Think of Switzerland and beautiful mountains, stunning lakes and jaw-dropping scenery immediately come to mind. Swiss chalets decorated with bright flowers clustered in quaint villages and towns on valley floors or perched on mountain sides or on the edge of its many lakes.
Over the last 30 years I have lived and worked in Switzerland (in Basel and in a small town on the shores of Lake Geneva) as well as visited numerous time to see family living just outside Zurich.
As someone who loves train travel Switzerland offers so many possibilities on one of the most punctual and well run rail systems in the world. It is also where you will find some of the most beautiful train journeys in the world.
- 8 scenic train routes to take in Switzerland
- Where to book your tickets for Swiss train travel
- Plan your Swiss train travels
8 scenic train routes to take in Switzerland
One of the best experiences in Switzerland is riding the Gornergrat train located in the magical city of Zermatt.
Zermatt is located near the southwestern border of Switzerland close to Italy. Take the Gornergrat train ride for views of the famous Matterhorn.
The Gornergrat Railway in Zermatt is an electric cog railway which opened in 1898. It runs 365 days a year and is one of the most popular things to do in Zermatt.
During the first section of the train ride enjoy views of the town. Towards the end of the journey, you can spot all the skiers and hikers enjoying the stunning mountains (depending on what time of season you go). The station has several stops including Findelbach, Riffelalp, Riffelberg, Rotenboden, and finally Gornergrat.
The train is a great way to start your hiking, mountain biking or skiing adventures as many of the stops are great starting points for adventures.
One of the trains best stations is the last stop: Gornergrat (3,089m). There are 360-degree views of the mountains, and of course Matterhorn. The ride and the final stop are breathtaking, and both are an absolute must for your Switzerland trip.
The Gotthard Panorama Express
The Gotthard Panorama Express is not as well known as the Glacier Express and Bernina Express. Still, it is one of the best scenic journeys that Switzerland has to offer.
The Gotthard Panorama Express is a unique combination of a scenic boat trip from Lucerne to Fuelen and a panoramic train ride from Fuelen to Lugano or Bellinzona.
During the boat trip, you have an opportunity to admire the stunning views of the lake and mountains on its shores. In Fuelen you leave the boat to get on a 1st class panorama train.
As a photographer, I truly appreciate the photo coach of the train with opening windows, which makes it ideal for taking photos. You then continue by train on the famous historic Gotthard route towards southern Switzerland. This section of the Gotthard Panorama Express route runs through the valley of the river Reuss.
In the village of Göschenen the train reaches the entrance of the Gotthard tunnel from the end of the 19th century. There is a light show inside the 15 km long tunnel.
Soon after the tunnel, you find yourself in the canton of Ticino with Italian language and culture. At the terminal destination of the train Lugano in the south of Ticino, you can change for Milan, continue on the Bernina Express or stay and enjoy the wonderful area of Lugano.
The total length of the route is about 180 kilometres divided between the boat and the train. The total duration of the journey is almost 5 hours. Gotthard Panorama Express operates from late April to late October excluding Mondays, so check the actual operating dates before planning your trip.
Brienz Rathorn Bahn
One of the most scenic train journeys that I have enjoyed in Switzerland is the Brienz Rothorn Bahn steam train ride. Starting in the small town of Brienz on Lake Brienz, the steam train winds its way up the Rothorn mountain to a height of 2266 metres above sea level, from where you are rewarded with incredible views.
It is said that on a clear day you can count 693 mountain peaks on the horizon, many of them snow-capped, even in summer.Far below, the turquoise waters of Lake Brienz sparkle and cows graze on the lush green hillside pastures.
At the summit, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy hikes of all levels and a restaurant serves up traditional local fare. There’s also a hotel for guests that would like to spend the night.
Operating since 1892, the Brienz Rothorn train’s engine will have you reminiscing about days gone by as puffs of smoke waft past as you climb higher and higher. The traditional-style carriages have large panoramic windows that can be fully opened to allow you to breathe in the fresh alpine air (or steam!) and take plenty of photos.
Brienz is situated 22 kilometres from Interlaken and can be easily reached by either car, train or on a lake cruise. The Brienz Rothorn Bahn operates daily from 1 June until 20 October and the journey takes around one hour each way.
The Schynige Platte Railway
A trip back in time as well as a trip through some of Switzerland’s most stunning scenery, the historic Schynige Platte cogwheel railway recently celebrated its 125th birthday.
It opened back in 1893 and is one of the oldest railways in the area. But it’s looking great for its age – the original rails and some of the historic carriages and engines dating back a hundred years are still in action, and have been carefully preserved and maintained.
The train still pushes the carriages uphill rather than pulling them, as it would’ve done at the time, and all the track switches are operated by hand.
The journey up to Schynige Platte starts from Wilderswil, just outside of Interlaken. The trip to the top takes around 50 minutes, and it’s a leisurely, sedate journey. So there’s plenty of time to soak up the views as the train zig-zags its way up to an altitude of 1967 metres above sea level through forests and Alpine meadows. Try to get a seat on the right side of the train on your way up for the best views.
At the top there’s a Botanical Alpine Garden, a restaurant and hotel, and miles of hiking routes which fan out into the surrounding mountains. But it’s the breathtaking views that make this journey well worth the trip.
In one direction are the famous high peaks of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. And in the other are the lakes of Thun and Brienz.
by On The Luce
Locations of the Swiss Scenic Train Trips
Rigi Kulm is one of the shorter scenic train trips in Switzerland, but that does not take away from the reasons you should take it! If you do not have time for a longer journey (or even if you do) adding Rigi Kulm into one of your days trips is highly recommended.
The Vitznau to Rigi Kulm route opened in 1871 and was Europe’s first mountain railway! The most common way to start the Rigi Kulm journey is from Lucerne or Arth-Goldeau and you can even start from one and finish at the other since the train trip up Rigi Kulm is up and then back down. Since Vitznau station is right at Lake Lucerne you can easily add a boat trip to your day as well!
One of the reasons you should take the Rigi Kulm train besides the amazing 360 degree views from the top is the experience a cog-wheel train going straight up a steep mountain!
These trains also have open windows so you can experience the scenery (and the train) with no glass in between you! If you are interested in hiking, there are lots of hiking trails in the area, as well as stops on your way up the mountain if you only want to hike part way!
A the top there is a short panoramic trail, a restaurant and washrooms.
The Glacier Express is probably the most famous and touristic train ride of the country – and honestly super beautiful. I grew up in Switzerland and did the ride for the first time after 23 years – and was not disappointed!
During the ride from Zermatt to St.Moritz, which are both super beautiful too, you pass through incredible landscapes, see beautiful mountains and just have a great time. Depending on the time of the year, the landscapes are different but always a joy to see.
The ride takes around 8 hours and you can choose between two classes (first & second class). Both of them have panorama windows, which makes the views even better. The difference is, that in first class you’ll have more space.
It is also possible to order food (there is a cook on-board) and various drinks to make your trip more pleasant. As the ride is super long and the food a bit expensive (welcome to Switzerland) I brought my own food from a supermarket.
Another option for the Glacier Express is to leave the train at one of the stations during the trip – which includes several lovely destinations and might be a great idea depending on your itinerary.
In my opinion, the Glacier Express is a great way to connect the canton of Valais (Wallis) in Zermatt with Graubünden (St.Moritz), which are both extremely beautiful.
Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen
When you’re planning a trip to Switzerland you’ve got to save time to experience some of the country’s most beautiful train rides. One of the most scenic rides in Switzerland is the ride from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen via the Berner Oberland-Bahn.
Better yet, this is one of the cheapest scenic train trips in Switzerland, costing less than 4 Swiss franc for the trip (or free on a Swiss Travel Pass or Eurail pass). There are both first and second class options for the train, but all have the same beautiful views.
Only taking about 20 minutes, this ride from the gorgeous city of Interlaken with its twin lakes Brienz and Thun to the picturesque village of Lauterbrunnen is one of Switzerland’s most beautiful.
You’ll pass a few other small stations, such as the Winderswil stop where you can break the journey to take the even more scenic Schynige Platte train.
All along, you’ll be surrounded by the Jungfrau mountains, passing green pastures and trees as you make your way towards Lauterbrunnen Valley with its 72 waterfalls.
The final portion of the train is the most picturesque, as the train tracks meet up with and go alongside a gorgeously flowing glacier-fed river. As you step out at Lauterbrunnen, you’re just a few minutes’ walk from getting to see one of Lauterbrunnen town’s two waterfalls.
To further continue the beauty, you can visit Mürren via the cable car to Winteregg.
The Bernina Express
This is one of my favourite Swiss train journeys and one that actually starts (or ends depending on your direction) in the Italian town of Tirano.
This journey also takes you along the World Heritage Site known as the Rhaetian Ralway in the Albula/Bernina Landscapes.
The journey from Tirano in Italy to Chur in Switzerland takes 4 hours and during that time you cover 144 km through 55 tunnels and 196 bridges.
This Swiss rail journey also includes traveling along the famous Landwasser Viaduct which is an incredible feat of engineering. This is one of the most famous sights along the way and has everyone scrambling to get that perfect shot.
Travel in summer to enjoy the green valleys and summer sunshine or during the winter months for beautiful snow covered scenery. Whichever time of year you choose this trip deserves its reputation of one of the most scenic rail journeys anywhere in the world.
Learn more – A train ride on the famous Bernina Express
Where to book your tickets for Swiss train travel
If you live outside of Europe you can find out more about the various tickets and passes available from Eurail.
It can be very complex working out which is the best pass for Switzerland and other European train networks so it is good to use the guides on the Eurail site to help work out which is the most cost effective for your needs.
Plan your Swiss train travels
With all these wonderful train journeys to choose from in Switzerland the hardest decision will be deciding which ones to include in your Swiss travel itinerary.
If you are planning to visit Switzerland or simply want to know more about this beautiful country my Swiss travel guide is a great place to start. For more travel inspiration my Swiss bucket list details 23 must visit places in Switzerland.