The Gotthard Panorama Express train is one of the most iconic Swiss rail journeys. Passengers who take this Lucerne to Lugano train – or travel in the opposite direction – travel over the famous Gotthard Pass in Switzerland.
They also cross the sparkling waters of Lake Lucerne by boat, thus gaining a unique perspective of the picturesque city of Lucerne. There are various sights and stories to enjoy along the way, too.
If you’re visiting Switzerland, a trip on the Gotthard Panorama Express is well worth considering. For many, it is a once-in-a-lifetime journey, taking visitors from swaying palm trees in the south to the snow-capped mountains in the north.
A journey on the Gotthard Panorama Express is more than just about getting from A to B; rather it’s all about the adventure of the trip and the breathtaking sights you can see en route.
This guide provides everything you need to know about this popular Swiss train trip, covering the route, timetable, services, tickets and prices. If you’d like to join this most memorable journey, read on for all the details.
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Summary of Gotthard Panorama Express Ticket Prices
|Boat and Train in 1st class||Boat 2nd class/train 1st class|
|Regular ticket||CHF 153.00||CHF 129.00|
|With Swiss Half Fare Card||CHF 76.50||CHF 64.50|
|With Swiss Travel Pass (2nd class)||CHF 59.00||CHF 29.50|
|With Swiss Travel Pass (1st class)||CHF 0.00||CHF 0.00|
Note: Prices are for the journey between Lucerne and Lugano or vice versa and do not include the mandatory supplement of CHF 16 per passenger.
The Gotthard Panorama Express Route
The Gotthard Panorama Express is a journey with a difference. This Lucerne to Lugano (or Lugano to Lucerne) scenic train offers a unique combination of train and boat journeys between central Switzerland and the Italian-speaking region of Ticino.
Below you will find details of the scenic highlights on both the boat and train sections of the journey.
Lucerne to Flüelen by boat
The Gotthard Panorama Express journey starts in Lucerne with a modern motorboat or vintage steamer taking passengers over the soothing, scenic waters of Lake Lucerne. The boat ride takes just under three hours and meals, snacks and beverages are available for purchase on board.
The attractive city of Lucerne sits beside the shores of Lake Lucerne and is the gateway to central Switzerland. Highlights include the Chapel Bridge, a well-preserved medieval Old Town and many grand hotels which date back to the 19th century.
Numerous mountain excursions can be taken from Lucerne including visits to Mt. Pilatus, Mt. Titlis and Mt. Rigi.
For 150 years the Rigi Bahn (train) has transported passengers to the summit of Mt. Rigi. The mountain sits between three lakes – Lucerne, Zug and Lauerz – and is the ideal destination for hikers. Activities available at the summit include a toboggan run, hiking, skiing, a rope park and a thermal spa.
It was at the Rütli Meadow in 1291 that representatives of Switzerland’s three founding cantons met to swear an oath of eternal alliance. They agreed “never to part in danger nor distress”. From this original alliance, modern-day Switzerland was born.
According to legend, Wilhelm Tell, leapt from a boat at this very spot during a fierce storm over 700 years ago to escape his captors. The chapel was built in 1880 to honour his memory.
At the southern end of the lake, Flüelen’s highlights include the 13th century Rudenz Castle and the ‘Old Church’, which was built in 1664.
Transfer between the boat and train is seamless as the pier and station are adjacent.
Flüelen to Lugano by train
The incredibly scenic Gotthard Express route transports passengers from the shores of Lake Lucerne to southern Switzerland. Palm trees are a common sight when travelling this sector – as they are in the Italian-style town of Lugano itself.
The journey between Flüelen and Lugano takes 2.5 hours, or 2 hours between Flüelen and Bellinzona. On the panoramic train, an in-seat service is provided for the purchase of drinks and snacks.
The village of Wassen is home to a pretty Baroque church and passengers aboard the Gotthard Panorama Express train are able to see it three times, thanks to a series of loops in the track. These loops are necessary so that the train can climb a substantial height in a very short distance.
The panoramic trains used on the Gotthard Panorama Express pass through the 15-kilometre long Gotthard Tunnel which opened in 1882. Regular trains travel via the Gotthard Base Tunnel – at 57-kilometres long – which was opened in 2016.
By travelling through the older but shorter tunnel and crossing the St. Gotthard Pass, passengers on the Gotthard Panorama Express enjoy a much more scenic journey.
Between RodiFiesso and Biasca, the train must descend 650 metres in altitude in just half an hour. To do this, the train passes through two loop tunnels.
As the train passes Giornico, passengers have the chance to see three churches set in the attractive vineyards of the lower Leventina.
Bellinzona’s skyline is dominated by three castles built by the Dukes of Milan in the 15th century. Castelgrande, Montebello and Sasso Corbaro are now classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A Mediterranean climate and Italian flair await you in Lugano, the largest city in Ticino. Grand piazzas, beautiful parks and a lakeside promenade are just a few of the many sights worth seeing in Lugano.
About the boat journey
Travel across Lake Lucerne is aboard either one of the Lake Lucerne Navigation Company’s historic paddle steamers or motorboats. First class passengers can enjoy the views from the upper deck, whilst second class passengers travel on the lower deck.
The cruise across the lakes takes place over lunchtime (in both directions) and with onboard catering available, this is the ideal time to enjoy a delicious lunch.
About the Gotthard Panorama Express train
All journeys on the Gotthard Panorama Express train include a reserved seat in a first-class panorama carriage, a multilingual travel guide who points out important sights along the route, loudspeaker announcements and visual displays showcasing the history of the Gotthard Railway, and an in-seat food and beverage service is available.
The train consists of four first class air-conditioned coaches with panoramic windows. Each coach has 54 seats.
In addition to these coaches, a photography coach with windows that can open is located in the middle of the train. Passengers can freely access the photography coach throughout the journey.
Unfortunately the Gotthard Panorama Express train is not wheelchair accessible and does not have a toilet suitable for wheelchairs.
Gotthard Panorama Express Timetable
The Gotthard Panorama Express operates between the beginning of May and late October. In 2021, for example, the train runs daily except Mondays from 1 May to 24 October. This includes public holidays.
One service per day operates in each direction with the following schedule:
- Depart Lucerne at 11:12 from Pier 1 | Arrive Flüelen at 13:55 | Depart Flüelen at 14:09 | Arrive Lugano at 16:45
- Depart Lugano at 09:22 | Arrive Flüelen at 11:40 | Depart Flüelen at 12:00 | Arrive Lucerne at 14:47
The Gotthard Panorama Express in Switzerland is not in operation outside of the above dates, so those visiting the country during the winter season cannot travel this exact route, however regular trains connect Lucerne with Bellinzona and Lugano at hourly intervals all year round.
The entire Gotthard Panorama Express timetable between Lucerne and Lugano takes around 5.5 hours. Lucerne -> Flüelen by boat – 2h45; Transfer time – 15 minutes; Flüelen -> Lugano – 2h30
See the latest timetable > here.
Connecting with the Gotthard Panorama Express
The beauty of the Gotthard Panorama Express timetable is that it connects seamlessly with services to other destinations in Switzerland. For example, from Lucerne, connections are possible to all cities across Switzerland, as well as to Arth-Goldau where passengers can enjoy an excursion to Mt. Rigi.
The Voralpen-Express is also synchronised with the Gotthard Panorama Express timetable, meaning that connections to St. Gallen from Arth-Goldau are also possible with little wait time.
Classes available on the Gotthard Panorama Express
Whilst both first and second class travel is possible on the ship/paddle steamer section of the journey, only first class travel is available on the Gotthard Panorama Express train.
Second class bookings are therefore not possible when buying Gotthard Panorama Express tickets, so travellers holding a second class Swiss Travel Pass must pay to upgrade to first class for this sector. Read on for details of ticket prices.
Gotthard Panorama Express Cost
The Gotthard Panorama Express fare includes tickets for the rail and boat sectors, plus the necessary supplement for travel on this panoramic route.
As an example, the current most expensive fare for the journey between Lucerne and Lugano is CHF 153. This is for first class travel on the train and boat. For second class travel on the boat and first class on the train, the cost is CHF 129. The full fare for the train sector only is CHF 93.
Additionally, a mandatory Gotthard Express Supplement of CHF 16 per passenger applies.
Tickets on the Gotthard Panorama Express can be purchased up to 90 days before travel.
Gotthard Panorama Express Tickets and Swiss Rail Passes
For holders of a Swiss Travel Pass, travel on the Gotthard Panorama Express is included, however a mandatory supplement applies and in some instances, an upgrade fee, as explained below.
If you hold a first class Swiss Travel Pass, all travel on the Gotthard Panorama Express is included, however the mandatory supplement of CHF 16 per passenger applies.
Holders of a second class Swiss Travel Pass pay an upgrade fee of CHF 29.50 to travel in first class on the train, or CHF 59 to travel in first class on both the train and the boat. These charges apply because there are no second class seats on the train. Additionally, a mandatory fee of CHF 16 per passenger applies.
Purchasing a Half Fare Card is also an attractive option, as holders get a 50% discount on the ticket price.
You can find out more about the Swiss Travel Pass and the Swiss Half Fare Card here.
Where to buy tickets
Tickets for the Gotthard Panorama Express can be purchased on > this link.
Swiss Half Fare Card holders can purchase their discounted ticket and mandatory seat reservation > here.
I hope this guide has been helpful in informing you all about this glorious train ride between the centrally located city of Lucerne and the Mediterranean-like south of Switzerland.
From the breathtaking Gotthard railway tunnel to the sparkling waters of Lake Lucerne, this is a classic panoramic train journey that you won’t forget in a hurry.
Don’t forget, you can travel on the Gotthard Panorama Express for free* when you have a Swiss Travel Pass. > Get yours here.
*refer to exceptions mentioned above.