What is the Bernina Express?    Watch the video

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

 

  UK to Switzerland by train in as little as 6h18...

  The Glacier Express:  Switzerland's other great scenic train

  The Jungfraubahn:  By train up the Eiger & Jungfrau

  Europe by train general information

  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 from icy Switzerland to sunny Italy, though 55 tunnels and 196 bridges, with Alpine gradients as steep as 1 in 7, on a railway that was built in 1896-1904 and has now been 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.  Here's a video of the journey from Milan to Zurich using the Bernina Express - just note that modern air-conditioned Coradia regional trains will gradually replace the old regional trains shown here between Milan and Tirano as from September 2014, although for keen photographers this means the windows won't open.

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

Tirano's Rhätische Bahn station (right) and the TreNord station where the train from Milan arrives (left)...

 

After leaving Tirano, the Bernina Express starts running through the streets...

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   Mountaineering!

The train passes Lake Poschiavo...

 

...then clings to a mountainside thousands of feet up.

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

Arrival at Chur...  Chur is a terminus.  The Bernina Express is on the right, the train to Zurich is waiting on the left, it's a simple cross-platform interchange that only takes a minute or two.

 

Watch the videoMilan to Zurich by Bernina Express...

Train times, fares & how to buy tickets...

  • Normal Rhätische Bahn local trains run every hour through the day over all sections of the Chur-Tirano Bernina Pass route.  No reservation required to travel on these regular 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.  You can check times & fares at The official Rhätische Bahn website www.rhb.ch.

  • However, the Bernina Express with its special panoramic cars runs once a day, and it's the only direct Chur-Tirano train.  In Winter (Oct-May) the panoramic cars of the Bernina Express are attached to ordinary local trains, but in Summer (May-Oct) it runs as a separate train consisting exclusively of panoramic sightseeing cars.

  • Southbound train times...

    In winter from 21 Oct 2013 to 9 May 2014 and 27 Oct 2014 to May 2015, the Bernina Express leaves Chur at 08:58 Mondays-Fridays or 09:31 on Saturdays & Sundays, arriving in Tirano at 13:12 Mondays-Fridays or 13:26 Saturdays & Sundays.

    In summer 10 May to 26 Oct 2014 it leaves Chur every day at 08:32 and arrives in Tirano at 12:36.

  • Northbound train times...

    In winter from 21 October to 9 May 2014 and 27 Oct 2014 to May 2015, the Bernina Express leaves Tirano at 14:33 on Mondays-Fridays or 14:04 on Saturdays & Sundays, arriving Chur at 19:03 on Mondays-Fridays or 18:27 on Saturdays & Sundays. 

    In summer from 10 May to 26 Oct 2014, it leaves Tirano at 14:04 every day and arrives at Chur at 18:27. 

  • A seat reservation is required, and you pay the regular fare for the journey you're making plus the Bernina Express reservation fee.

  • How much does it cost?

    Chur to Tirano by Bernina Express costs CHF 58 (£43) in 2nd class, CHF 96 (£71) in 1st class for the basic ticket, plus a reservation fee costing CHF 9 (£7) in winter, CHF 12 (£9) in summer.

  • How to buy tickets...

    You can buy tickets online at the Rhätische Bahn website www.rhb.ch.  Look for the Bernina Express link then click 'buy'.  Note that this online system only has a small proportion of the total seats allocated to it, so if there don't appear to be many seats left it doesn't necessarily mean the train is nearly full.

  • Railpasses...  You don't need a railpass just for a trip on the Bernina Express, just buy regular point to point tickets.  But if you intend doing more train trips within Switzerland they are well worth considering as they can save a lot of money.  See railpass info here.  If you already have a Swiss Pass or InterRail or Eurail pass covering Switzerland, this covers the Bernina route but you'll still have to pay the Bernina Express reservation fee.  You can buy this at any Swiss station.

  • Connecting trains between Zurich & Chur:  Swiss Railways (SBB) run InterCity & InterRegional trains every half hour between Zurich HB and Chur.  It's usually a simple cross-platform interchange at Chur 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.

  • Connecting trains between Tirano & Milan:  Italian regional trains link Tirano with Milan Centrale every two hours through the day, fare €11, 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.  The Italian station is a few yards across the square from the Rhätische Bahn station.

  • 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.

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, 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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.  In winter when the Bernina Express leaves Chur at 08:58 (see next paragraph for dates), you leave Zurich by InterRegional train at 07:12 arriving Chur at 08:43.  In summer when the Bernina Express leaves Chur at 08:32, you'll need to leave Zurich by InterCity train at 06:37, arriving Chur at 07:52.  This 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.

  • Day 2, travel from Chur to Tirano on the famous Bernina Express

    In winter from 21 Oct 2013 to 9 May 2014 and 27 Oct 2014 to May 2015, the panoramic cars of the Bernina Express run attached to ordinary local trains, leaving Chur at 08:58 Mondays-Fridays or 09:31 on Saturdays & Sundays, arriving in Tirano at 13:12 Mondays-Fridays or 13:26 Saturdays & Sundays.

    In summer 10 May to 26 Oct 2014, the Bernina Express consists exclusively of panoramic sightseeing cars, seat reservation is obligatory, departing Chur every day at 08:32 and arriving at Tirano in northern Italy at 12:36.

    You should check times at the official Rhätische Bahn website, www.rhb.ch, as it varies on certain dates.  A refreshment trolley comes down the train selling hot and cold drinks, snacks and souvenirs.

  • Day 2, travel from Tirano to Milan by regional train.  In summer when the Bernina arrives at 12:38, you can leave Tirano at 13:10 and arrive in Milan Centrale at 15:40.  In Autumn and winter when the Bernina arrives at 13:12 or 13:27, you leave Tirano at 15:10 arriving Milan Centrale at 17:40.  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 catch a later train to Milan and have lunch.  You can use www.trenord.it to find schedules, but pick a date within the next 7 days to see prices.  Bring your own food and drink if you want any, as there is no catering on board the 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.

  • 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 after 16:20 (summer) or 18:20 (winter), to allow time for any delay to the train from Tirano.

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, with clean simple and (for Switzerland) inexpensive rooms.  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, Milan to Zurich via the Bernina Express

Step 2, 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:  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 USA & Canada call toll-free 1-800-408-3280, www.us.railbookers.com.

  In the UK call 020 3327 0761, www.railbookers.com

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

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

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...


Swiss railpasses & Swiss transfer tickets

Point-to-point tickets are the best bet for the straightforward Bernina Express journey recommended above.  But if you plan to make additional side trips whilst in Switzerland, consider getting a railpass.  Switzerland is one of the few remaining European countries where relatively high point-to-point rail fares and the lack of compulsory reservations & supplements makes railpasses both good value and convenient.  You can buy your passes online from the Switzerland Travel Centre, a subsidiary of Swiss Federal Railways.  The Swiss Travel System people can also make the seat reservations necessary for the few panoramic sightseeing trains that require them, such as the Glacier Express.

A Swiss Transfer Ticket covers one return journey from your point of entry into Switzerland (an airport, frontier or the first stop inside Switzerland of any TGV-Lyria train from Paris) to anywhere within Switzerland, using Swiss Federal Railways, private railways and even post buses.

A Swiss Pass gives unlimited travel across the Swiss travel system for varying periods.  Swiss rail fares are expensive, so a pass can save money.  You can compare the pass price with point-to-point fares checked at www.sbb.chMap of Swiss routes showing which routes are covered by a Swiss rail pass and which only give a 50% discount for passholders.

 

 

 


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)

1-800-408-3280 (USA)

1300 971 526 (Aus)

0800 002 034 (NZ)

 

01904 730 727 (UK)

 

01904 527120 (UK)

 
 

020 7619 1080

Pls quote 'seat61'

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 1-800-408-3280 or www.us.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.

Erail, www.erail.co.uk, 020 7619 1080  (please quote 'Seat61.com' when you call)...

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


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