What is the Bernina Express?

The fabulous Bernina Express is a narrow gauge train with panoramic sightseeing cars run by the Rhätische Bahn between Chur in Switzerland and Tirano in northern Italy, see the route map here.  It's perhaps the most scenic Alpine train ride train of all - although the Glacier Express competes for the title - and one of the most scenic train rides in the world, a personal favourite.  It forms part of an alternative slow scenic route between Zurich & Milan, and on this page I'll explain how to use the Bernina Express as part of a scenic overland journey from London, Paris or Zurich to Milan, Florence, Venice or Rome.  You can ride it all year round, a completely different experience through Alpine snows in winter and through sunny green meadows in summer.  So you should probably ride it more than once!

small bullet point  What's the Bernina Express train like?

small bullet point  What's the Bernina Express journey like?    

small bullet point  Timetable 2024

small bullet point  How much does it cost?

small bullet point  How to buy tickets

small bullet point  How to make a reservation

small bullet point  Using a Eurail, Interrail or Swiss Pass

small bullet point  Route map

small bullet point  Travel tips & FAQ

small bullet point  Watch the video

 

small bullet point  Train travel in Switzerland - a beginner's guide

small bullet point  Swiss Travel Pass & Half Fare Card explained

small bullet point  London to Switzerland by train - in comfort by Eurostar & TGV

small bullet point  Train travel to Switzerland from other European cities

small bullet point  The Glacier Express  Switzerland's other great scenic train

small bullet point  The Jungfraubahn  By train up the Eiger & Jungfrau

small bullet point  Europe by train general information

small bullet point  Clever way to buy cheap Bernina Express tickets from €29.90

small bullet point  How to travel from London, Paris or Zurich to Milan, Venice, Florence or Rome by Bernina Express

small bullet point  Tours, vacations & holidays on the Bernina Express

What's the train like?

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

The Bernina Express at Tirano.

 

2nd class seats.  Larger photo.

First class seats   Bernina Express panormaic cars

1st class leather seats.  Larger photo.

 

Bernina Express panoramic carriages.

The refreshment trolley   Bernina Express luggage compartment   About to leave Tirano

Refreshment trolley with cuddly ibex.  Larger photo.

 

Baggage area with open window.  Larger photo.

 

The Bernina Express is hauled by an Allegra unit with unreserved seats.  Allegras also operate the hourly local trains.

What's the journey like?

A ride on the Bernina Express is a 4-hour, 144 km (90 mile) journey between icy Switzerland and sunny Italy, through 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.  Its highest point is at Ospizio Bernina, a whopping 2,253 metres (7,391 feet) above sea level.  For more information about the Bernina Express, see the Bernina Express pages on the official Rhätische Bahn website, www.rhb.ch

Here I'll describe a northbound journey from Milan Centrale to Zurich, the scenery is (of course) exactly the same in the other direction.  It's an excellent way to travel between London, Paris or Zurich and Milan, Florence, Rome or Venice, but the Tirano-Milan train connection is poorly advertised by the Rhätische Bahn, and many travel agents seem ignorant of its existence.   Watch the video.

Step 1, Milan to Tirano by regional train

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

The Bernina Express gets you to & from Milan!  Regional trains run by Trenord link Milan Centrale and Tirano every hour or two, no reservation necessary, just turn up, buy a ticket and hop on.  Above right, 2nd class seats.  1st class seats are identical to 2nd class, but outside there's a yellow stripe above the windows, inside the rail along the luggage rack is yellow, don't sit in 1st class by mistake!  Make sure you have a look around Milan Centrale, an attraction in its own right, can you spot Mussolini?

Journey along Lake Como to Tirano   Towards the mountains

It's a pretty ride as the train speeds along Lake Como towards the mountains.

Step 2, Tirano to Chur by Bernina Express

Trenord (left) and Rhatische Bahn (right) stations in Tirano

In Tirano, the Trenord station (on the left) & the Rhätische Bahn station (on the right) are just a few hundred metres apart across the town square.

The Bernina Express leaves Tirano through the streets   The Bernina Express leaves Tirano through the streets

Boarding the northbound Bernina Express at Tirano.

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

Soon after leaving Tirano station, the Bernina Express starts running through the streets, pictured above right.  Cars are held 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 (above left) and uses the famous Brusio Spiral to gain height (above right).

The Bernina Express on the Brusio Spiral

On the Brusio Spiral.  Here, the front of the train passes over the track it has just used to enter the spiral.

Passing Lake Poschiavo

The train passes Lake Poschiavo and calls at the pretty village of Poschiavo.

Clinging to a mountainside

Then it climbs & climbs, eventually clinging to a mountainside thousands of feet up.

Looking down from above the clouds

Those clouds over the valley are actually below us.

Alp Grum station

Alp Grüm station at 2,091m (6,860 feet) above sea level, almost at the summit.

Alp Grum   Ospizio Bernina - the summit

Above left, the valley on the left at Alp Grüm with views of the Palü Glacier.

Above right, Ospizio Bernina, the summit at 2,253 metres (7,391 feet).

In the Bernina Pass

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

In the Bernina Pass

The train snakes through the Pass.

The train descends from the Bernina Pass

Then starts to descend towards Pontresina.

Entering the tunnel immediately before the Landwasser Viaduct...

Between Samedan & Filisur the train passes through the 6km (3.7 mile) Albula Tunnel.  Above, just north of Filisur, the train is about to enter the tunnel before the Landwasser Viaduct.

Bernina Express & the Landwasser Viaduct

Looking back after the Bernina Express has crossed the Landwasser Viaduct from tunnel to cliff, just north of Filisur.  Between Samedan & Chur the Bernina Express shares the route with its sister train, the Glacier Express, so both trains cross this viaduct.

More scnery, on the way to Chur

More mountain scenery between Filisur & Chur.

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

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

The lakes between Zurich and the Austrian border

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.

Video guideMilan to Zurich by Bernina Express

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Bernina Express timetable

 Zurich Milan by Bernina Express 

 

 Milan ► Zurich by Bernina Express

 

Winter

2023/24

Summer

2024

 

Winter

2023/24

Summer

2024

Km

 Swiss intercity train:

daily

daily

daily

 Italian regional train:

daily

daily

daily

0

 Zurich HB depart:

07:07

07:07

12:07

 Milan Centrale depart:

10:20

-

10:20

116

 Chur arrive:

08:22

08:22

13:22

 Lecco, Lake Como

11:02

-

11:02

Km

 Bernina Express:

PE 951

PE 951

PE 955

 Varenna-Esino, Lake Como

11:25

-

11:25

0

 Chur depart:

08:28

08:28

13:34

 Bellano, Lake Como

11:30

-

11:30

41

 Tiefencastel

09:18

09:18

14:28

 Tirano Trenord station arrive:

12:52

-

12:52

89

 Pontresina

10:25

10:25

15:41

 Bernina Express:

PE 952

PE 950

PE 952

110

 Alp Grum

11:15

11:15

16:40

 Tirano RhB station depart:

14:24

08:06

14:24

290

 Poschiavo

12:10

12:10

17:24

 Poschiavo

15:10

08:47

15:10

144

 Tirano RhB station arrive:

12:49

12:49

17:59

 Alp Grum

15:45

09:48

15:45

 Km

 Italian regional train:

   

 

 Pontresina

16:24

10:27

16:24

0

 Tirano Trenord station depart

13:08

13:08

18:08

 Tiefencastel

17:32

11:32

17:32

81

 Bellano, Lake Como

14:30

14:30

19:30

 Chur arrive:

18:22

12:22

18:22

84

 Varenna-Esino, Lake Como

14:35

14:35

19:35

 Swiss intercity train:

 

 

 

106

 Lecco, Lake Como

15:01

15:01

20:01

 Chur depart:

18:38

12:37

18:37

156

 Milan Centrale arrive:

15:40

15:40

20:40

 Zurich HB arrive:

19:53

13:53

19:53

 

Notes for timetable

 

How much does it cost?

 

small bullet point  Alternatively, check out holidays & tours on the Bernina Express

How to buy tickets

How to make a Bernina Express seat reservation

Making a Bernina Express reservation-only booking

Using a Eurail, Interrail or Swiss Pass

The clever way to buy Bernina Express tickets

  Bernina Express booking southbound
 

This is what you're looking for in the search results!  Remember departure from Zurich is the day after departure from Singen.  Click for larger image

To buy southbound tickets Zurich to Tirano from €29.90:

  Bernina Express booking northbound
 

This is what you're looking for in the search results!  Click for larger image

To buy northbound tickets Tirano to Zurich from €29.90:

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Route map

Bernina Express route map

 

Click for larger map

Yellow highlight = Zurich - Chur - Tirano - Milan via the Bernina Express.

Green = scenic sections of line.

Orange = bus

European Rail Timetable and mapOn this map you can also see the mainline route used by the fast direct Zurich-Milan EuroCity trains via Bellinzona, Lugano & the Gotthard Base Tunnel.

Reproduced from the excellent European Rail Map with kind permission of the European Rail Timetable people.

I recommend buying a copy of the European Rail Map for your travels, www.europeanrailtimetable.eu with shipping worldwide.

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Travel tips

 
The Muottas Muragl Berghotel in winter

The Romantik Hotel Muottas Muragl in winter, with views over St Moritz & the  Engadin Valley.  The upper station of the funicular railway up the mountain from Punt Muragl station is adjacent to the hotel.  See Muottas Muragl train route map.

Useful links

Google Streetview covers the Bernina line

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Unreserved seats in the Allegra unit

Allegra unit hauls the Bernina Express

This is the 3-car Allegra unit, coupled up to the panoramic cars of the Bernina Express (on the left).  The yellow stripe above the windows indicates 1st class, the Allegra has a 12-seat 1st class section at both ends.

1st class in the Allegra unit   1st class forward view from the Allegra unit

1st class unreserved seats in the Allegra, blind down.

 

Forward view, blind up!  Photos courtesy of Discoverbyrail.com

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How to travel from London, Paris or Zurich to Italy by Bernina Express

 

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 or Paris to Milan, Venice, Florence or Rome.  This section explains how to how to arrange this journey and buy tickets.  It's much slower than using a direct EuroCity train from Zurich to Milan via the Gotthard route, but you really won't regret taking the Bernina Express!

small bullet point  Southbound train times London & Paris to Italy

small bullet point  Northbound train times Italy to Paris & London

small bullet point  How much does it cost?

small bullet point  How to buy tickets

Southbound

Step 1, London & Paris to Zurich

Step 2, Zurich to Milan by Bernina Express

Step 3, Milan to Florence, Venice, Rome

Other options

Northbound

Step 1, Rome, Venice, Florence to Milan

Step 2, Milan to Zurich by Bernina Express

Step 3, Zurich to Paris & London

Other options

How much does it cost?

How to buy tickets

Book it with Byway

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Tours, vacations & holidays on the Bernina Express

Railbookers logoRailbookers, railbookers.co.uk

Railbookers are a train travel specialist who can custom-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.  They are not ticket agents, they create a package for you and manage the whole process.

In particular, check out two of their top sellers:  Their 8-day Switzerland's Lakes & Mountains tour (link to their UK site) or Swiss Lakes & Mountains tour (link to their US & Canada site) which includes both Glacier Express & Bernina Express trains, and their shorter 5-day Classic Bernina Express & Glacier Express tour (link to their UK site) or Classic Bernina Express & Glacier Express tour (link to their US & Canada site) which also combine these two classic Alpine routes.

UK flag  UK call 0207 864 4600, www.railbookers.co.uk

US flag  US call free 1-888-829-4775, www.railbookers.com.

Canadian flag  Canada call free 1-855-882-2910, www.railbookers.com.

Australian flag  Australia call toll-free 1300 971 526, see website

New Zealand flag  New Zealand call toll-free 0800 000 554 or see website.

Railbookers holidays & vacations to Switzerland

Tailor Made Rail

Rail Discoveries logoRail Discoveries, raildiscoveries.com

Rail Discoveries offers several escorted tours to Switzerland by train, 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 logoGreat Rail Journeys, greatrail.com

GRJ offers five-star inclusive escorted 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.

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Hotels in Switzerland

In Zurich, 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.

In the Samedan-Pontresina area, the Romantik Hotel Muottas Muragl is an amazing place to stay perched on the top of a mountain, with clean simple and (for Switzerland) inexpensive rooms.  Possibly the best view from any hotel restaurant, ever.  It's reached via the Muottas Muragl funicular railway from Punt Muragl station, between Pontresina & St Moritz.  See rail access map.

In St Moritz, the Hotel Waldhaus am See is an easy 4 minutes walk from St Moritz railway station, see walking map.  It has friendly staff, a cosy, family-run atmosphere and the restaurant/breakfast room has a lovely view over the lake.

Hotel Waldhaus-am-See in St Moritz   Hotel Waldhaus-am-See in St Moritz

Find hotels at Booking.comMy favourite hotel search: www.booking.com

Booking.com is my favourite hotel booking site and I generally use it to book all my hotels in one place.  I've come to trust booking.com's review scores, you won't be disappointed with any hotel that scores 8.0 or more.  Crucially, booking.com usually lets you book with free cancellation, which means you can confirm accommodation risk-free before train booking opens and/or you can hold accommodation while you finalise your itinerary and alter your plans as they evolve - a feature I use all the time when planning a trip.  I never book hotels non-refundably!


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