What is the Bernina Express?    Watch the video    Buy tickets

It's arguably the most scenic Swiss train ride train of all - although the Glacier Express competes for the title.  Indeed, it's one of the most scenic train rides in Europe, or for that matter, the world, and a personal favourite too.  The fabulous Bernina Express is a narrow gauge train with panoramic sightseeing cars run by the Rhätische Bahn from Chur & St Moritz in eastern Switzerland south to Tirano, just across the border in northern Italy.  You can travel in summer or winter, indeed, it's a totally different experience in the Swiss winter wonderland as through the sunny Swiss meadows in summer, so why not try both?  On this page I'll also explain how to use the Bernina Express as part of a civilised & scenic overland journey from London, Paris or Zurich to Milan, Florence, Venice or Rome.

  What's the Bernina Express train like?

  What's the Bernina Express journey like?    

  Train times & fares

  How to buy tickets

  Bernina Express travel tips & FAQ

  Bernina Express video

 

  Train travel in Switzerland - a beginner's guide

  Swiss Pass, Swiss Transfer Ticket & Half Fare Card, explained

  London to Switzerland by train - in comfort by Eurostar & TGV

  The Glacier Express  Switzerland's other great scenic train

  The Jungfraubahn  By train up the Eiger & Jungfrau

  Europe by train general information

  Top tip:  How to travel on the Bernina Express for just €29 - And kids go free!

  How to travel from London, Paris or Zurich to Milan, Florence, Venice or Rome via the Bernina Express

What's the train like?

Bernina Express panoramic cars at Tirano   2nd class seats on the Bernina Express train

Bernina Express at Tirano...

 

2nd class seats...

First class seats   Bernina Express panormaic cars

1st class leather seats...

 

Bernina Express panoramic carriages...

The refreshment trolley     About to leave Tirano

Refreshment trolley adorned with a large cuddly ibex...

 

Baggage area in each car with opening window...

 

The Bernina Express is hauled by an Allegra unit which also operate the hourly local trains.

What's a journey on the Bernina Express like?   Watch the video

A ride on the Bernina Express is a 4-hour, 144 km (90 mile) journey between icy Switzerland and sunny Italy, though 55 tunnels and 196 bridges, with Alpine gradients as steep as 1 in 7, on a railway built in 1896-1904 and now declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Between Chur and Samedan near St Moritz, the Bernina Express shares the route with its sister train, the Glacier Express, crossing the famous Landwasser Viaduct from mountainside to mountainside, on which many of the Glacier Express's and Bernina Expresses publicity photos are taken.  South of Pontresina, the train climbs up to the Bernina Pass, past the Morteratsch Glacier, reaching its highest point at Ospizio Bernina, 2,253 metres (7,391 feet) above sea level.  Descending through the fir trees on the other side of the mountain, the train calls at the pretty village of Poschiavo.  Between Poschiavo and Tirano the train runs round the famous Brusio Spiral Viaduct, where most of the classic Bernina Express publicity photos are taken.  In Tirano, the Rhätische Bahn connects with Trenitalia regional trains to Milan, change in Milan for high-speed trains to Florence, Rome or Venice.  For more information about the Bernina Express, see the Bernina Express pages on the official Rhätische Bahn website, www.rhb.ch

Step 1, from Milan to Tirano by Trenord regional train... 

In these photos we'll go northbound from Milan Centrale to Zurich, but the journey & scenery are exactly the same in either direction.

Modern Trenord train from Milan to Tirano   Seats on the Trenord train from Milan to Tirano

The Bernina Express is an excellent way to travel between London, Paris or Zurich and Milan, Florence, Rome or Venice, but its Tirano-Milan connection is very poorly advertised by the Rhätische Bahn, and many travel agents seem ignorant of its existence.  In fact, excellent modern Trenord trains link Milan Centrale with Tirano every two hours, no reservation necessary, just buy a ticket and hop on.  First class is virtually identical to the 2nd class seats shown here, but with grey seats not blue.

Journey along Lake Como to Tirano   Towards the mountains

Trenord introduced its new air-conditioned Milan-Tirano trains in 2015, very smooth-riding with clean toilets, video information screens & power sockets at all seats.  A pleasure to travel on, and it's a nice ride as the train speeds along Lake Como and heads towards the mountains...

Step 2, from Tirano to Chur by Bernina Express...

Trenord (left) and Rhatische Bahn (right) stations in Tirano   The Bernina Express leaves Tirano through the streets

In the photo above left, the Trenord station is on the left & the Rhätische Bahn station is on the right, just yards apart.

Trenord (left) and Rhatische Bahn (right) stations in Tirano   The Bernina Express leaves Tirano through the streets

After leaving Tirano, the Bernina Express starts running through the streets (above right), with cars held up at traffic lights to let it pass...

The Bernina Express climbs up the valley from Tirano   The Brusio Spiral

The train climbs up the valley out of Tirano...

 

...and rounds the famous Brusio Spiral...

Passing Lake Poschiavo

The train passes Lake Poschiavo...

Clinging to a mountainside

...then it climbs & climbs, eventually clinging to a mountainside thousands of feet up.  Those clouds on the mountain opposite are actually below us...

Alp Grum   Ospizio Bernina - the summit

The vast valley to your left at Alp Grum station - you're now at 2,091m (6,860 feet) above sea level.

 

Ospizio Bernina, the summit at 2,253 metres (7,391 feet) above sea level.

In the Bernina Pass

Beyond Ospizio Bernina, the train heads through the bleak Bernina Pass...

The train descends from the Bernina Pass

The Bernina Express descends from the Bernina Pass...

The Landwasser Viaduct   Scenery

The famous Landwasser Viaduct...

 

There's still more mountain scenery...

More scnery, on the way to Chur

And yet more mountains on the way to Chur...

The Bernina Express arrives in Chur to connect for Zurich

Step 3, change in Chur for Zurich...  Chur is a terminus.  The Bernina Express has arrived on the right, the train to Zurich is waiting on the left, it's a simple cross-platform interchange that only takes two minutes.

Step 3, from Chur to Zurich by SBB InterCity or InterRegional train...

Passing the Zurichsee   Passing the Zurichsee

Swiss Federal Railways IC or IR trains run from Chur to Zurich HB every 30 minutes, taking you alongside the shores of the Walensee and then the Zürichsee...  No reservation required, just hop on and sit where you like.  Some of the IC trains are ICN tilting trains, like that in the photo of Chur platform above.

 

Watch the videoMilan to Zurich by Bernina Express...

The video shows an old Trenord train between Milan & Tirano, smart new trains were introduced in 2014, see the photos above.


Practical information...

Bernina Express timetable...

 Zurich Milan by Bernina Express 

 

 Milan ► Zurich by Bernina Express

 

 Winter

2015/6

Summer

2016

 

Winter

2015/16

Summer

2016

Km

 Swiss intercity train...

Mon-Fri

Sat, Sun

Daily

 Italian regional train...

Mon-Fri

Sat, Sun

Daily

0

Zurich HB depart:

07:37

07:07

07:07

Milan Centrale depart:

10:20

10:20

10:20

116

Chur arrive:

08:52

08:22

08:22

Lecco, Lake Como

11:02

11:02

11:02

Km

Bernina Express...

953

951

951

Varenna, Lake Como

11:24

11:24

11:24

0

Chur depart:

08:58

08:32

08:32

Bellano, Lake Como

11:29

11:29

11:29

41

Tiefencastel

09:47

09:18

09:18

Tirano Trenord station arrive:

12:50

12:50

12:50

89

Pontresina

11:04

10:21

|

Bernina Express...

954

950

950

110

Alp Grum

11:40

10:57

10:57

Tirano RhB station depart:

15:00

14:26

14:26

290

Poschiavo

12:22

12:00

12:00

Poschiavo

15:37

15:09

15:09

144

Tirano RhB station arrive:

13:00

12:45

12:45

Alp Grum

16:13

15:44

15:44

 Km

Italian regional train...

 

 

 

Pontresina

16:52

16:16

16:16

0

Tirano Trenord Stn depart

13:10

13:10

13:10

Tiefencastel

18:14

17:31

17:31

81

Bellano, Lake Como

14:32

14:32

14:32

Chur arrive:

19:03

18:20

18:20

84

Varenna, Lake Como

14:37

14:37

14:37

Swiss intercity train...

 

 

 

106

Lecco, Lake Como

15:01

15:01

15:01

Chur depart:

19:09

18:39

18:39

156

Milan Centrale arrive:

15:40

15:40

15:40

Zurich HB arrive:

20:23

19:53

19:53

 

Notes...

  • Summer = 5 May to 23 October 2016.

    Winter = The rest of the year.  In winter, the Saturday & Sunday service also applies on holidays and over the Christmas period.

  • Only the special panoramic Bernina Express is shown here.  Normal Rhätische Bahn local trains run every hour through the day over all sections of the Chur-Tirano Bernina Pass route.  You can check times for these hourly local trains at either Rhätische Bahn website www.rhb.ch or the main Swiss Railways site www.sbb.ch.  No reservation required to travel on these regular local trains, you can just turn up, buy a ticket at the station and hop on.  Tickets cannot sell out.  You'll normally need to change trains at least once if you want to travel from Chur to Tirano on these regular local trains. 

  • Travelling to or from St Moritz?  Only the Chur-Tirano Bernina Express is shown here, which by-passes St Moritz, but there are St Moritz-Tirano Bernina Expresses (1 in winter, 3 per day in summer) and of course the normal hourly local trains running Chur-St Moritz and St Moritz-Tirano.  You can check times for all these trains at either the Rhätische Bahn website www.rhb.ch or the main Swiss Railways site www.sbb.ch.

  • In winter the panoramic cars of the Bernina Express are attached to ordinary local trains, but in Summer it runs as a separate train consisting exclusively of panoramic sightseeing cars.

  • In Chur, it's usually a simple cross-platform interchange between the mainline SBB InterCity or InterRegional train to/from Zurich and the narrow-gauge Bernina Express to/from Tirano which takes just a minute or two.  No reservation is necessary or possible, you can just turn up, buy a ticket and hop on - or pre-purchase at www.sbb.ch.  Zurich-Chur trains run every half hour.

  • In Tirano, the Italian Trenord station is a few yards across the square from the Rhätische Bahn station.  The Italian regional trains link Tirano with Milan Centrale every two hours through the day, fare €11.50, you can check times at www.trenord.it.  No reservation is necessary or even possible, you can buy tickets at the station (at the cafe-bar if the ticket office is closed) or you can buy online at www.trenord.it and print out your ticket.

  • Connecting bus between Tirano & Lugano:  The Rhätische Bahn run a bus between Tirano & Lugano which connects with the Bernina Express.  This allows you to make circular excursions around Switzerland.  See www.rhb.ch for details.

 

How much does it cost?

  • Zurich to Chur costs CHF 40 (£29, €39) each way in 2nd class or CHF 70 (£51, €68) in 1st class. 

  • Chur to Tirano costs CHF 62 (£45, €61) in 2nd class, CHF 109 (£79, €106) in 1st class for the basic ticket. 

  • These prices are for regular open tickets with unlimited availability and one fixed price, valid on any train on the route.  Children under 16 half price.  To use the Bernina Express panoramic train rather than local trains, you simply pay a reservation fee on top of the ticket, this costs CHF 10 (£7) in winter or CHF 14 (£9) in summer.

  • But there's a clever way to buy a cheap advance-purchase Bernina ticket from just €29, with kids under 15 free, explained here.

  • Special offer from Rhätische Bahn until 31 March 2016:  Two people travelling together pay CHF 129 (€119) including lunch round trip Chur-Tirano and back.  See details of this offer on the RhB website.  It can only be booked online direct with RhB.

  • Tirano to Milan by Trenord regional train costs €11.50 in 2nd class or €17.50 in 1st class.  That's a fixed price with unlimited availability.

How to buy tickets, the regular way...   See the cheap way

  • You can buy tickets for the Bernina Express at the Rhätische Bahn website www.rhb.ch - But for the clever cheap way to buy tickets, see here.

  • If you want to buy tickets at www.rhb.ch, here's some useful advice...

    If you specifically want to book the Bernina Express panoramic train, and aren't interested in the other hourly local trains on the Bernina route, simply click 'Buy tickets' it'll sell you a ticket for the once-a-day Bernina Express between any two stops on its Chur-Tirano route, northbound or southbound, with the necessary seat reservation included.

    Choosing a reserved seat:  It will let you select specific reserved seats from a numbered seating plan, although before you ask, no, you can't tell which way round the carriage will be so can't tell which seats face forward or backwards or are on the left or right hand side.   My advice?  If there's two or more of you, book face-to face-seats and if there's 4 of you consider choosing two window seats facing each other on each side of the train.

    To save you buying a separate ticket from Zurich to Chur when travelling southbound, look for the box marked 'arrive from (optional)' and enter 'Zurich'.  It'll then sell you a through ticket from Zurich to Tirano with the Bernina Express reservation included.  Though this doesn't work northbound...

    To save buying a separate Chur to Zurich ticket when travelling northbound, ignore the 'Buy tickets' button and instead click 'Timetable'.  Make a Tirano to Zurich enquiry with desired departure time set to 14:00, and look for the departure with the Bernina Express logo.  Click to buy, complete with seat reservation.

    If you want to see all the trains on the Bernina route, including the hourly local trains, ignore the 'Buy tickets' button and click 'Timetable' on the left instead.  Now you can run an enquiry between any two stations on the Zurich-Chur-St Moritz-Tirano route in either direction, and buy a ticket valid on any train that date.  Journeys which include the Bernina Express are shown with a Bernina Express logo, and if you choose that departure it'll sell a ticket with the necessary Bernina Express reservation included.

    If it won't accept a UK postcode, simply use that old favourite '123456'.

    Zurich-Chur tickets can also be bought at the station on the day if you haven't already bought them as part of an online booking at rhb.ch.  Tickets have unlimited availability and cannot sell out. Tickets are valid on any train that day, reservation are neither necessary nor possible.  You can also buy print-at-home tickets at the main Swiss Railways website www.sbb.ch if you like.

  • Tirano-Milan tickets can be bought at the station on the day.  They have unlimited availability and cannot sell out, prior reservation is neither necessary nor possible.  Tickets are valid on any train that day, remember to validate them in the little green machines on the platform.

    In Tirano, you can buy tickets in the station's cafe-bar when the ticket office is closed (in euros, cash only).  Or you can buy Tirano-Milan tickets from the RhB ticket window in the Swiss station as you walk past it coming off the Bernina Express - in fact this is probably the easiest option, given the Italian station ticket office is usually closed in the afternoon.

    In Milan, it's easiest to buy from the Trenitalia self-service machines which have a touch-screen and English-language facility.  In Italy, remember to validate local train tickets in the little machines before boarding the train.

    Alternatively, to save time you can buy a print-at-home ticket at www.trenord.it but note that print-at-home tickets are non-refundable and only valid for the specific train you book and for 4 hours afterwards - which at least means that if you miss the planned train, you can still take the next one.  Print-at-home tickets don't need validating.

  • Onward tickets between Milan & Florence, Venice, Rome etc can be pre-booked at either www.italiarail.com (easy to use, in plain English, they'll refund seat61 users the €3.50 booking fee if you email seat61@italiarail.com with your PNR) or Italian Railways own website www.trenitalia.com (requires Italian-language place names and has a few quirks especially when booking sleepers, but no booking fee, see this advice on how to use it).  Tickets can be collected at the station in Italy, or for Frecciarossa and InterCity trains it's ticketless, you simply quote your booking reference on board.  Booking opens 90 or sometimes 120 days ahead, depending on the train.  Advice on train travel within Italy.

The Bernina Express from €29 & kids under 15 go free!  The clever way to book....

  • Swiss fares are expensive.  A 2nd class ticket from Zurich to Tirano costs CHF 90 or €85, even before the CHF 9 or CHF 12 Bernina Express reservation supplement is added.  The Swiss don't offer any advance-purchase discounts on this route, only one fixed price. 

  • But there's a clever & perfectly legitimate way to save up to 65%, and if you've got kids under 15 they go free too.  German Railways (Deutsche Bahn) offer cheap advance-purchase tickets between any station in Germany and any station in Switzerland from €29.  And accompanied children under 15 go free with these tickets, if entered as children in the normal way when you make the booking.

    Freiburg (Breisgau) is the last major stop before the Swiss border, and you can buy a ticket from Freiburg to Tirano from €29 and simply not use the Freiburg to Zurich part.  Or vice versa northbound.  Nobody knows or cares whether you use all or part of the ticket, this is not an airline!

    Tickets are only valid on the specific train you pick - feel free to pick the Bernina Express departure itself (match up the times with the timetable above), or another departure by local train.  Booking usually opens 90 days ahead.

  • How to buy €29 tickets southbound:  Use this special link...

    Use this special link to book from Freiburg to Tirano at the German Railways website www.bahn.de/en, entering as your departure date the day before the day you want to leave Zurich or Chur, entering the number of adults & children and leaving all the time parameters alone.

    IMPORTANT:  YOU MUST ENTER AS DEPARTURE DATE THE DATE BEFORE YOU WANT TO TRAVEL. 

    There are no trains from Freiburg early enough to connect with the morning Bernina Express from Chur, so I've set up the link above to include an overnight stop in Zurich, so you get an evening train from Freiburg then the morning Bernina Express connection from Zurich southwards.  It's not rocket science, but that's why you must enter as departure date from Freiburg the day before you actually want to leave Zurich or Chur.  If you book 2-3 months ahead you should see 'saver fares' from €29 upwards.

    When you see the search results, it should be easy to identify which one is the actual Bernina Express, in several ways.

    (1)  It'll usually be an option with 3 changes rather than 4 or 5; 

    (2)  If you click on the arrow next to that journey to see details, the train number will be D 951 or D 953 as that's the Bernina Express. 

    (3), the journey option you want will involve a direct Chur-Tirano train with times that match the ones given above.

    IF YOU DON'T SEE A €29 FARE but a €39 or €44 - remembering the prices you see are the total for all passengers, not per person -  the €29 tickets have sold out, but even a €39 or €44 ticket will save money over the €80+ Swiss regular fare.  And here's a tip - If you don't get the cheapest €29 rate for Freiburg-Tirano, try re-running the enquiry with Singen (Hohentwiel) as the start point instead of Freiburg, sometimes this lowers the price, sometimes not.

    IF YOU DON'T SEE A DIRECT CHUR-TIRANO TRAIN:  On some dates the Bernina Express appears in the search results as 2 or 3 separate trains rather than one, as the Bernina Express cars are attached to a series of regional trains.  If the departure time from Chur and arrival time at Tirano match the timetable above, and it goes via Samedan & Pontresina, then it's the Bernina Express, so go ahead & buy the ticket.

    You print your own ticket - I recommend registering when prompted so you can log in and reprint tickets at any time.  If you're happy using the regular local trains on the Bernina route which run every hour, simply adjust the stopover time in Zurich and re-run the enquiry to get a later Zurich or Chur to Tirano departure.

    To add the necessary Bernina Express reservation, see the paragraph after next...

  • How to buy €29 tickets northbound:  Use this special link...

    Use this special link to book from Tirano to Freiburg at the German Railways website www.bahn.de/en.  Just enter the number of adults & children and your departure date from Tirano and leave all time & stopover parameters alone if you want the Bernina Express itself.  If you book 2-3 months ahead you should see saver fares from €29 upwards. 

    In this direction, tickets must be sent to you, they cannot be printed at home, but they'll be sent anywhere in the world for €3.90.  I recommend registering when prompted so you can log in and reprint tickets at any time.  If you've kids, add them to the booking as normal so they are on the ticket, but you should find that they travel for free.

    If you don't see a €29 fare but a €39 or €44 - remembering the prices you see are the total for all passengers, not per person -  the €29 tickets have sold out, but even €39 or €44 tickets will save money over the €80+ Swiss regular fare.  And here's a tip - If you don't see the cheapest €29 rate for Tirano-Freiburg, try re-running the enquiry with Singen (Hohentwiel) as the destination instead of Freiburg, sometimes this lowers the price, sometimes not.

    When you see the search results, it should be easy to identify which one is the actual Bernina Express, in several ways.  (1)  It'll probably be the option with 2 or 3 changes rather than 4 or 5, as the Bernina Express is the only direct Tirano-Chur train, the local trains on the same route involve an extra change.  (2)  If you click on the arrow next to that journey to see details, the train number will be D 950 or D 954.  That's the Bernina Express!  And (3), the Tirano-Chur times will match the ones given above.

    IF YOU DON'T SEE A DIRECT TIRANO-CHUR TRAIN:  On some dates the Bernina Express appears in the search results as 2 or 3 separate trains rather than one, as the Bernina Express cars are attached to successive regional trains.  If departure time from Tirano & arrival time at Chur match the timetable above and it goes via Samedan & Pontresina, then it's the Bernina Express, go ahead & book.

    To add the necessary Bernina Express reservation, read the following paragraph...

  • How to add the Bernina Express seat reservation...

    If you are happy using a local train or sitting in the regular seats of the 3-car Allegra unit which hauls the Bernina Express, you don't need any seat reservation, just the €29 ticket, you can sit where you like.   But if you want to sit in the special panoramic cars of the Bernina Express itself, you need to make a reservation for an extra €14 per seat.  Some people prefer the regular trains with windows that open, I personally like the Bernina Express panoramic cars.  The scenery is the same!  If you want a reservation, there are two ways to make it online.

  • Option 1, add a reservation during the booking at bahn.de...  You can add a seat reservation when buying your cheap ticket at bahn.de - if you have children, they have to pay the reservation fee even if their ticket is free.  Simply select the option on bahn.de to add a seat reservation to your booking.  It'll offer a list of each train on your itinerary, so de-select the seat reservations you don't want (meaning the Freiburg-Basel & Basel-Zurich ones, obviously, as you won't be using this part of the ticket) and you can also de-select Zurich-Chur as reservations aren't possible on most Swiss domestic trains.  Just leave the Chur-Tirano train selected for seat reservation and proceed.  Bahn.de will initially say that the reservation costs €4.50 because this is the standard German seat reservation fee, but at the end of the process you'll be charged €14 for a reserved seat in one of the Bernina Express panoramic cars (just trust me on this).  Your car & seat number will be printed out on your ticket, the word panorama confirming it's in the Bernina Express panoramic cars. 

  • Option 2, make the Bernina Express seat reservation separately:  Alternatively, you can buy the €29 ticket at bahn.de without any reservation, then make the €14 Bernina Express reservation separately at www.rhb.ch as explained in the section below.  The advantage of using rhb.ch for the seat reservation is that you can choose your exact seats from a plan, whereas bahn.de allocates your seats for you.

  • Feedback if you buy tickets this way would be appreciated.  Obviously, you may need to fiddle with the search parameters to get exactly the Zurich-Tirano or Tirano-Zurich service you want.

If you have a Eurail, InterRail or Swiss Pass...

  • You don't need to buy an expensive railpass just for one trip on the Bernina Express, it's cheaper to buy regular point-to-point tickets as explained above.  But if you intend doing more train trips within Switzerland a Swiss Pass or Swiss Flexi Pass is well worth considering as it can save money.  See the Swiss Pass information & advice here.  You'll just have to do the maths, railpass price versus point to point prices worked out at www.sbb.ch.

  • If you already have a Swiss Pass, InterRail pass or Eurail pass covering Switzerland, this covers all trains on the Bernina route.  You can hop on the hourly local trains without any reservation or fee, but if you want to use the Bernina Express panoramic train you'll have to pay the Bernina Express reservation fee mentioned in the fares section above.

  • You can make a reservation for the Bernina Express at any Swiss station when you get there or in advance online as explained in the section below.

  • InterRail & Eurail passes also cover the Tirano-Milan TreNord route, if they include Italy.  Trenord is a joint venture of Trenitalia and local private operator Le Nord, and passes give unlimited travel over those TreNord routes which are Trenitalia-owned, which includes Tirano-Milan, although not on some other Trenord routes which are Le Nord-owned.

How to make a Bernina Express reservation if you already have a ticket or railpass...

  • You can easily make a reservation-only booking for the Bernina Express to go with a railpass or existing travel ticket as follows:

  • Doing it this way allows you to pick specific seat(s) from a numbered plan although as the carriages could enter service either way round you can't tell which seats face forwards, or which seats will be on which side of the train.  My recommendation for a couple is two face to face seats by the window.

  • Go to the Rhätische Bahn website www.rhb.ch, click 'en' top right for English.

  • Click Buy tickets and run an enquiry for the date you want, and locate and select the Bernina Express departure you want.

  • In the Passengers section, enter the number of passengers.

  • Now the clever bit:  In the drop-down box labelled Tickets/Reductions change the default No reduction to Ticket available if you already have a basic travel ticket or to Eurail Pass or InterRail Pass if you have either of those.

  • You should now see the price drop to the cost of the Bernina Express reservation fee alone, and you can now carry on and pay for your seat reservation.


Bernina Express travel tips & FAQ...

  • What time of year is best?  The Bernina Express runs all year round, so you can go any time.  Indeed, you really need to do it twice, as it's a totally different experience through a snowy wonderland in the depths of winter compared to a summer jaunt through lush green Swiss meadows.

  • Is northbound or southbound better?  Either is fine in summer, but in winter the northbound Bernina Express will run the last couple of hours in darkness, making a southbound run preferable.

  • Should you go first or second class?  The scenery is exactly the same, the only difference is the seating layout, see the photos above.  As you can see, 2nd class seats are arranged 2+2 across the car width, 1st class seats are arranged 2+1.  So 1st class seats offer more elbow room and fewer passengers per car.  It also means that there are tables-for-two on one side of the aisle, which are nicer for couples than sharing a 4-seater section in 2nd class.  But there's no difference in on-board service, all you're paying for is the lower-density seating.  2nd class is absolutely fine, so you don't need to go 1st class unless you really aren't bothered by the extra cost.

  • Which side of the train to sit?  Going South, the best views are on the right-hand side of the train, going north it's the left-hand-side, including the best views of the Brusio Spiral, the Ospizio Bernina area and the Landwasser Viaduct.  However, when booking you can't tell which way round the carriages will be, so unfortunately you can't reserve a seat on a specific side.  But feel free to move if seats are free, and if there's four of you, you could reserve the two window seats on both sides.

  • Luggage arrangements:  Like any other European train, you take your luggage on board with you and within reason you can take whatever you like, suitcases, backpacks, whatever.  You can put your bags in the large luggage vestibule at the opposite end of each carriage from the entrance door.  There's plenty of space in both classes.

  • Food on board:  There's no catering car, but a refreshment trolley comes down the train selling tea, coffee, snacks and souvenirs.  Or you're free to bring your own picnic and even wine on board, as on other European trains.

  • Do the windows open?  The big panoramic windows don't.  But there's a small opening window in the luggage vestibule at the opposite end of each car from the entrance door which is ideal for taking photographs without reflections.  The video on this page was largely shot through this window.  The Allegra electric trains used on the hourly local services over the Bernina route have large opening windows, which is why some travellers actually prefer these to the Bernina Express itself.

  • Open air carriages...  In summer, and depending on the weather, certain trains on the Bernina line get a few open-air carriages attached over a portion of the route.  However, there are never any open-air carriages on the Bernina Express itself.

  • In Tirano, Margy's Bar is just across the square from both the Rhätische Bahn station and Italian station, handy for a beer or sandwich between trains.

  • For a stopover along the Bernina route, consider the Romantik Hotel Muottas Muragl, an amazing hotel perched on top of a mountain top overlooking the Engadin Valley near Pontresina & St Moritz.  To get there from anywhere in Switzerland, simply use the journey planner at www.sbb.ch to get to a station called Muottas Muragl, which is the top station of the funicular railway up that mountain, right next to the hotel.

Useful links...

Google Streetview films the Bernina line...


How to use the Bernina Express to go from London, Paris or Zurich to Italy...

 

Route map:  London to Bucharest & Romania by train

The Bernina Express is no mere Swiss curiosity.  You can use it as the ultimate scenic route from London, Paris or Zurich to Milan, Venice, Florence or Rome.  This section explains how to how to arrange this journey and buy your tickets.  Taking the Bernina route is much slower than using one of the fast mainline routes through the Alps direct from Zurich to Milan (see the London to Italy page), but you really, really won't regret diverting via the Bernina Express!

  Southbound train times London & Paris to Italy

  Northbound train times Italy to Paris & London

  How much does it cost?

  How to buy tickets

Southbound...

Step 1, London & Paris to Zurich...

  • Day 1, travel from London to Paris by Eurostar, departing London at 13:31 (14:01 on Saturdays) arriving Paris at 16:47 (17:17 on Saturdays).  Cross Paris by metro to the Gare de Lyon.

  • Day 1, travel from Paris to Zurich by 200 mph TGV-Lyria train, leaving Paris Gare de Lyon at 18:23 and arriving Zurich at 22:26.

  • By all means catch an earlier service from London to Zurich so you arrive in Zurich in time for dinner, see the London to Switzerland page for details.  Both Eurostar and the TGV-Lyria have a cafe-bar.

  • Stay the night in Zurich.  You can search for hotels here.  For something special, look no further than the superb Hotel Schweizerhof, located right next to Zurich station.  One of my favourite hotels, they'll even send a uniformed commissionaire to meet you at the station and carry your bags across the road.  For something cheaper but also near the station with great reviews, try the Hotel du Théatre or Hotel St Gotthard.

Step 2, Zurich to Milan via the Bernina Express...

  • Day 2, travel from Zurich to Chur by Swiss InterCity train, Chur to Tirano on the fabulous Bernina Express, then Tirano to Milan by Trenord regional train, as shown in the timetable above.

  • The journey from Zurich to Chur by Swiss mainline train is a scenic trip in itself, along the Zürichsee & Walensee lakes and into the mountains.  In Chur, you'll find the Bernina Express waiting for you on the other side of the platform, a quick & easy interchange.

  • In Tirano, the Trenitalia and Rhätische Bahn stations are right next door to each other, and there are plenty of bars and restaurants near the stations.  You may have time for a beer at Margy's bar across the road, or you could have lunch and catch a later train to Milan.  You can use www.trenord.it to check schedules.  Bring your own food and drink if you want any, as there is no catering on board the Italian train.  No reservation necessary or even possible for Tirano-Milan trains, just buy a ticket at the station and hop on, remembering to validate your ticket in the little yellow machine at the platform entrance.  This is a pretty run, through more mountains and along the shores of Lake Como calling at Lecco, Bellano and Varenna (for the ferry to Bellagio), handy if you're staying in the Lake Como area.

Step 3, Milan to Florence, Venice or Rome...

  • Day 2, change in Milan for inter-city trains to Florence, Rome, Verona & Venice - use www.trenitalia.com to find trains departing Milan any time at least 45 minutes after the scheduled arrival of the train from Tirano, to allow time for any delay.  A same-day connection is perfectly possible, although by all means stay overnight and travel next day.

Other options...

  • Overnight in St Moritz area instead of Zurich?  If you'd prefer to stay overnight in the St Moritz-Pontresina area, you can leave London on the 09:17 Eurostar (09:31 Saturdays, 09:23 Sundays) and travel all the way to the St Moritz or Pontresina on day 1 as shown here.  Consider staying at the fabulous Romantik Hotel Muottas Muragl, an amazing hotel perched on the top of a mountain.  Formerly called the Muottas Muragl Berghotel, it's reached via the Muottas Muragl funicular railway (opened in 1907) from Punt Muragl station, half way between St Moritz and Pontresina.  On day 2, there's a separate Bernina Express St Moritz portion leaving St Moritz at 09:29 and Pontresina at 09:52, arriving Tirano at 12:02 (for winter times see www.rhb.ch).  In fact, in winter, when the Bernina Express runs attached to a regular train, it will stop at Punt Muragl on request, just signal the driver.  Then carry on to Milan on the 13:10 local train arriving Milano Centrale at 15:40.  To reach the Romantik Hotel Muottas Muragl, simply use www.sbb.ch to search from Zurich or Chur or any station in Switzerland to a destination listed as 'Muottas Muragl', this will give you precise combined train+funicular times & prices.

  • For a more leisurely journey, it could be spread over three days instead of two.  Why not stop off for a second night at Poschiavo, a pretty town on the Bernina Express route?

  • Travel London to Chur via the scenic Rhine Valley?  Again spreading the London-Milan trip over 3 days, how about a morning train from London to Cologne or Koblenz on day 1 from €59 (see the London to Germany page), spend an afternoon and night there, then on day 2 take one of the direct EuroCity trains from Cologne & Koblenz along the scenic Rhine Valley past the famous Lorelei Rock to Chur, from €39 booked at www.bahn.de.  Stay in the little town of Chur overnight before taking the Bernina Express to Tirano in the morning on day 3?  This route also saves having to cross Paris.

  • My own top choice for a journey from London to Italy spread over 3 days would be (a) London-St Moritz on day 1, taking a good book and an equally good bottle of red, (b) two nights at the Romantik Hotel Muottas Muragl giving a full day to wander around the area and relax, then (c) the fabulous 'Bernina Express' over the Bernina Pass into Italy on day 3.  If you do this, staying at the Romantik Hotel Muottas Muragl and use the Bernina Express, do email me to let me know how absolutely right you think I am (!).

The Muottas Muragl Berghotel in winter   The view from the Muottas Muragl Berghotel near St Moritz

The Muottas Muragl Berghotel in winter...

 

Sunset over the Engadin Valley, from the hotel...

Northbound...

Step 1, Rome, Venice or Florence to Milan...

  • Day 1, travel from Venice, Verona, Florence or Rome to Milan by high-speed train - use www.trenitalia.com to find trains arriving in Milan Centrale no later than 09:40, to allow for any delay.  If you take an early train, a same-day connection is perfectly possible, but by all means travel the previous day and stop over in Milan, it's a great city.

Step 2, Milan to Zurich using the Bernina Express

Step 3, Zurich to Paris & London...

Other options...

How much does it cost?

How to buy tickets...

You can book the whole trip online, with cheaper fares for key sections if you book ahead.  However, it involves several bookings on several websites, so take a note of the specific individual trains you want to book on which specific dates, and first do a dry run on each site to check prices and availability.  Then book for real.  Booking opens 92 days ahead, you can't buy tickets until booking opens.  Here's how to arrange your trip:

Tickets by phone,...

In the UK, you can buy tickets for all of these trains from International Rail on 0844 248 248 3, lines open 09:00-17:00 Monday-Friday.

Have your trip professionally arranged by Railbookers...

If you want a compete custom-made trip to Italy via the Bernina Express with all your rail travel expertly booked for you and good quality hotels arranged, try Railbookers.  Tell them what you want, and they'll advise you on the best trains, routes & hotels and sort it all out for you, hassle-free.  They get very positive reviews and take good care of their guests.

In the US, call toll-free 1-888-829-4775, www.railbookers.com.

In Canada call toll-free 1-855-882-2910, www.railbookers.com.

  UK call 020 3327 0761, www.railbookers.com

  Australia call toll-free 1300 971 526, www.railbookers.com.au

  New Zealand call toll-free 0800 002 034, www.railbookers.co.nz.

Take an escorted tour on the Bernina Express...

If you'd prefer to go to Switzerland to travel on the famous Bernina Express on an escorted tour with a convivial group of travellers rather than travelling solo, here are the two UK companies which arrange escorted tours by train from the UK to destinations all over Europe on various dates through the year, including popular trips taking in the Bernina Express & Glacier Express.  Both companies are part of the same group.

  Rail Discoveries, www.raildiscoveries.com, 01904 730 727...

  Great Rail Journeys, www.greatrail.com, 01904 527 120...


Find hotels in Switzerland...

 

◄◄ Hotel search & price comparison.

www.hotelscombined.com checks all the main hotel booking sites at once to find the widest choice of hotels & the cheapest seller.  It was named as the World's Leading Hotel Comparison Site at the World Travel Awards 2013 and I highly recommend it, both to find hotels in even the smallest places and to check that another retailer isn't selling your hotel for less!

www.booking.com is my favourite booking site.  It's really clear and you can usually book with free cancellation and so confirm your accommodation at no risk months before train booking opens.


Tours & holidays on the Bernina Express

 

020 3327 0761 (UK)

1-888-829-4775 (USA)

1300 971 526 (Aus)

0800 002 034 (NZ)

 

01904 730 727 (UK)

 

01904 527120 (UK)

 
 

020 7619 1080

Railbookers custom-made tours & short breaks by train....

Railbookers are a train travel specialist who can tailor-make a European tour or short break to Switzerland, with train travel, transfers & hotels all arranged for you, for however long you like, leaving on any date you like.  They can easily book travel on the Bernina Express to or from Italy or as part of a tour of Switzerland.  They take good care of their clients, and I highly recommend them.

  UK call 020 3327 0761 or see www.railbookers.com

Call toll-free 1-888-829-4775 or www.railbookers.com.

  Australia call toll-free 1300 971 526, www.railbookers.com.au

  New Zealand call toll-free 0800 002 034 or see website.

Rail Discoveries, www.raildiscoveries.com, 01904 730 727:  Escorted tours...

Rail Discoveries offers several train-based tours to Switzerland, with 3* hotels and travel from London by Eurostar and high-speed TGV.  Check details at www.raildiscoveries.com, then book online or call 01904 730 727.

Great Rail Journeys, www.greatrail.com, 01904 527120:  Escorted tours...

GRJ offers five-star inclusive tours to Switzerland, with 1st class train travel and 5* hotels.  Tours depart regularly throughout much of the year.  Check the tour details online, then call 01904 527120 to book or use their online booking form.

TrainTours4U, www.traintours4u.co.uk, 020 7619 1080...

If you prefer to travel on your own unescorted with departure on any date you like, TrainTours4U offers tours to Switzerland by train from the UK.


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