Zurich to Milan by train

An Astoro train at Zurich HB

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SBB (Swiss Federal Railways) and Trenitalia (Italian Railways) jointly operate an excellent train service between major Swiss cities and Milan, with a handful of trains continuing to Verona & Venice, Bologna or Genoa.  These trains are branded EuroCity, a generic term for quality train in much of Europe.  They're operated by either bullet-nosed Astoro trains, some owned by SBB some by Trenitalia, or new Giruno trains.

small bullet point  What are the trains like?

small bullet point  Route map

small bullet point  Scenery & sights

small bullet point  Video:  Milan to Zurich by EuroCity train

small bullet point  Travel tips:  Luggage, WiFi, food & drink...

small bullet point  How to check train times, fares & tickets

Routes operated

small bullet point  Zurich - Lugano - Como - Milan (Gotthard route).

small bullet point  Geneva - Lausanne - Montreux - Brig - Milan (Simplon route)

small bullet point  Basel - Bern - Spiez - Brig - Milan (Lötschberg & Simplon route)

small bullet point  Basel - Lucerne - Como - Milan (Gotthard route)

A handful of these trains extend beyond Milan, to Venice, Bologna & Genoa.

*** IMPORTANT UPDATE: GOTTHARD TUNNEL BLOCKED IN 2024 ***

On 10 August 2023, a freight train derailed inside the Gotthard Base Tunnel ripping up several kilometres of track.  Passenger trains are being diverted over the old scenic Gotthard line (and the shorter original Gotthard Tunnel) until a date to be announced in 2024.  A few passenger trains are now using the Base Tunnel, most aren't.  If you're travelling between Zurich & Milan (or between Basel & Milan via the Gotthard route), check your trains online.  The Simplon & Lötschberg routes are not affected.

What are the trains like?

Giruno trains

These swish new Giruno trains now operate most Zurich-Milan services.  Officially designated RABe 501, their party trick is level boarding - between the wheels they are low-floor with easy level access from platform onto train.  The trade-off is an unusual layout inside, with a floor that's low between the bogies and slopes up over the wheels with some of the car-end seats raised on platforms either side as you can see in the photos below.  There's a restaurant car with cafe-bar counter, the train has power sockets at all seats and free WiFi.  There is one 1st class car with seats grouped around tables for 4 and tables for 2, this what you get if you select business when booking.  I explain how to tell if your train is due to be a Giruno or Astoro/ETR610 in the travel tips sectionGiruno seat map.

EuroCity train from Zurich to Milan at Zurich HB

A Giruno train at Zurich HB.

1st class on Giruno   Restaurant car on Giruno

Giruno, 1st class.  Larger photo.

 

Restaurant car with bar counter. Larger photo.

2nd class on Giruna   Bar counter in the restaurant car

Giruno 2nd class.  Larger photo

 

Level boarding. Note the destination screen in the door. 

Astoro trains

These classy tilting pendolino  trains, designated RABe503 Astoro by the Swiss or ETR610 by the Italians, have 1st & 2nd class and a restaurant car.  They're excellent trains, fully air-conditioned with power sockets at all seats, and seats line up with the windows for great views.  Until early 2020, all Swiss-Italian EuroCity trains were operated by these Swiss Astoro trains or their Trenitalia-owned ETR610 equivalent, but SBB's new Giruno trains entered service from 2020 onwards on the Gotthard route and have now taken over all Zurich-Milan services.  Astoro seat map.

ETR610 EuroCity train at Milan Centrale

A Swiss SBB-owned Astoro train about to leave Milan Centrale with a EuroCity train to Bern & Basel.

1st class on a Switzerland to Milan Astoro train   ETR610 restaurant car

1st class seats.  Larger photo.

 

Restaurant car.  Larger photo.

Lunch on an ETR610 train   1st class seats on an ETR610 train

Lunch in the restaurant car.

 

2nd class.  Larger photo 360 degree photo.

Trenitalia trains

Trenitalia provides the rolling stock for some Switzerland-Italy departures, using its ETR610 pendolino trains.  To all intents and purposes these are identical to SBB's RABe503 Astoro trains, but with a different exterior & interior colour scheme.  You could get either a Swiss or an Italian train.  Seat map.

Italian ETR610 train to Switzerland at Milan Centrale

A Trenitalia-owned ETR610 about to depart from Milan Centrale for Geneva.

Frecciargento train 2nd class seats   Frecciargento train 1st class seats

2nd class on a Trenitalia-owned ETR610.

 

1st class on a Trenitalia-owned ETR610.

Route map

You can see how the Gotthard Base Tunnel on the Zurich-Milan route saves a lot of time compared to the old route with the spirals & original Gotthard Tunnel.

Switzerland to Milan train route map

Click for larger map.  Highlighted = Zurich/Basel/Geneva-Milan train routes. Green = scenic routesRed = high-speed lines.

Reproduced from the excellent European Rail Map with kind permission of the European Rail Timetable people.  I recommend buying the European Rail Map for your travels and a copy of the European Rail Timetable, www.europeanrailtimetable.eu with shipping worldwide.

Scenery & sights

These trains pass some great Alpine scenery and various Swiss & Italian Lakes.  Here's a summary of what to look out for on each of the four routes.

The Simplon route

Geneva - Lausanne - Montreux - Brig - Milan

After leaving Geneva the train runs alongside Lake Leman all the way to Lausanne, with great views of the lake on your right hand side when heading south.  Shortly after Lausanne you'll pass the beautiful Chillon Castle on your right, using the lake as its moat.  Northbound you can see it as you approach, southbound there's little warning before you're next to it.  Watch out for hilltop castles, including at Sion on your left when going south.  You'll also pass many vineyards.

Beyond Brig the train enters the famous Simplon Tunnel, which opened in 1906 and gave its name to the Simplon Orient Express.  The tunnel is 19 km (12 miles) long but it takes just 8 minutes to pass through.  For most of the 20th century it was the longest railway tunnel in the world, from 1906 until 1982 when a longer tunnel opened in Japan.  The Swiss-Italian border is inside the tunnel so when you emerge into daylight you're in Italy.  South of the Simplon Tunnel the train runs along the shores of beautiful Lake Maggiore (see the photos below) with great views across the lake on your left hand side.  The train usually calls at Stresa before arriving in the awe-inspiring Milan Centrale.  One early morning train from Geneva continues to Verona & Venice Santa Lucia.

Lake Leman, with Chillon castle just visible

Lake Léman near Montreux, with Chillon Castle visible in the haze.  Right hand side going south.

Chillon castle, seen from a Milan-Geneva train

Passing Chillon castle on a Milan-Geneva EuroCity train on a sunny September day.  Right hand side going south - but blink and you'll miss it!

Sion castle, see from the train to Venice

Sion castle in the early light, seen from the morning Geneva to Venice train on the Simplon route.  Left hand side going south.

Simplon Tunnel

Entering the Simplon Tunnel.  A northbound Milan-Geneva train enters the famous Simplon Tunnel, once the longest rail tunnel in the world.

The Lötschberg route

Basel - Bern - Brig - Milan

Most Basel-Milan trains go via Bern.  As the train leaves Bern there are great views of Bern's Aare River gorge and its bridges.  After calling at Thun you'll see Lake Thun on you left, and shortly after calling at Spiez (junction for the line to Interlaken) the train enters the Lötschberg Base Tunnel, opened in 2007 and 34 km (21 miles) long, the train takes 16 minutes to pass through.  After the stop at Brig the train passes through the Simplon Tunnel, opened in 1906 and 19 km (12 miles) long, transit time about 8 minutes.  When you emerge from the tunnel, you're in Italy.  There are great views as the train runs along Lake Maggiore on the left hand side, before arriving in Milan Centrale.

Lake Maggiore, seen from a Milan to Basel train

Lake Maggiore.  Trains between Geneva, Lausanne, Basel, Bern & Milan on the Simplon & Lötschberg routes pass right by the shores of Lake Maggiore.  This is Lake Maggiore seen over lunch in the restaurant car of a Milan to Basel train on a bright winter's day.

The Gotthard route

Zurich - Lugano - Como - Milan &

Soon after leaving Zurich HB you'll get great views of the Zugersee & Vierwaldstattersee lakes, both on the right hand side as you head south.  Between Arth Goldau & Lugano the train passes through the World's longest railway tunnel, the impressive Gotthard Base Tunnel opened in 2016.  It's 57 km (35 miles) long but the train takes just 20 minutes to pass through at up to 155 mph.  After Lugano the train passes the beautiful Lake Lugano (see the photos below) with views to your left and then right, most but not all trains then call at Como San Giovanni before arrival at the magnificent Milan Centrale.  One mid-morning train from Zurich continues to Verona & Venice.

The Man in Seat 61 says:  "Until 2016, the Zurich-Milan trains travelled over the Gotthard pass through dramatic track spirals and the original much shorter (15 km) Gotthard tunnel, reaching a maximum altitude of 1,154m (3,786 feet) above sea level.  The trains now use the new Gotthard Base Tunnel, cutting journey time by replacing the most scenic hour of the Gotthard route with 20 minutes in a 57 km tunnel, and only reaching 550m (1,805 feet) above sea level.  Those of us who remember the old route might find the altered route a disappointment.  Those unencumbered by such memories will find plenty of scenery on the new route, from delightful Swiss meadows and mountains to the beauty of Lake Lugano.  But it's no longer even in the same class as the much slower, narrow-gauge Bernina route.  The new tunnel polarises the decision between fast and moderately scenic and slow but fabulously scenic."

Basel - Lucerne - Lugano - Milan

Only one direct train a day runs Basel-Lucerne-Milan, but other Lucerne-Milan departures are possible with a change at Arth Goldau into one of the Zurich-Lugano-Milan trains.  From Arth Goldau onwards this route is the same as Zurich-Lugano-Como-Milan described above.

Pretty church & vineyards seen from a Zurich to Milan train   Pretty church & vineyards seen from a Zurich to Milan train

Villages & vineyards seen on the Zurich-Milan Gotthard route on a wintry day.

Lake Lugano, seen from a Milan to Zurich train

Lake Lugano, seen from a Milan to Zurich train on the Gotthard route.

VideoMilan to Zurich via the Gotthard

This video takes you on a journey from Milan to Zurich via the Gotthard Base Tunnel on a Swiss-owned Astoro train.

Travel tips

1st class table for two   1st class seats on an ETR610 train

You put your suitcase on racks like this one, or between seat backs where seats are back-to-back.

 

There are power sockets at all seats in both classes, 2-pin European type.

Times, fares & tickets


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