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Switzerland: Riding the Bernina Express Train

If there is one special train you should take in Switzerland, it would be the Bernina Express. This fantastic train ride takes you past valleys and castles, through the Alps, zooming past tiny little mountain towns, over towering viaducts, spinning spiraling tunnels, with elevations varying between 429 meters above sea level (1,407 feet) to a whopping 2,253 meters (7,391 feet) above sea level at Ospizio Bernina, all in a super comfortable panoramic train. You can read more about it on their website. My favorite part was going through the Alps and feeling like I was on top of the world in a pristine, quiet place. I can see why people flock to Switzerland to ski!

Early morning serenity as we took a quiet train from Zurich to Chur to start our journey

The husband is not a morning person… =)

Check out the panoramic train!!!

Cute. Towns. Galore.

We begin the climb – the train starts zig zagging around the mountains and going into spirals

It’s extremely hard to document the train going over a viaduct, but here’s a shot of our train approaching it

And before you know it, we’re on top of the Alps!

The snow is several feet tall. I was very impressed with how clean they kept the tracks each day

Most of the stops on the route are very short, just to load passengers. However, there is a 15-minute break at Alp Grum where you can stretch your legs and maybe get a coffee from the restaurant

The descent was amazing as well

The cute city of Tirano and their main basilica. The train runs right through the middle of town – you can see the tracks in this photo

One more shot on return

Travel Tips

How to book: The Bernina Express is run by Rhaetian Railway, a private rail company that accepts the Swiss Pass. You can visit here, and click the tab labeled “Sales” to book online. The route we took was Chur to Tirano, and then on the way back we did Tirano to St. Moritz. However, if you’re taking the Glacier Express the next day, it doubles over the same route from St. Moritz to Chur. The map on the website is confusing. The bus route continuing on from Tirano to Lugano is only available in the summer. The segment between Davos and Filisur is not always available and to my knowledge I don’t think it’s as popular. I highly recommend Chur – Tirano – Chur. You need to make a seat reservation in addition to buying a ticket. If you have a Swiss Pass, you only need to book a seat reservation. There are spectacular sights regardless of which side of the train you sit, and you can always walk about the train to take photos.

Sightseeing: Everything you need to know about main sights on the train will be announced by the conductor in English, and you are also provided with a tour guide at your seat. If you wish to visit any of the towns along the route, then you need to book several train segments as the train only stops for a couple minutes at each station.

Food: There are limited coffee, wine, and snacks served on the train at high prices. Visit the Coop Pronto inside the Chur train station before embarking on the trip for all the food you’d need for the entire trip. You can eat your heart out in Tirano for lunch. When you arrive at the train station, walk half a mile towards the church in the center of the town. We found a place right across from the church (name escapes me) where the portions were huge (one giant pizza each for 7 – 8 euro) and the prices very reasonable.  The Bernina Express round trip will take you a whole day, and since most of Switzerland shuts down early, make sure you have enough food on you to last through dinner when you’re back.

Miscellaneous: Wear sunglasses! I had no idea how bright the snow would be on these panoramic trains and at certain times of the day, the sun and snow reflecting off of each other through the train can be unbearable. I got a little motion sick and had to sleep part of the way back.

Don’t forget the SBB App for traveling on trains within Switzerland.

Don’t miss these related blog posts

1. How to travel well on a budget

2. Switzerland: Lucern, Basel, Bern, Zurich, and Geneva

3. Switzerland: Riding the Bernina Express

4. Switzerland: Riding the Glacier Express

5. Interlaken, Thun, GoldenPass train, and flying business class on SWISS

6. Lyon in 10 hours

7. Paris: Museums and Eats

8. Paris: The Beautiful City

9. Versailles Palace

I was able to take this trip in part because I won the ‘Feel the Music’ Facebook Contest from SWISS and Switzerland Tourism! Remember, SWISS is a great way to fly from the US to Switzerland!

Shang Chen Photography has rebranded to Saavedra Photography
Based in NYC | Open for select photography commissions on Sundays only

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