Roger Federer and Trevor Noah found themselves on an unexpected adventure when they accidentally boarded the wrong train in Switzerland. Little did they know that this mishap would lead them to discover the awe-inspiring beauty of Switzerland on the renowned “Grand Train Tour of Switzerland.” This train journey, aptly named the Glacier Express, is a grand experience in every aspect. From the breathtaking alpine vistas to the impeccable onboard luxury services, this trip showcases the best of Switzerland. With its route encompassing 11 magnificent lakes, 5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and a mesmerizing 1,280 kilometres of scenic views, this journey is sure to become the highlight of anyone’s life.
Speaking of Roger and Trevor’s adventure, while I did not have the same misfortune as them, I wholeheartedly agree with their sentiment that “You’re Never on the Wrong Train in Switzerland.” My 18-day Grand Train Tour of Switzerland, facilitated by the Swiss Travel System and using the Swiss Travel Pass, was nothing short of epic. I explored Zurich, Geneva, Lugano, Interlaken, and Zermatt, saving the most iconic and luxurious scenic rail journey for last – the Glacier Express. This extraordinary expedition brought me intimately close to the splendid Swiss mountains.
True to its name, the Glacier Express lives up to its glacial pace while being the world’s slowest “fast” train. With an average speed of around 24 mph, this panoramic train winds its way through 91 tunnels and crosses 291 bridges. This leisurely pace allows passengers to savour unobstructed and ever-changing panoramic views of the majestic Alps, deep ravines, and picturesque valleys from the comfort of their luxurious coach. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the roof-high panoramic windows throughout the journey. Equipped with headphones, I remained informed about every small and significant detail of the route, immersing myself in the breathtaking landscapes of the Alps.
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Glacier Express Zermatt to St. Moritz Route
The Glacier Express route is a treasure trove of sights and landscapes. As the clock struck 8:52 am, the sleek red-and-white iconic Glacier Express departed from the platform, embarking on a sensory feast. The first leg of the journey, from Zermatt to Brig, has been connecting the alpine car-free village of Zermatt, home to the Matterhorn, with the ritzy ski resort town of St. Moritz since 1930. While the entire journey from Zermatt to St. Moritz takes eight hours and nineteen minutes (8h 19m), my limited time allowed me to cover only the section from Zermatt to Chur (5h 21m0), which was perfect in every sense. Divided into four legs, the eight-hour journey includes:
Zermatt to Brig (45 km)
The train passed through the Matterhorn Tunnel, offering stunning views of the Matterhorn Valley. The route was often narrow, with towering rock walls reaching over 4,000 meters. This region is home to some of the highest peaks of the Swiss Alps. After reaching Visp, the train descended to 651 meters, traversing the Goms Valley, renowned for its breathtaking vistas.
Tip: The view is equally stunning on both sides of the train.
Brig to Andermatt (64 km)
Departing from Brig, the train crossed the river Rhone and further continued east into the Upper Rhone Valley, passing through the Swiss National Park, which houses a diverse range of wildlife, including ibex, chamois, and marmots. The V-shaped valley occasionally narrows, and in Oberwald, at the valley’s end, the train reaches an altitude. The V-shaped valley is very narrow sometimes. At the end of the valley, in Oberwald, the train reaches an altitude of 1366 m. Since 1925, a railroad across the Furka Pass led from Oberwald to Realp. From Realp, a fairly flat stretch leads to Andermatt.
Tip: The view from the right side of the train was slightly better, but there was no major difference.
Andermatt to Chur (82 km)
The third leg of my journey was slightly longer but offered even more stunning scenery. Andermatt, at 1436 m, is where the Oberalp Pass begins. The Glacier Express wound its way up to 2034 m, the highest point of this journey. This is also where the river Rhine rises. The landscape up here is usually covered in snow from November to April. After reaching the journey’s highest point, we descended along the Rhine Valley to Chur at 585 m. Chur is the lowest point of the route. The landscape looked very dramatic in the Rhine gorge between Ilanz and Reichenau, where the river was carved deep into the white rocks. This region, also called the Swiss Grand Canyon, is one of Switzerland’s most impressive natural spectacles. The Rhine Gorge is a popular attraction for hikers, bikers, and river rafters – and can even be toured by train.
After Reichenau, the train reached Chur, the capital of the canton of Graubünden and the largest town along the route.
Tip: Sit on the left side of the train if you can.
Chur to St. Moritz (89 km)
The fourth and final section of the journey overlaps with the first section of the Bernina Express. Unfortunately, I had to give it a miss because I had to catch a train to Zurich from Chur. So I am still trying to figure out how Glacier Express vs Bernina Express. If I had a little extra time, I’d have tried this stretch on Bernina Express. Anyway, here’s the information you can use on your trip further.
On this section of the Glacier Express journey, the train passes through the Engadine Valley, which is home to some of the most beautiful lakes in Switzerland. The Glacier Express changes direction and heads for Reichenau again. There it bends to the south, towards Thusis and Tiefencastel. This Domleschg valley is known for its many ruins and castles. The Glacier Express continues south through a narrow valley, crossing the spectacular curved Landwasser viaduct just before reaching Filisur. After Filisur, several spiral loops help it gain height until it reaches the entrance of the Albula tunnel, at 1789 m, before leading to the high Upper Engadine valley. The Glacier Express reaches its destination St. Moritz after another 20 minutes.
Tip: Sit on the right side of the train to enjoy the view of the Landwasser viaduct.
Which is the best part of the Glacier Express journey?
Honestly, I loved the entire journey, and it’s hard to pick one. Each section was unique and beautiful. But if I were to pick one, I would say the best section of the Glacier Express was from Andermatt to Disentis, where the train went over the Oberlap Pass, the highest point of the journey at 6,673ft. Ideally, You should do the entire trip, but if you don’t have the time to complete the entire Glacier Express route, pick the section closest to your base town. Some of the short sections that you can choose are:
- St. Moritz – Chur – St. Moritz
- Chur – Andermatt – Chur
- Andermatt – Brig – Andermatt
- Brig – Zermatt – Brig
Glacier Express On-Board Facilities
It was not just the outside views that won my heart but also the onboard facilities. Although I have been on several luxury trains in Asia, Europe, and North America, the Glacier Express takes the cake. A rail journey through the towering mountains has never been so luxurious.
On-board facilities on the Glacier Express Train include comfortable seating, large panoramic windows, a dining car, a bar, and air-conditioning, ensuring a comfortable and enjoyable journey. The dining car serves a range of Swiss delicacies and international cuisine prepared with fresh and locally sourced ingredients. The bar offers a selection of drinks, including Swiss wines, beers, and spirits, and the panoramic viewing car provides unobstructed views of the landscapes.
Three classes are available on the train: Standard, First, and Excellence. Standard class offers comfortable seating and access to a bistro car, while First class offers more spacious seating and complimentary drinks and snacks. The first-class cabins are more spacious, with wider seats, larger windows, and more privacy, making them ideal for couples and families.
Glacier Express Excellence class offers the ultimate luxury experience, with guaranteed window seats, an exclusive bar, onboard entertainment, a concierge service, and personal travel guides.
Glacier Express Meals – Excellence class, First class & Second class
The Glacier Express Train journey offers a range of meal options, depending on the class of travel. Standard class passengers can purchase snacks and drinks from the bistro car, while First and Excellence class passengers are treated to complimentary gourmet meals and beverages.
Glacier Express, Excellence class guests, are served champagne and amuse-bouches – followed by an exquisite five-course meal with accompanying wine.
First-class passengers are served a full three-course meal, including a starter, main course, and dessert. Expert chefs carefully curate the dishes, and the menus change seasonally, offering a taste of the best Swiss cuisine.
Second-class passengers can enjoy snacks and light meals, such as sandwiches, salads, and soups.
Ticket Price and Train Schedule
The Glacier Train journey is a popular attraction for tourists visiting Switzerland, and the prices of tickets can vary depending on the season and the class of travel. For instance, a second-class ticket can cost between CHF 99 and CHF 156, while a first-class ticket can range from CHF 179 to CHF 268. It is advisable to book your tickets well in advance, especially during peak travel seasons. If you book in advance, you can get much cheaper tickets as a Saver Day Pass is around CHF 52 for 2nd class and CHF 88 for 1st class.
For a Glacier Express Excellence Class ticket, you need a 1st class ticket (CHF 268) and an Excellence seat (CHF 420), making the total cost CHF 688.
Other seat reservations start at CHF 29 and go up from there. The more affordable reservations are available in the low season between Dec and May. You can also make your tickets more affordable by doing a shorter route on the Glacier Express train.
The train schedule for the Glacier Express Train journey from Zermatt to Chur can vary depending on the season. Typically, there are two departures daily, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. The journey takes approximately 4 hours, and the train makes a few stops along the way to allow passengers to take in the scenery and stretch their legs. For the exact Glacier Express Timetable, check the official website.
Also, apart from a valid ticket or Swiss Travel Pass, a glacier express seat reservation is required (max. 90 days in advance). In addition, you’ll be required to pay a surcharge depending on which month and for which section you travel. Check Glacier Express Reservations and Timetable for more details. You can buy your tickets for the Glacier Express online here. They are only available 92 days before the date of travel, so if you are looking for a cheaper ticket, be sure to book exactly 92 days in advance. Reservations are compulsory on the Glacier Express, and the train gets booked up pretty fast, especially in the peak season, so be sure to get your ticket and seat reservation early.
Is it worth taking a Swiss Travel Pass or buying a stand-alone ticket?
The Swiss Travel System is a comprehensive public transportation network with trains, buses, and boats, offering convenient and efficient travel throughout Switzerland. With a Swiss Travel Pass, you can enjoy unlimited travel on the entire network, including the Glacier Express.
There are several reasons why it’s better to buy a Swiss Travel Pass for the Glacier Express Train journey from Zermatt to Chur rather than individual tickets:
- Cost-effective: The Swiss Travel Pass offers unlimited travel on the entire Swiss Travel System, including the Glacier Express Train journey, making it a cost-effective option for travellers who plan on using public transportation extensively during their trip.
- Convenience: With a Swiss Travel Pass, travellers don’t have to worry about purchasing individual tickets for each leg of their journey, saving time and hassle. The pass also allows for flexibility, as travellers can hop on and off trains, buses, and boats as they please.
- Peace of Mind: With a Swiss Travel Pass, travellers can enjoy their journey without worrying about the cost of each ticket or the hassle of purchasing them. The pass offers peace of mind and lets travellers focus on enjoying their trip.
- Additional Benefits: Besides unlimited travel on the Swiss Travel System, the Swiss Travel Pass also offers discounts on various attractions and activities throughout Switzerland, including museums, cable cars, and boat tours.
Overall, purchasing a Swiss Travel Pass for the Glacier Express Train journey from Zermatt to Chur is a smart and cost-effective option for travellers planning to use public transportation extensively during their trip to Switzerland. The pass offers convenience, additional benefits, and peace of mind, making it the ideal choice for travellers looking to make the most of their trip.
TIP: Save money by getting a GA travel card, Swiss Travel Pass, Eurail pass or an Interrail pass.
Best Season to enjoy the Glacier Express Journey
While any time of the year is a great time to enjoy the Glacier Express Train journey, the best season to visit largely depends on your preferences and interests. During the winter, the landscapes look like a snow globe, and the train ride can be a magical experience, passing through frozen valleys and towering snow-capped peaks. However, the winter months can be quite cold, and it is advisable to dress appropriately and be prepared for any weather conditions.
The landscapes are lush and green during the summer, and the train journey offers breathtaking views of wildflowers, rivers, and waterfalls. The temperatures are more moderate during summer, making it a more comfortable journey, and there are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy along the way.
I took the Glacier Express Train journey in Autumn when the changing leaves created a stunning backdrop to the already breathtaking landscapes. The crowds of tourists also tended to thin out during this time, offering a more peaceful and relaxed travel experience.
The Glacier Express Train journey from Zermatt to Chur or St. Moritz or vice versa is an experience that should be on every traveller’s bucket list. The train journey offers stunning views of the Swiss Alps, charming mountain towns, and lush valleys, making it an unforgettable experience. Whether you are travelling during winter or summer, the Glacier Express Train journey is a must-do, offering luxury travel, top-notch cuisine, and breathtaking landscapes. And once you arrive in Chur, there are plenty of attractions to explore, from the Altstadt to the Graubünden Museum of Fine Arts.
Further Viewing / Reading
Don’t forget to watch my Glacier Express vlog: I took the most expensive train journey in Switzerland! Glacier Express 🚂 – Was it worth the price😱