Ever wanted to step into a living postcard? Switzerland — with its sturdy mountains, lush grassy fields, and crystalline waterways — is in the business of offering just that. You can pass through a variety of seasons in just one day by hitting the rails and touring through its iconic Alps and valleys by train.
All this can be overwhelming to tackle — which is why Swiss Travel Pass has put together a new Grand Train Tour of Switzerland. It’s essentially a highlight reel combining eight of the country’s most scenic routes, covering all 11 of Switzerland’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. Better yet, there’s a sale going on right now for first class passes, for those who want to make it a truly memorable experience.
How It Works
The Grand Tour routes connect to create one big loop, so your only duty is to hop aboard anywhere to begin. (That said, Zurich would make the most sense for those who are flying into the airport there). It’s recommended that you carve out at least eight days for savoring the sweeping landscapes, but if you don’t have time to travel all 745 miles, they’ve organized a few four-day routes to give you a taste of the country’s most stunning snow-capped mountains and expansive lakes.
All you need is a Swiss Travel Pass — covering rails, busses, and even ferries throughout Switzerland — for the number of days that you want to travel. There are two types of passes: a flex fare valid for the selected number of days anytime within a month, or a slightly cheaper fare that includes travel for a consecutive number of days. If you want to take the time and make longer stops along the Grand Tour, the former Swiss Travel Pass Flex would be best; if you have limited time and are looking to zip through it, the normal Swiss Travel Pass will do.
For each pass, there’s a first and a second class, with first class offering more legroom and space. Here’s a handy table of current prices for four- and eight-day trips. (Three- and 15-day options are also available.)
|Swiss Travel Pass|
|First Class||Second Class|
|Swiss Travel Pass Flex|
|First Class||Second Class|
Of course, that’s before the spring promotion that Rail Europe is offering — 20 percent off first class tickets for travel through June 30. With the discount, a four-day regular fare would be $336 and a four-day flex fare $383 in first class. You must book online by May 28, using promo code SWISSEPASS20.
Intrigued? Here’s what we love about each route, starting from Zurich and heading east. We hope you enjoy the virtual tour–but know that it’s nothing compared to the real deal.
Zurich–St. Gallen: This one-hour train ride winds you past Lake Constance and onto St. Gallen, a sprawling city that dates back to the 7th century and currently stands at the center of eastern Switzerland.
St. Gallen–Lucerne (Pre-Alpine Express): Continuing on from St. Gallen, this leg of the journey heads through Toggenburg, a region seeped in history dating back to the Stone Age — flint stones have been found there — into the Roman era and beyond.
Lucerne–Montreux (GoldenPass Line): The five-hour ride between Lucerne and Montreux takes travelers from the German-speaking region to the French-speaking region of the country. You’ll pass by six lakes on its route to the infamous Lake Geneva, the country’s largest.
Montreux–Zermatt: Between Lake Geneva and Zermatt, riders reach new heights with this excursion through the Alps. A highlight in the two-and-a-half-hour journey includes gliding through the Great St. Bernard Pass, the third highest in Switzerland.
Zermatt–St. Moritz (Glacier Express): Like a real-life version of a Disney ride, the Glacier Express leaves the Matterhorn village and begins its ascent on this route, reaching the peak while chugging through the Bernina Pass — the highest point of the Bernina Range of the Alps. Hop on and you’ll see why this is one of the most popular train routes in Switzerland.
St. Moritz–Lugano/Locarno (Bernina Express): From ritzy St. Moritz, this train sets out toward the Italian border town of Tirano. Photo enthusiasts, take note — the train track winds and loops around, making it easy to catch sight of the front of the train. The red cars chugging past snowy mountains and across arched stone bridges are iconic shots. From Tirano, a postbus takes you back to the Swiss side and to Lake Lugano.
Lugano/Locarno–Lucerne (Wilhelm Tell Express): Remember those ferries that we mentioned? This leg of the journey involves not only a train ride, but a boat ride, too! The trip caps off with a cruise aboard a steamship across Lake Lucerne.
Lucerne–Zurich: You’ll pass lakes galore as you take off from the shoreline of Lucerne and head toward Switzerland’s largest city. You’ll encounter Rotsee upon leaving from Lucerne and come to view the two lakes of Zug, seeing mountains and steeples as you head closer to Zurich.