The Bernina Express is dubbed the most beautiful train ride of Switzerland. Some even say in the world! Is this a clever marketing hype to lure people in to ride the train from Tirano to St. Moritz and Chur? Or does the claim live up to the hype? Let’s find out!
As a train travel enthusiast, I had to try the most beautiful scenic train ride in the world! The Bernina Express Switzerland was on my list and as I traveled through Switzerland for two weeks, I had to cross it off.
Bernina Express Switzerland
We traveled in September from Lugano (Switzerland) by Bernina Express bus to Tirano (Italy) and continued from there on the Bernina Express train from Tirano to St. Moritz. A couple of days later, we rode the stretch from St. Moritz to Chur on the Glacier Express train but this part of the route is also part of the Bernina Express from Tirano so I’m including it here.
Of course, the Bernina Express can also be taken the other way around. You’ll start in Chur, travel to St.Moritz (or start there) and take the train to Tirano. From Tirano you travel by bus to Lugano.
As we traveled from Lugano to St. Moritz on the Bernina Express, I use this direction to explain the itinerary.
The Bernina Express is advertised as the most beautiful train journey in the world. Some facts: you’ll go through 55 tunnels, cross 196 bridges and the route has inclines of up to 70 per mile. The highest point is at 2,253 meters (7.392 ft.) above sea level. The stretch from Thusis – Valposchiavo – Tirano is marked as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Lugano to Tirano by Bernina Express Bus
Early morning we arrived at the Lugano train station. With a quick look on the station’s map, we found the bus stop for the Bernina Express bus. Judging by the size of the suitcases by the side of the road, we were not the only ones traveling today!
As a matter of fact, the bus was packed. We left at 10 am sharp and descended through the streets of Lugano towards the lake. We circled back up the hills along the shore of Lake Lugano. What a stunning beauty!
The water glistened in the early morning sun, as the hazy dew hid the details of the mountains. We could make out small villages on the other side and crossed many Mediterranean villages on the way.
We passed the border between Switzerland and Italy and continued towards Lake Como. The best views in this direction are definitely on the right side of the bus, as the lakes are on your right. Luckily, the bright windows gave us plenty of good views as we were seated on the left.
There is something about the lakes. Huge bodies of water, the reflection of the surrounding mountains, pastel-colored houses dotting the shore. A ramshackle church tower withstanding the test of time. And our red bus with big windows meandering around the lake. I loved every minute of our 3-hour ride on the Bernina Express bus.
After Lake Como, we had a half hour stop for toilet break and coffee. We were in Italy so prices were lower, so we stocked up on espresso shots and snacks and water.
After the stop, we stayed in the valley and followed the river Adda. We had lovely Swiss mountain views on our left side with dark clouds looming over them. After we took the turn for Tirano, we soon arrived at the train station. We had an hour to kill before the Bernina Express train would bring us to St. Moritz.
I’m going to be completely honest with you. We only spent one hour in Tirano. If you’re up to it, you can ditch your luggage and go exploring into the old town. Most people seem to hang around the train station where busloads of people are dropped off or picked up. A number of restaurants line the streets surrounding the train station, but we just sat on a park bench. We enjoyed our picnic lunch and made the most of our free data roaming in Italy to catch up on social media.
But finally, it was time to go back to the train station and start boarding. The train station of Tirano for regular trains is right next to the separate train station for the Bernina Express. The trains were already waiting for us so excitedly we boarded our carriage.
Bernina Express Trains
The Bernina Express trains and carriage are painted noticeably bright red. The big glass domed panoramic windows give you excellent views across the landscape.
Although you can also take the normal, regional trains, I do feel the huge glass domed windows do add some charm and do justice to the amazing landscape.
On several occasions, I went to the landing between two carriages, where you can crack open a window but you have to duck a bit and views are a bit limited (but great for taking pictures without the curved reflection of the glass windows).
Brusio Circular Viaduct
We received a little booklet about the Bernina Express with all the highlights of our journey. It has all the altitude information and the names of the different stations and sights on the route on it. After leaving Tirano, we settled in and the train immediately started to climb. Quite quickly we arrived at the Brusio Circular Viaduct. Together with the Landwasser Viaduct one of THE iconic scenery of the Bernina Express route.
And boy, how exciting it was! I literally got heart palpitations because I was so excited! We approached from the lower levels and the train slowed down to a mere walking pace. With screeching wheels, we rounded the first bends of the circular viaduct.
The train passed underneath the massive stone arches and we could see the full length of the train from the window. The red train slowly chugged through the loop in the bright green landscape with fierce mountains in the distance.
I wanted to get off at the first possible stop and take the train in the other direction to do it again! From the train the views are already spectacular, can you imagine what it will look like from the town of Brusio?
Albula/Bernina UNESCO World Heritage
Did you know the stretch of the Bernina Express from Tirano to Thusis is marked as the Albula/Bernina Unesco World Heritage site? That is right, even Unesco found the route through the Alps by the Rhaetian Railway of significant importance, to protect it with their Unesco label for future generations to enjoy! Only a couple of other railway routes in the world are marked with the Unesco label, so that makes the Bernina Express unique in its own way.
Lake of Poschiavo
From 429 meter (1,407 ft.) in Tirano we climbed to 1.014 meters (3,327 ft.) to arrive at the lake of Poschiavo. Another lake on this spectacular route. We first passed it at shore level, but as the train kept climbing, we meandered up the mountains and enjoyed several views with different angles of the lake, the villages around it and the mountains hugging the lake.
At first, I didn’t quite get that we were climbing and going up the mountain in different stages. By the 3rd time, we saw the lake, I was like: “hey, weren’t we here before?” Silly me. It did give us the opportunity to take some excellent photos of the Lake Poschiavo from the Bernina Express train.
After the lake, I discovered the open window on the landing between the two carriages and managed to get some open air shots, not limited by the reflecting windows. Although those glass domed panorama windows on the train are amazing, it does hinder you a bit if you want to film or photograph.
At Alp Grüm we stopped and I got off the train for a quick moment. I danced around in my flip flops while admiring the immense glacier at 2.091 meters (6,860 ft.). There is a small restaurant there and it seemed like a perfect base for hiking or more glacier admiration. The next stretch we passed quite a lot of tunnels as we climbed even further.
White Lake (Lago Bianco)
And at the end of the tunnel, there was light! And the massive lake of Lago Bianco. The white lake was stunning. It reminded me of the high altitude lakes I’ve seen in Tibet and I enjoyed a couple of moments of ultimate bliss with my head out of the open window, as the train hugged the edge of the lake. The view was spectacular. The bright red train, chugging along the grey-blue lake with the impressive mountains in the back.
Ospizio Bernina: Highest point of the Bernina Express route
Halfway across our journey around the lake, the Bernina Express train arrives at Ospizio Bernina. With her 2.253 meters (7,392 ft) the highest point of the route. This is even higher than the Glacier Express and gives really impressive views of the Alps.
We didn’t stop for long, but enough time to take in those magnificent views of the White Lake and the Bernina mountains.
When you travel on a train, it is common sense to sit in the direction the train is traveling. Some people get nauseous when they can’t or they feel they’re missing out as you’ll see the scenery when you’ve already passed it. However, when you travel on panoramic trains, like the Bernina Express, it is perfectly fine to sit facing the other direction. As I traveled with my boyfriend, I reserved 2 seats near the window opposite of each other, as opposed to sitting side by side on a 4-seater. This way, one of us always had to face the other direction.
This was a good thing when we traveled from Tirano to St. Moritz as I had good views of the Morteratsch Glacier. It was slightly behind us, but I had a good view of the massive body of ice.
After these high peaks and glacier, we slowly dropped some altitude and arrived in greener pastures. Almost 3 hours after we had left Tirano, we arrived at the train station of St. Moritz. It was a long day, but I didn’t want to leave the train. The journey had been so spectacular, we needed a moment to process before we explored St. Moritz.
St. Moritz is mostly known for the rich and famous (and regular) people who come to ski around St. Moritz in winter. This is reflected by all the high-end shops in the main street, the prices of the hotels and the star-rated restaurant scene in town.
Things to do in St. Moritz
As it turned out, there wasn’t much to do in St. Moritz for us. Especially not in September and for our budget. I booked 2 nights in St. Moritz as I figured we needed some time in between train days but this was a mistake. St. Moritz was too glitchy and too posh for my taste. And there wasn’t much to do besides riding an expensive cable cart or cogwheel train up the mountains. So what did we do?
- Soak up in the spa and sauna. We stayed 2 nights at the Steffani hotel which has a pool, steam room, and sauna. Absolutely bliss in the mountains.
- Walk around St. Moritz lake. We first walked around the lake towards St. Moritz Bad and the next day we walked along the shore and visited Lake Staz.
- Take a dip in an Alpine Lake. My boyfriend was
crazybrave enough to take a dip in the Lake Staz, and he loved it.
- Stroll around town, visit the Leaning Tower of St. Moritz that has a further incline than the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa!
- Enjoy the views from the top. Of course, you can take a number of cable cars or cogwheel trains up the mountains to enjoy the view. Because of budget constraints and because we’d already did Mt. Pilatus near Lucerne, San Salvatore in Lugano and still wanted to go up the Jungfraujoch, we decided to skip the trip up the Muottas Muragl.
For us, the Bernina Express journey from Lugano, via Tirano, ended in St. Moritz. But you can also take a Bernina Express train to Chur. Because we also took this route, I wanted to include it here.
In the early morning, we left St. Moritz and headed for Chur. The world outside our glass-domed panorama windows was just waking up. For the first part, the sun didn’t even peak over the mountains yet. Soon, we arrived in Filisur. After a quick stop, we continued the journey and as I was looking outside the window, I realized: this is it! We’re riding across the famous Landwasser Viaduct!
The Landwasser Viaduct is THE signature landmark of the Bernina Express. The 6 limestone arches with the red train riding across it, is iconic and became a symbol of scenic train rides in Switzerland and Europe. I’ve seen dozen of photos of the Landwasser Viaduct, but riding across it was exhilarating.
After we left the 216 meters (709 ft) long Landwasser Tunnel, we immediately arrived on the viaduct. The Landwasser Viaduct was built in 1902 and measures 65 meters (213 ft) in height and is 136 meters (446 ft) long! Exciting facts.
Riding over the Landwasser Viaduct was exciting, but it turns out, you cannot see it that well from the train. In my fluttered state of sleepiness mixed with excitement, I didn’t manage to get a good shot from the train. That is the only downside I guess. I contemplated to get off and ride back and try to photograph it from the village but we continued our journey.
Bernina Express to Chur
For the next hours, we slowly descended back to a decent altitude level. The landscape around us changed to softer shaped mountains, mixed with green pastures and small villages. We enjoyed the landscape but it wasn’t as spectacular as before. From Thusis, I’d say it was quite basic but we had some spectacular views already.
Once we reached the Rhine River, the views got better again, and crossing the river into Chur, meant the end of our route so far.
We did it! We completed the whole Bernina Express from Lugano via the Bernina Express bus to Tirano and from Tirano on the panoramic Bernina Express train to St. Moritz and onwards to Chur.
Practicalities for the Bernina Express Train
As always, I’m going to shower you with helpful tips and links for more details and data. As the Bernina Express as described above consisted of several stages, it took me quite some online digging to get all the information I needed to choose the best options for our trip. I hope the below information helps you plan your Bernina Express Tour, but as always, you need to check important things like times and prices shortly before you go.
Bernina Express Timetable & Routes
There are different routes and not all of them operate year round. Only the train Chur-Tirano-Chur runs year round.
The option to travel Tirano-St. Moritz-Tirano or St. Moritz-Tirano-St. Moritz and Davos-Tirano-Davos only runs in the summer season. You can do this on a day trip or part of the journey as we did. The summer season is roughly from mid-May till the end of October.
The Bernina Express Bus from Lugano to Tirano and vice versa runs daily from April to October and Tuesday to Sunday in November. December till April the bus is not available.
Bernina Express costs
To give you an overview of the costs for the Bernina Express, would be impossible. There are several options in routes, discount codes, etc. So, to give you an idea, I’m just going to work out one option and direct you where to find more information.
If you wish to travel from Lugano by bus and then the Bernina Express train to Chur, it will cost 116 CHF for a single journey for an adult, without discount codes and the mandatory reservation fees included.
For each journey, the reservation fee is mandatory. At the moment, this is 10 to 14 CHF (winter and summer fee). If you take the bus, you need to pay the reservation fee and then you need to reserve for the train too and pay it again.
For more prices and other information, please visit RhB.
More Bernina Express Prices and Route variations:
- Round Trip St. Moritz to Tirano and back to St. Moritz on the Bernina Express. Check for prices here.
- Round Trip Chur to Tirano and back to Chur on the Bernina Express. Check dates and prices here.
- Day Excursion from Milan with Lake Como and Bernina Train. See more details here.
Bernina Express budget tips
Wow, that is a whopping amount of money! If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option to experience the Bernina Express, then I have good news for you: There are several options to save money on the Bernina Express!
- Use a train pass. Switzerland has many options for railway passes, like their half day pass (cuts the prices in half) or the Swiss rail pass that includes free travel on trains for a certain amount of days. Then you only need to pay the reservation fee.
- Interrail pass or Eurail pass that includes Switzerland. If you have an Interrail or Eurail pass, you can travel on the Bernina Bus and the panoramic Bernina Express train for free. Only pay the reservation fee (bus and train) and you’re good to go.
- If you don’t have a rail pass and want to ride the Bernina railway and not pay to ride on the actual Bernina Express train, you can also take a regional train. Tickets are available at the normal ticket machines or online. Price for a one-way ticket can be as low as 30 euro if you apply this trick.
- Once on the train, you can save some money by bringing your own drinks and snacks. Yes, there is catering on the train but if you want to save money, bring your own picnic. Save more money and go shopping in Tirano, Italy with lower prices for most groceries than in Switzerland.
Is the Bernina Express the most beautiful train ride in the world?
In order to answer that question, I have to ride every single scenic train ride there is in the world. I’m well on my way but not quite there yet. However, I can say, after riding the rails for 2 weeks in Switzerland and completing all the scenic train rides that Switzerland advertises: YES! The Bernina Express is the most beautiful train ride of Switzerland.
Even stronger: it is the most beautiful train route I have taken until this day. I was swept off my feet by the diversity of the landscape. From Swiss mountains and lakes, through Italian scenery and the high Alps. Alpine lakes, glaciers, circular viaducts and landmark tunnels and viaducts were absolutely unlike anything I’ve seen before. Add in the snow-capped mountains and green meadows and I was absolutely smitten with the whole route.
Tourist trap or living up to the hype?
Now, in all honesty, the Swiss do a good job at their marketing. They know what is so appealing about their country and they use it to the full extent. And why wouldn’t they? Flaunt it if you got it, is my motto.
In most cases, when tourist offices make their marketing plan, they over exaggerate the positive points and ignore the problems. Not in this case! I found the Bernina Express from the start in Lugano to the finish in St. Moritz and Chur absolutely worth it. Breathtaking, exciting and really the most beautiful train ride.
It is no wonder the Bernina Express has become somewhat of hype on the internet. That is partly due to those patient photographers who make the epic shots with the trains in the landscape. Unfortunately, you don’t see it from the train but it does indicate the amazing landscape you’re crossing. And if you’re lucky, you can see an opposing train cross in the distance. The Bernina Express surpassed my expectations and definitely lived up to the hype!
Is Bernina Express worth it? The simple truth
Yes. Simply put: the Bernina Express is the most beautiful train ride in the world. At least in my personal opinion. However, all the images and stories in the world did not prepare me for the changing scenery, the gain in altitude and the Swiss landscape you’re crossing on those panoramic trains. I loved every minute of the train ride and would love to go back one day in winter when there is snow.
So whether you believe this clever marketing stunt or look to find your own truth about the Bernina Express, I hope you get the chance to ride the Bernina Express one day. Let me know if you have any plans in that direction!
Have you taken the Bernina Express? Do you think it was the most beautiful train ride in the world? If not, which train ride do you think deserves that title more? I’d love to find out. Leave a comment in the section below, or share this with your friends!
Images in the post have been taken by myself or my boyfriend unless stated otherwise. Pinterest images above are with special thanks to & copyright by Rhaetische Bahn By-line: swiss-image.ch/Andrea Badrutt
Interrail sponsored me with a Global Rail Pass in first class. All opinions are my own as always.
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