Train questions and Locarno area

I'm trying to figure out the rail system in Switzerland so I get the best bang for my buck. After reading lots of posts I still want to clarify some things. We are going to travel in early June. We are starting in Italy and then moving into Switzerland. Our schedule looks like this.

June 7 and 8-staying in Varenna, Italy
June 9 and 10-staying in Locarno, Switzerland
June 11, 12, 13-in Zermatt
June 14, 15, 16-in Murren
June 17-travel via Lucerne for a walk-around old town, etc and then sleeping in Zurich (flying home early June 18)

  1. Thinking about the Swiss Card, Can I use it for trip from Locarno to Zermatt then from Lucerne to Zurich. As I understand I can't use it from Murren to Zurich because going through Lucerne isn't a direct that correct? Then all of the in between trips plus mountain rails will be 1/2 price..correct? Or is the half fare card or flexi pass better?

  2. Do you purchase all of the passes from the US? Do yo know about how soon I need to get this purchased?

  3. I've never had a rail pass of any kind. Do you just get the pass while in the US and then buy the train tickets there or do I need to book the train tickets from the US also? When we have traveled in Italy before we just got the tickets when we arrived in that still an ok option?

  4. Any other advise it welcome.

  5. We would like to go up the Valle Verzasca while in Locarno. Is this easy to do by bus or should we consider a day car rental or is there scooter rental that would be a good outing (Maybe this is a bad idea...don't know since we have never been there.) I am a photographer and would like to get out along the way and take photos ( I understood that there are very picturesque villages along the way...true???) then we able to catch another bus to go farther get off again and so on. Can we do this? I don't want to spend tons of time waiting on buses or take a chance of missing the last on back to Locarno. Is that a problem? Or is there a better area to tour?

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
24190 posts


A few thoughts regarding your questions......

  • Swiss Pass - I'd have to spend some time going over your route to determine which Pass would be best. Buying passes for Switzerland often involves lots of number crunching, and the specifics vary with each itinerary.
  • You can purchase Railpasses from this website. Click the appropriate tab on the home page. They'll be able to provide more information on which passes would be suitable for your situation. If you wish, click the "chime in" button on your post and someone from RS will reply to this Thread.
  • With a standard Railpass, you'll need to buy it here but you'll need to validate it prior to first use. That involves presenting the Pass along with your Passport and the agent will stamp it. You can easily buy tickets while in Europe, either from a Kiosk or a staffed ticket office. If you're buying a Swiss Card, as I recall you can buy those at stations in Switzerland.
  • Other advise - as you're a photographer, you might consider taking the scenic CentoValli Railway on the trip from Varenna to Locarno. You'll first need to travel from Varenna to Domodossola via regular train. That trip will be 3-4 hours, depending on which train you choose. One trip you could use is a departure from Varenna at 08:37, arriving Domodossola at 12:43. Unfortunately that has a long layover at Milano Centrale, but you could use the time to have breakfast.

When you arrive at Domodossola, you'll go downstairs to the underground station to find the CentoValli train. You'll have to double-check, but I believe there's a 13:25 departure so you'd have time for a brief lunch. The trip from there to Locarno is about two hours and it is very scenic! You'll arrive at the underground FART station in Locarno, but when you go up to street level, you'll be right at the main station across from the Manor Cafeteria. It's an interesting place for a meal, as there are lots of choices and many of the "hot" items are cooked to order.

A couple of places I would highly recommend visiting in Locarno are the beautiful Madonna del Sasso Franciscan Monastery and also a visit to Cardada Cimetta on the mountain above the city, which you'll reach by Cable Car. There's a nice restaurant with a patio right next to the Cable Car terminal where you can stop for a cool one and a fine meal and admire the view, while watching Paragliders sail by. A short distance from that, there's a viewing platform that extends outward over the cliff and provides exceptional views. There's also another chair lift in the other direction that travels higher up the mountain. You can see all the details on this website - (click the video link).

  • I can't offer many tips on the Valle Verzasca, but I've heard that some of the roads are narrow and twisting, so a Scooter probably wouldn't be the best idea; a car rental might be better. I believe it is possible to get to that area via public transit, but I don't have details at hand.
Posted by Laura
Rick Steves' Europe
9914 posts

The Swiss Card does not sound like a good fit, since starting from Locarno is not starting from a border town. Also, Muerren-Luzern Zuerich is a pretty direct line, but it is not the fastest train connection recommended on schedules, so that could be an issue, depending on the conductor.

A Swiss Pass for 3 days of travel within a month is a better fit at about $265 per person. This will fully cover trains, buses, trams, boats, and museums on your three longest travel days, including all the way to or from Zermatt or Muerren. Since most trains in Switzerland don't need reservations, you can just go ahead and board those covered services. However, see schedules through DB for your Locarno-Zermatt route, since a couple of departures include a leg by reserved international train (reserve Domodossola-Brig). See also Using Your Railpass.

Lifts above Zermatt or Muerren are only discounted, no matter which day you're using. In between your three longest, counted travel days, you can also show the pass and buy half-price tickets for any Swiss transportation (but only 25% off Wengen-Jungfraujoch, and no discount on museums). You can buy the pass in Locarno, but if you want it in hand before you arrive there, the book through the link above and allow one week for delivery within USA.

Posted by Larry
Elk Grove, CA, USA
6890 posts

Jackie, if the Swiss card you are using is the Swiss 1/2 fare card, it can be used on any Swiss transportation. Cost is 120CHF and it's good for unlimited use for 30 days. Yes you can use it from Locarno to Zermatt. This routing goes via Domodossola, Italy and is an approved routing for this card. Switzerland has about 4 locations outside of Switzerland where their passes and cards are valid. Domodossola is one of them as its a common transfer point between Locarno and other Swiss locations. As mentioned previously, this card is fully valid in all of Switzerland. This includes going to the tops of the Jungfrau and Schilthorn. You pay 1/2 the fare, the card covers the other 1/2 fare. You can purchase the Swiss 1/2 fare card at any staff Swiss train station.