If you’re thinking of sampling the awe-inspiring vistas of Switzerland, train travel is an excellent way to go. Not only because of the country’s picture-postcard beauty, but also because Swiss trains run like clockwork, seriously.
Seeing Switzerland by train, trundling along at a more leisurely pace, you can sit back and enjoy the breathtaking views. From mountains, lakes, and valleys to brief glimpses of daily Swiss life, taking a train is definitely the way to go. And trying to figure out how they managed to lay all the rail tracks, often in precarious locations is a fun game to play as you traverse the country.
The most convenient place to begin your days of scenic Swiss rail adventures is to start in one of the big cities which often have larger airports. Zurich or Geneva are great places to start. And below, you will find some of the best interrailing routes in Switzerland according to our team of experts!
Note: Don’t forget to get your Swiss Travel Pass, which makes train travel in Switzerland affordable and a breeze!
Connecting Lucerne with Montreux on Lake Geneva, the GoldenPass Line is one of the most scenic routes in Switzerland. It covers the highlights of the country, which can be viewed from the train panoramic windows. With great lakes, expansive plains, ethereal mountain ranges, wine estates, and quaint villages, it’s easy to fall in love with the beautiful views. This particular journey traverses three mountain passes and two language regions – the German and French speaking parts of Switzerland. And, as an added bonus, this line is also one of the most cost-efficient and easily accessed scenic rail routes around.
The train ride from Lucerne to Montreux, along Lake Geneva, is among Europe’s best. Although it is predominantly a commuter train, there is little chance you will complain about the punctuality or cleanliness of Swiss trains. If you are after the full tourist experience, you can also hop aboard one of the daily panoramic trains.
On the way, you will pass through the lakeside town of Interlaken, which makes for an ideal stopover. You can have a quick ferry trip on the unspoiled lake Thun, or Brienz, which is contained in some rail passes at no extra cost, or enjoy the stunning mountains just beyond the town itself.
If you do stop in Interlaken, it is certainly a good idea to visit both the Jungfraujoch and the valley of Lauterbrunnen.
Although they are probably not included in your Interrail pass, Lauterbrunnen is quite a cheap destnation by Swiss standards. There Lauterbrunnen, you can explore the quiet city and enjoy a hike in the woods. The valley is a famous base-jumping spot, so there’s a good chance you’ll see some wingsuit-clad adrenaline junkie whizzing by as you enjoy your day in the mountains!
Note: Be sure not to miss the GoldenPass Classic rail car between the towns Zweisimmen and Montreux.
Interlaken also brings you very close to one of the highlights of any trip to Switzerland – the Jungfraujoch. It is the highest railway station in all of Europe, and precariously perched between two of the highest peaks in the region. This particular route takes you from the city of Interlaken all the way to 11,000 feet above sea level. All trains to the top depart from the station of Kleine Scheidegg, another great spot to have a quick stop on the way and enjoy the view down to Grindelwald.
You can choose to reach Kleine Scheidegg via two routes – Grindelwald or Lauterbrunnen. That being said, this route can be pretty hectic during the summer months, even though it is far from cheap. But seeing the world-renowned Swiss Alps, aboard a classic piece of engineering (including tunnels through mountain tips), makes this one train ride worthy of the effort and investment.
If you want to experience the best views going up when traveling from Interlaken via Lauterbrunnen, choose the seats to the right side of the direction of the train.
If you travel via Grindelwald, start by sitting on the right and then left when you change trains for a more unobstructed view of the 4km peak of Elger mountain.
Note: Plan a stop in the town of Wengen or Grindelwald. You can also go on a single journey up to Kleine Scheidegg and choose a different way down. This method allows you to experience both sides of the mountain.
Another very popular and extremely scenic rail journey is the Glacier Express. The cold sounding name is enough indication for you to guess what kinds of views are in store for you. The glaciers, of course, take center stage, along with dramatic peaks, stunning lakes and isolated villages. More than enough to keep your eyes and cameras occupied.
The starting point in Zermatt can be accessed via a short regional rail trip from Montreux, which happens to be the end of the GoldenPass line. You can also reach Zermatt directly from Geneva or Zurich, it just takes a little longer.
The Glacier Express is dubbed one of the most luxurious rail rides in the world, while the resort town of Zermatt used to be an exclusive getaway for the rich and famous. So, if you do get the chance, try to spend at least a day or two in the region, before taking the train, to try to soak up the amazing views.
The Glacier Express is best enjoyed at a glacial speed. Locals and tourists agree that it is the slowest express train in Europe, but given what you get to experience, no one seems to care. The idyllic scenery unfolds right before your eyes and will certainly make the eight-hour journey pass in an instant. Also, the service, along with the amazing panoramic windows on this train is so luxurious that’ll make you cry tears of joy.
Depending on the season, prepare for a vastly different experience on this train. In summer, you will be overwhelmed by the greenery and wildlife, while the winter scenery will make you feel like you’ve entered the set of “Frozen”. Although you can make several stops along the way, it is best to make the journey in one sitting. After all, it is one of the best train routes in the world!
Another famous train route is the Bernina Express, which can be accessed in the South-east of the country from the region of St Moritz, or via the capital of Graubunden – Chur. Taking you from the stunning lakes around St. Moritz, the train then veers up and over the Alps with glaciers seeming to drip down their sides. It then continues to Tirano in Italy, before arriving in Lugano, a quaint city in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. So, in essence, you get to experience a wide variety of Switzerland, and Italy, all in a few hours train ride!
Even though the tourist trains on this line are quite popular, it is better to avoid them altogether and hop aboard a regular one. Overall, the cost associated with tourist lines is significant, and they don’t necessarily offer a better experience.
The Bernina Express to Lugano crosses through the White Lake and the Alps before descending to the amazing Palu glacier. You have the option of spending the night in the town of Tirano in Italy before heading off for the lake-side city of Lugano.
Note: The Brusio spiral viaduct is a must see. The best view can be gleaned by sitting on the right side when heading from north to south.
One of the oldest and most often used train routes in Switzerland is the Gotthard Express, which runs north to south through Switzerland. It has since been mostly replaced by the opening of the NEAT tunnel, which saves significant time on this journey. However, those wanting to take the scenic route still love traveling the original Gotthard Panorama Express.
This train route is also combined with a boat ride from Fluelen, in central Switzerland, to Lucerne crossing the stunning Lake Lucerne and offering views of the surrounding alps.
In total, the Gotthard Panorama Express runs from Lucerne all the way to Bellinzona or Lugano in the Mediterranean south of Switzerland
This train ride is among the most idyllic in Switzerland, as you will get the chance to ride past the entire length of Lake Neuchatel on the way. The city of Lausanne in itself is worth a stop to explore its Medieval Old Town and marvel at the rolling vineyards above Lake Geneva. Its student population makes it surprisingly lively (for a lakeside Swiss town), with several up and coming districts and as well as modern and chic building.
Switzerland has so much scenic beauty in its every nook and cranny. Staying overnight in a few villages will give you a chance to soak up on local culture. Don’t be in too much of a rush because this country may be small in size, but it has so much to offer. Traveling through Switzerland via rail will let you take it slow and witness the real face of Switzerland. Before you go ahead and plan your trip, check the validity of your ticket and make sure you know all the discounts you are entitled to.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!