Switzerland’s Glacier Express

We followed the Glacier Express Route from Zermatt to St Moritz, on a rather spectacular train journey that cuts across the Swiss Alps, during winter when the mountains are still blanketed in snow (mid-January). As it really is the most perfect winter train journey in Europe. And we started the 2-day journey from Bern, the Swiss capital city, before forwarding through landscapes of mountains, lakes and pine forests, to Zermatt which is the beginning station for the Glacier Express Route. Although this takes us past the transfer station of Visp, a small town along the same train lines as the Glacier Express, but is otherwise not included on this iconic express train journey through the Swiss Alps. We then cut and wind through sharp turns and up steep inclines, past alpine settlements and traditional chalets, to reach the resort city of Zermatt Switzerland. And our video continues from Zermatt below:

Glacier Express on Interrail/
Eurail Pass

This started as little more than a picture of the Glacier Express. But knowing travel to-and-around Switzerland was going to be expensive, we tried to piece together an otherwise budget travel itinerary for the Swiss Alps. And this is when we realised that the Glacier Express Route was included on the Eurail Pass and Interrail Pass. Where 3-days travel in Switzerland, on top of the Glacier Express Tickets (£135), would cost more than a 7-day Interrail Global Pass which cost us £300 at the time (current Interrail Pass Prices and Eurail Pass Prices). With further savings on flights given we were able to start out from near any European destination (we bagged return flights to/from Belfast-Berlin with Ryanair for £76pp including 20kg baggage). Giving 4 additional days of free train travel. So we crisscrossed the Swiss Alps, we ticked off a bunch of big German destinations and threw in a visit to Prague for good measure (our 10-day itinerary here) and in the video below:

Glacier Express Reservation

Advance seat reservation is mandatory when travelling on the Glacier Express Route, even when using the Eurail/Interrail Pass, but this can easily be sorted through their official website here. And we booked two window seats, on the right, which is the best side for views and scenery. So, in total for the seat reservation on the Glacier Express, it cost just CHF23.00 pp from Zermatt to St Moritz. Although this seat reservation will near double during high season (May to September). Otherwise, prices for the actual Glacier Express Tickets will stay the same year-round. Note, there will also be an alternative departure stop at Chur, however, the famous Landwasser Viaduct is found on the final stretch from Zermatt to St Moritz. Food reservation is also possible on Glacier Express booking as it’s a 7-8 hour journey. (Note, there are other discount pass options for Glacier Express Tickets e.g. GA travel card, Swiss Travel Pass and day passes).

Departure Station: Zermatt

Zermatt is a big tourist destination, so it still feels Christmassy through to the later winter months. And while it is known as a winter sports destination, we found the crowds were probably split half-and-half with sightseers. Otherwise the main attraction in Zermatt would be the cable cars around the Matterhorn, which costs around £60 per person. Although we skipped on this having done similar in places like Mont Blanc, Jungfrau, Titlis, Brunni… And in Zermatt, we already had decent views of the Matterhorn from our balcony window. Instead we just made the most of local life in Zermatt with fondue and rösti at Cafe Du Pont (the oldest restaurant in Zermatt) before apres ski drinks at Grizzly’s Bar on the way back to the hotel.

Zermatt Hotels (Matterhorn)

We were actually ‘slumming’ through most of this trip, with cheap hotels, even hostels, as we travelled elsewhere in Europe, while we saved our pennies for something special in Zermatt. We really just wanted a room with views. So after flicking through the entire list of hotels in Zermatt, we found the best value to be in a mountain chalet with balcony views over the Matterhorn at the Hotel Capricorn (£139). The perfect setting for a bottle of wine as we watch the resort lights switch on and the chalet chimneys fill with smoke, with a cold -16’c night ahead. (We actually stayed 2 nights in Zermatt, one night to enjoy the hotel, before moving to a cheaper place (£85) for the second day. Before travelling on the Glacier Express.

The Glacier Express Train

Our experience on the Glacier Express was in 2nd class, although first class/excellence class options are also available and are shared on their website. Otherwise the panoramic carriages of 2nd Class are hard to beat, with window views in almost every direction, which are best seen in our photos. However I would suggest making the Glacier Express seat reservations early, and, as a couple, it is best to reserve seats facing each other with window views. As we otherwise had a couple sitting next to us, travelling on local passes, up until Chur. But I really do wish they had “quiet cars” because it can be a bit touristy/backpacker-ish, and we were forced to listen to loud life stories from passengers in other aisles. That kind of killed the sense of serenity in the journey.

The Glacier Express Route

Dubbed “The Slowest Fast Train in the World”, the Glacier Express is a high-speed train only due to the mountainous terrain of the Swiss Alps, it is slow in travelling between point A to B. Where, from Zermatt to St Moritz, it takes around 7-8 hours, covering around 180 miles, at an average speed of around 24 mph. And while the boundless snowy vistas are a highlight in themselves, other standout attractions along the Glacier Express Route include the Oberalp Pass (the highest point of the train ride), the Rhine Gorge (the start of the River Rhine) and the postcard picture at the Landwasser Viaduct (after Chur). And there is a free map and guidebook included in the reservation price, as well headsets sharing interesting titbits on locations along the way. Each new section indicated with a “dong” ringing through the carriages (Languages: German, French, English, Italian, Chinese or Japanese). Alternatively, there is “authentic, traditional Swiss music” channel which hadn’t as many cowbells, yodelling, and alphorns, as I expected.

The Glacier Express Menu

Given it is a 7-8 hour journey there will be a good chance of folk going hungry. And while there is the “Glacier Express Panorama Bar car”, there is no restaurant car, as meals are delivered to the tables. And while we did almost opt for the set three-course lunch menu (full details here), we plumped last minute to share a main course from the a la carte menu with a couple of drinks. Which we were more than happy with, where, instead of the canteen style Beef Bourguignon that was dished out to the other passengers, we had a freshly prepared chicken madras, which fed the two of us. Otherwise the Glacier Express Train is no different to other Swiss trains in that passengers can bring their own snacks and drinks on board. But I wouldn’t ask to borrow a glass to go with your cheap bottle of plonk.

Glacier Express Timetable

We started the journey from Zermatt to St Moritz early morning, leaving Zermatt at 08.52, and arriving at St Moritz at 16.38PM. There would then be a 2nd train which both departs and arrives exactly one hour later. However these are the winter times and there are normally 2 additional trains on the summer schedule (full timetable here). There is also an alternative disembarkation station between Zermatt and St Moritz, at Chur (pronounced Coor), only it’s before the main attraction of Landwasser Viaduct. So most travellers follow the full Glacier Express Route to St Moritz (St Moritz hotels here), as we did, only to board a train back again to Chur (our final destination was St Gallen). So we were literally doubling back along the lines we came from (2-hours to Chur). Passing intermittent lights at ski slopes, junctions and mountain settlements, as the scenery is pretty much pitch black at this time.

Change of Plans?

I am only adding this as there are always setbacks in travel, more so on the Interrail Pass and Eurail Pass itineraries, and there is always an off chance of line closures during winter in Switzerland. So, on our Glacier Express Train, an American tourist “wrongly” reserved seats for a week ahead on the 19th January (19/01/2019). Which she was determined to blame on the European date system, despite the conductor saying there would be no problem in changing the seat reservation (it would be the 01/19/2019 using the American date system, which obviously doesn’t exist). Anyway, it was a weird argument, and there was no problem changing her reservation date, and they even found window seats for her at no extra cost. They’re honest folk in the Swiss Alps.

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