet, here it is. The lights blink past rapidly as the train plunges into the darkness, only to emerge into broad daylight with a completely different landscape.
- Church of Wassen – As the train negotiates the mountain curves, you will spot the Church of Wassen from multiple perspectives. The distinctive baroque architecture amidst the surrounding greenery makes it a great spot for photos.
Tip: The boat ride on Lake Lucerne supplements the beauty of this journey and is worth making the effort to arrange.
Cogwheel Railway to Mount Pilatus
- Route with Stops: Alpnachstad, Mount Pilatus
- Distance: 4.6 km
- Ride Duration: 45 minutes
Virtually clinging to the face of Mount Pilatus, this train winds its way from Alpnachstad to the mountain’s summit. Travellers are treated to a blend of alpine meadows, steep rock faces, and a panoramic vista that serves as a perfect backdrop to this journey. Although it lasts just 45 minutes, the ride reaches an impressive height of 2,073 metres, offering the best views of the landscape below.
- Summit of Mount Pilatus – The pinnacle of the journey, quite literally, is the top of Mount Pilatus. On reaching the peak, you’ll be treated to a stunning, panoramic view of 73 Alpine peaks. A treasure for photography enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.
- The World’s Steepest Cogwheel Railway – Navigating an incline of 48%, this is the steepest cogwheel railway in the world, offering passengers an adrenaline rush coupled with incredible views.
The Golden Pass Line
- Route with Stops: Montreux, Zweisimmen, Interlaken, Lucerne
- Distance: 191 km
- Ride Duration: 5.5 hours
The Golden Pass Line traces a picturesque route across the heart of Switzerland, covering a distance of 191 km from Montreux to Lucerne in approximately 5.5 hours. As it scales the apex of the Brunig Pass, you will see stunning views of Lake Geneva and Lake Brienz, before descending into small towns with scenic Swiss charms.
While the panoramic train does tend to be crowded, the large windows in 1st class ensure you don’t miss out. It really comes recommended as one of the best scenic train rides Switzerland offers.
- The Brunig Pass – See the striking spectacle of Lake Brienz, an indigo jewel amidst the Bernese Oberland landscape. Soak in the views because it’s a sight worth seeing!
- Lake Brienz – One of the most beautiful train ride segments, the reflections of Swiss homes in the turquoise waters of Lake Brienz are supposed to be gorgeous.
- The Chocolate Train – This Belle Epoque train from Montreux to Broc-Chocolat is part of the Golden Pass Line and takes you to the fantastic chocolate factory in Broc-Chocolat. You will need to book it separately though.
Tip: Opt for a visit in late October, when the autumnal colours of the Swiss Alps are at their most vivid.
The Mont Blanc Express
- Route with Stops: Martigny, Vernayaz, Salvan, Marécottes, Le Trétien, Finhaut, Le Châtelard, Chamonix
- Distance: 38 km
- Ride Duration: 90 minutes
Bringing you the best experiences within a relatively short distance, the Mont Blanc Express wonderfully captures the essence of Swiss train travel. It is indeed one of the most famous scenic train rides, connecting the dots in a spectacle of mountain passes right at the top of Europe.
The 90-minute rail journey circumnavigates the contours of the mountains, weaving through deep gorges before ascending to panoramic scenic views.
- The Trient Gorge – A carved chasm handcrafted by Mother Nature herself, the gorge plunges to a depth of around 200 meters and is renowned for its unique, vertically ribbed cliffs.
- Emosson Dam – Past green fields and curious rock formations, the train rumbles into Finhaut – where you uncover the Emosson Dam, a vivid juxtaposition of human endeavour against the backdrop of nature.
The Luzern-Interlaken Express
- Route with Stops: Lucerne, Interlaken
- Distance: 98 km
- Ride Duration: 1 hour 50 minutes
The Luzern-Interlaken Express takes you on a breathtaking ride through Switzerland’s heartland, covering a distance of 98 km in just under two hours. Its path courses through forested wilderness, mighty mountain ranges, and idyllic lakesides, making each frame through the window a moving painting. The carriages are modern and comfortable with a dining car, offering travellers the added convenience of refreshments en route.
- Lake Lucerne – A truly calm and beautiful lake by the city with the same nature.
- The Brunig Pass – The train climbs to 1,002 meters to give a great view of the terrain.
- Giessbach Falls – Look out for this silver ribbon cascade just after the Meiringen station.
The Jungfrau Railway
- Route with Stops: Kleine Scheidegg, Eismeer Station, Jungfraujoch
- Distance: 9.34 km
- Ride Duration: 35 minutes
The Jungfrau Railway, a 9.34 km stretch is the experience of a lifetime, involving the highest railway station in Europe at Eismeer. This railway is a pot of gold for scenic landscapes involving glacier views, icy tunnels, and pristine, white snowy peaks. Vertiginously, it reaches 3454 meters, and from this point, one can glimpse a landscape akin to a fantastical snow globe before the descent begins.
- The Eiger Glacier – This is a monumental ice body with a spectacular white-blue aura. Don’t miss the cliff-face observatory; people say it’s like witnessing the heartbeat of the Alps.
- Eismeer Station – Located within a tunnel inside the Eiger mountain, this is one of the highest railway stations in Europe. Its panoramic windows offer you a stunningly surreal vision of the frozen sea of glaciers.
- Route with Stops: Zermatt, Findelbach, Riffelalp, Riffelboden, Riffelberg, Rotenboden, Gornergrat
- Distance: 9.4 km
- Ride Duration: 33 minutes
Making its way through the heart of skiing country, the Gornergrat Railway is a marvel in itself. With Zermatt as its base station, this 9.4 km journey ascends to the dizzying height of 3,089 meters above sea level to Gornergrat, a feat that has earned it the accolade of being Europe’s highest open-air railway. Unsurprisingly, this is not a route for the faint of heart, but if you can find the courage, you will find one of the most scenic railway trips in Switzerland.
- Gornergrat Summit – The 360° panoramic view showcases 29 peaks of the Swiss Alps, plus one of the world’s highest hotels and observatories.
- The Riffelberg Station – Offers a bird’s eye view of the Gorner Valley, a terrain that seems plucked straight out of a fairy tale, bookended by traditional chalets and soaring pine forests.
The Centovalli Railway
- Route with Stops: Locarno, Centovalli, Santa Maria Maggiore, Valle Vigezzo, Domodossola
- Distance: 52 km
- Ride Duration: 2 hours
The Centovalli Railway journey begins in Locarno, popular for its lakeside setting, and steadily winds its way through the ‘Hundred Valleys’ towards Domodossola in Italy. The journey, largely unchanged since its inception in 1923, is teeming with romantic drama – vertiginous panoramas, deep ravines and colourful villages.
The highest point is reached around Santa Maria Maggiore, at a whopping 830m, before a placid descent towards the final valley.
The train isn’t an exquisite luxury affair, but instead pays homage to the traditional, with a comfortably quaint charm.
- Intragna – This picturesque village is perched on a strategically located hill at the confluence of two rivers, offering panoramic views of the surrounding valleys and mountains.
- Santa Maria Maggiore – Also known as the Painters’ Valley due to its long association with artists and natural beauty, this delightful destination is brimming with quaint houses and lovely squares and is surrounded by a stunning mountainous landscape.
Tip: Even though it’s possible to complete the journey parts by hopping on local trains, stick with the panoramic Centovalli Express for the best scenic experience.
So there we have it. From the picturesque Glacier Express to the dizzying heights of the Gornergrat Railway, these are the most scenic rain rides in Switzerland.
Efficient, comfortable and almost always on time, Swiss trains exist in a world of their own. Planning on travelling to Switzerland soon? Ditch the car and take advantage of the rail system instead. I can’t wait to hear what you think.