7 unique Swiss railway journeys

08/09/2017 16:48

Written by Anthony Lambert

Switzerland is home to some of the best and more impressive railway journeys in the world and, in a country known for its efficiency, travelling round only by public transport is unsurprisingly very simple. Considered by many to have the best national public transport system in the world, Switzerland makes hiring a car an unnecessary burden, since much of its finest scenery is inaccessible by road. But on such an impressive system, route-planning can be a daunting task. Well fear not, whether you’re looking for old-fashioned luxury, to relax on the slowest express train in the world, or a route that includes cheese-tasting and trips to a chocolate factory – there's a Swiss train for you.  

Glacier Express: Zermatt–St Moritz

Glacier Express Switzerland by Alessandro Colle ShutterstockThe Glacier Express is probably the journey not to be missed © Alessandro Colle, Shutterstock

The Glacier Express is the slowest express in the world, averaging 36km/h (22mph), but it is such a remarkably scenic and varied journey that few passengers would want to lose a minute of the 7½-hour trip. It is the most popular of the tourist trains and has become one of the ‘must do’ experiences in Europe. A headphone commentary in six languages is provided, and an at-seat lunch is served in first class.

Gotthard Panorama Express: Luzern–Lugano

St Gotthard Pass Switzerland by Alexander Chaikin ShutterstockThe Gotthard Panorama Express takes you from lake to mountain and back to lake via the spectacular Gotthard Tunnel © Alexander Chaikin, Shutterstock

One of the best-known tourist services, it combines a paddle steamer for the length of Lake Luzern with a reserved first-class coach on the train from Fluelen to Lugano (Locarno can be reached by changing at Bellinzona) via the original Gotthard Tunnel and the route’s spectacular spirals. Lunch can be bought on the steamer as you glide past the famous Rütli Meadow (the founding site of Switzerland) and Schiller monument.

Golden Pass Line: Luzern–Montreux 

Golden Pass Classic train Switzerland by Kabelleger Wikimedia CommonsFor those wanting a more leisurely journey, the summer-only Golden Pass Classic offers a trip redolent of the interwar years © Kabelleger, Wikimedia Commons

One of the main promotions by Switzerland Tourism is the Golden Pass Line linking Lac Leman and central Switzerland. The train operates between Luzern, Interlaken and Montreux and you can take the Panoramic option which has observation cars at each end for an unobstructed view, or the Classic which uses restored 1930s Golden Mountain Pullman Express coaches. 

Bernina Express: Chur/Davos–Tirano 

Bernina Express Switzerland by Sculpies ShutterstockTravel on the Bernina Express in summer and get closer to the mountains sitting in an open carriage © Sculpies, Shutterstock

This train takes in the final part of the Glacier Express route (travelling from Zermatt) and continues over the Bernina Pass, the highest rail crossing of the Alps, to Tirano in Italy. The journey takes 4½ hours, so the return trip can be made in a day with over 2 hours in Tirano for lunch.

Chocolate Train: Montreux–Gruyère–Broc–Montreux

Chocolate Train Montreux Switzerland by Norio Nakayama Wikimedia CommonsThe Chocolate Train is a great day out for families © Norio Nakayama, Wikimedia Commons

Operated by the Montreux–Oberland Bernois Railway (MOB), the Chocolate Train runs from May to September and is a great sightseeing trip. It follows the route from Montreux to the Gruyère region to visit the delightful eponymous town and factories making Cailler chocolate and Gruyère cheese. Travel is in first class ‘Belle Epoque Pullman’ carriages of 1914–15 or in modern panoramic coaches. The package includes coffee and chocolate croissants on the train, bus transfers and a tour of Gruyère castle, as well as the visits to the demonstration cheese dairy and the chocolate factory.

Cheese Train: Montreux–Château d’Oex–Montreux

Cheesemaking Murith family near Gruyere by Andre Meier Switzerland TourismWatch cheese being made with traditional techniques then sample the end product © Andre Meier, Switzerland Tourism

Operated by the Montreux–Oberland Bernois Railway, the Cheese Train uses the MOB’s beautiful Belle Epoque carriages to take passengers to Restaurant Le Chalet in Château d’Oex to watch a  demonstration of wood-fired cheese-making using organic milk, followed by a fondue. The excursion ends with a visit to the Museum of Vieux Pays-d’Enhaut (the name of the region) with paintings, crafts and recreations of old interiors.

Palm Express: St Moritz–Lugano

Malojapass Switzerland by Jimmy Gimlet Wikimedia CommonsConifers give way to deciduous woodland as you travel down the steep bends of the Maloja Pass © Jimmy Gimlet, Wikimedia Commons

Special in that it’s not actually a train but a 4-hour journey covered by postbus. The route goes southwest from St Moritz through the lovely Bregaglia Valley and over the Maloja Pass. Winding down into the Bergeli Valley with its lovely chestnut woods, the bus reaches Italy and the market town of Chiavenna, where a stop is made. The bus follows the shores of Lake Como and then Lake Lugano, completing your journey from icy glacier to palm-lined lake. 


For more train journeys and route ideas, check out our new guide:

Switzerland A guide to exploring the country by public transport by Anthony Lambert  

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