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Knitting together a Swiss rail tour, with suggested stopping points

Hi everyone,

I am looking into a deeper dive into Switzerland, and would like to do the famous train rides through Switzerland and down into the lakes region.

I know there are several internet companies offering these but I would like to stop off and add days, but where and how many.? I have and intend to return to Murren for at least 4 nights.

I think flying into and out of Zurich. But as a said nothing is written in stone.

These are the train routes (not counting the lifts, rack or cogwheel trains I an I tesersted in:
Glacier Express
Bering Express,Or Palm Express?
Golden Pass

I do want to see Guyeres, the Matterhorn and Chateau Chillon

Any ideas for stopping over and places to say are welcomed,

I expect to travel in September, if all goes well...

Posted by
17751 posts

I haven't yet done any of the named scenic-rail trips, but my research indicates that most people consider the Bernina Express the top option, so I'd make a point of including it. The Seat61 website provides instructions on booking that trip at a big discount. There's information on the Glacier Express as well, but no discount.

I like the Centovalli trip from Locarno to Domodossala (Italy) enough to have taken it more than once. It's a more back-door experience, or at least it used to be.

Posted by
5445 posts

Nancy, Switzerland is a great place to visit and to ride the trains. Do you have a good guide book? Its worth reading up on how the train system works, especially discounts and local passes. And important to note that the named trains you listed are premium tourist trains that run the same routes and lines that the local and cross-country trains run at a much lower cost. All of which can be planned easily without a travel agency. Not all trains need to be booked ahead of time.

The critical thing you don't mention is how many nights you have. Very important to figure out whats doable. I can tell you that my first trip there was a too short three weeks, flying into Zurich and out of Geneva. That is, making a clockwise route through the country. I think it would be good to know what interests you most - food, culture, history, etc. Its beautiful wherever you go, so scenery is not a determining criteria.

Posted by
808 posts

The Smithsonian channel just aired "Mighty Trains: Bernina Express". If you can stream this show, it's definitely worth doing so. The history of the route, the incredible 1900's technology used to build the line, and the work to maintain the line [eg avalanches] are all fascinating, and would increase your appreciation of the trip. It's definitely going to be on my itinerary for my next trip, whenever,,,,sigh....

Posted by
24547 posts

Hi Nancy

I expect to travel in September, if all goes well...

Do you mean this month or next year?

Posted by
567 posts

Switzerland is so easy to do independently by train. Just purchase your rail pass at the airport in Zurich. No need to purchase ahead of time. Download the SBB app and it will have all the details about trains times, platforms, etc. It is one of the easiest and most efficient rail apps to use. As for the Scenic trains, we used our rail pass to take regional trains that use the same track as the famous scenic trains. There is no need to book ahead for the regional trains and we saw exactly the same scenery without the crowds of tourists and the expense of the famous trains. But if you really want the Panorama viewing carriages then you have to buy a separate ticket and book ahead. How many days do you have in Switzerland? Just curious because adding in Guyeres, the Matterhorn and Chateau Chillon, as well as Murren and the Bernina Express, will be a lot of countryside to cover. Zermatt is kind of off on its own and takes a long time to get there from Murren. We spent 3 nights in Zermatt and it rained for two nights so the Matterhorn was only visible on one day. (This was July 2017). So you will need to account for this in your itinerary. The Matterhorn can be very elusive! On our trip, we found it easier to cut through Northern Italy, stopping at Varenna on Lake Como to get to Tirano for the Bernina Express and our return to Zurich.


Posted by
59 posts

Thank you everyone for your thoughtful replies,,,, love the forum with so many nice people!

I have been sitting travel dreaming and watching videos, so have seen the trains and watched some good programs on Amazon Prime. Dennis Cullen has a nice series. He is not Rick but goes over the trains and stops well. I will look for the recent episode you mentioned to watch...thanks.

I did the GAS tour last September, so have been to Switzerland before. I did look in my guide book and Rick has a plan in the guide book for the path so I will use it. I may go the other way around, though and do Murren, toward the beginning, just because I love it there so much.

I do have over two weeks, likely three perhaps, so time is not a problem. I fully intend on 2 nights in most places unless I see I might need more and 4 in Murren or Wengen, I am a huge train buff as is hubby and we loved taking the train in Germany, Frankfurt to Bacharach to Trier, so imagine this will be a fun trip. going on the panorama trains is important to us.

We also may add a pre or post trip to Colmar and train to Zurich, if we have time.

So does anyone have suggestions for length of time at each place or timing issues for timing on these trains. I will add a request for accommodations on the other forum.

It looks like stops are:
Appenzell 1 night is this enough?
Luzern 2 nights
Lugano 1 night is this enough?
Pontresina 2 nights
Zermatt 2 nights
Lausanne 1 nights
Murren/Wengen 4 nights
Zurich 2 nights

Thanks for the help!

Posted by
59 posts

Sorry I missed saying September 2021, not this year!

We love castles, trains, lakes, easy hikes, food, wine and culture. We are really looking to see the places people live and get a sense of the place, so staying in typical Swiss places, not huge hotels.

Posted by
5445 posts

Nancy, even though distances look short on the map, you have to take into account the time it takes to check in and out of hotels, get to and from rail stations, wait for trains, etc. All that time takes a lot out of a travel day. So when you look at staying somewhere two nights, you may only have 1 to 1 1/2 days there, at most. One night means almost no time there. With 8 changes in location, you're using quite a bit of your time just in transit. Even though taking the scenic routes is part of your purpose, I'd consider plotting this out day-by-day and see if you get enough time in any of those stops.

If it were me, starting with flying into Zurich, I'd go directly from the airport (via ultra-convenient rail station at the airport) to Luzern - its only about 1.25 hours by train. Then Lausanne, Mürren, Zermatt, Pontresina, up to Appenzell, and then back to Zurich airport. In other words skip Zurich and use those days elsewhere.

Posted by
17751 posts

Traveling by rail makes a series of very short stops rather tiring. I think you'll find you are moving around too much if you have an interest in seeing much in the towns you stay in and possibly taking short jaunts to neighboring spots. It may be OK for you if it's almost all about the scenery along the main rail lines on this trip, but it wouldn't work for me; I like to spend a lot of time wandering the sidewalks.

Since you've been to Switzerland before, I imagine you realize how iffy the weather can be. My trips to Switzerland were decades ago, and I still remember times when the overcast/wet weather moved in for 3 to 5 days at a time. That pattern makes short stops rather risky. I had some supposedly-scenic rail trips that couldn't be appreciated at all, because there was a wall of fog on the other side of the train window.

One night in Lugano feels especially short, because there are quite a lot of good day-trips from there.

Posted by
808 posts

Luzern is so pleasant, I'd suggest at least three nights. If you have the Swiss Travel Pass, the boat ride and cogwheel train up to Mt. Rigi is completely covered, and so worth it. And- it's just so easy to land at Zurich and immediately take the one-hour train to Luzern.

I personally was disappointed in Guyeres- the town seemed to be all tourist shops.

I hope you have a safe and healthy trip.

Posted by
6088 posts

We enjoyed our stay in charming Pontresina. Pretty decorated houses, mountain scenery. We were there about this time of the year and it was perfect. Colmar, did not care for it.
There are many charming towns on the Alsatian wine route, and include Strasbourg too.