Top 5 Most Scenic Rail Journeys in Switzerland
1. St. Moritz to Andermatt on the Glacier Express
2. Bernina Express from St. Moritz to Alp Grüm
3. Furka Steam train from Realp to Oberalp
4. Mt. Rigi cog-wheel train from Lake Lucerne to the summit
5. Mt. Pilatus cog-wheel train from Lake Lucerne to the summit
Why We Like Swiss Train Travel
Switzerland prides itself on its excellent rail network with the highest rates of public transport use in Western Europe and one of the most technically advanced transportation systems in the world. Traveling by the Swiss trains is very comfortable, allows you to see the spectacular scenery easily and you get to observe and interact with Swiss locals first-hand. As certified Swiss Transportation Systems & Swiss Travel Experts, we know how to plan the most efficient and scenic Swiss itineraries utilizing trains to connect you to cable car & cog-wheel valley stations so you easily reach the mountain summits to enjoy the awesome views of the Swiss Alps.
As a Swissstainable certified company, 100% of all our tours are on public transportation. We use the rail network in Switzerland for our ECHO Rails & Trails small group custom Rail Tours – our 12 Day Grand Train Tour of Switzerland, and also for our day & multi-day tours and hikes in the most popular Swiss destinations like Lucerne, Zermatt & St. Moritz.
In every town and village, Switzerland has a fantastic rail network with the rail stations the hub for the areas shops and local bus connections
We also are fortunate to have a number of Swiss Railway company executives as members of our Swiss Travel Experts Board to guide us in our planning such as Annemarie Meyer, CEO, Glacier Express and Renato Fasciati, CEO, Rhaetian Railway, Switzerland’s largest private railway company.
Also our own Thomas Aschwanden, is our Swiss Public Transportation “ÖV” expert. When he isn’t guiding one of our Via Alpina multi-day hikes, he’s directing the Canton of Uris’ local bus, train and road schedules.
Here’s our List of the Top 5 Scenic Rail Journeys
Switzerland offers some of the world’s most spectacular mountain train rides and I’ve had the good fortune to enjoy many of these incredible adventure treks during my 20+ year career as an Echo Trails Swiss Tour leader. Despite the awe inspiring steep gradients, the Swiss train system is one of the safest and most efficient to be found anywhere in the world, and the views encountered are magnificent!
1.The Glacier Express Route
The rail tracks take you through the heart of the Swiss Alps so you experience the magnificent scenery through the large Glacier Express panorama windows. You will marvel at the engineering innovations as you ride through the many tunnels and aqueducts at elevations ranging from 1,500 ft up to 5,000 & 6,000 ft once you reach either St. Moritz or Zermatt. Due to high demand, you have to have a seat reservation and once seated, there are headphones to plug in so you hear the audio highlights of some of the most interesting features along the way. The seats are set around a table with menus where you can order drinks and food. As you gaze out at the stunning alpine panorama, you can choose from a range of culinary specialities and traditional dishes. The Glacier Express is one of the few trains in the world where all meals are freshly prepared on board and served at your seat.
2. Bernina Express
This is the highest railway across the Alps, climbing up 7,300 ft at the Ospizio summit. The Bernina line was declared a World Heritage Site in 2008. The entire line is 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) (metre gauge) and electrified.
We board the train in St. Moritz and ascend progressively through the valley to the Bernina Pass over the Morteratsch station (1,896 m), where the glacier and the highest summit of the Eastern Alps, Piz Bernina, 13,425 ft. are visible.
3. The Furka Steam Train
This is Europe’s 2nd highest railway reaching 7,038 ft and was part of the original Glacier Express route dating back to 1930. The route was discontinued in 1981 when the Furka base tunnel was completed allowing the Glacier Express to run year round.
The route was re-opened in 1992 after an 11 year hiatus when in 1983 a number of Swiss railroad retirees conceived an idea to re-activate this historic Furka cogwheel line and started a Furka Cogwheel Steam Railway Club. One of the first steps was to start gathering funds to refurbish the track and rolling stock. The actual work took many years and was all done by Swiss volunteers who continue to run the Furka Steam Train.
We ride the Furka Steam train on Day 7 of our 12-Day Swiss Alps Grand Rail trip. Echo Rails & Trails is one of the few companies offering this stream train highlight.
4. The Mount Rigi Cog Railway
Started in 1871, this was the first mountain railway in continental Europe and is still running today. The definition of a cog wheel railway (also rack-and-pinion railway) is a steep grade railway with a toothed rack rail, usually between the running rails. Mount Rigi, also known as the “Queen of the Mountains”, is the mountain peak where Swiss alpine tourism began over 200 years ago. It may not be as high as its opposite peak, Mt Pilatus, but a round trip to the summit of Mt Rigi and a hike along its ridge path with spectacular views is always worth the trip.
The Mount Rigi cogwheel is used during many of the ECHO Rails & Trails tours. There is a Mount Rigi Day tour that includes some hiking and Swiss sausage grilled lunch outside and also a day tour that includes both Mt. Rigi & Mt. Pilatus. Both mountains are included in our 3-day Swiss Alps Rail Tour, or 12-day Grand Rail Tour of Switzerland.
5. Mt. Pilatus Cogwheel Train
One of our personal favourites is the trip up Mount Pilatus, near Lucerne. Mt. Pilatus is often called Lucerne’s mountain; ecologically and geographically it’s the first Alp in Switzerland.
The Pilatus cogwheel train is still the steepest rack railway in the world, with a maximum gradient of 48% and an average gradient of 35%. You can experience the Mt. Pilatus cogwheel train on a number of our Lucerne Day Tours including the Mt Pilatus day tour and the Mt Pilatus & Mt. Rigi tour.
That’s our list of the 5 most scenic train journeys in Switzerland. If you really love trains, you’ll want to see all of the legendary railways in Switzerland. Our 12 day Swiss Alps Grand Train Tour includes 11 of the world’s most legendary trains, including the Glacier Express, Bernina Express, Voralpen Express, GoldenPass Line and the Furka Steam Train.
ECHO Rails & Trails Staff are Rail Pass Experts
We take care of all the details for you on our small group tours, including rail passes and luggage transfer. To achieve the Swiss Transportation System Excellent Expert certification, we completed three different courses covering everything from the various kinds of Swiss transportation tickets and Swiss passes (where there are many to learn) to premium panoramic trains to luggage transport throughout Switzerland.
We use many of the different Swiss rail passes for personal travel and in our tours. Yes, learning the train schedules and determining the right Swiss rail passes may seem overwhelming at first glance. The schedules and maps look so complicated initially. That turns out to be a good thing. They are detail oriented because the Swiss like precision and everything runs on time. The details are part of that approach. Through our 20+ years of experience we have earned credentials as swiss train travel experts. We love to show Switzerland to our tour travelers.
Here’s what others say about our Swiss Rail expertise:
Rebekalu wrote a review Oct 2021
Retired Railroad Conductor
Review of: Echo Rails & Trails 12 Day Swiss Alps Grand Rail Tour
After working on a mountain railroad for some 21 years, I thought I knew about trains. The trains on this trip were such an unexpected treat. In over 15 days we rode 54 trains! Electric, luxury, steam, cable cars, funiculars, cog wheels both vertical and horizontal, almost every train on time! All of this with the grandeur and beauty of the Swiss country side all around us. Rene and Suzanne have crafted an exceptional tour through the Swiss Alps. With our “Swiss Pass” we rode trains, buses, and boats, First Class all the way. Our accommodations were exceptional also as we stayed in beautiful hotels often with exceptional views of mountains and the surrounding country side – our meals were delicious and carefully prepared and selected. We (Rebecca and Richard) highly recommend this trip!