Trains are a one-of-a-kind way to see the world, and in Switzerland, the most iconic and scenic train journey has to be the Glacier Express. It may be the slowest express train in the world, but for very good reason – the train traverses through the Alps, narrow valleys, tight turns, 91 tunnels, and over 291 bridges.
In eight hours, the train covers 300km of land, from the alpine town of Zermatt to the classy ski resort town of St. Moritz (and vice versa). It offers one of the best opportunities to see a side of Switzerland many others might never see. Is it any surprise that the Glacier Express is considered to be one of the greatest railway journeys in the world?
If you need more convincing, here are reasons why the Glacier Express should be on your bucket list once travel resumes!
1. The views
The Glacier Express takes passengers on an unforgettable experience of travelling through the country’s stunning alps and majestic mountains. The cars of the train are enclosed in panoramic windows up to the roof, which provides uninterrupted views.
The journey begins in Zermatt, where you are greeted with miles of vineyards and larch woods. The train heads towards Visp, taking you through narrow canyons and massive rock walls. From Andermatt to Chur is where the famous Oberalp Pass begins. Here, the Glacier Express reaches a height of over 2,000 metres, the highest part of the journey. Chur will be the lowest elevation, but it soon opens up to breathtaking views of the Rhine, also known as the Grand Canyon of Switzerland.
For much of its journey, the Glacier Express also passes through the Rhaetian Railway in the Albula/Bernina Landscape, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for the castles, farmhouses and churches! Before you arrive in St. Moritz, you will also pass through the famous Landwasser Viaduct. Yes, the one that you’ve definitely seen pictures of on Tumblr blogs.
2. The train
Other than the huge panoramic windows and glass skylights, the train is clean, comfortable and air-conditioned. All in all, a pleasure to travel on! The Glacier Express has 1st and 2nd class, but from 2019 there is also an Excellence class.
In 2nd class, seats are arranged in fours around a table on each side of the aisle. While in 1st class, there are only three seats per row. On one side of the aisle are seats of fours around a table, while on the other are two seats facing each other with a table. There is little difference between 1st and 2nd class, as the seats are similar and the level of service is the same. The only difference is that there is slightly more space in 1st class.
However, the Excellence class is a notch above the rest. It gets you a seat in a special deluxe panoramic car with only two seats per row, and they face each other with a table in the middle. In short, everyone in the Excellence class gets a window seat! There is also a cocktail bar at the end of the car, and a five-course regional menu with wine is included in the reservation fee. The Excellence class is only available on trains 902 & 903/923.
Covid-19 update: The Glacier Express will resume service on 8 May 2021 with trains 902 and 903. However, due to ongoing restrictions, the Excellence Class will be unavailable until further notice.
3. The food
Not many trains in the world can boast of having a top notch food and wine menu, but dining on the Glacier Express is one of the highlights of the journey. There is a bar and food service car, but staff will also come down the train taking orders for lunch, drinks and snacks. It is recommended to order your meal in advance while you’re booking your tickets. Your meal will be served to you at your seat, with a choice of starters, main courses and desserts, accompanied by a wide selection of wines. Check out the menu here!
Covid-19 update: The current circumstances only allow for a limited gastronomic offer, and the bar will not be open.
4. The service
Service staff aboard the train are warm and friendly. They are very knowledgeable about the sites and are happy to answer any questions you may have. You will also have a tablet that charts your journey in real time. Information about the different areas you pass through will show up on the screen, along with sightseeing suggestions for your future travels!
On the Excellence class, you will be taken care of by a concierge for the entire journey. Be it with culinary delights, answers to your questions or exciting information about nature, the culture and people along the way.
All in all, the Glacier Express is a one-of-a-kind journey that should be on your bucket list. We’re not gonna lie – as it’s primarily a tourist train, the tickets are not a bargain (see updated prices here). But with Eurail, Interrail or the Swiss Travel Pass, your base ticket fare is free and you only have to pay for seat reservation.
Make sure to check the Glacier Express’ official site for updates. We’re living in weird times right now, but it sure helps to have a fun journey to look forward to!