Rhaetian Railways regional train crossing the Landwasser Viaduct
Transport

Alternatives to Panoramic Trains in Switzerland

December 7, 2023 Last Updated on May 14, 2024

Scenic train routes in Switzerland are an incredibly popular way to see the country’s spectacular lakes, mountains and landscapes. Services such as the GoldenPass Express, the Glacier Express, the Bernina Express and the Gotthard Panorama Express are just some of the scenic Swiss trains you can enjoy a ride on. 

However, due to their popularity, the best Swiss train rides are often fully booked up so far in advance that it becomes impossible to secure a seat. 

There is some good news, though. There are numerous other panoramic trains that are fantastic alternatives to the most famous scenic trains in Switzerland.

This article is here to help you discover these lesser-known but incredibly scenic train trips in Switzerland. If you cannot secure a seat reservation for the Switzerland train ride you wanted to take, then this guide outlines the top alternatives to the best scenic trains in Switzerland. 

Whichever way you travel, don’t forget that it’s not only scenic trains in Switzerland from Zurich and other popular destinations that pass through the stunning Swiss landscapes. 

Regular trains also offer stunning views, whether or not they follow the exact same route. You can also board a PostBus for a different way to see the country. 

If you’ve missed out on seat reservations for Switzerland’s premium panoramic trains, or you prefer to travel on a route you haven’t experienced before, don’t despair!. There are plenty of alternative scenic train and bus journeys for you to enjoy. 

Read on so you can discover them!

🇨🇭 Prefer to listen? Learn about these alternative scenic train and bus routes in our podcast.

BLS RegioExpress Lotschberger near Kandersteg in winter.
There are many lesser-known but very scenic train journeys in Switzerland, including this one on the BLS RegioExpress Lötschberger. © Travel Switzerland

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GoldenPass Express alternative

Route: Montreux to Interlaken (or vice versa)

GoldenPass Express
The GoldenPass Express began operating in late 2022. © MOB

About the GoldenPass Express

Connecting Montreux on the shores of Lake Geneva with Interlaken in the heart of the Jungfrau Region, the GoldenPass Express is amongst the best Swiss train trips. 

Its popularity also means that securing seats on the GoldenPass Express can be difficult, especially during the summer months.

Should you not be able to secure seats on this premium panoramic train, there are other excellent alternatives.

🇨🇭 Read our guide to the GoldenPass Express

Alternatives: GoldenPass Panoramic and GoldenPass Belle Epoque

Although it is the newest and most modern edition, the GoldenPass Express is not the only train operating on the GoldenPass route. 

Instead of the GoldenPass Express train – which operates between Montreux and Interlaken – you can also travel on the GoldenPass Panoramic or GoldenPass Belle Epoque services for part of the route. 

Both of these alternative trains run along the GoldenPass scenic route, and connect Montreux and Zweisimmen.  You can then connect to a regional train should you wish to travel between Zweisimmen and Interlaken.

GoldenPass Panoramic

  • Route: Zweisimmen to Montreux (or vice versa)
  • Connect via: Regional train from Zweisimmen to Interlaken (1h:20)
  • Frequency of services: Hourly services during the day
  • Operates year round: Yes
  • Duration of journey: 2 hours and 8 minutes
  • Highlights of the trip: Fully panoramic windows, Bernese Oberland, Mediterranean-style Swiss-French region
  • Seat reservations: Recommended but not compulsory
GoldenPass Panoramic train near Schonried in Switzerland with snow capped alps in the background
The GoldenPass Panoramic is a wonderful alternative to the GoldenPass Express. © Travel Switzerland

The GoldenPass Panoramic service operates between lakeside, musical Montreux and Zweisimmen, an attractive Swiss village that’s the gateway to the Gstaad region, in both directions. 

This is a great alternative to the GoldenPass Express, with wide panoramic windows so you can take in those marvellous views. 

GoldenPass Belle Epoque

  • Route: Zweisimmen to Montreux (or vice versa)
  • Connect via: Regional train from Zweisimmen to Interlaken (1h:20)
  • Frequency of services: Twice-daily services
  • Operates year round: Yes
  • Duration of journey: 2 hours and 8 minutes
  • Highlights of the trip: Belle Epoque style carriages, Bernese Oberland, Mediterranean-style Swiss-French region
  • Seat reservations: Recommended but not compulsory
GoldenPass Belle Epoque carriage
The GoldenPass Belle Epoque features Old World interiors aboard a modern train.

The GoldenPass Belle Epoque service uses beautifully refurbished carriages reminiscent of the Belle Epoque era of the late 19th century. The coaches are very chic, with ultra comfortable velvet upholstered seats you can sink into, brass fittings and polished wood.

If you want to travel in style, this could be the service for you. 

Like the GoldenPass Panoramic, the GoldenPass Belle Epoque travels between Montreux and Zweisimmen – and vice versa. It offers the best of both worlds – a modern train with the luxurious feel of the famous Orient Express. 

This can be a romantic experience – imagine sipping a glass of Swiss white wine while admiring the stunning Swiss countryside from the unparalleled comfort of your seat. 

Glacier Express alternative

Route: St. Moritz to Zermatt (or vice versa)

Glacier Express crossing a bridge in winter
The Glacier Express operates for most of the year. © Travel Switzerland

About the Glacier Express

Another contender as the most scenic train ride in Switzerland is the Glacier Express. This route travels through the Swiss Alps, between the stylish ski resort of St. Moritz and Zermatt, the town in the shadow of the Matterhorn. 

The route of the Glacier Express takes you via several breathtaking spots en route. These include the spiral tunnels and viaducts of the Albula Line, the Oberalp Pass and the Rhine Gorge. Stops along the line include Andermatt, Brig and Chur. 

🇨🇭 Read our guide to the Glacier Express

Alternative: Regional trains

  • Route: St. Moritz to Zermatt (or vice versa)
  • Frequency of services: Frequent services during the day
  • Operates year round: Yes
  • Duration of journey: 6 hours and 27 minutes plus
  • Train facilities: Varies according to services selected
  • Highlights of the trip: Alpine and vineyard views, plus possible stopovers in Zurich, Landquart and/or Visp
  • Seat reservations: Not required
View from a Swiss train near Chur
The views are no less impressive from the windows of Rhaetian Railways’ regional trains.

You can take an alternative to the Glacier Express by taking standard regional trains between St. Moritz and Zermatt – or vice versa. Doing this generally involves changing several times, typically in Landquart, Zurich and Visp. 

This may be a less glamorous way to travel, but can save you time, as the journey takes around six-and-a-half hours instead of eight. There are frequent services throughout the day, and regular trains operate all year round. 

One advantage of taking regional trains for this route is that you can stop in locations such as Visp and Andermatt.

Regional trains have windows that open (perfect for those that want to take photos) and some trains even have designated photo coaches. 

Bernina Express alternative

Route: Chur to Tirano or Lugano (or vice versa)

Bernina Express
The Bernina Express journey is one of Switzerland’s most popular train rides. © Travel Switzerland

About the Bernina Express

If you want to take a scenic train from Switzerland to Italy, then the Bernina Express is the classic route. This breathtaking journey takes you from Chur in Switzerland to Tirano or Lugano in Switzerland. 

En route, passengers experience the Landwasser Viaduct, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Morteratsch glacier, a trio of glittering Swiss lakes and views of the Bernina Massif.

The Bernina Express trip takes around four to four-and-a-half hours to travel from Chur to Tirano and covers 144 kilometres (around 90 miles) in that time.

Though you pass glaciers en route, by the time you arrive in Italy you’ll be seeing the palm trees that thrive in this sun-drenched climate. 

🇨🇭 Read our guide to the Bernina Express

Alternative: Regional trains

  • Route: Chur to St. Moritz (or vice versa)
  • Frequency of services: Frequent services during the day
  • Operates year round: Yes
  • Duration of journey: Fastest service 2h:02
  • Train facilities: Some trains have panorama coaches
  • Highlights of the trip: Scenic alpine views 
  • Seat reservations: Not required

Instead of booking a seat on the Bernina Express, there are a couple of alternatives. One is to take regional services from Chur to St. Moritz. These take around two hours, tickets are very affordable, and there are trains throughout the day. 

Alternative: Palm Express PostBus

  • Route: St. Moritz to Lugano (or vice versa)
  • Frequency of services: Daily during summer and the Christmas period, or 1 bus per day on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays
  • Operates year round: Yes
  • Duration of journey: 3 hours and 50 minutes
  • Highlights of the trip: The Maloja Pass, Engadine Glaciers, Lake Como and Chiavenna
  • Seat reservations: Highly recommended

The Swiss PostBuses offer visitors a unique way to experience the country. These services reflect the fact that the Swiss transport network comprises buses and boats as well as trains.

PalmExpress PostAuto bus beside Lake Sils in Switzerland
Travel aboard the Palm Express bus for a picturesque ride between St. Moritz and Lugano. © Travel Switzerland

There are many PostBus lines operating in Switzerland, and the Palm Express is one of these.

The Palm Express PostBus offers a fine alternative to the Bernina Express. It connects St. Moritz and Lugano, and operates at weekends.

Between mid-December and early January, and in summer between early June and late October, the service operates daily due to higher demand. 

The Palm Express crosses the Maloja Pass, and passengers can also see the glaciers of the Engadine Valley.

You will also travel by Lake Como when completing the Italian sector of the route, and visit the charming village of Chiavenna. In total, this trip takes a little under four hours. 

The name of this service reflects the fact that in less than four hours, you’ll travel from snow-capped peaks and glaciers to sunny Italian landscapes dotted with palm trees. 

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Gotthard Panorama Express alternative

Route: Lucerne to Lugano (or vice versa)

Gotthard Panorama Express
The Gotthard Panorama Express journey includes a boat ride across Lake Lucerne. © Travel Switzerland

About the Gotthard Panorama Express

The Gotthard Pass is probably Switzerland’s most important alpine crossing. For centuries, people have been crossing it with mules, in stagecoaches, and since 1882 by rail.

In 2008, the Gotthard Base tunnel was opened. All intercity trains between Zurich or Lucerne, and Lugano, Ticino and Milan pass through the Gotthard Base tunnel, which is more than 50 kilometres long.

Therefore, if you take the standard route, you’ll experience 20 minutes of darkness while the train passes through the tunnel. 

To avoid this, there are two options. One is the Gotthard Panorama Express, and the other is the Treno Gottardo. 

🇨🇭 Read our guide to the Gotthard Panorama Express

Alternative: Treno Gottardo

  • Route: Zurich, Basel or Lucerne to Locarno
  • Frequency of services: Hourly services from Basel or Zurich
  • Operates year round: Yes
  • Duration of journey: From Zurich – 3 hours and 20 minutes; from Basel (via Lucerne) 4 hours and 22 minutes; from Lucerne – 3 hours and 7 minutes
  • Train facilities: 2 cafe areas with vending and coffee machines
  • Highlights of the trip: Lakes, mountains and sunny southeast Switzerland
  • Seat reservations: Not required
Treno Gottardo train in Wassen Switzerland
Travel from Zurich to Locarno in just 3.5 hours on the Treno Gottardo. © Travel Switzerland

The alternative to the Gotthard Panorama Express is the Treno Gottardo. Services run every hour, and departures alternate between Basel and Zurich. The Basel service also stops in Lucerne.

As with other Swiss panoramic trains, you get to travel on the scenic route when taking the Treno Gottardo. The bronze-painted trains are modern, and the trip times are between a little over three hours to under four-and-a-half, depending on your destination or where you’re coming from. 

These trains have a bistro area at the centre, complete with vending machines for coffee, drinks and snacks.

Other scenic train and bus routes in Switzerland

In addition to the alternatives to the GoldenPass Express, the Glacier Express, the Bernina Express and the Gotthard Panorama Express detailed above, there are other scenic Swiss rail journeys you can take. 

These include the BLS RegioExpress Lötschberger, the Vigezzina-Centovalli Railway and the Voralpen Express.  

There is also the Central Alps Passes PostBus Route to consider. 

BLS RegioExpress Lötschberger

  • Route: Bern to Brig via Spiez and Kandersteg, plus Domodossola
  • Frequency of services: Hourly services from Brig and two-hourly services to Domodossola
  • Operates year round: Yes
  • Duration of journey: From Brig – 1 hour and 45 minutes; with Domodossola 2 hours and 15 minutes
  • Train facilities: Self-service cafe area, low floor access, air conditioning, power outlets and non-signal-blocking window glass
  • Highlights of the trip: Large panoramic windows, Lötschberg mountain route and the Kandertal Valley
  • Seat reservations: Not required
Interior of a 1st class carriage on the BLS RegioExpress Lotschberger
The BLS RegioExpress Lötschberger offers a very comfortable and scenic ride.

The BLS RegioExpress Lötschberger connects Brig and Bern.

As with the Gotthard Panorama Express, this route was devised as a scenic alternative to travelling through a long, dark tunnel – in this case, the Lötschberg base tunnel. It takes around 15 minutes to pass through, and the main intercity routes travel this way. 

Travelling on the scenic line via the BLS RegioExpress Lötschberger is a far more pleasant experience, allowing you to see much more of the mountains.

These brand new trains travel between Brig and Bern hourly. There are also services to and from Domodossola every two hours. 

When travelling via the BLS RegioExpress Lötschberger, you’ll take in the Lötschberg mountain route, plus the pretty Kandertal Valley. Attractive Domodossola with its weekend market can also be added onto the trip.

The Vigezzina-Centovalli Railway (which you can read about below) can also be accessed here. 

These ultra modern trains offer low floor access, a cafe zone with coffee, drink and snack machines and huge panoramic windows for making the most of the sweeping views.

Vigezzina-Centovalli Railway

  • Route: Domodossola to Locarno (or vice versa)
  • Frequency of services: Hourly services during the day
  • Operates year round: Yes
  • Duration of journey: 1 hour and 50 minutes
  • Highlights of the trip: 100 valleys, ravines and mountain ranges
  • Seat reservations: Required, and you’ll need travel documents for the border crossing
A train of the Centovalli Railway crossing a steel bridge with a mountain backdrop
There are 100 valleys to admire on the trip from Locarno to Domodossola aboard the Centovalli Railway. © Travel Switzerland

The Vigezzina-Centovalli Railway travels between Domodossola in Italy and Locarno in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. Centovalli translates as 100 valleys, and the route of the train traces a river through the valley.

Around 100 smaller side valleys branch off from here, where you can see pretty villages, traditional buildings and of course glorious scenery.

This route has a Mediterranean feel. With hourly services, the trip between Italy and Switzerland – or vice versa – takes under two hours.

Before boarding or after disembarking, you can spend some time in Domodossola, which is a lovely medieval Italian town with a good choice of restaurants. 

As mentioned above, it’s also possible to combine the Centovalli railway with the BLS RegioExpress Lötschberg. This way you can create a longer panoramic train trip to see more Swiss and Italian destinations. 

Voralpen-Express

  • Route: St. Gallen to St. Gallen via Arth-Goldau, Rapperswil and Wattwil
  • Frequency of services: Hourly services during the day
  • Operates year round: Yes
  • Duration of journey: 2 hours and 18 minutes
  • Train facilities: Cafe area with vending and coffee machines
  • Highlights of the trip: The Sitter Viaduct, the Toggenburg district and Lake Lucerne
  • Seat reservations: Not required
Voralpen Express train passing through lush green fields in Switzerland
The Voralpen Express takes passengers on a scenic journey between St. Gallen and Lucerne. © Travel Switzerland

The final train featured here is the Voralpen-Express. This railway journey can introduce visitors to a more gentle side of Switzerland, characterised by rolling Alpine pastures, cute villages and fruit-laden orchards.

In English, Voralpen means pre-Alps, and this is precisely what you’ll be travelling through. 

So rather than majestic, snow-capped peaks like the Eiger, Jungfrau, Matterhorn or Mönch at three to four thousand metres above sea level, you see gentler mountains that are generally no higher than 2,000 metres. The pre-Alps are the rolling green foothills of the mighty mountains. 

If you take the Voralpen Express, your train will wind its way through fertile valleys, dense forests and rolling emerald hills, and past lush pre-Alpine pastures.

You’ll also travel by the waters of Swiss rivers and lakes. Many of the valleys you’ll see on route date back as far as the Ice Age, when they were formed by glaciers. 

The Voralpen Express train connects St. Gallen in eastern Switzerland and Lucerne in central Switzerland. A regular intercity train takes around two hours anyway, so it takes only a little longer to enjoy this beautiful scenic route.

Highlights of the journey include the Sitter Viaduct, the Toggenburg region and Lake Lucerne. 

Again there is a bistro area on board, complete with coffee and snack machines. Trains run hourly, and the modern trains are the same as those used for the Gotthard Panorama Express route.

Central Alps Passes PostBus Route

  • Route: Meiringen to Meiringen via Grimsel, Nufenen, Gotthard and Susten Passes
  • Frequency of services: Daily between late June and early October
  • Operates year round: No
  • Duration of journey: 8 hours and 45 minutes
  • Highlights of the trip: Travel 3,000 metres above sea level via 4 Alpine passes, including the Gotthard Pass
  • Seat reservations: Recommended
PostAuto bus on Central Alps Passes scenic route in Switzerland
Crossing four alpine passes in Central Switzerland by bus is a unique experience. © Travel Switzerland

The Central Alps Passes PostBus Route offers a good alternative to either regular or panoramic Swiss trains. This trip takes an entire day, and you’ll cross four Alpine passes in Switzerland during the journey of almost nine hours. 

What makes the Central Alps Passes PostBus Route stand out is the elevation. When travelling by bus, you end up at around 3,000 metres above sea level. This is far higher than the train routes, which means you can experience an entirely different kind of landscape. 

The route operates between late June and early October, so do note that it’s not a year-round service. In summer, though, there are daily departures from Meiringen.

During the day, you’ll first cross the Grimsel Pass, followed by the Nufenen Pass, then the Gotthard Pass, and finally the Susten Pass. 

You get to do four Alpine crossings in just a day, each of which is unique. There’s also spectacular scenery from the roads you’ll travel along. As well as the passes, you’ll also cross around 25 bridges, and see a variety of glimmering Swiss lakes. 

The Nufenen Pass is the highest in Switzerland that can be reached by vehicle, so this thrilling part of the journey can provide passengers with a real adrenaline rush. The famous Gotthard Pass is also included.

Once you board the bus, you’ll stay on board all day, with the exception of stops for coffee, lunch and comfort breaks, of course. 

All covered by the Swiss Travel Pass

View of Brusio from Rhaetian Railways regional train
Regional trains, like this one operated by Rhaetian Railways, have windows that open, unlike the panoramic trains.

If you hold or are considering the purchase of a Swiss Travel Pass for your trip, the great news is that all of these scenic Swiss journeys by panoramic and regular trains and PostBuses are covered by your pass. 

Buy your Swiss Travel Pass here

For all scenic trips by rail in Switzerland, seat reservations are recommended, with the exception of some regional services. For the PostBus trips which depart less frequently, booking a seat is also important to avoid disappointment. 

Note: Seat reservation fees are not covered by the Swiss Travel Pass.

🇨🇭 Read our guide to the Swiss Travel Pass

Alternatives to panoramic trains | Final thoughts

If you are disappointed that you cannot secure seat reservations on Switzerland’s premium panoramic trains, or you would like to experience a new route, then there are some great alternatives available. 

With just a little planning, you don’t need to worry about missing out on the glorious scenery that this incredible country has to offer. 

Whether you take the BLS RegioExpress Lötschberger, the Vigezzina-Centovalli Railway, the Voralpen Express or the Central Alps Passes PostBus Route, you’re guaranteed to enjoy the trip of a lifetime. 

Then there’s the GoldenPass Panoramic or GoldenPass Belle Epoque, the Treno Gottardo and the Palm Express PostBus, which offer great alternatives to the classic GoldenPass Express, Glacier Express, Bernina Express and Gotthard Panorama Express routes.

🇨🇭 See all our Swiss train guides here

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