From Zermatt to St. Moritz, an 8-hour train adventure between two world famous Swiss destinations, across 300kms of mountain landscapes, bridges, viaducts and tunnels in the stunning scenery of the Swiss Alps. Here are my impressions and tips from our December winter-wonderland travel on the Glacier Express, a trip that I wanted to do from the moment I heard it exists.
DO book the trip in advance. We booked in October for an 8:30 train on December 16th and we got the last window seats. In the winter there are fewer trains than in the summer, so check the schedule before you plan and book as soon as you can. (having said that, our train still didn’t seem packed so I don’t know how the schedules are managed, but you’ll be grateful for your window seat, trust me :))
DON’T fuss too much about what side to sit on. Just make sure to get the window seat! Depending on whether you start your travel in St Moritz, or from the opposite end in Zermatt, different sides will have different views, but on the whole, each side has plenty to keep your eyes glued and your cameras busy! I suppose the biggest thing that no one wants to miss is the Landwasser Viaduct. If you are starting your journey from Zermatt, you’d want to be seated on the left side of the train because in Chur the train will switch directions and you will end up on the right side, which is where you need to be to see those famous arches. But here are my two cents: first, the viaduct flashes by in seconds. If you really want to see stunning views of it, find the hike which gets you to a viewpoint to enjoy it in full glory for more than 30 seconds. (I haven’t done this hike yet, otherwise, I would tell you how to get there :)) Second, from what I read online and witnessed myself, the train is never fully booked and people will get off at different stops. We sat on the “wrong side” for the Landwasser viaduct, but there were enough empty seats on the other side to switch a few times.
DO have lunch on the train. It’s a long journey and it’s nice to have a proper meal. Portions are big, the food is tasty and there are enough options (including vegetarian). I found it odd that the menu was full of Indian and South East Asian dishes – you’d think it would be the perfect place for Swiss food? But I’m a big fan of both cuisines so I didn’t mind. Prices are similar to what you’d expect elsewhere in Switzerland. I think it’s about 35 franks for starter + main. Drinks are extra. We reserved a meal in advance but didn’t pre-pay it, which was a good decision because while we reserved the three-course menu, when we saw the actual menu, other options sounded nicer, so I, for example, had only one main and it was delicious and enough.
DO bring your own water. Sure you can buy it on the train, but I think it’s a small bottle and you have to wait for the waiters to come by and it’s a lot of fuss for just some H2O. We brought a big bottle of water with us and really didn’t regret it. We also brought champagne to celebrate our anniversary but didn’t end up drinking it (more on that later).
DON’T fuss too much about pictures. I know this sounds cheeky coming from a blogger, but you will see in this post that I don’t have that many photos of the views. This is because the train travels slow enough for the eye but too fast for the camera. Unless you are a pro with pro equipment, trust me – most of the pictures will come out blurry. Sure, take photos when the train curves and slows and enjoy it, but remember to put the camera down and just let yourself be whisked around Swiss wonderland and be in the moment.
DO bring sunglasses. This one is important in summer and winter! Somewhere between Brig and Andermatt, we were completely blinded by snow. Even though the day was gloomy, sun was reflecting through the clouds against an all-white landscape and all this light was coming into the train through the big windows – absolutely impossible to look without squinting. (Sadly, I forgot/lost my favorite sunglasses on this train, but at least they saved me during the journey).
DON’T expect an Orient Express. Glacier Express is an 8-hour train through stunning Swiss landscapes, some of them inaccessible by car, so you really get to see gems of the country and all this from a panoramic, full window setting. It’s comfortable and clean and the food/drinks menu is good. We originally wanted to start celebrating our anniversary already on the journey and brought our own bubbly, but to be honest the atmosphere was more of “travel” than leisure and the staff that serves drinks/checks tickets/etc., though most of them friendly, were constantly running back and forth through the train. Especially during lunch, it was hectic as different people would clear your plate, then bring your drink, then check if you paid, then come again with the food, then clear the napkins, etc. In other words, it’s scenic, but not very restful, and it’s not meant to be luxurious.
DO IT. Overall, I would recommend the trip because it’s an experience. The full journey does feel long, but for me, it was super cool to do the whole thing since I hadn’t seen any of those parts of Switzerland and now I understand the landscape better geographically. Having said that, I think if you do just a part of the journey, you will also have a blast. My favorite parts were from Zermatt to Andermatt, and then from Chur to St. Moritz. The first one is incredibly scenic and travels mostly on the same level as the landscape, while the second one is very high up above, so you see valleys and viaducts and constantly feel that you are going higher and higher into the Alps.
Let me know if you’ve also done the trip and have more tips!