The Glacier Express route from Zermatt to St. Moritz is Switzerland’s most beautiful train ride. Now that I look back at our 10 days in Switzerland, I think I owe the trip to the mythical Glacier Express. After all, it was the picture of this train passing over the dramatic Landwasser Viaduct that convinced me to make this journey.
The famous Swiss scenic trains are something every traveler should experience at least once in his/her lifetime. Although any rail line in Switzerland passes through beautiful cow pastures and flower-trimmed chalets, there are some rides that could rightfully claim the title, like the Jungfrau Railways, Gornegrat Railway Zermatt, Brunig Pass Interlaken-Lucerne, or Bernina Express.
The Glacier Express Route
The Glacier Express is a true classic. Arguably Switzerland’s most famous train ride, the Glacier Express is connecting the two major mountain resorts of Zermatt and St. Moritz.
Contrary to its name, the 75 year old Glacier Express is actually a slow-speed train. In fact, it is considered “the slowest express train in the world” and for a good reason. The 275 km journey takes about 8 hours.
Aboard the Glacier Express
The narrow-gauge track goes across three high-mountain passes, passing through 91 tunnels and over 291 bridges. The ride is out-of-this world beautiful!
We boarded the train in the little village of Zermatt knowing that we have a full day of riding ahead of us. But we were in no rush to see this journey end. Why would we want to race through the spectacular scenery of green valleys, blue rivers, dramatic limestone arches and gorges?
Seated comfortably in my seat, as the train pulled out of the station, I felt like I was on a movie set. The bright red carriages with almost floor to ceiling windows were winding like a caterpillar through the snowy mountains. The scene was reminiscent of “The Polar Express.” How could one not enjoy this journey from the comfort of such a train?
After leaving Zermatt, the train started to descend from 1,600 m towards Brig, passing through many narrow places flanked by massive rock walls, then climbed up again to 2034 m, the higest point of this journey. Along the way you we came across pristine mountain landscapes, deep gorges, glamorous health resorts, delightful little towns, and impressive viaducts.
The scenery is so incredibly beautiful that it’s hard to sit still. Those of you who know my passion for photography can imagine that I was constantly taking pictures. Unfortunately, the window glare messed up most of them.
Although the Glacier express has panoramic windows, they are fully sealed and can’t be opened. With the sun streaming in it gets a little warm, but the train is air conditioned.
In the first class we were provided headphones, so all along the way we got information about the Glacier Express route. You can order food onboard, but we brought our own lunch and I’m glad we did. Their food didn’t look very tasty and it was quite expensive.
Buying a Ticket for the Glacier Express Route
One inconvenience the Glacier Express is that seat reservation is mandatory. However, although you reserve a seat you can’t actually choose it. So you may find yourself stuck with your back in the direction of the train and facing a couple of total strangers for 7.5 hours.
Seat reservation is not cheap. With the Swiss Rail Pass you get a discount, but we still paid 420 CHF/person (428 USD). Ouch!
There are regular train services as well for this route, so you don’t need to buy an expensive Glacier Express ticket to get from Zermatt to St. Moritz. On the regular trains you don’t need to make a reservation if you travel with the Swiss Pass. Plus, you can hop off and back on again along the way at the many little stops.
The regular trains do not offer the panoramic windows and the same level of comfort, but other than that you can see the landscape just as well. The Glacier Express is just like a normal Swiss train but with better service.
A Final Thought
I have to say that although it was an expensive adventure, the train ride was quite an experience and 7.5 hours passed quite quickly. So is the Glacier Express really worth the money? You’ll have to decide that based on your budget. I’m glad we did it, but at this price I wouldn’t do it again!
Switzerland train rides are the best! Your pictures are making me nostalgic about the 4 times we have been to the swiss Alps 🙂 Such a beautiful country! Expensive though!
Thank you Samiya. I just love Switzerland!
Jolanta aka Casual Traveler
Thanks for the warning! Traveling by train or other “public transportation” is comfortable, better than driving, but if your main reason for taking the train is to take photos, then I can see how you were disappointed. And yes, I’d hate having to sit facing strangers. Why would they even think designing seats like that is a good idea?
Truth is that the Glacier Express offers a beautiful ride, but the same route can be made by a regular train for so much less and with more flexibility.
With many of these travel experiences you just never know what your actual impression will be- and it’s certainly different from the next person. Hence, it’s so great to read the travel blog posts and …just be prepared for surprises!
It’s not that I didn’t like the ride, Victoria, but next time I’ll take a regular train. It offers much more flexibility.
Lyn - A Hole in my Shoe
Anda as were planning on riding the Glacier Express in December so this is a timely blog to read. Love your photos as always.
I think you’ll love this route in winter, Lyn.
Switzerland Tourism took a group of travel agents on the Glacier Express after a fancy graduation party for Switzerland Network in St Moritz. Everyone thought it was just too long. Pretty, yes…but we ended up taking about 9 hours to make it to Zermatt..
For me it went pretty fast, but I was frustrated with the windows. Too much glare.
Such beautiful pictures in this post! Even if you didn’t get all the pictures you wanted on the trip.
Must get myself there!
Thank you Sarah, that’s very kind of you.
Really interesting stuff. I feel your pain about being unable to take the pictures! I love train journeys, but am not sure about this one and think perhaps we would take your advice and do the hop on and off on a different train. Would still love to journey through the Swiss mountains though!
Maybe it was my frustration with the sealed windows, Sara. I actually liked the ride, but the regular trains will take you on the same route with less hassle.
Hmmm! Good to know all these details. I would be bummed if after paying a not so cheap ticket, I end up in the back area you described. So, some seats do not have a window view? Sounds like one of those attractions you want to experience because there is a lot of hype surrounding it but you do not feel like repeating it after that time (because there are popular attractions that I feel like repeating).
I think you misunderstood me, Ruth. The Glacier Express cars have windows from floor to ceiling almost, so you can see from any seat. The problem is that if you are seated with your back towards the direction of the train you get to see the scenery only after it passes you, so it’s difficult to photograph a beautiful mountain peak, or a bridge, etc.
Interesting! I was going to take my son on this because he loves trains. It sounds like we’d be better off on the local trains and spread it out over a couple of days. I’m sure we’d be able to find a place to stay overnight. Such a shame, the Glacier Express is billed as one of those ‘must do’ train experiences.
I hope I didn’t discourage you from riding the Glacier Express, Shobha. It’s not a bad experience at all, but from the standpoint of a photographer, it was a disappointment.
Carmen | Carmen's Luxury Travel
I would of been very upset too if I had the sun glare in my eyes the whole time and wasn’t able to take pictures. That’s a long train ride.
I was more upset about the fact that I paid a great deal of money for this train and instead of getting to face to face seems, we have been seated in front of two very boring people who chatted constantly for 8 hours. That’s way I went mainly standing, trying to take pictures.
We took the Bernina Express trip (on a very similar looking red train) from Tirano to St. Moritz. The scenery was just delightful, and at each end of the carriage, there was a window which slid down so that you could lean out the side and take photos without the reflection. It was the best of both worlds, and one of the highlights of our trip 🙂
I wanted to use the Bernina Express to get from St.Moritz till Lake Lugano, but instead we rented a car.
The photos did come out great anyway. I know that frustration, plus my family tends to get a bit board on trains, even the beautiful scenery ones. I generally find myself standing in an outside area so I can take photos. Great advice on this one should I find myself in Switzerland some day.
Thank you for commenting, Rhonda.
Suze the Luxury Columnist
I’ll know to take the regular train carriage, so as to be able to swap seats – your photos came out really well anyway, Anda
Thank you, Suze. I’ll take the regular train too.
We took the regular train on the same route. The train was practically empty and we could jump from side to side to get the best pics. every glacier express carriage was full of people – for about twice the price. Still the scenery is a must see, no matter which way you choose to travel.
Exactly what I suspected, Megsy. Next time I’ll know better, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the experience.
That’s great advice! It’s always good to have first-hand experience to guide in choosing routes and modes of transport. It looks like such a scenic journey!