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Best panoramic trains from Zurich

The beauty of the Swiss mountains and valleys is one of the most sought-after tourist attractions in Europe. One of the best ways to appreciate it is through a train trip.

Ana Caballero

Ana Caballero

11 min read

Best panoramic trains from Zurich

Steam train in the Upper Rhone Valley | © Erich Westendarp

Zurich is a city full of activities and tourist attractions. In addition, its location makes it the perfect destination from which to connect with other cities, thanks to the excellent and modern Swiss rail service.

So I recommend that to admire the beauty of this region consider taking a ride on a scenic train. Thanks to these routes you will be able to enjoy the beautiful mountain scenery that surrounds this Swiss city.

1. Rack railway excursion through the villages of Bern

Eiger Trail in the Alps| ©Julita
Eiger Trail in the Alps| ©Julita

This tour will allow you to easily connect the city of Zurich and the Bernese Oberland. It is the most comfortable way to experience a scenic train if you are staying in the Swiss capital.

This tour starts with a bus that will take you from the parking lot of the Sihlquai bus terminal. The bus will drop you off at Interlarken station where the train adventure through the epic Swiss mountains begins.

One of the wonders of this trip is that you will be able to appreciate the altitude that these trains reach while admiring the beautiful scenery of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountain range.

An advantage of this tour is that you will have the help of a guide who will explain throughout the trip any questions you have about the geography, the history of the train and all the beauty you see during the ride.

Useful information

  • Duration: The tour has a total duration of 12 hours
  • Price: 296 euros approximately

2. The Glacier Express

Glacier Express| ©BazzaBoy
Glacier Express| ©BazzaBoy

The Glacier Express is considered one of the most beautiful train rides in the world. Inaugurated in 1930, its terminus are two ski resorts: Sankt Moritz and Zermatt, and its route runs through the center and valleys of the Swiss Alps, passing through important ski resorts such as Chur, Distentis, Andermatt and Oberwald.

Although the route is 291 km long, the entire Glacier Express journey takes approximately 8 hours. This is why it is often called "the slowest express train in the world".

This train is a good example that there are things in life that are more enjoyable when going slowly, since its speed allows you to rest and admire the scenery.

If 8 hours on a train seems too long for you, you can choose to take intermediate routes. If you look at the schedules of the different trains, you can choose the shortest option to travel on this train. This way you can tailor the ride of this scenic train according to your schedule

One of the main attractions of this tour is how the train makes its way through the intricate geography of the Alps. The Glacier Express travels over almost 300 bridges, from which you can appreciate the beauty of the Swiss mountains and valleys.

In addition, you can contemplate engineering works such as the 91 tunnels that cross the mountains. The most important of these is the Furka, which is more than 15 kilometers long.

Comfort

The train has large windows, comfortable seats and an extensive menu to taste the exquisite Swiss cuisine. In addition, if you wish, you can listen to the audio guides available in more than 6 languages, including Spanish, with headphones throughout the trip. This will help you learn curious facts about the places you visit, as well as the history of the train and each town you visit.

Due to the length of the tour, there are only 4 daily departures, of which only 2 make the complete tour. Because of this I recommend that you take this into account when booking the train. Remember that in addition to your ticket, this train requires you to reserve your seat and this can be done up to 90 days in advance.

What you will see during this tour

One of the most interesting attractions is how the builders of the Swiss railroads managed to make large extensions of tunnels to pass through the middle of the Alps. The most famous is the Furka Pass, built in 1982, which allows the train to run 365 days a year. In the past, snow prevented this section from being used during the winter.

But also the bridges have a great role: the most famous is the Landwasser viaduct that passes over the river of the same name. As you cross the river, the curvature of the viaduct will allow you to observe the entire length of the train. I recommend that you find a spot near the ends of the train to better appreciate this.

If you decide to make the full journey, then you can observe the beauty of the Matterhorn in Zermatt, which you can easily identify, as it has a shape similar to a shark's fin.

How to get there from Zurich

Although the closest option of the Glacier Express with the city of Zurich is the train station of Chur, I recommend that to enjoy a unique landscape you make the full journey between Zermatt and St. Moritz. For this, the ideal would be to go to any of the headwaters to start the trip.

Although there are tours that offer this option, the most recommended way to get to any of the Glacier Express headwaters is using the train. For this I suggest that you arrive a day before the tour, since it is not convenient to go with too little time.

Also, remember that almost all trains leave in the morning between 8 and 10 am, so it is advisable to sleep at any of the terminals, either to leave or to return.

In case you do not want to do the whole route, you can take an intercity train from Zurich to Chur, and from this station get on the Glacier Express in the direction you want.

  • From Zurich to Zermatt: The most comfortable way is to take an intercity train from Zurich to Visp station, where you can connect Visp with Zermatt thanks to the regional train. Once in Zermatt you can take the Glacier Express from platform 4 of the station.
  • From Zurich to St. Moritz: First take the intercity train to Landquart station. Then you can connect with the regional train to St Moritz. In St Moritz you can board the Glacier Exress from platform number 3.

Book a day trip in the Alps from Zurich

3. Bernina Route (Coira - Tirano)

Bernina Express| ©Andreas Stutz
Bernina Express| ©Andreas Stutz

This scenic train ride is one of the most beautiful in Europe and is ideal for connecting Switzerland with northern Italy. It departs from Coira station and arrives at the Italian station of Tirano.

One of the main attractions of this route is that in its modest 129 km route it climbs up to 2,500 meters above sea level. These ascents and descents make the route full of emotions.

Not only can you drive through 55 tunnels and over 195 bridges, but you can also enjoy the beautiful scenery of the central Alps. In addition to being one of the most important tourist attractions in Switzerland, since 2006 the Bernina Express is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site

If you want to go and return from Zurich you will have to clear all the plans for that day, as this route may take you the whole day. In general, it will take you between 9 and 10 hours to do the whole trip, because the one-way trip will take you about 4 to 5 hours. I recommend that you take advantage of the trip to rest in Tirano and visit this beautiful Italian town in the Lombardy region.

Although it may depend on the category or value of the chosen ticket, the train has many amenities, such as spacious seats, large windows to observe the scenery and audio guides in different languages.

It is important to note that this train does not have a restaurant car. Although there is a mini-bar on board to buy snacks, treats and drinks, I suggest you think about having lunch when you arrive in Tirano.

What you will see during this tour

This route features the possibility of riding along a work of railway engineering: the Brusio spiral viaduct. At the time of building this route, an attempt was made to alter the natural environment as little as possible. For this reason, you will not see any tunnels around Brusio. This viaduct was created to solve a miscalculation in the slope projection.

On this trip you will also be able to observe the Bernina massif from the Montebello curve. Another natural attraction is the Morteratsch glacier. Also the three lakes Lej Pitscheny Lago Bianco.

How to get there from Zurich

This route is traveled by 2 different types of trains: the classic regional train and the Bernina Express panoramic train. The latter cannot be taken directly from Zurich. To do so, you must take an intercity train to Chur station, where you can board the Brenina Express to Tirano.

The panoramic train on this route is an excellent option for its large windows, comfortable seats, minibar and audio guides in different languages.

But if you have little time or want to take only one train from Zurich to Tirano, you can take the Regional train directly. This has the advantage of having more frequencies and running directly, so you will make the journey faster. Its disadvantage is that it does not have the wide windows like the panoramic train and usually has a higher price if not booked in advance.

4. Golden Pass

Interlaken Lake| ©Tucker Monticelli
Interlaken Lake| ©Tucker Monticelli

One of the best options if you are going to be in Switzerland for a short time and want to see the best scenery in the Alps. Zurich is a great option to make 1 day tours and see the most beautiful places in Switzerland. I recommend that to start this tour, if you are staying in this city or its surroundings, take any train that takes you to Lucerne.

The Golden Pass makes the journey Lucerne - Montreaux in about 5 hours and a half, so if you decide to do it from Zurich you will be about 12 hours inside several trains. To get from Zurich you have different options: take a train to Lucerne station or a bus from the Zurich bus terminal to Lucerne. I recommend the train option, as it is the most direct and fastest.

The scenic route is divided into 3 different sections.

  • Interlaken
  • Zweisimmen
  • Montreux

Keep in mind that if you want to do the whole tour you will have to get off the train 2 times to board the next one. Each section is amazing, so here are the main attractions of each one and their main features

Section 1: Lucerne to Interlaken Ost

This section can also be found as "Luzern-Interlaken Express". The distance between Lucerne and Interlaken is about 100 kilometers and the express covers it in one hour and 50 minutes. As you may have noticed, this train does not stand out for its speed, as it uses a perfect pace to be able to admire the beautiful scenery in detail.

This is because in this section you will be able to admire Lake Lucerne, the Sarnen and the Lungern. I recommend that when you book seats on this section, choose the seats on the right, because you will have the possibility to observe the lakes and how they reflect the mountains.

Once past the lakes, the train ascends to 1059 meters above sea level to cross the Bruning Pass. After this incredible ascent, you will start descending through the valley until you reach Meiringen. After crossing the beautiful Hasli Valley you will be able to admire the imposing Lake Brienz.

Section 2: Interlaken Ost to Zweisimmen

Interlarken is considered the Golden Pass gateway to the Jungfrau region. If you have time, this region is ideal to visit at any time of the year. It has multiple ski slopes with a length between 12 and 14 km and of which 40% can produce artificial snow.

In summer you can enjoy more than 500 km of marked trails for hiking and trekking, either to visit the lakes or to climb the most famous mountains such as the Eiger, the Mönch and the Jungfrau.

When you continue the road to Zweisimmen you can observe the beauty of the city of Spiez, and the panoramic view offered by the famous Lake Thun. Also if you pay attention you can admire the particular shape of Mount Niesen.

Section 3: Zweisimmen to Montreux

This last part of the journey, besides being the section where you leave German Switzerland to enter the Romandy or French Switzerland, you will find the highest point of this line: the city of Gstaad.

When you book the tickets for this journey you can choose between Golden Pass Classic and Golden Pass Panoramic. The former is a train with "belle epoque" carriages. These have all the luxuries of the Orient Express cars, so getting on them will be like traveling back in time. I recommend that you reserve these seats early, because they tend to sell out quickly

The Golden Pass Panoramic in this section is also a unique experience, as these modern units have large windows, plenty of space and all the amenities. But some of these formations have something unique, the possibility of investing a few extra euros to reserve "luxurious VIP seats" in the first car. Here the experience becomes unique, as you will feel like you are driving the train formation.

Extra: The Chocolate Train

Chocolate train at the station| ©Paula Funnell
Chocolate train at the station| ©Paula Funnell

If you chose to travel between May and September, you can experience this delicious ride. This section allows you to travel between Montreaux and Montbovon while tasting the best chocolates and cheeses of the region.

If you have a sweet tooth, this train will take you to the Nestlé factory in Broc. An added attraction is that you can ride the historic Belle Epoque trains while pretending to be in a 1915 first-class carriage.

What is the best time to take a scenic train?

Snowy train station in the Alps| ©Tambako the Jaguar
Snowy train station in the Alps| ©Tambako the Jaguar

One of the advantages of scenic trains is that there is no one time of the year better than another, as each station has a unique beauty. They are all very modern and have all the comforts for any kind of temperature. In addition, the routes are designed to run in any type of weather, whether it is fog, snow or rain.

In spring and summer the weather is ideal to admire the beauty and splendor of nature. In addition, if you wish to get off the train at any of the stations, Switzerland offers many trekking activities where you can admire the beauty of lakes and mountains. In addition, Zurich also offers many excellent options in summer to complement the trip.

In autumn and summer, the scenic trains are the perfect place to admire how the snow enhances the beauty of the region: Not only will you see the traditional Swiss alpine houses with their snowy roofs, but also the forests and snow-filled mountain slopes.

In addition, most of these trains arrive at major ski resorts, so you will have the option to ski or snowboard on more than one occasion. I recommend you not to miss the opportunity to visit Zurich in winter because it is a place full of activities and options to make the most of your vacation.