There’s good reason why the Glacier Express is often called “the window to the Swiss alps,” as I found out the moment I boarded on a recent voyage as a guest. With train cars featuring what are almost entirely glass ceilings, you can take in everything above and around you as you travel across Switzerland on this marvel of Swiss engineering and transportation. From picturesque valleys to the mountains rising on either side of the valley, the view, and the open-air feeling, is stunning in and of itself.
It’s nothing less than an amazing train. The Swiss transport system of course works like clockwork, whether you’re going a short distance from town to town or the full journey across the region, from Zermatt to St. Moritz. Train travel is especially popular throughout Switzerland thanks to a rail system, considered the best in Europe, that has excellent track records for punctuality and safety, offers incredible service—and can easily take you just about anywhere throughout the country.
Modern conveniences and ease of travel
Within the Swiss railway, the Glacier Express is an extra-special experience, enticing everyone from solo travelers to tour group and running for more than 90 years since its maiden voyage on June 25, 1930. Many visitors get on in the morning and get off in the afternoon. You can get from the top to the bottom of Switzerland in a couple of hours. While these distances may seem long to the Swiss, for a New Yorker like myself going skiing in Vermont is a five-hour drive in and of itself, so this was a welcome and fantastic way to see a beautiful swath of the country.
The safety and cleanliness make the journey even more appealing. I also got a strong data signal everywhere I went, so you can rest assured that you can be online, working, posting, or reading. A word of caution for workaholics: it’s hard to get much done when there are so many incredible scenes to view through the windows.
The slowest express train in the world
The Glacier Express takes your across 291 bridges, 91 tunnels, remote valleys, sheer rock faces, idyllic mountain villages—all in fabulous style and with incredible food to enjoy throughout. Billed as “the slowest express train in the world,” it zips across the country but also slows down so you can see, experience, and taste all the sites along the way.
In all, the full eight-hour journey goes across some 180 miles of terrain at around 24 miles per hour. A few highlights along the way include traveling over the justly famed Oberalp Pass with its sweeping views, the Landwasser Viaduct with its six arches spanning 65-feet each, and the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites known as the Rhaetian Railway in the Albula/Bernina Landscapes, a marvel of engineering erected more than 100 years ago, and the Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch region
Top Glacier Express tips for travelers
You’ll need them due to the train’s open sides and the reflection off the gorgeous rivers running alongside it, including the Rhône and Rhine, and the snowcapped mountains. A cross-country trail in Goms runs parallel to the tracks, and you’ll also see ski slopes above Andermatt, so keep your eyes peeled for alpine skiers going by in winter.
Check out the Excellence Class. It’s like First Class plus. The Excellence Class has 20 lounge seats, private access to the Glacier Bar, and an extensive gastronomy and wine program that’s included with your seat reservation. Exclusive to Excellence Class guests, the Excellence Class concierge serves drinks and food. Think Swiss International Air Lines’ First Class, featuring its SWISS Taste of Switzerland culinary program—Swiss cuisine, desserts, snacks, and wine and cheese pairings included.
When to go
Anytime is a great time to ride, and if you hop aboard in autumn, you’re in for a special Swiss treat. When I spoke with the concierge, she mentioned that’s her favorite time of year to be onboard, when the snow has started to fall on peaks of the Alps, and you’ll see the cattle outside the windows, fattened up from summer months, grazing and coming down the mountain for winter. It captures that classic Swiss image of cows ambling down the mountainside with bells around their necks.
Skip the packed lunch
Come hungry. There’s incredible food, prepared right then and there in the onboard kitchen for you, whether you opt for the dish of the day or a full-on four-course meal, made with cheeses, produce, and proteins straight from the mountain areas you’re traversing. Order it with a glass of Swiss wine and sit back and enjoy the Swiss wonder outside your window.