zurich/lucerne/lugano-italy or zurich/innsbruck-italy

we are flying into Zurich mid-August and then going either lucerne/lugano-florence or innsbruck-florence. We have 3 days to get to Italy. Lucerne would be a daytrip, returning to Zurich, then we would stay overnight in Lugano enroute to Florence (but then I started thinking that Lucerne and Lugano might be boring for the kids). Or, we could go to Innsbruck for 2 nights, then train via Brenner pass to Florence--nonstop train to Innsbruck and nonstop to Bologna, making train connections for this easy and the cost is actually less than Lucerne/Lugano. I have explored going further to Bernese Oberland, etc., but it just isn't feasible on our schedule. For kids (9 and 13) Mom, Dad, grandmother--which would you choose for interesting things to see and beautiful train ride--please post any cons, as well. thanks, Elaine

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

You could make the very scenic Luzern-Lugano route fun and very interesting by doing this: take the train to Luzern and ride a lake boat to Weggis; ride the cablecar up to Rigi Kaltbad, a small community with several nice hotel options and wonderful vieews over the lake. Great hiking on paths suitable for youngsters and oldsters alike.

www.rigi.ch for photos and activities for kids

The next day, take the cogwheel train up to the top (Rigi Kulm) and down the other side to Arth-Goldau, where you can catch the train to either Lugano or Locarno. If Locarno, you can take a short boat ride to Ascona, a small resorty-lakeside town that offers nice swimming and other activites.

Or, instead of going up and over Rigi, you could spend the night in Luzern and go up Mt. Pilatus. There is an adventure park up there, I think with a summer luge and ropes course, etc. The next day go to Arth-goldau to catch the train to Lugano or Locarno---no need to return to Zürich.

Another option, much simpler but also with great scenery from the train, would be to take the Bernina Express route, spending your first night in Pontresina. This is only about 3.5 hours from Zurich, so you would get there in time to explore a bit and maybe ride a lift up for some glacier views. Next day continue on as far as Tirano, and change there for the short hop by train to Varenna, on Lago di Como, for your next night. It's a short ride from there to Milan for your train to Florence.

I would prefer either of these over the Innsbruck option. As noted, the Bernina route is simpler and easier to plan. Reservations in Varenna might be the tough part.

We are flying into Zürich for our Italy trip ourselves, and I wanted to do one of these options, but the rest of the family wants to get on into Italy faster, so we are going directly to Verona. Sigh. Maybe next time. . .

Posted by Tim
Ojai, CA
591 posts

I would first choose to stay in Lucerne the first 2 nights instead of Zurich (trains go direct to Lucerne from the Zurich airport). Scenery is much better plus a trip up Mt Pilatus would be fun for the kids. The scenery around Innsbruck is great but the city isn't all that interesting. Lugano or Locarno would both be a good choice for the 3rd night.

Posted by Dennis
LaGrange, Georgia, USA
54 posts

Elaine,I do not know how Lola knows all that she does but what she told you do not deviate from:Spectacular!!!

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

Dennis---Thanks! My thoughts are based on four trips to Switzerland so far. The last one we did the Rigi thing (up and over) which was fun. I wanted to stop in Pontresina on our way to Italy on our upcoming trip (in a month) but was vetoed by the family. They have been to Switzerland twice and this time want to see Italy. It's a graduation present for our daughters so they won.

Posted by elaine
washington, dc
119 posts

thanks so much. The Bernina route looks like too much changing trains--plus it is tough to find lodging for 6 persons (2 triples). I think we are going to nix Innsbruck and go to Lucerne and Lugano. I think we are going to get the Swiss Transfer Pass--as I inquired to ssb.ch and it is valid for the boat from Lucerne-Fluelen-Lugano on the 2nd day of the pass going towards Italy.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

You might want to figure the actual cost of travel from Luzern to Lugano using the boat to Fluelen before you buy the Transfer Ticket. The cost of that pass is $118. since the cost from urich airport to Luzern is small (27 CHF is what I found on rail.ch), the price from Luzern to Lugano for your 2d day's journey would have to be very high to amke the pass worthwhile.

Also, if you are looking at keeping costs down, Luzern is one of the hardest places to find moderate prices. consider some of the smaller lakeside towns in the area if you can't find suitable accommodations in Luzern. Or up on Rigi.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

Another possibility would be to buy advance-purchase discounted tickets on sbb.ch from Zurich to Milan (30 CHF instead of 92 CHF). spend a couple of nights in Luzerna and do a lakeboat trip and mountain visit. Then return to Zurich in the morning and catch the 11:03 train to Milan at the low price. You can continue on from there as far as you like toward Florence the same day.

Posted by elaine
washington, dc
119 posts

Is the train ride from Zurich-Milan the same scenery as from Fluelen-Milan? I saw one repsrt that said Lucerne-Lugano goes thru rugged mountains, etc.---we would like to get some Apline scenery from the train--we can't realy go to Bernese Ober, Chur, etc. b/c of travel connections and time, but we wanted to get something decent in (but then i read that Zurich-Milan was just so-so)---that is why we thought of going to Innsbruck--easy nonstop train ride and Inns-Florence is just connection in Bologna----but, I am open to ANY alternative suggestions--thanks so much, Lola! fyi-I do not want anywhere I have to take a cable car (OK for DH and kids for a day trip to Rigi, etc., but not for me). Also, I thought about just doing a day trip to Lucerne and back to Zurich (we have a good hotel at a good price--much better than anything I can find in Lucerne) and then getting the cheap fare to Milan (getting off the train in Lugano to spend the night)?

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

"Is the train from Zurich to Milan the same scenery as from Flüelen to Milan?" That's a good question! Looking at the train schedules, it wasn't clear to me. But the Swiss Travel System map does make it clear. Have a look:

http://rail.myswitzerland.com/download_sts/uebersichtskarte_en.pdf

You'll see that there is only one route from Arth-Goldau on down to Bellinzona, where you can choose either Lugano or Locarno. So not all the trains stop at Flüelen (the faster IC trains do not), but they all use the same tracks---and see the same scenery. Note that there is a tunnel through the mountains (dotted line---gotthard tunnel), but those twisty loops look interesting!

I think if you heard that the zurich to Milan route was not all that sceniic, it was probably in comparison to the Bernina Express route, which as you know takes longer and is more complicated.

So. . . if you are going to stay in Zürich and daytrip to Luzern, you might as well get the discounted advance fare tickets if they are still available. Note that you'd have to make the trip to Milan in one day on that fare; if you get off in Lugano to stay overnight you'd forfeit the Lugano to Milan portion. But it's probably not a large amount.

As for Rigi and the cablecar---you can go all the way from bottom to top on the cogwheel train from Vitznau, so no need to skip that just because of the cablecar. Those cablecars are large, sturdy, and very safe, but I do understand that some people still don't want to ride in one. I didn't at first, but I've come to trust Swiss engineering.