The small alpine country of Switzerland gained its worldwide recognition thanks to a few genius inventions.
Those include: milk chocolate, direct democracy, Swiss army knives and stunning railway lines. Train rides in Switzerland are not only stunningly beautiful but also present one of the greatest achievements of railroad engineering.
Today we are going to focus on a crown jewel of Swiss rail tours, showcasing a truly royal selection of wonderful rides and famous locations: the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland.
If you would like to know who created it, when the first tourist in Switzerland enjoyed this ride and what places it covers today, then read on.
Grand Train Tour of Switzerland - A History
It all began with the original custom of the Grand Tour in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was a journey undertaken by young men of the nobility and gentry of Britain, and later the Netherlands, Germany and Central Europe.
Their ultimate destination was Italy and Greece and the treasures of the ancient world. The journey itself was a rite of passage, exposing young men to the outside world for the first time in their lives. Their purpose was to learn, to experience new cultures, languages and sights, and to return wiser and more mature.
They travelled through what is now Switzerland, Austria, Hungary and Slovakia, crossing sparsely inhabited mountain areas. Mules, horses and horse-pulled carriages were the predominant means of transport at the time. The journey was long and rather uncomfortable but provided adventures the young men craved.
The tradition of the Grand Tour lived on after the 19th century, but in a different form. With the advent of railways, more and more people could travel through the Swiss Alps in the comfort of first-class carriages and still experience the beauty of natural wonders. Lines such as the Gornergrat, Glacier Express and Jungfraujoch were built to meet the needs of mass Alpine tourism.
In 2015, the Swiss Tourism Association conceived a modern Grand Tour of Switzerland and a Grand Train Tour of Switzerland.
The former is designed for road-trip enthusiasts: 1643 km (1021 miles), 46 attractions, 22 lakes and an endless roll of beautiful scenery. The Grand Train Tour of Switzerland is a shorter version of the Grand Tour, covering over 1200 km of tracks and including 9 panoramic train routes.
Train lines of the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland
Modern Grand Train Tour of Switzerland comprises of 8 sections and includes 8 panoramic train lines. Those are:
- Lucerne-Interlaken Express
- GoldenPass Express
- Montreux-Visp-Zermatt Line
- Glacier Express
- Bernina Express
- Gotthard Panorama Express
- Voralpen Express
- Schaffhausen-St. Gallen-Zurich line
These 8 panoramic routes take passengers from central destinations such as Zurich and Lucerne on an unforgettable journey around the country.
Grad Train Tour of Switzerland allows you to experience a variety of Swiss landscapes. From the Rhine waterfalls of Schaffhausen to the rolling hills of Gruyere and the soaring peaks of the Bernina and Valais Alps, the journey through the 8 regions of Switzerland will leave you speechless.
We have written extensively about our favourite Swiss scenic trains. At the top of our list are the Bernina, Glacier and GoldenPass Express. A journey on board any of these three goes far beyond a normal commute: the comfort, the amenities and the beauty of the scenery rolling past your window is out of this world.
You simply have to experience it to believe it.
Swiss Grand Train Tour Destinations
The Grand Train Tour of Switzerland passes by a number of famous Swiss cities and Alpine destinations.
From the multicultural Zurich or medieval Lucerne, the journey takes you to the ancient city of St. Gallen, home to the famous Abbey of St. Gall. Then on to Chur, probably the oldest city in Switzerland and St. Moritz, a world-famous center of winter sports and activities.
Beautifully situated at the junction of two valleys, St. Moritz offers a wealth of outdoor attractions throughout the year. It’s also the starting point for the Bernina Express. The train travels through the Pontresina Valley to the highest station at Ospizio Bernina, and then spirals down to Poschiavo and across the Italian border to Tirano.
From Tirano you can either return to St. Moritz or continue along the Italian border to Lugano. With its Italian flair, stunning location on Lake Lugano and Mediterranean atmosphere, Lugano is a true pearl of the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland.
St. Moritz is also a starting point of another famous train, the Glacier Express. This 7.5 hour journey through the heart of the Alps must be a highlight of anyone’s Grand Train Tour of Switzerland. Its final destination is Zermatt. Here you can enjoy everything a mountain resort has to offer: outdoor adventures, great hotels, scrumptious food options and views of one of the world’s most famous mountains, the Matterhorn.
After leaving Zermatt, you will continue to Montreux, the charming cultural centre of the Swiss Riviera. GodenPass Express connect it with Interlaken, in the heart of the Bernese Alps, famous for its two blue lakes and a view of Eiger, Monk and Jungfrau.
Highlights of the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland
Grand Train Tour of Switzerland boasts a wealth of magnificent sites and breathtaking scenery. Here are our top 5 highlights of the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland:
- Bernina Express: the highest train line in Europe, this railway is also a marvel of railroad engineering. Passing 55 tunnels and 196 bridges, Bernina Express climbs over 1000 meters in altitude without help of a cogwheel system. Impressive viaducts such as Landwasser and Brusio only add to the special experience of riding this train.
- Lucerne and the Lake of Four Cantons : Lucerne is probably one of the most beautiful towns in Switzerland and in Europe at large. Besides charming old town, Lucerne offers plenty of outdoor adventures on two of Switzerland’s home mountains, Pilatus and Rigi. When visiting, make sure to enjoy a lake cruise to Vitznau or even Brunnen, on board of 100-year-old steamer.
- Zermatt and Matterhorn: no surprise here but Zermatt is definitely worth the hype. Excellent overnight options, plenty of beautiful hikes (we recommend to hike from Riffelalp to Rotenboden) and of course, the Matterhorn. What more could you want?
- Lugano: the only city in Switzerland boasting a truly mediterranean atmosphere. We highly recommend the food scene in Lugano. Highly influenced by the neighboring region of Lombardy, local dishes are a quirky mix of Swiss and Italian cooking traditions.
- GoldenPass Express: probably the most luxurious of all scenic trains in Switzerland. GoldenPass line, on top of first class, offer so-called Prestige Class. Heated leather chairs rotating at a 90-degree angle, complimentary snacks and beverages and panoramic windows turn this train trip into an unforgettable journey. MOB operates also an authentic Belle Epoque train set, journeying twice a day between Montreux and Zweisimmen.
Join Escorted Rail Tours In Switzerland
Escorted rail tours in Switzerland are your gateway to the new and exciting world. Comfort, flexibility, and cultural immersion are the main hallmarks of this adventure.
Traveling by rail in Switzerland allows you to get to know the country from a different perspective, bond with its people, and discover hidden gems tucked along the railway lines.
Having an experienced local guide by your side makes your journey completely stress-free – forget about missing the connections and getting lost at train stations. Transfer effortlessly and on time.
ECHO Rails & Trails 12-Day Grand Train Tour of Switzerland ticks all the boxes for a perfect escorted rail tour in Switzerland.
- Explore this magnificent country from a first-class window seat on one of the world’s most famous panoramic trains.
- Enjoy the assistance of a local English-speaking guide who will share their knowledge of history, nature, and culture to help you immerse yourself in your Swiss voyage.
- Travel light with dedicated luggage transfers (included in the price) and enjoy a slower pace of travel with two nights in each location.
- And let’s not forget about the food – complimentary breakfasts and dinners will let you try the best of Swiss cuisine with its hearty soups, pies, and seasonal vegetables.
Prepare for an adventure of a lifetime with ECHO Rails & Trails.