Best panoramic trains from Zurich

The beauty of Switzerland's mountains and valleys is one of Europe's most sought-after tourist attractions. One of the best ways to appreciate it is by train.

Ana Caballero

Ana Caballero

10 min read

Best panoramic trains from Zurich

Steam train in the Upper Rhône Valley | © Erich Westendarp

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

That's why I recommend that to admire the beauty of this region you 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 Bern's villages

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 car park of the Sihlquai bus terminal. The bus will drop you off at Interlarken station where your 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 ranges.

A bonus of this tour is that you will be accompanied by a guide who will explain any questions you may have about the geography, the history of the train and all the beauty you see during the ride.

Useful facts

  • 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, it is based at two ski resorts, Sankt Moritz and Zermatt, and runs through the centre and valleys of the Swiss Alps, passing through major ski resorts such as Chur, Distentis, Andermatt and Oberwald.

Although the route is 291 km long, the Glacier Express takes approximately 8 hours to complete. This is why it is often referred to as "the world's slowest express train".

This train is a good example that there are things in life that are best enjoyed at a slower pace, as its speed allows you to rest and admire the scenery.

If 8 hours on a train seems like a long time, you can choose to take intermediate journeys. If you look at the timetables of the different trains, you can choose the shortest option to travel on this train. This way you can tailor the scenic train ride to suit your schedule

One of the main attractions of this journey is how the train winds 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.

You can also see engineering feats such as the 91 tunnels that criss-cross the mountains. The most important of these is the Furka, which is more than 15 kilometres long.


The train has large windows, comfortable seats and an extensive menu of delicious 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 journey. This will help you learn interesting facts about the places you visit, as well as the history of the train and each village you visit.

Due to the length of the journey, there are only 4 daily departures, of which only 2 make the full journey. 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'll see on the train

One of the most interesting sights is how the Swiss railway builders managed to make vast expanses 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 running in winter.

The most famous is the Landwasser Viaduct, which spans the Landwasser River. As you cross the river, the curvature of the viaduct allows you to see the full 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 to the city of Zurich is the train station in Chur, I recommend that to enjoy the unique scenery you make the full journey between Zermatt and St. Moritz. To do this, you should ideally head to any of the head stations to begin your journey.

Although there are tours that offer this option, the most recommended way to get to any of the Glacier Express head stations is by train. To do so, I suggest you arrive a day before the tour, as you don't want to be too short on 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.

If you don't want to make the full journey, you can take an intercity train from Zurich to Chur, and from there hop on the Glacier Express in the direction you want to go.

  • From Zurich to Zermatt: The most convenient way is to take an intercity train from Zurich to Visp station, where you can connect Visp with Zermatt by 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 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 journey 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 it climbs up to 2,500 metres above sea level on its modest 129km route. These ascents and descents make for an exciting ride.

Not only can you drive through 55 tunnels and over 195 bridges, but you can also enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Central Alps. As well as being one of Switzerland's most important tourist attractions, the Bernina Express has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2006.

If you want to travel to and from Zurich, you'll need to clear all your plans for the day, as the journey may take all day. Generally, it will take you between 9 and 10 hours to do the whole trip, because the outward journey 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 region of Lombardy.

Although it may depend on the category or value of the ticket chosen, the train has many amenities, such as spacious seats, large windows to watch 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 frigobar on board to buy snacks, sweets and drinks, I suggest you think about having lunch when you get to Tirano.

What you will see during this route

This route offers the possibility of travelling along a work of railway engineering: the Brusio spiral viaduct. When this route was built, an attempt was made to alter the natural environment as little as possible. Therefore, you will not see any tunnels around Brusio. This viaduct was created to solve a miscalculation in the slope projection.

On this trip you can also see the Bernina massif from the Montebello curve. Another natural attraction is the Morteratsch glacier. Also the three lakes Lej Pitschen and Lago Bianco.

How to get here from Zurich

This route is served by 2 different types of trains: the classic regional train and the Bernina Express scenic train. The latter cannot be taken directly from Zurich. To do so, you'll have to 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're short on time or want to take a single train from Zurich to Tirano, you can take the Regional train directly. This has the advantage of being more frequent and running directly, so you'll make the journey faster. Its disadvantage is that it doesn't have the wide windows like the scenic train and tends to be more expensive if not booked in advance.

4. Golden Pass

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

One of the best options if you're only in Switzerland for a short time and want to see the best scenery in the Alps. Zurich is a great option for 1-day tours to see the most beautiful places in Switzerland. If you're staying in or around Zurich, I recommend you take any train that takes you to Lucerne to start your tour.

The Golden Pass makes the Lucerne - Montreaux journey in about 5.5 hours, so if you decide to do it from Zurich, you'll spend about 12 hours on various trains. To get there 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

Please note that if you want to do the whole route you will have to get off the train twice to get on the next one. Each section is amazing, so here are the main attractions in each section 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 kilometres and the express covers it in one hour and 50 minutes. As you may have noticed, this train is not noted 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, you choose the seats on the right hand side, as you will have the chance to see the lakes and how they reflect the mountains.

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

Section 2: Interlaken Ost to Zweisimmen

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

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

When you continue your way to Zweisimmen you can admire the beauty of the town of Spiez, and the panoramic view of the famous Lake Thun. Also if you pay attention you will be able to admire the particular shape of the Niesen mountain.

Section 3: Zweisimmen to Montreux

This last part of the journey, as well as being the section where you leave German-speaking Switzerland and enter French-speaking Switzerland, is the highest point on the line: the town of Gstaad.

When you book your 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 carriages, so getting on them will be like travelling back in time. I recommend that you book these seats early, as 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 comforts. But some of these trains have something unique, the possibility of investing a few extra euros to reserve "luxury VIP seats" in the first carriage. 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 journey. 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 as if you were in a 1915 first class carriage.

What's 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 year that is better than another, as each station has its own unique beauty. They are all very modern and have all the comforts for any kind of temperature. Moreover, the routes are designed to run in all kinds of weather, whether it is fog, snow or rain.

In spring and summer the weather is ideal for admiring the beauty and splendour of nature. In addition, if you want to get off the train at one of the stations, Switzerland offers many trekking activities where you can admire the beauty of lakes and mountains. Zurich also offers many excellent summer options to complement your 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-covered mountain slopes.

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 that you don't miss the opportunity to visit Zurich in winter because it is a place full of activities and options to enjoy your holidays to the fullest.