Winding through the mountains, over countless bridges and through many tight tunnels, the Glacier Express lets you witness up close the incredible Swiss landscape. It is a landscape unlike any other I have experienced and one that had me glued to the window, literally bouncing with joy with each crisp white scene.
If I had a bucket list, this experience would be on it.
There are a few reasons that I chose to visit Switzerland in winter, but one of the main factors was that I wanted to experience a country under a blanket of snow. I love winter time, but mostly, I love snow and the way a fresh dumping changes the landscape.
From the moment I started planning, I knew the Glacier Express would have to be included in my Switzerland trip. I think train travel is a great way to experience Europe and this one particularly caters to my love of landscapes so it seemed perfect!
The Glacier Express is described as the slowest express train in the world, as it slowly pulls you up into the alps on a journey from St Moritz to Zermatt (or the other way around). There are a few stops along the way, and you can choose to do the whole journey or just a section of it depending on what your itinerary allows. For us, I could not justify the price of accommodation in St Moritz. Once described as a millionaires playground, this little ski town comes with a massive luxury price tag. For that reason, we began our Glacier Express journey in Chur, a charming town in the valley.
Chur is actually the lowest point of the journey, sitting at 585 m but not long after boarding, the train makes its way to the Oberalp Pass, the highest point of the journey at 2034 m. This is a great first impression of the harsh winter landscape as during winter the roads up here are closed and there is SO MUCH SNOW! They generally have to plow the snow from the tracks multiple times in a day so the trains can get through. There were times we couldn’t even see the tracks. All the while through the pass it was snowing quite heavily and for us when we reached the highest point it was a complete white out. It was so bright I could barely open my eyes and you really just couldn’t see anything else but snow.
Descending into Andermatt, ice and snow began melting from the roof of the train and sliding down in chunks over the windows. It was pretty hectic weather conditions, but pretty amazing to witness.
For the majority of the journey, we looked out upon fresh powder snow, cross country skiers, little mountain huts and so many beautiful churches in all the little mountain towns. It looked like the landscape of another world.
The journey for us from Chur to Zermatt was around 5.5 hours and we arrived just on dark so didn’t have any part of the journey where we couldn’t see the landscape which was good as I was worried about the end portion of our journey being after sunset. If you do the full trip from St Moritz to Zermatt (or the other way around) then allow about 8-8.5 hours.
Once in Zermatt we chose to get back on a shuttle to Täsch (which you would have just gone past onboard the Glacier Express) which was where we were spending the night. Again accommodation prices in Zermatt itself are quite high. Täsch is a beautiful little village about 10 minutes away with huge mountains everywhere you look. Not much choice when it comes to restaurants though so keep that in mind!
When planning, I learnt a few things so wanted to share them in case this trip is ever on your itinerary. I also found the My Swiss Alps website really helpful to answering all my questions and helping me plan.
A common thing I had heard was that the Glacier Express is expensive. What I didn’t know until I booked my tickets was that rail passes cover it. If you are planning to do a few train trips in Switzerland it is probably worth looking into the Swiss Rail Pass, or if you are travelling through multiple European countries, a better option might be a Eurail Pass – both cover the cost of the Glacier Express ticket. On top of this you will still need to pay a compulsory seat reservation fee however the rail pass can help make the journey quite affordable.
You can also choose to travel in first or second class, both offer the same views but first class gives you a little more space and only has 3 seats across, meaning people sit in groups of 2s or 4s (second class is 4 across). This meant that that Jarryd and I didn’t have to sit next to anyone and could both enjoy window views! We got first class Eurail passes on a 20% discount and the small difference to get first over second class was well worth it for the extra comfort throughout all of our journeys. If you are really budget conscious though, second class would be fine and particularly for this journey you will still get to see the amazing scenery.
I also got asked once if it was worth doing the actual Glacier Express train as there are a regional trains that literally use the same tracks allowing you to see the same scenery for a cheaper price. Firstly, if you are travelling on a rail pass, this way is only going to save you the reservation fee as you would still use a day on the pass for the regional trains the same as for the Glacier Express itself. The second thing is that the Glacier Express is the only direct train from St Moritz to Zermatt. If you are taking the regional trains you will need to change about 3 or 4 times I think, which isn’t really a problem in Switzerland but if you have luggage it will impact your comfort on the journey and will increase the time it takes so keep that in mind when planning.
To make it more affordable for us, we brought on all of our food so we didn’t need to buy lunch or snacks. Food is crazy expensive and while some of it looked pretty good, but I don’t think enough to justify the prices. Beer on the other hand is pretty cheap considering so you don’t have to feel too bad about enjoying a crisp Swiss brewed lager while eating your packed lunch!
Overall it was a great experience and one I am so glad I did. We could have had a clearer day but snow is what we came to see and that is certainly what we got! I would love to one day do this journey again in spring and compare the difference in the landscape, I think it would be quite incredible.
Tell me, have you ever done the Glacier Express? Do you love travelling by train?