What’s It Like to Go On a 4-Day Train Ride Through Switzerland?
My train ride through Switzerland was sponsored by various local travel organizations, including Swiss Travel System. I am so grateful for these gifted experiences! Rest assured that, as always, all opinions are my own.
As my long-term readers know, I used to live in Switzerland. Due to happenstance, I spent 6 months in Chur, a picturesque, historic town nestled in the Alps, about an hour from Zürich. Afterwards, I never really got this beautiful country – and its landscapes – out of my head.
When I received the opportunity to plan a scenic train ride through Switzerland, I was thrilled. Sponsored by Swiss Travel System, I spent 4 days riding iconic trains like the Bernina Express and Gotthard Panorama Express, as well as commuter trains that offered views almost as stunning.
The best part: thanks to a Swiss Travel Pass, I had unlimited access to the entire country’s public transportation network.
In this blog post, I’ll take you along on my journey and help you plan your own scenic train ride through Switzerland, which, trust me, you won’t regret!
Why Did I Choose Train Travel in Switzerland?
Before we get started, let me tell you why I chose a multi-day train ride through Switzerland instead of, say, renting a car. Well, simply put, train travel is the most convenient and comfortable way to see the country.
There are over 25,000 train, bus, ferry and cable car stops in Switzerland. Even the smallest, most remote villages are connected to the world via public transport.
If you’re looking for a hassle-free way to get from big cities to remote mountain towns and experience the Swiss countryside, train travel is extremely practical and reliable. You can get all around the country efficiently using public transport.
What’s more, a train ride through Switzerland will leave you wondering if you haven’t magically stepped into an alternate universe where everything is just picture-perfect!
Chances are, as you make your way to your next destination, you’ll pass crystal clear lakes, towering waterfalls, rolling hills dotted with wooden chalets, and your fair share of cows grazing in lush pastures. Plus you won’t have to worry about dealing with traffic, so you can devote your entire attention to the scenery.
What Are the Advantages of a Swiss Travel Pass?
If you decide to go on a train ride through Switzerland, the most cost-effective and flexible way to see the country is to purchase a Swiss Travel Pass.
Valid for 3, 4 or 5+ days, this ticket allows you to travel anywhere, at any time, on Switzerland’s public transport network for a fixed price. You can just go to whichever station is closest to you and spontaneously head to the part of Switzerland that suits your fancy.
Prior to working with Swiss Travel System, I actually purchased a pass on my first trip to the country. I had planned to travel from Zürich to Interlaken, but on the day of my desired departure, it turned out to be raining at my destination.
Last-minute, I hopped on a train going to sunny Lugano instead, something I couldn’t have done if I had pre-purchased Zürich-Interlaken tickets.
The Swiss Travel Pass also covers premium trains like the Bernina Express (except for the reservation fee – and please note, advance booking is required for these panoramic trains).
Therefore, every time I visit Switzerland with the goal of discovering multiple destinations, purchasing a Swiss Travel Pass is a no-brainer.
My Itinerary: 4 Days with the Swiss Travel Pass
In this next section, I’ll share the exact itinerary I followed on my 4-day train ride through Switzerland, the sheer variety of which blew me away! In 96 hours, I enjoyed fresh mountain air, palm trees, Italian-influenced border towns and historic Swiss cities.
Day 1: Zürich – Chur
My Swiss adventure began in Zürich, where I had 24 hours to get reacquainted with the city before my railway journey was to begin (but that is the subject of this blog post).
On Day 1 of my train trip through Switzerland, I travelled from Zürich’s Main Station (Hauptbahnhof) to Chur, in the Canton of Grisons.
For me, this was a sentimental journey of sorts, as I got to revisit a place where I lived in 2019. For everyone else, it will be a scenic train ride through Switzerland’s countryside to a beautiful destination that remains somewhat off the beaten path.
It takes just over an hour to reach Chur. You’ll follow the shoreline of Lake Zürich and Walensee (Switzerland’s deepest body of water), before making your way through a valley flanked by the Alps.
Insider Tip: Make sure to sit on the left side of the train, so that you have a front-row view of the lakes!
Exploring Chur, Switzerland’s Oldest City
As Switzerland’s oldest city, Chur has plenty to offer. There are even some Roman ruins that you can visit (just ask for the key and leave a deposit at the Tourism Office).
I reached Chur in the early afternoon. After checking in at the lovely Hotel Stern (upscale yet completely unpretentious accommodation in the Old Town), I went for a nice long walk.
First off, I made my way up to Haldenhüttli, a lookout with sensational views over the entire town, valley, and mountains beyond. This was my first time seeing Chur in the fall and I was thrilled to discover that the city’s vineyards next to Haldenhüttli were producing grapes.
Afterwards, I wandered back down the hill and along the cobblestoned streets of the Old Town, pleasantly losing myself amidst the little squares, narrow alleys, centuries-old homes and specialty shops.
I next made it to the Plessur River, which I strolled alongside for a while, crossing over little bridges covered in geraniums to get some pictures of the water and Alps in the background.
Then, it was time for dinner at Hotel Stern’s award-winning restaurant, which has been serving local fare for 300 years. I tried the Bündner Trilogy – small plates showcasing the region’s best dishes.
My meal included Maluns (fried potatoes with apple sauce and mountain cheese), Capuns (stuffed cabbage rolls cooked in milk-bouillon) and Pizzocheri Neri (buckwheat flour pasta with vegetables).
The hours in Chur evaporated way too quickly. After a good night’s sleep, it was time for the next leg of my train ride through Switzerland.
Insider tip: Although many travellers simply pass through Chur on their way to other destinations, the little city of 40,000 is definitely worth at least a 2-day visit, in the opinion of this ex-local.
And, if you stay in Chur overnight, you’ll get a free Chur Card, which grants you steep discounts on the city’s attractions and free access to local public transport, including cable cars.
Day 2: Chur – Pontresina on the Bernina Express
On the second day of my train ride through Switzerland, I travelled aboard the famous Bernina Express from Chur to Pontresina, a ski town 1,805 m above sea level.
The Bernina Express is one of Switzerland’s panoramic trains, with big glass windows allowing passengers to take in uninterrupted views of the scenery as they travel through some of the country’s most pristine natural landscapes.
This specific train whisked us up into the Alps, past aqueducts, remote villages and torrential rivers. As the trees thinned out, we began to spot snowy peaks and web-like waterfalls cascading down into the valleys.
I thoroughly enjoyed my hours on the Bernina Express, my eyes glued to the window panes so much so that I forgot to use the complimentary wifi – and that’s saying something!
Pitstop in Pontresina
I decided to split my Bernina Express journey in two, picking Pontresina as a stopping point. This way, I could experience the beauty of the Alps while based in a typical ski resort town (although of course off-season).
The first thing I noticed in Pontresina was just how fresh and crisp the air was. The next, that the temperature had dropped considerably in comparison to the valley!
My biggest tip here would be to pack extra layers! Fortunately, I had multiple sweatshirts to keep me warm.
Pontresina, also a popular bouldering destination, offered some exceptional landscapes. The town is set right at the edge of an impressive gorge, the perfect spot for photo ops.
What’s more, a number of trails of varying lengths pass through the village center, making it easy to start hiking directly from your holiday rental. I unfortunately didn’t have a chance to test the trails out – perhaps next time!
Day 3: Pontresina – Lugano on the Bernina Express (Train & Bus)
I returned to Pontresina’s train station bright and early the next morning to continue aboard the Bernina Express. That day’s journey was going to take me up to the summits of the Alps and through the Bernina Pass, then back down to Tirano, an Italian border town. Afterwards, I would catch the Bernina Express Bus to Lugano.
Even if it began pouring a few minutes after our departure, the scenery still took my breath away. I can only imagine what effect the sun would have had on these views! If I thought the Bernina Express was scenic before, this was at a whole new level of gorgeous.
If you continue your train through Switzerland on the second part of the Bernina Express track, you’ll see natural aquamarine lakes, monster waterfalls (literally stretching on for kilometres down from mountain summits, branching out into multiple streams), snow-covered glaciers and turquoise reservoirs.
Still dazzled, I got off the Bernina Express in Tirano, Italy, where a panoramic bus took us on to Lugano, winding around some very famous lakes, including Como.
Pro tip: Make sure you sit on the left side of the Bernina Express bus, so you get the best views of Lake Como. I unknowingly picked the wrong side, but now I know for next time!
Lugano: Italian Paradise In Switzerland
If you haven’t heard of Lugano, make sure you look up this destination ASAP. Chances are, you’ll want to add this stop to your train ride through Switzerland.
The city of Lugano is located on the shores of a lake of the same name, a stone’s throw from the Italian border. It is warm and balmy here, with palm trees to prove it. The mountains that surround town have regained lush vegetation. The architecture is distinctly Italian, as is the local language.
Like Chur, overnight visitors in Lugano receive a complimentary public transport pass. The ticket includes funicular rides to and from the main train station and the city center, which borders the lakeshore.
At first light the next morning, I went for a lovely walk along the waterfront to Parco Ciani. Locals were just starting to go about their day and the lakeshore was relatively still – even quiet enough to attract wildlife. I got very close to a local heron at one point!
Day 4: Lugano – Arth Goldau on the Gotthard Panorama Express
Soon, it was time for my next – and sadly last – panoramic train adventure. This leg of the journey was spent aboard the Gotthard Panorama Express, which ferried us from the palms of Lugano, back up into the Alps and on to the rolling hills of Arth Goldau.
Fun fact: Arth Goldau is located within the canton of Schwyz – the birthplace of the Swiss army knife.
On the way, passengers learn about the Gotthard Pass, the longest mountain tunnel in the world, and the stories of the heroic men who dug all 57 km of it from 1872 to 1882.
The train’s staff were extremely friendly and knowledgeable, often stopping by to distribute chocolates, postcards, or tips on when to take the best pictures. As a traveller, I greatly appreciated this personal touch!
Last Leg: Arth Goldau to Basel
As I was spending the night in Basel, I took advantage of the last few hours of my Swiss Travel Pass’s validity to ride commuter trains to my final destination.
Perhaps I should have gotten used to Switzerland’s beauty by now, but I was still taken aback at just how scenic it was to travel through the countryside!
The section of the track following Zugersee deserves a special mention here.
Final Thoughts on My Scenic Train Ride Through Switzerland
As you can imagine, riding the Swiss rails was a fantastic way to see a part of the country. I would do it all again – perhaps focusing on the western side of Switzerland.
Of course, the Swiss panoramic journeys make for unforgettable experiences, although I came to the conclusion that any train ride through Switzerland will, more often than not, take your breath away – even if you’re just on a normal commuter train. All you have to do is look out the window!
If you’ve been inspired by my train ride through Switzerland, make sure to book your Swiss Tavel Pass here.