Traveling by train in Switzerland is efficient, comfortable, and quiet. Switzerland's travel system is well coordinated with train, boat, bus, tram, and cable car schedules carefully aligned to minimize waiting between connections. I’ve traveled in Switzerland extensively, and I can honestly say that there are few places you can’t get to on public transportation.
One of the big reasons we go to Switzerland is to admire the spectacular scenery, and train travel allows us to keep our eyes on the views instead of the road. I also like to get up, walk around, and stretch my legs; and dining on a train just feels special. I don’t fully understand why, but train travel brings out the awestruck kid in me, and that makes a Swiss Travel Pass worth every penny. Here are my top train excursions, in no particular order. Do one, or do them all - you won’t be disappointed.
While nearly any train trip in Switzerland is scenic, the Bernina Express is my favorite. Maybe it’s because it was my first scenic train ride in Switzerland, but I love this glaciers-to-palm-trees ride from Chur or St. Moritz to Tirano, Italy. In between, it crosses the Solis Viaduct and traverses the wildly scenic Albula Valley. Near Filisur, it crosses the towering Landwasser Viaduct and then hurtles over the pass at Ospizio Bernina along the Lago Bianco reservoir. Heading down into Italy, it runs through circular tunnels and the grand loop of the awe-inspiring engineering of the Brusio spiral viaduct. Have lunch in Tirano and return when you’re ready. It’s an equally beautiful trip in reverse.
It can be reasonably argued that the Glacier Express is one of the most beautiful train trips in the world. The Glacier Express has been called “the slowest express train in the world:” It takes eight hours to cross Switzerland between Zermatt in the west and St. Moritz in the east through 91 tunnels and over 291 bridges. Highlights include passing through the “Swiss Grand Canyon” and across the Oberalp Pass. While there’s really not a bad seat on this train, Excellence Class, a new luxury car and service, features all window seats and special treatment, from gourmet meals and drinks to a personal guide to answer questions and point out landmarks. On many people’s bucket lists, The Glacier Express will knock your socks off.
Part of the Gotthard Panorama Express is actually done by boat. From Lucerne, board a boat for the two-and-a-half-hour trip to Flüelen across sparkling Lake Lucerne. There, take the Gotthard Panorama Express train on your way to Lugano in the Ticino region in Switzerland’s sunny, Italian south. Along the way, the train’s path is so steep that it must gain elevation by loops, allowing views of the beautiful church at Wassern three times as the train climbs in circles around it. You’ll pass through the original Gotthard Tunnel and looped tunnels at Airolo before you descend into a valley featuring more and more palm trees as you head south. Don’t miss a stop in Bellinzona, which I count as one of my favorite Swiss towns, for tours of the castles and a hike over the Tibetan Bridge.
The GoldenPass rail line is celebrated as a bridge between the German-speaking and French-speaking parts of Switzerland with its terminuses at Montreux and Zweisimmen. As you leave German-speaking Switzerland, the train crosses the “Rösti Ditch,” a reference to the Swiss German potato dish, after which the language and food take a decidedly French turn. Regardless of the language and food, the people are all proudly and resolutely Swiss. You have the choice of two types of train cars for your journey, a modern panoramic train or "Belle Époque" carriages which give the feel of classic train journeys of long ago.
If any journey is as important as the destination, it’s this one. Getting between these two travel hubs is an attraction in and of itself. In just under two hours, you’ll be treated to crystal lakes, bucolic rural scenes, and grand mountain backdrops fit for a movie set. As it approaches Brünig Pass, the train switches to a cogwheel drive to tackle the steep ascent. If you’re headed to or coming from Montreux, this train can be connected with the GoldenPass Panoramic train to complete your journey.
Departing from Montreux, the Chocolate Train takes its time, wending its way through fairytale valleys and across fertile farmland. With its “Belle Époque”-Pullman 1915 vintage cars, you’ll ride in classic velvet seats with wood-trimmed interiors. The first stop is Gruyères, home of the world-famous cheese, where you can tour La Maison du Gruyère, a cooperative dairy of local farmers, to see how it’s made. I recommend a fondue lunch here before you board the bus to nearby Broc to tour the Maison Cailler chocolate factory. It’s a full day of historic train cars, fabulous food, and scenic beauty. The train runs daily June-August and on Tuesdays and Thursdays in May and September.
In the heart of the Emmental valley, you’ll find the Kambly Experience in Trubschachen. More than just a showroom for the Kambly cookie factory, it’s also an opportunity to learn how Kambly sources its ingredients from local farms, and to sample and buy over 100 cookie varieties. Tours and baking classes are available, too. Bring your e-bike on the train, download the Kambly Tour App, and spend 2 ½ hours learning about the history, culture, and agriculture of the surrounding region. Currently, the train runs Tuesdays-Sundays.
The Jungfraujoch, known as the “Top of Europe,” sports the highest railway station in Europe. The full train journey begins in Interlaken, passing through either Lauterbrünnen and Wengen or Grindelwald. From either direction, once at the Kleine Scheidegg station, you’ll board the Jungfrau Railway, and pass through 4½ miles of tunnels bored through the solid rock of the Eiger and Mönch to the Jungfraujoch Mountain Station, which sits in a saddle between the Mönch and Jungfrau peaks. This is a land of eternal ice and snow, with 360-degree views that include the Aletsch Glacier, the longest in the Alps, as well as much of Switzerland and beyond. Be aware that this is an extremely popular destination and can be quite crowded, but it’s also an unforgettable experience.
While you have the option of taking the Dragon Ride aerial cableway up the Lucerne side of Mount Pilatus, train lovers will appreciate taking the “slow way” up. With a maximum 48% grade, this is the world’s steepest cogwheel railway. Running only in the summer, the train from Alpnachstad rises through evergreen forests, revealing stunning views of the region around Lake Lucerne, bit by enticing bit, before arriving at the rocky top of Pilatus. A hike leads to the tip-top of the Tomlishorn, Pilatus’ highest peak, in 30-40 minutes. A cozy restaurant offers tasty Swiss fare, and I recommend hanging around until the last train down so you can see the magnificent sunset and nighttime views of twinkling lights below.
Zermatt has no shortage of summer or winter activities, but one you shouldn’t miss is the 35-minute ride on the Gornergratbahn up to the Gornergrat mountain station. The station sits at over 10,000 ft in elevation but is surrounded by 29 peaks over 13,000 ft. Gawk at the view, have some lunch in the restaurant, and hike down to the ever-Instagrammable glacial waters of the Riffelsee, where the Matterhorn is duplicated on the lake’s mirror surface. There are plenty of other hiking opportunities in the area, including a “Meet the Sheep” hike, where you can make friends with the local Valais Blacknose Sheep that graze the high alpine meadows in summer.
The Rigi Mountain Railway is the oldest cogwheel train in Europe, starting service in 1871 to bring guests up to Rigi Kulm from either Vitznau or Goldau. With new cars in 2022, the railway now uses energy generated from braking on downhill runs to supply electricity back into the system for uphill trains. At nearly 6000 ft in elevation, Rigi Kulm offers 360-degree views and hiking trails galore, and don’t miss a fondue lunch at Restaurant Lok 7, or a stay at Rigi Kaltbad Hotel and Spa with its indoor and outdoor hot pools-with-a-view. Insider tip: Bring a picnic lunch, get off the train at the Kaltbad Hotel, then walk past the hotel down to a park under the cable car route from Weggis for a picnic with stunning views of Lake Lucerne below. You’ll find tables, firepits, and chopped wood to build a fire for sausage roasting.
Brienz Rothorn Bahn Steam Train
These old-style, open-air coaches are pushed up to the Brienzer Rothorn by a small steam engine. It’s operated this way since 1892, so be prepared to travel back in time with the smell of conifer forests and the sound of the steam engine puffing its way up the steep ascent. The train operates from June to October and when I visited in September, there was a misty chill in the air. I was only able to shake it off after a hearty lunch of soup made from locally-gathered mushrooms and cream from the cows grazing nearby at the Berghaus Planalp, which is a short walk from a station midway up. Bring a sweater for the cool breezes and a camera for the views. Insider tip: Come on your birthday and the ride is free!
This hour-long train excursion is an easy way for those visiting the Lavaux wine region along Lake Geneva to get incredible views of the alps without traveling too far. Catching the train in Montreux, it chugs along the lake at the start before slowly gaining elevation through forests and countryside on its way up to the Rochers de Naye peak. There, views of the Swiss and French Alps, from the Eiger to Mt. Blanc and down to Lake Geneva, await. Up top, there’s plenty of hiking as well as La Rambertia Alpine Garden, with over 1000 species of alpine plants to explore. During the month of December, kids can visit with Father Christmas.
With so many enticing activities available in the Interlaken region, Schynige Platte often gets overlooked. However, a trip here affords not only views of the entire area but also hiking across windswept ridges and open meadows teeming with alpine flowers. It also boasts a hotel and restaurant with daily alphorn concerts in the open air. Board the train at Wilderswil for an hour-long ride on vintage cars. Pay attention, especially as you near the end of the trip, when the peaks of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau come into view around the final turn. For the truly hardy, use Schynige Platte as a jumping-off point for the longer day- or overnight treks to Grindelwald-First with stops in mountain huts along the way.
This train is actually a funicular: a pair of train cars connected to a cable that runs through a pulley at the top of the tracks. The cars are counterbalanced and move synchronously; when one car is moving up, the other is moving down. This is an alternative to cogwheel railways and particularly useful on steep inclines, like the ride up to Harder Kulm. Known as the Top of Interlaken, Harder Kulm is a high point that looks out over the town and its two lakes, Brienz and Thun, with a perfect view of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau in the distance. I like to come here after a long day of canyoning or rafting to have a traditional Swiss meal on the outdoor patio and watch the sunset over the magnificent scenery.
Are you dreaming of taking your own dream Swiss train trip? Contact me for train tours with my trusted partners on the ground in Switzerland. They've curated trips that include many of the experiences I've had on our TV shows that you can do on either a fully-guided or self-guided tour.
With so many amazing train rides in Switzerland, this list is inevitably too short. You simply can’t go wrong, whether you’re on one of the panoramic trains or a local commuter. What did we miss? What are your favorite train rides in Switzerland or anywhere else in the world, for that matter? Let us know in the comments below and subscribe so you don’t miss any of our lists of top travel tips!