Switzerland’s Pre-Alpine Express: Scenic Train from Luzern to St. Gallen

Switzerland hosts some of the most beautiful scenic train rides in the world! The famous Bernina Express and the Glacier Express are of world class beauty. Although I 100% agree with this, during my 15 day railway trip through Switzerland, I discovered some hidden gems in the scenic railway route department. I’d like to introduce you to the Pre-Alpine Express train, or Voralpen Express in German.

Pre-Alpine Express is a scenic train ride from Luzern to St. Gallen. The Voralpen Express shows a spectacular route through the heart of Switzerland.

The Pre-Alpine Express is a scenic train ride with panoramic views that took me by surprise and made me fall in love with the Pre-Alps. Let’s discover together! I’ll introduce you to the Voralpen Express, explain the name, tell you what to see along the route and explain about start point Luzern and finish point St. Gallen. I also provide you with useful practical tips at the end, in case you want to know more or even book this great scenic railway journey!

Read more: 10 reasons why trains are better than planes

Voralpen Express Switzerland

The Voralpen Express is a scenic train ride in Switzerland. This 130 km (80 miles) train route runs from Luzern (or Lucerne) in the hearth of Switzerland to St. Gallen in the east. Voralpen Express is the German name of this panoramic railway route in Switzerland. In English it is called the Pre-Alpine Express.

The service is operated by SOB, the Südostbahn (South East Railway) 13 times a day on a daily basis. You can travel from Luzern to St. Gallen or vice versa in little over 2 hours without changing trains.

What are the Pre-Alps?

As this scenic train ride is named after them, I did some googling and found some nice little facts for you about the Pre-Alps. This might help you manage your expectations and get you excited about what you can see on the way.

The Pre-Alps (or Voralpen) are the foothills that transition from the higher Alps and the lower lands. As the Alps are a vast mountain range, the Pre-Alps range from France, through Switzerland to Germany, Austria, Slovenia and Italy. Basically it is a cushion zone around the higher Alps, introducing smaller hills, vast lakes and amazing scenery. Wikipedia learns us that they generally do not exceed 2,500 meters (8,200 ft).

Pre-Alpine Express is a scenic train ride from Luzern to St. Gallen. The Voralpen Express shows a spectacular route through the heart of Switzerland.
Glorious views of the Zugersee lake with the hazy morning glow.
Pre-Alpine Express is a scenic train ride from Luzern to St. Gallen. The Voralpen Express shows a spectacular route through the heart of Switzerland.
Little villages at the edge of the lake and hills surrounding them.

Pre-Alpine Express train from Luzern to St. Gallen

The Pre-Alpine Express takes you on a train journey from Luzern to St. Gallen in the east of Switzerland. Of course, you can also ride the train in the other direction but as I only did one leg, I focus on Luzern to St. Gallen.

After you leave the hustle and bustle of Luzern behind, you soon find yourself driving along the shores of Lake Luzern. The beautiful Vierwaldstättersee looks different, no matter how often you see it.

The train stops a couple of time, allowing people to leave for Mt. Rigi and provides you with excellent views of Lake Luzern and Mt. Rigi.

It feels like the whole journey, you’re squeezing threw the area between smaller mountains. Passing in the valley, along the shores of several lakes, surrounded by picture perfect villages and forest.

Half way through the journey, you even cross Lake Zurich which gives you amazing lake side views on both sides of the train. After the Obersee, things get dark around you as you pass through several long tunnels. But things brighten up quickly as you come out at the other end.

As you nearly approach St. Gallen, you pass a couple of bigger and smaller bridges which is exciting to see. Those stone arches under the train complete the idea of this scenic train ride in Switzerland.

Pre-Alpine Express is a scenic train ride from Luzern to St. Gallen. The Voralpen Express shows a spectacular route through the heart of Switzerland.
Enjoying the views of the lakes and mountains.
Pre-Alpine Express is a scenic train ride from Luzern to St. Gallen. The Voralpen Express shows a spectacular route through the heart of Switzerland.
One of the amazing bridges near St. Gallen.

Read more: 21 Surprising things about travel in Switzerland

Departure from Luzern

The Pre-Alpine Express is a normal operated train that runs on a daily basis. It runs 13 times a day in both directions between Luzern and St. Gallen. You do not need to pay reservations fees and you can just buy a train ticket, either at the SBB ticket machines or online with SOB. Rail passes are also valid on this scenic railway journey.

The train leaves Luzern Central Station from platform 2. This is behind platform 3 in the main hall and as we came from track 17, it was quite the walk for us. Running late, we speed walked over to the train, boarding the train as the conductor blew his whistle.

Trains of the Voralpen Express

As we rushed to the train, I could just snap a few pics of the locomotive and the exterior of the carriage. We quickly found our first class seats and settled in. I immediately loved the cute cozy interior of the Voralpen Express.

Comfortable plush seats, bright windows, framed by grandma-style curtains, what is not to love?! It was not busy at all, so for us it was easy to switch sides as we meandered through the pre-Alps of Switzerland. But even if your carriage would be completely booked, the carriages were bright and spacious, so you could easily look out the windows.

Pre-Alpine Express is a scenic train ride from Luzern to St. Gallen. The Voralpen Express shows a spectacular route through the heart of Switzerland.
Just put the curtains to the side and enjoy the view from the train
Pre-Alpine Express is a scenic train ride from Luzern to St. Gallen. The Voralpen Express shows a spectacular route through the heart of Switzerland.
The little tray tables have a map on it to keep track where you’re riding the train.

Scenery on the Pre-Alpine Express train route

And looking out the window is exactly what you want to do on the Pre-Alpine Express to St. Gallen. We took the 9.38 am train from Luzern to St. Gallen and the sun was shining bright on the sky. This gave the foothills of the Alps a soft glow with hazy reflections in the distance.

After Lake Luzern, we crossed numerous other lakes, each with typical wooden Swiss houses along the shores. I loved looking at people’s houses and yards and the green rolling hills.

Pre-Alpine Express is a scenic train ride from Luzern to St. Gallen. The Voralpen Express shows a spectacular route through the heart of Switzerland.
Lakes and mountains, a perfect view!
Pre-Alpine Express is a scenic train ride from Luzern to St. Gallen. The Voralpen Express shows a spectacular route through the heart of Switzerland.
Super cute houses scattered across the foothills

Things to do in St. Gallen Switzerland

Now, in all honestly, the Pre-Alpine Express train ride surprised me with her beauty and was a fantastic introduction to the lower Alps region of Switzerland. At first, it was only a way to reach the city of St. Gallen, but now I truly believe it is an attraction on its own.

However, there does lie a treasure waiting at the end of the this scenic train ride: St. Gallen.

Not far from Lake Constance and the border of Germany and Liechtenstein, it is most famous for her University, unique Church and the library. I had a full and busy day scheduled for us, so we didn’t stay long in St. Gallen, but her confined cuteness charmed me away.

Pre-Alpine Express is a scenic train ride from Luzern to St. Gallen. The Voralpen Express shows a spectacular route through the heart of Switzerland.
Credit : swiss-image.ch // The Voralpen – Express crossing the Sitter viaduct near St. Gallen.

Unesco World Heritage Sites in St. Gallen

We arrived in St. Gallen just before noon and the main centre was filled with youngsters enjoying their lunch break and the sun. The view of the Cathedral of St. Gallen and the big square was impressive and the laid back, young, atmosphere made us curious about the town.

We roamed the streets, visited the Cathedral and slipped into some oversized shoes to enter the ancient library of St. Gallen. Photography was not allowed inside, but we entered a wooden library dating back to 1,100 AD when Irish monks settled in St. Gallen and stuffed the library with ancient writings and illustrated books. Wall to wall books, cracking wooden floors and the smell of ancient wisdom and intellect. I loved it!

Pre-Alpine Express is a scenic train ride from Luzern to St. Gallen. The Voralpen Express shows a spectacular route through the heart of Switzerland.
Famous iconic St. Gallen view
Pre-Alpine Express is a scenic train ride from Luzern to St. Gallen. The Voralpen Express shows a spectacular route through the heart of Switzerland.
Surprisingly bright and light interior.

More information about things to do in St. Gallen

If you’re curious about St. Gallen or want to know more to plan your stay, visit the following links for more information:

Extend your trip to the Rhine falls

The reason we had little time to explore St. Gallen was because we continued our journey in this part of Switzerland to visit the Rhine falls near the small town of Neuhausen. The Rhine falls are the biggest waterfall in Switzerland and Europe. As the Rhine ends in my tiny country, it was absolutely amazing to be so close to its source and to see the power and force of this important waterway for the Netherlands.

From St. Gallen, you can travel by train to Winterthur and change trains to stop in either Neuhausen or Schaffhausen. But, we decided to take the (SLOW) scenic route on the regional train along the shores of Lake Constance. This local S train was more a tram or bus, as it stopped at every little local station. For the first hour I dozed off a bit, but the second hour was more scenic with amazing views of the Lake and the river, leading up to the Rhine falls

We arrived at the Rhine falls at 5pm and had just enough time to visit both sides. We ended at the castle and walked down to the viewing platform where the waterfalls almost flows over your shoes! As we didn’t feel like getting wet, we didn’t board a boat to visit the rock in the middle of the falls, but it does make for spectacular pictures. I loved the Rhine falls and if you have the chance, it is a great extension to your Pre-Alpine Express train journey.

Pre-Alpine Express is a scenic train ride from Luzern to St. Gallen. The Voralpen Express shows a spectacular route through the heart of Switzerland.
Panoramic view of the Rhine Falls

Practical tips for Switzerland’s Pre-Alpine Express Train

I hope I got you excited to try this lesser known Swiss scenic train ride from Luzern to St. Gallen. As always, I dish out some practical tips to help you prepare for your journey.

  • Take snacks and drinks on the Pre-Alpine Express. This train ride takes almost 2 hours and you might want to snack or have something to drink. There is a buffet carriage but I didn’t visit it. I understood it offers snacks and drinks via vending machines so you might just bring your own.

  • With CHF 49 for a one way ticket, and no mandatory reservation costs, this is one of Switzerland’s most affordable world class scenic train rides. However, look into the options to obtain a travel pass, like the Interrail, Eurail, Swiss half fare card or Swiss pass. They can save you a ton of money on the Pre-Alpine Express.

  • You can travel back and forth between Luzern and St. Gallen on a one-day round trip, but it is more fun to explore a few days in Luzern or add some time in St. Gallen or at the Rhine falls. Book your St. Gallen hotels here.

  • You don’t have to ride the Voralpen Express train from Luzern to St. Gallen in 1 go. There are several interesting sights to see along the route, check out this link to get more ideas about the highlights.

  • There isn’t really a preferred side of the train to sit at. You’ll see Lake Luzern on your right side, but the Zugersee and Zürichsee on your left. Then you ride along the Obersee on your right again. So there isn’t a right or wrong side.

  • Arrive on time at Luzern station to board the train. The train leaves from platform 2, which is almost halfway platform 3 so you need a couple of extra minutes to reach it.

  • You can also travel on local trains from Luzern to St. Gallen. Probably with a stop in either Zürich or Thur. This is not the Pre-Alp Express train though. Watch for the letters VAE (VorAlpen Express) on the board so you know you’ll have the direct train from Luzern to St. Gallen.

Pre-Alpine Express, Switzerland’s lesser known scenic train ride

The Pre-Alpine Express was one of my first scenic train rides in Switzerland that I took. It was a great introduction to the lower Alps and an excellent cross section of part of the country. I discovered lake side Luzern and historic St. Gallen in one day.

Switzerland has many world class famous scenic railway journeys but I might have secretly fallen in love a little bit with the least famous train ride. The Pre-Alpine Express is not as popular but still offers an excellent scenic train ride through Switzerland. I definitely recommend to board the Pre-Alpine Express and explore Luzern and St. Gallen.

Have you been to Luzern or St. Gallen? Did you ride the Pre-Alpine Express train in Switzerland? What did you think? Please leave a comment in the comment section below, I’d love to hear from other train enthusiasts.

Image of the facade of the St. Gallen Cathedral in the Swiss town of St. Gallen. Text overlay saying: Luzern to St. Gallen VorAlpen-Express Train in Switzerland, Probe around the Globe.
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Image of the lake and green hills of the PreAlpine Foothills in Switzerland taking from the Voralpen Express train in Switzerland. Text overlay saying: Pre-Alpine Express Luzern to St. Gallen by Train, Probe around the Globe
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All images are made by either myself or my boyfriend, unless stated otherwise. 

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