The World’s Slowest Express Train Has Panoramic Glass for Breathtaking Views
More mountain vistas, less whiplash.
Riding a train billed as “the world’s slowest express train” might initially sound like a drawback or at least confusing—until you realize that it’s one of the world’s most scenic train rides too. Traveling between the popular Swiss resort towns of Zermatt and St. Moritz, the Glacier Express more than makes up for in views what it lacks in speed.
To put some numbers to the Glacier Express experience: Settling in for the full route, which takes about eight hours, brings you over 291 bridges, through 91 tunnels, and up to an altitude of 6,670 feet of above sea level.
What you can’t count are the many striking landscapes you pass along the way, ranging from majestic mountains to idyllic valley villages. Come in the warmer months, and you’ll be greeted by postcard-worthy scenes of greenery and blooming wildflowers. Climb aboard when it’s cold and snowy, and you’ll be treated to a veritable Switzerland winter wonderland. The Glacier Express runs year-round, and frankly, the views are impressive any season.
But what are great vistas on a train ride without great windows? The Glacier Express is fitted with panoramic glass on the sides and along the tops of the train cars. No need to crouch down to see those many Swiss Alps mountain peaks above and take in all the wonder around you.
Here’s what to know to make the most of this unforgettable experience and cover huge swaths of ground at a pace to take in the views.
Pick a seat and book a ticket for the Glacier Express
It’s a little confusing at first, but when booking your ride on the Glacier Express, you need to book both a ticket as well as a seat reservation. Tickets can only be booked up to two months in advance (or even at the station on the day of travel), while seat reservations can be made up to 92 days in advance (shrug).
An individual ticket ranges from 73 Swiss francs to 268 Swiss francs depending on how far you go and whether you’re cool with second class or want to get fancy in first class. The seat reservation fee ranges from 39 Swiss francs to 420 Swiss francs. The cheaper end is for a first or second-class seat during the low season, while the more expensive fees are for those living it up in the so-called “excellence class.”
If you’re having a little sticker shock right now, just know that the excellence class reservation comes with a seven-course menu plus wine pairing alongside other perks. Passengers in any class can order food in advance or along the route, though.
It should go without saying that snagging a window seat is the way to go, so you don’t have to lean over a stranger to snap your pics. Don’t worry too much about what side of the train you’re on. You’ll be able to see plenty on both sides thanks to those giant windows, and if you’re going the full route, the train actually reverses directions going into and out of Chur, so you won’t be facing the same way throughout. It is wise, however, to go for a spot in the middle of the coach, so you’ll be guaranteed a wider view traveling any direction.
Hop on or off at these notable stops
One of the Glacier Express’ start/end points, St. Moritz is pure paradise for anyone into winter sports (the city has played host to two Winter Olympics). Not a skier? There’s hiking, mountain biking, and the chance to fly down a famous bobsleigh run at 80 mph. Not into anything so… heart-pounding and adrenaline-inducing? It’s off to the swanky shops, grand hotels, and casino for you.
Another stop where many passengers start their Glacier Express journey, Chur is often called the oldest town in Switzerland, with millennia-old archeological finds. Its quaint, car-free Old Town is well-preserved and worth walking around. More of Chur’s claims to fame include having the highest concentration of restaurants and bars in the country and “the largest shopping centre between Zurich and Milan.”
Zermatt, the other of the Glacier Express’ main start/end points, ranks high among Switzerland’s top resort towns. Aside from all the excellent skiing, hiking, and climbing, a highlight here is seeing the Matterhorn—you know, the real-life version of that pyramidal mountain decorating your Toblerone package. Keep your train adventures going with a ride up the Gornergrat Railway, which offers choice views of the Matterhorn all the way.
Be on the lookout for the Swiss sights
They call it the “Swiss Grand Canyon,” and it’s a beaut. In this section between Disentis and Chur, you can see the Rhine River winding through massive geological formations, resulting in a picturesque ravine.
The Albula Line, a twisting section of the railway located between Filisur and St. Moritz, is where you’ll traverse many of those viaducts and tunnels that make the Glacier Express so special. Anyone interested in railway engineering is sure to be impressed.
Did someone say viaducts? The Landwasser Viaduct is the most famous along the Glacier Express route, standing at 65 meters (or a little over 213 feet high) and stretching 142 meters (or around 466 feet long). Since it comes up just outside of the village of Filisur, it’s a good reason to make sure your chosen itinerary includes the railway’s eastern section.
The Oberalppass near Andermatt is where things get taken to the next level—literally. The train reaches its highest altitude here and the views out of the windows make it feel more like you’re flying among the mountaintops rather than chugging along a railway track.