Immerse Yourself in the Swiss Alps on an Express Train That Takes Its Time

From Zermatt to St. Moritz on the Glacier Express.

Picture a train the colors of the Swiss flag winding its way through snow-capped mountains and crystal-blue lakes. The Glacier Express starts in one of two world-class resort towns—St. Moritz and Zermatt—both famed skiing spots. In between, it passes through serene mountain villages, snakes through gorges, and ascends beyond Alpine slopes. You’ll have plenty of time to take in the variety of landscapes and altitudes, too, because the self-dubbed “world’s slowest express train” travels at an average speed of just 24 mph. Meanwhile, wrap-around windows will make your journey feel like an eight-hour episode of Planet Earth that’s being shown in IMAX.

Like other Swiss trains, the Glacier Express is a smooth ride, even though it crosses through mountain crags, traverses 291 bridges, and plows through 91 tunnels—all before skyrocketing 6,670 feet above sea level at Oberalp Pass. And it never takes a break for inclement weather. The locomotive itself is an engineering marvel, but it’s also plenty luxurious, too.

For instance, guests can splurge on a multi-course meal or opt for a la carte items like regional cheese plates and chicken tikka masala. As of a 2020 renovation to celebrate the train line’s 90th anniversary, Wi-Fi and power sockets are also available to every passenger for free. Meanwhile, the seats themselves are comfortable, while the cars are spacious and relaxing to be in. Trust us when we say that if you haven’t yet sipped a crisp white from a tilted glass while traversing the Alps, it’s unclear if you’ve even lived. So, ready to climb aboard one of the most scenic train rides in the world? Here’s what you need to know to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime travel experience.

glacier express train, rolling through verdant green hills over a river
Glacier Express

How to book your trip on the Glacier Express

First thing’s first: You’re going to need to buy a ticket and reserve your seat before you can ride the Glacier Express. Tickets can’t be booked further out than two months in advance, though that means you can actually book them on the same day of travel, if you want to leave things to the absolute last minute. However, seat reservations can be made up to 92 days in advance, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. The important thing to note is that both tickets and seat reservations will cost money—and no, the seat reservation isn’t optional.

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. (That’s about $83 and $306, respectively.) The seat reservation fee ranges from 29 Swiss francs to 420 Swiss francs. The cheaper end is for a first or second-class seat during the low season (December to May) going a shorter distance, while the more expensive fees are for those living it up in the so-called “excellence class” during the high season (May to October)—for the full eight-hour trip, of course.

interior showing the bar on the glacier express, which travels through switzerland
Glacier Express

If you’re having a little sticker shock right now, just know that the excellence class reservation comes with snacks and Champagne, a five-course menu plus wine pairing, and an afternoon tea, among other perks, like a concierge service. Passengers in any class can order food in advance or along the route, but the cost isn’t included in a classic second-class ticket.

Whatever type of ticket you choose, the journey is mostly about the view, and you can get that anywhere on the train. 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. But don’t worry too much about what side of the train you’re on—if you’re going the full route, the train actually reverses directions going into and out of Chur. It is wise, however, to go for a spot in the middle of the coach, so you’ll be guaranteed a wider view regardless of which way you’re traveling.

St. Moritz in fall
St. Moritz

Where to start and stop on the Glacier Express

Riding the Glacier Express is an adventure in and of itself, and it’s not the kind of train where you can hop on and off at a whim. That said, it’s worth spending some time exploring the start and end points of your journey—and if you have an extra day or two, it could be worth making a stop somewhere in the middle. Here’s where to focus your attention.

St. Moritz

One of the Glacier Express’ termini, St. Moritz has twice hosted the winter Olympics. That means it’s heaven for anyone into skiing or snowboarding, though it’s hard to imagine not having a good time there. It’s a place to hike, mountain bike, or even slide down a famous bobsled run at breakneck speeds. And for those who aren’t into the outdoors at all, St. Moritz has a range of swanky shops, grand hotels, and really everything you need to relax without worrying you might also fall on your face.


While the Glacier Express only runs between St. Moritz and Zermatt, you’re not required to start your journey at those specific stops. For many passengers, the town of Chur makes a great starting point. It’s often called the oldest town in Switzerland, and is still host to millennia-old archeological finds. The quaint, car-free Old Town is well-preserved and a great place for a stress-free stroll. Chur also has the highest concentration of restaurants and bars in the country. Not only that, it’s the largest shopping center between Zurich and Milan.

matterhorn, behind Zermatt, can be seen from the glacier express
Suttipong Sutiratanachai/Moment/Getty Images


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. If you can’t get enough of that train life, opt for a ride up the Gornergrat Railway, which offers choice views of the iconic Alpine peak for the entire trip.

Glacier Express traveling through Rhine Gorge

Notable sights along the way

The views are stunning pretty much all the way, but here are some sections of the route you won’t want to miss.

Rhine Gorge

They call it the “Grand Canyon of Switzerland,” and it was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in June 2002 for good reason. This place is a serious beaut. It’s largely inaccessible by road, so enjoy the opportunity to sit back and see the results of a prehistoric rockslide. Today, it’s where the Rhine River winds through massive geological formations, resulting in a picturesque ravine.

Albula Line

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 incredible—including the famous Landwasser Viaduct. Anyone interested in railway engineering—or stunning scenery—is sure to be impressed. It is, after all, a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well.

Glacier Express
Glacier Express

Landwasser Viaduct

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) before disappearing into a tunnel. 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. You’ll be able to see—and enjoy—the marvel’s highly pronounced curve from fairly far away.

Oberalp Pass

The train reaches its highest altitude at Oberalp Pass, near Andermatt on the section of the railway between Andermatt and Chur. You might find that the views out of the windows here make it feel more like you’re flying among the mountaintops rather than chugging along a railway track.

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Cindy Brzostowski is a contributor for Thrillist.
Kori Perten is a senior travel editor at Thrillist.
Allie Conti is a senior travel editor at Thrillist.