If you’re looking for a relaxing way to spend a weekend yet still do some scenic travelling, it’s worth considering a classic Swiss train adventure on the famous Glacier Express. While tickets for the special “panoramic” cars can be steep at times, you can find very affordable options on the “regular” train cars which are attached to the same train and viewing the same breathtaking scenery as the “panoramic” train cars. The only difference is that the panoramic cars have windows that curve over a bit of the roof line which allows you to see directly up. It’s a nice feature when you really want to see the top of that mountain you’re passing but not necessarily worth the cost of the ticket. One option to consider (which we ended up doing) is to buy the regular ticket and then upgrade for just a portion of the ride between 2 of the towns so you still get to try the panoramic cars for part of the trip.
Why to go: The Glacier Express is one of the most famous train excursions in the world and crosses some amazing terrain through the Alps. It’s really a carefree way to see some beautiful parts of Switzerland (and Italy as an optional add-on).
When to go: These trains run regularly from mid-December through mid-October (no service from mid-October through mid-December). The scenery is incredible no matter which season you choose however one consideration you might want to factor in is the amount of daylight you’ll have. During the winter months, you will have less daylight for appreciating the views.
What to do: There are lots of options for riding this route and many towns from which to catch the trains. The full 300km journey takes about 7½ hours start to finish from Zermatt to St. Moritz (or vice versa). Along the way, you travel through 91 tunnels and cross 291 bridges through the Swiss Alps. Plan to stay overnight along the way so you can maximize your visit and view appreciation time.
Where to detour/extend the trip: Interestingly, since the Alps train routes are all connected, there are choices for branching off to discover other parts of the system. One option for planning your “Swiss train weekend” is to take the Glacier Express line to St Moritz. Spend a little time exploring this exclusive luxury resort town and then continue on the train line, which from St Moritz is called the Bernina Express. This is another breathtaking train journey that takes you through the beautiful Bernina Pass. The full stretch of this route takes about 4 hours, however from St Moritz the ride is about 2 hours to the end of the line. You can plan to spend the night somewhere along this route – the town of Poschiavo is so charming and highly recommended for a stopover. Continuing the ride on the Bernina Express takes you to the end of the train line in Tirano, Italy. From there, if you would like to continue to take in the scenery, there’s a bus to Lugano, Switzerland. For the return to your starting point, you could consider taking the train from Lugano to Locarno and then a ride on the scenic Centovalli train to Domodossola (Italy), where you can easily catch more direct trains to Zermatt or other points on the Swiss lines. The views you’ll see on the Centovalli route are worth the detour and very different from those you will have seen on your Glacier/Bernina Express trip. It’s a shorter segment of railway but leads across tall viaducts, through deep ravines and tunnels, past waterfalls, forests and vineyards, experiencing many hairpin bends and slow steep tracks along the way.