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5 Epic & Non-crowded Scenic Trains In Switzerland In 2024

No doubt about it: a scenic train ride in Switzerland is simply a stunning and unforgettable experience. Swiss and international guests love the Swiss scenic trains alike, mostly because Swiss trains are convenient, clean, punctual, and operate frequently (and I haven’t even talked about the stunning views yet🙂). 

The perhaps most famous panoramic train and “slowest express train in the world” (aka the Glacier Express) transported more than 213.000 passengers across the Swiss Alps between Zermatt and St. Moritz in 2022. That’s actually only roughly 30.000 passengers short of the all-time record year in 2008.

My Top 5 Non-Crowded Scenic Trains in Switzerland

🚂 Albula Line between Thusis and St. Moritz

🚂Voralpen Express Between Lucerne And St. Gallen

🚂 Appenzeller Bahn Between St. Gallen And Appenzell

🚂 Chemin De Fer Du Jura Train Between La-Chaux-De-Fonds And St-Ursanne 🚂 Gotthard Panorama Express Between Lucerne & Lugano

The downside of that success? Many well-known popular scenic trains are sold out weeks or even months in advance, especially in high season. Plus, you also share the same experience with thousands of other tourists, resulting in a lesser authentic travel experience and a more hectic atmosphere in my experience. 

But there is hope; there are much more than just a few of Switzerland’s most famous scenic train journeys. My mission with Switzerland beyond Chocolate is also to introduce alternative scenic train trips besides the main tourist highlights.

You might not have heard from some of the train routes on my list, but as a native Swiss, I have the benefit of being able to include my personal favorite scenic trains on this list. All of them are included with the Swiss Travel Pass or an Interrail Pass, most of them with no surcharge. 

5 Scenic Trains In Switzerland You Should Try

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Without further ado, let’s get into it. The train tour sometimes even runs on the same railway tracks as some of the famous pendants. The first train is a great example of it. The Albula Line Express is in part similar to the famous Bernina Express route. 

Albula Line between Thusis and St. Moritz

📍Travel Distance
62 kilometers 
⏱️ Duration
1h27
📅 Operation
All year round 
 📷 Highlight
Passing the Landwasserviadukt
🎫 Rail Pass
Included with Swiss Travel Pass or Interrail Pass, 50% discount with Swiss half-fare card 
💺 Seat Reservation 
Not required 

The 62-kilometer-long Albula Line between Thusis & St. Moritz in Switzerland’s south-east is more than just a journey from point A to B in a UNESCO World Heritage protected area. It’s a passage through time and nature and a testament to Swiss innovation & engineering skills. 

One of the main highlights of the entire trip is definitely passing the 65-meter-high Landwasserviadukt roughly 50 minutes after leaving St. Moritz. When you do so, think about the fact that the Albula line was built in only five years and opened in 1903 with far less technological development than we are used to today. I think it’s quite impressive.

Pro Tip

The entire experience only lasts approximately 30 seconds, so you better have your camera ready! I find the views on the left-hand side when facing the direction of travel slightly more impressive, but maybe it’s just me. 

Aside from the engineering masterpieces, en route, you will get to see wild forests and magical mountain villages that seem to have sprung straight out of a Heidiland movie. 

Albula train is one of the most scenic trains in switzerland
View from Albula Line Train

From St. Moritz, you can board any Interregio 38 or RegioExpress 38 train towards Chur. Direct trains run once per hour between 5.40 a.m. and 8 p.m., with fewer trains on weekends (especially early in the morning and late in the evening).

Time table_Albula line Interregion trains

The Albula Line is also part of the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland (a scenic train tour developed by the national tourism marketing organization.) It’s essentially a seamless extension of the Bernina Express between St. Moritz and Tirano and grants an intimate glimpse into the untouched beauty of the Swiss Alps.

My Excursion Tip 

Because of its close proximity to the much more popular Bernina Express line, most visitors will only pass by once but never get off. However, I definitely would recommend you to make a day trip to Thusis from St. Moritz or Chur

If you do, my suggestion is to visit the impressive Viamala Canyon and combine it with the Traversinersteg und der Rofflaschlucht if you are into hiking. 

via mala canyon
Via Mala Canyon

Voralpen Express Between Lucerne And St. Gallen

📍Travel Distance
125 kilometers 
⏱️ Duration
Around 2h15
📅 Operation
All year round 
🎫 Rail Pass
Included with Swiss Travel Pass or Interrail Pass, 50% discount with Swiss half-fare card 
💺 Seat Reservation 
Not required 

 The Voralpen Express connects central Switzerland with the eastern part of the country. The scenic Swiss train takes around 2h15 minutes in total. Because the route doesn’t go through the Alps, the scenery is very different from the Albula Line and much more mellow.

Instead, incredible views of Swiss lakes such as Lake Lucerne and Lake Zurich, stunning mountains in the background, and the unique high-moor scenery make it one of the most diverse scenic train journeys in Switzerland. 

Voralpenexpress route
Image Source: sob.ch

The Voralpen Express is operated by the SOB (Südostbahn) in modern trains with comfortable seats and large windows. There are self-service coffee and snack vending machines on board. 

Due to the cooperation between all Swiss railway companies, you don’t need to worry about additional train tickets, even if the operating carrier isn’t the national railway company SBB. The direct Voralpenexpress departs once per hour between 7 am and 7 pm. 

Voralpenexpress train en route
Image source: sob.ch

My Excursion Tip

My favorite excursion requires a train change halfway through. Disembark the Voralpen Express at a train station called Biberbrugg and board the local S30 train to Einsiedeln. 

The charming Swiss village is most famous for its impressive Einsiedeln Abbey, built in 1130. The building is still home to about 50 monks of the Catholic Benedictine Order. The magnificent architecture is something you will hardly find anywhere else in Switzerland. Don’t miss out on seeing the Black Madonna painting in a mystical atmosphere and a visit to the inner courtyard as well. 

View on Einsiedeln abbey
View of Einsiedeln Abbey from the restaurant

Chances are you will get to see Einsiedler breed horses, which the monks have been breeding for centuries. In the monastery restaurant, definitely try drinking a glass of wine from their own winery and the local delicates, the Einsiedler Schafsbock (a sweet-backed cookie made with honey).  

Appenzeller Bahn Between St. Gallen And Appenzell

📍Travel Distance
27 kilometers 
⏱️ Duration
Ca. 1 hour
📅 Operation
All year round 
🎫 Rail Pass
Included with Swiss Travel Pass or Interrail Pass, 50% discount with Swiss half-fare card 
💺 Seat Reservation 
Not required 

The Appenzeller Bahn, a charming narrow-gauge railway, meanders through the picturesque landscapes of Eastern Switzerland, but my favorite route is connecting St. Gallen to Wasserauen over a 27-kilometer track

Unless you are already starting the trip in Eastern Switzerland, the city of St. Gallen is a regional hub and the best starting point for exploring the region by train

If you have 1-2 spare hours, stroll through the historic city of St. Gallen and treat yourself to Switzerland’s most famous (veal and pork) sausage, the “St. Galler Bratwurst”. If a great atmosphere isn’t too important and your time is limited, the to-go place is the butchery Schmied; they have a food stand near Track 1 in the train station in St. Gallen. 

Very importantly, eat it WITHOUT mustard for an authentic experience. The locals take great pride in the recipe and think any extras will ruin the entire experience. 

Side note

Here are a few facts about St. Galler’s specialty to show you how serious they are about it. The first documented evidence in writing about the St. Galler Bratwurst goes back to the 15th century. The product is even IGP certified. Sausages that have the IGP label, among other requirements, must be made in the cantons of St. Gallen, Appenzell Inerrhoden, Appenzell Ausserhoden, or Thurgau, and there are only 38 manufacturers in the entire country that are allowed to produce the original St. Galler sausage. 

But, back to the Appenzeller Bahn. From St. Gallen, take the S20 line. After about 15 minutes, the train will leave urbanity behind. En route to the final destination, you will reward yourself with the best views and a changing tapestry of landscapes. 

Appenzeller Bahn
Image source: appenzellerbahnen.ch

The architecture along this route is a highlight, featuring quaint farmhouses and barns with elaborately painted facades typical of the Appenzell region. Several small stations along the way allow glimpses into rural Swiss life, where traditional customs are still very much alive.

One of the more significant stops is Teufen, a village with many beautifully preserved buildings, and the Grubenmann Museum, which is located inside the Teufen Armoury, just a few steps from the train station.

Grubenmann Museum in Teufen
Grubenmann family museum in Teufen

The museum is all about the Grubenmann family, who had a significant impact on regional architecture in the 18th century. The exhibition itself is interesting, but I wouldn’t recommend planning more than one hour, because it is actually quite small. 

Continuing on the journey, you will arrive in Appenzell shortly thereafter. The village, with around 7,000 inhabitants, is the cultural and historical center of the canton of Appenzell (to be exact, it consists of two half-cantons). The region is one of the most conservative in Switzerland. 

For example, the right to vote for women was only invented in 1990 after considerable pressure from the federal courts. On the other hand, many traditions and original craftsmanship are only preserved here. A visit to the local brewery Locher, Museum Appenzell, and other attractions is living proof of it. 

My Excursion Tip  

The most famous outdoor excursion from Appenzell is probably the cable car ride from Wasserauen, followed by a 2-hour hike to the cliff restaurant Berggasthaus Aescher. The views and the restaurant, which is built into the mountain, are impressive, but they became quite popular on social media four to five years ago, so you are definitely not alone if you plan to do that. 

For a less crowded outdoor experience, I recommend taking the S23 train to Gonten instead (it takes only five minutes to travel). From there, you can experience a unique experience, the Gonten barefoot trail.

Train to Gonten

It might feel awkward in the beginning, but it is actually a lot of fun. Most of the trail is padded with fresh grass or soft soil, but there are a few surprising elements as well. The trail is around five kilometers long and takes around two hours, so it’s the perfect length for half a day.  

Barefoot trail gonten
Follow these signs on the Barefoot trail in Gonten

Chemin De Fer Du Jura Train Between La-Chaux-De-Fonds And St-Ursanne

📍Travel Distance
Ca. 50 kilometers
⏱️ Duration
1h15
📅 Operation
All year round 
🎫 Rail Pass
Included with Swiss Travel Pass or Interrail Pass, 50% discount with Swiss half-fare card 
💺 Seat Reservation 
Not required 

 I have great memories of the scenic train journey from La-Chaux-de-Fonds to St-Ursanne. You traverse a 50-kilometer route in just about 1h15. This trip unveils the hidden gems of the Jura landscape, with the Parc Naturel du Doubs as the geographical highlight. 

La Chaux-de-Fonds, the starting point of this picturesque rail journey, is a UNESCO World Heritage site, celebrated for its unique urban planning tailored to the needs of the local watchmaking industry. As the train departs, it descends through the undulating landscapes of the Jura mountains, revealing dense fir forests and wide-open pastures that typify the region. 

Doubs National Park
Image source: myswitzerland.com

As passengers approach St-Ursanne, the train navigates the twists and turns of the Doubs River, offering glimpses of the water’s crystal-clear flows from the carriage windows. This section of the journey is particularly enchanting, as the river cuts deeply through limestone cliffs, creating dramatic gorges and verdant, secluded valleys where nature feels untouched by time.

My Excursion Tip

 For an immersive local experience, I highly recommend adding a kayak tour between St-Ursanne and Glovelier to your itinerary. This unique excursion offers a refreshing view from the water, intimately connecting you with the landscape you’ve just admired from the train. To not be rushed, plan at least four hours for the tour. 

Gotthard Panorama Express Between Lucerne & Lugano

📍Travel Distance
Ca. 150 kilometers (combination of boat and train)
⏱️ Duration
5h30 
📅 Operation
Between 20th April and 20th October, from Tuesday to Sunday
🎫 Rail Pass
Included with Swiss Travel Pass or Interrail Pass, 50% discount with Swiss half-fare card 
💺 Seat Reservation 
Mandatory, 24 CHF surcharge per person

The Gotthard Panorama Express train connects the German-speaking with the Italian-speaking parts of Switzerland and travels through the old Gotthard tunnel, which was opened in 1880. It is definitely one of the best scenic train rides when you visit Switzerland. 

This exceptional journey starts in the charming town of Lucerne in central Switzerland and winds its way to the Mediterranean ambiance of Lugano, encapsulating a blend of panoramic rail and boat travel that is uniquely Swiss.

The full excursion lasts about five hours and covers an approximate 180-kilometer distance. It is operational from April to October. 

Boat ride on lake Lucerne
View from a boat ride on Lake Lucerne on the Gotthard Panorama Route

The journey kicks off on the waters of Lake Lucerne with a three-hour boat ride to Flüelen via Vitznau and Brunnen. On the Gotthard-Panorama-route connections, the route will automatically be operated with one of five historical paddle-steaming boats. Especially the fiords in the last part of the boat ride give you Norwegian vibes combined with the tradition and Swiss history. 

Cultural and historical highlights of the lake cruise include the Tellskapelle, located at the mythical site where William Tell is said to have escaped from the Habsburgs, and the Rutli Meadow, revered as the birthplace of the Swiss Confederation.

Transitioning from water to rail at Flüelen, the Gotthard Panorama Express then embarks on its railway segment, ascending towards the historic Gotthard route. This part of the journey is famed for its engineering marvels, including the spiraling loops and tunnels, where you get to see the church tower of Wassen no less than seven times. The train eventually passes through the original Gotthard Tunnel before emerging into the sun-soaked landscapes of Ticino.

Important note: Rail passes and the half-fare card are valid on the entire route. However, in the section from Flüelen to Lugano, you will either need a first-class rail pass/ticket or purchase an upgrade. There are no second-class coaches on this train. 

The shift in scenery is striking as the train descends towards the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland, where palm trees and vineyards replace the alpine forests and meadows.

As the Gotthard Panorama Express approaches Lugano, passengers are treated to views of the deep blue waters of Lake Lugano and the picturesque towns that dot its shores. The final stretch through the Monte Ceneri Base Tunnel, a modern marvel that represents the future of Alpine rail travel, offers a smooth and rapid conclusion to the journey.

My Excursion Tip:

In Lugano, travelers can explore a vibrant mix of Swiss and Mediterranean cultures, with ample opportunities to enjoy fine dining, shopping, and cultural sites. A must-visit is the Monte Brè, accessible via a funicular, which offers one of the best panoramic views of the city, lake, and surrounding mountains.

The lakeside promenades and the lush Parco Ciani provide perfect spots to unwind, reflecting on the journey’s diverse experiences. For a taste of local history, the Lugano Arte e Cultura (LAC) offers a wealth of artistic and musical performances, making it an ideal culmination to the enriching and visually stunning journey offered by the Gotthard Panorama Express. 

To sum it up

Traveling in Switzerland on lesser-known routes has great advantages. Besides fewer crowds, you often have different things to offer than a more famous train. The Swiss rail network is diverse, and a scenic route from my list is often considerably cheaper than touristic mainstream trains like the Golden Pass, especially with a rail pass

Also, a non-touristic train instead of a more crowded alternative gives you more flexibility and an authentic experience because you don’t need to book your train tickets months in advance to explore by train. 

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

Get answers to a list of the most Frequently Asked Questions.

In my opinion the Bernina Express offers one of Switzerland’s most scenic train journeys. It travels through the Swiss Alps from Chur to Tirano but is a bit shorter than the Glacier Express.

The Grand Train Tour of Switzerland is ideal for seeing the main Swiss attractions via train. It combines scenic rides like the Glacier Express and Bernina Express and routes through the Brünig Pass and Oberalp Pass. This comprehensive tour allows travelers to experience the diversity of Switzerland by train over several days, ensuring a full scenic Swiss train ride experience.

Yes, the most famous experience, the cogwheel train to the Jungfraujoch, known as “The Top of Europe,” even includes Europe’s highest train station. This cogwheel train takes you across stunning alpine scenery and offers exceptional views of Lake Thun on its ascent. It’s a must-do for anyone wanting a special ride through the Swiss Alps.

Absolutely! A rail pass such as the Swiss Travel Pass or Interrail Pass allows unlimited travel on consecutive days across the extensive Swiss Travel System network. They both cover most panoramic routes, including the scenic Swiss train rides such as the Glacier Express and Bernina Express, but surcharges for seat reservations apply.

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