Throughout my overland journey from Cork to Cape Town, I visited a plethora of breathtaking places. While the eclectic landmarks of Cairo and the scenic film spots of Dubrovnik were memorable experiences, it’s safe to say not much can compare to the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland.
The name Grand Train Tour of Switzerland alone evoked images of a panoramic journey through valleys and alongside vast lakes, passing the greenest meadows and mountains in the world. This was definitely the case, don’t get me wrong, but the quaint Swiss villages and fields full of the world’s happiest cows are things few remember to mention.
From the slowest express train in the world (I’m looking at you, Glacier Express) to the more common Bernina Express, this journey was unlike any other. It’s easily one of the most exciting things to do in Switzerland — I would go as far as to say this is the only way to travel the country.
So, if you want to stop at all of Switzerland’s most beautiful villages and enjoy an experience like no other, this Switzerland train itinerary covers everything you need to know.
Magical Swiss Train Tour Essentials You Need to Know
Before diving right into the itinerary, it’s important you know a few things about taking a grand tour of Switzerland. I’ve provided all the essentials here, from how to visit to ticket prices.
How Long Switzerland Train Tours Last
We secured two 8-day passes for the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland, valid for travel on all trains, buses, and boats in Switzerland. This meant that virtually all transport for the entire week was covered by one pass.
While many people think it’s just a train pass, it’s honestly way more. It allowed us to take buses for free in all the cities we visited, not to mention boat rides were also included. This allowed us to explore Lausanne, Lugano, and Lucerne stress-free.
While we didn’t have time to see any of Switzerland’s famous museums, your pass will also get you free to over 500 museums across the country. One place we did not make it to, but I wish we had, was the town of Ascona. Check it out if you can.
This is where the pass comes in handy, though, as you could always choose the 14-day Grand Train Tour of Switzerland pass if you need more time.
Grand Train Tour of Switzerland Cost and Ticket Prices
While we opted for the 8-day pass, they also have a 4-day pass for just €262 ($287 USD), which is unbelievable value for Switzerland. Seriously, google the price of a simple one-way intercity ticket, and you’ll cry, so this really is the cheapest option.
There are also many different railway lines within Switzerland and different routes depending on what type of scenery you’re looking for. One of my absolute favorite places to visit, with stunning high-alpine scenery, is the Jungfrau Railways — so definitely add that to your Swiss bucket list!
The two top panoramic trains include the Bernina and Glacier Express trains. The Bernina Express is a UNESCO World Heritage Route, which speaks volumes in and of itself.
Note: If you don’t have eight days, let alone four, there are many a Switzerland train tour you can join for one day. So, if you’re limited on time, I’ve found the top options for you to pick from. P.S. Some of them even leave from Milan.
My 8-Day Grand Tour of Switzerland by Train
Now, it’s time to get stuck into the fun stuff. I’ve outlined each day with a dive into each town I visited. Each village was spectacular, so you can imagine there’s a lot to do at each of these Swiss destinations.
Day One | Start Your Swiss Train Tour in Lausanne
We decided to start our Grand Train Tour of Switzerland in lovely Lausanne, a city that won my heart and has found its way on to my favorite places in the world list — an impressive feat considering I just arrived in my 60th country!
I can’t quite pinpoint what it is I loved about Lausanne — but I believe it was the city’s charming mix of old and new, combining a rich and fascinating history with many events, organizations, and architecture. Situated on Lake Geneva and home to many of the world’s leading hotels, it was the perfect city to start our tour and help us fall in love with Switzerland.
Highlights included a boat trip around the northern end of Lake Geneva on a 100-year-old steamboat, passing by the famous Vevay Vineyards and an island owned by the Queen of England (apparently, it was gifted to her!). We spent time pointing at mansions lining the shore of the lake, trying to decide which house we wished we could live in!
Lausanne is also home to some great restaurants, bars, and nightclubs (if visiting, be sure to go to MAD), so we over-indulged for a day, eating our own body weight in delicious Swiss cheese and local wines.
Another highlight of our day in Lausanne was visiting the Olympic Museum, which my travel buddy Ian has written about in great detail. There’s something very special about visiting an Olympic Museum in The Olympic city.
Day Two | Adventure Lovers Head to Interlaken
From Lausanne, we took the train direct to Interlaken, a town famous for being the adventure sports capital of Europe. Interlaken could give towns like Queenstown and Victoria Falls a run for their money in terms of being crowned adrenaline junkie capital of the world. Be it skydiving, hiking, biking, Paragliding, or a variety of winter sports, Interlaken has it all.
We stayed in Balmers Hostel, the longest-running independent hostel in Switzerland and one of the funkiest hostels I’ve ever stayed in. They even have their own nightclub!
Traveling by rail in Switzerland really means traveling in style. We always beelined straight for the first-class seats, and once, a lady questioned whether we were in the right section due to our scruffy backpacker clothes. We showed her our tickets with pride, and she returned to her seat hastily!
From the moment we boarded our first train in Lausanne to the moment we disembarked our last train in Lugano on the Swiss-Italian border, Ian and I were blown away by the scenery.
It was difficult not to be overwhelmed by how beautiful Switzerland is. People often refer to it as ‘straight from a fairytale’, and when traveling the country by train, you have to agree. It’s certainly the cleanest country I’ve ever been to. Add the colors of the fields, stunning Swiss lakes, and vibrant sky to the mix, and I had to pinch myself to make sure they weren’t photoshopped!
While in Interlaken, we took an old cog railway halfway up the mountain to Lauterbrunnen Valley, probably one of the most picturesque towns in the world.
I can remember hanging out the window with my camera, taking videos, and getting more and more excited with each passing moment. We chugged on by old railway stations, a fast-flowing river with water so cold and so clean (straight from the snow-capped mountains) that it was a strange blue-gray color — a color I had never seen before in a river.
Day Three | Visit the Beautiful Village of Lauterbrunnen
While staying in Interlaken, we visited one of the most picturesque towns in Switzerland, if not in Europe or even the world. I even saw my friend Nicola from Polkadot Passport say on Snapchat that Lauterbrunnen is one of her favorite places in the world — and that’s something coming from a lady who has photographed some of the world’s most famous landmarks and cities.
Lauterbrunnen is that Swiss Mountain Village that you have always dreamed about but were never sure it really existed. It’s a place where every house looks like it’s from a fairytale, where the local graveyard looks like a scene from the Chelsea Flower Show. There are also so many waterfalls flowing off the side of the surrounding mountains that you begin to lose track of their names and how many you have seen.
When we came across yet another sign for a waterfall, we weren’t sure if we were bothered to pay the 11 Euro entrance fee. However, we decided we had hiked the whole way there, so we might as well see it.
To say we were not disappointed would be a major understatement, as Trummelbach Falls has to be one of the most incredible, powerful, and mind-blowingly incredible waterfalls I’ve ever seen. Keep in mind I’ve seen the stunning waters of Niagara Falls, Victoria Falls, and many of Iceland’s most famous waterways, so that says a lot.
The power of the water pushes through the rock, swirling in mini funnels that look like washing machines. They gush down level after level until the water emerges at a raging river at ground level is a spectacular sight. A must-visit if you are in the area!
Day Four | Explore Spiez
On our way from Interlaken to Zurich, we passed the small village of Spiez via the Goldenpass Line. I was so mesmerized by it so much that I told Ian I was jumping off the train to take some photos and that I would meet him in Zurich.
I grabbed my bags, jumped off the train just before the doors shut, and carried all my worldly possessions out of the train station and over to the local park. I decided my drone needed a little outing and had great fun over the next 15 minutes flying my drone over the lake, local church, and marina. I was able to snap some pretty cool aerial shots (and a short video) of this beautiful town.
Day Five | Discover the Beauty of Zurich
Sadly, our time in Zurich was way too short. This is something I didn’t mind too much, but Ian had been really looking forward to Zurich as it’s one of the banking capitals of the world and a place that has fascinated him for some time.
Unfortunately, we arrived in the evening and had to leave on a 7.30 am train the next morning, so all we really saw was the street next to our hostel, the train station, and a few iconic buildings here and there. We also came across two English girls who never seemed to leave the hostel dormitory — just one example of the interesting characters we met on the road so far!
If you’ve got a bit more time than we did, here are some of the top free things to do in Zurich to make your trip an unforgettable one.
Day Six | Pop Over to Stein Am Rhein
While we were pretty exhausted waking up at the crack of dawn to catch one of the scenic trains from Zurich to Schauffhussen, our energy came surging back very quickly. The minute we arrived in this picturesque little village situated on the mighty River Rhine, we started feeling refreshed and were excited for our morning boat ride.
We passed by some beautiful little villages, but it’s the town where we finally disembarked that will forever be etched in my memory. It’s crazy how a town I had never previously heard of could be so incredibly beautiful.
It’s safe to say Stein Am Rhein is one of the most quintessentially Swiss towns you’ll ever come across, and we loved everything about it.
Stein Am Rhein is one of the towns where it would be a crime to put your camera down for even a single second. It is honestly the most beautiful place, and every building has ancient frescos covering the outside facade with a million stories to tell. We also found a restaurant that served some of the best crepes I’ve had outside of Paris, so it’s an all-round hidden gem!
Day Seven | Catch a Switzerland Train to Lucerne
Lucerne was unexpectedly one of the highlights of our week in Switzerland. This is mainly thanks to Ladina, who works for Swiss Travel Pass, who told us about the boat trip across the lake and taking the old cog railway up Mount Rigi. I swear the photos we took were so spectacular that most of my friends thought they were drone shots when the reality is we just kept snapping away while hanging out of a moving train!
We also made friends with some lovely Koreans, which made our day even more enjoyable. I always love the chance to practice my Korean and reminisce about my favorite Korean foods.
While I could write about all the highlights, how amazing the train ride was, and how spectacular the views were, I believe the photos below will do a better job. Be sure to get the cable car back down — it was a bit like being on a rollercoaster as it swung from side to side, and everyone let out fun little screams of joy!
Day Eight | End Your Switzerland Grand Tour in Lugano
While we really enjoyed our time in Lugano, it was the train ride on board the Wilhelm Tell Express (also known as the Gotthard Panorama Express) that stood out the most. While Ian spent much of his time trying to get some work done, I simply could not take my eyes off the changing landscapes whizzing by outside of the train’s panoramic windows.
We passed through hundreds of spiral tunnels near towering mountains and then came out the other side on the border with Italy, a town with a very distinctive Italian feel! While in Lugano, we took a boat trip around the lake (free, like the others!). We stopped off at this stunningly beautiful village that reminded me of Cinque Terre, except we were the only tourists for miles! That’s my type of town!
Possibly the best part of our experience was the morning of wine tasting we enjoyed at a quaint family winery. It was the perfect way to wrap up a trip that’ll stay long in our memories.
As with all good things in life, even the most memorable of journeys have to come to an end. We were pretty devastated to hop on the train in Lugano. It was sad that our magical week in Switzerland was over all too fast, but we were excited to continue our six-month #Cork2CapeTown journey with a fun weekend in Venice.
Final Thoughts on Taking Switzerland Tours by Train
So there you have it, our eight-day itinerary for an epic Switzerland rail tour. While we’ve packed a lot of information about our experiences into this itinerary, there are a few places we wish we had the opportunity to visit.
These include Bern, Junfraujoch, and St Moritz, but alas, we’ll just have to visit these towns on our next Swiss train tour.
Next Read: If you’re planning an extended stay in Lucerne, have a look at these fantastic Mount Pilatus tickets.
Last updated on January 5th, 2024 at 07:39 am