Photo: Courtesy of GoldenPass Express

See Panoramic Swiss Alpine Peaks By Train at a Steep Discount

Switzerland Train Travel Insider Guides Budget Travel
by Laurie Jo Miller Farr Dec 11, 2023

The first thing travelers should know about the Swiss Travel System is that it’s available exclusively for international visitors to Switzerland for a choice of 3, 4, 6, 8 or 15 consecutive days. In fact, nearly all forms of transportation are included with a Swiss Travel Pass.

The famous Swiss trains are just one part of this extensive transportation network of nearly 18,000 miles connecting 90 cities that includes free admission to 500 museums across Switzerland.

See soaring mountains, crystal clear lakes, and panoramic landscapes — the network provides unlimited travel via vintage and express trains, historic cog railways, mile-high cable cars, paddlewheel steamboats, and public buses — all at a hefty discount, typically 25-50 percent off the regular fare, with a single e-ticket. Just download the QR code after purchase and use your phone as you go. Take a window seat and keep your camera handy for the incredible scenery.

Panoramic trains: A window seat to Switzerland

Couple on GoldenPass train part of the Swiss Travel System

Photo: Courtesy of GoldenPass Express

For knockout, top-of-the-world Alpine views, travel on one or more of Switzerland’s five premium panoramic trains at the heart of the network: Bernina Express, Gotthard Panorama Express, Glacier Express, GoldenPass and Luzern-Interlaken Express.

Wherever you go, superlatives abound. A journey on Bernina Express, the world’s steepest railway, incorporates 55 tunnels and nearly 200 bridges. At more than 35 miles, the Gotthard Base Tunnel is the world’s longest and deepest railway, running right through the middle of the Alps. On the Glacier Express, Excellence Class passengers dine at a window seat while traveling between famous Alpine ski villages Zermatt and St. Moritz on an eight-hour journey crossing 291 bridges, including the impressive Landwasser Viaduct. On the two-hour ride aboard the Luzern-Interlaken Express, pretty Swiss chalets encircle shimmering deep blue lakes that catch snow-capped mountain reflections.

In Prestige Class on the new GoldenPass Express between Interlaken and Montreux via Gstaad, nine passengers can enjoy sparkling wine, caviar, and charcuterie in an elevated panoramic carriage with heated leather swivel seats. There’s also an option for the Belle Époque vintage-style carriage. Since the world’s first gauge-changing functionality (which allows trains to go on tracks with different widths between the rails) was introduced on the GoldenPass Express in 2023, it has allowed passengers to make one of Switzerland’s most scenic journeys without the interruption of changing trains.

On the two-hour ride aboard the Luzern-Interlaken Express, pretty Swiss chalets encircle shimmering deep blue lakes that catch snow-capped mountain reflections. Start your guided city tour of the Medieval city of Lucerne just steps from the Lucerne Railway Station beside Lake Lucerne. The old town and the iconic Chapel Bridge, one of Switzerland’s most photographed scenes, are within a five minute walk. Bedecked with 278 flower boxes of hanging pink and red trailing geraniums, the interior of the covered wooden footbridge is decorated with ancient paintings.

Paddle steamers and cog railways

Stadt Luzern, flagship steamer of Lake Lucerne free with Swiss Travel System pass

Photo: David Tran Photo/Shutterstock

In the center of town, board the historic Stadt Luzern, flagship steamer of Lake Lucerne. Free with a Swiss Travel Pass, the stately vessel paddles across the lake to Vitznau where Mount Rigi cog railway, the world’s steepest, starts right on the shore. On board, peer out picture windows to glimpse big Alpine views — albeit tilted to a 48 percent grade — climbing toward the summit for an easy hike in the fresh mountain air after disembarking.

At just over one mile in elevation, Rigi isn’t among the highest peaks in the Alps, but its views are tip-top. On a clear day, you can see 13 lakes and countless mountain tops, views all the way to France and Germany, plus the promise of Swiss raclette on the veranda at Restaurant Rigi Lok 7. Free for Swiss Travel Pass ticket holders to ride, Rigi is Europe’s first mountain railway, opened in 1871.

Cable cars: Glacier 3000, Matterhorn, Jungfraujoch

Cable car Glacier 3000 part of the Swiss Travel System

Photo: Laurie Jo Miller Farr

Switzerland’s glaciers, severely threatened by climate change, are easy to see even in summer. Swiss Travel Pass holders get a discount of roughly 25 to 50 percent and children below 16 are free when traveling with parents.

Between Gstaad and Les Diablerets, a quick 15-minute cable car ride takes you to Glacier 3000, which always has snow. At nearly 10,000 feet above sea level, there are views of the Jungfrau, Matterhorn, and Mont-Blanc peaks. Attractions include Peak Walk by Tissot, the world’s first hanging bridge suspended between two mountain peaks; the Alpine Coaster that reaches speeds of 25 miles per hour; dog sled rides; an ice express chairlift; glacier walk; and more. For serious skiers, Black Wall, opened in 2023, is among the world’s three steepest runs.

In Zermatt, board a 125-year-old cog railway for views of 29 Alpine peaks, each over 13,000 feet. One of Switzerland’s top draws, the summit is 1.9 miles high. Gornergrat Railway provides great views of the third-largest glacier in the Alps as well as the Matterhorn.

Also boarding in Zermatt, Matterhorn Glacier Paradise is a new cable car up Klein Matterhorn to Testa Grigia, where visitors can place a foot in two countries at once. Since July 2023, the journey between Switzerland and Italy crosses the border at more than 12,740 feet above sea level.

At Interlaken, connect to the Jungfraujoch Railway, an incredible engineering feat that takes passengers 2.2 miles high to the very top of Europe. The largest glacier in Eurasia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of four natural designated sites in the Alps.

Set your watch by Swiss trains

Mountains and Swiss landscape with GoldenPass Express train part of the Swiss Travel System

Photo: Courtesy of GoldenPass Express

You can see so much of Switzerland without a car. Almost one-third of all tourists visiting Switzerland travel exclusively by train and 92.5 percent of all rail passengers reached their destination on time in 2022.

How do the Swiss do it? The secret lies in the Swiss Railway master clock that’s electronically connected to every station clock throughout Switzerland. The master clock sends out a signal every 60 seconds so that all railway clocks tell the same exact time to keep trains, trams, buses, and ships synchronized and on schedule.

It’s just one of the many reasons why you can trust Swiss trains to get you to what you want to see without costing more than you can afford.

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