Riding The Bernina Express: The Most Famous Swiss Panoramic Train

bernina express

Riding the Bernina Express panoramic train is something many of us dream about. Sitting aboard one of the most iconic panoramic trains in Switzerland while vistas of lakes, valleys, and tall mountains change before your eyes as if you were flipping through pictures in a stereoscope.

The Bernina Express train runs on the Rhaetian Railway, which has been added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in Switzerland. It’s the most famous Swiss panoramic train, featuring spectacular landscapes and epic views. This detailed guide will tell you everything you need to know about the Bernina Express train, so you can start planning the unforgettable journey!

General Information

Key Takeaways

Duration: The Bernina Express takes approximately 4 hours and 20 minutes for the full route from Chur to Tirano.

Ticket prices: Full-price Bernina Express tickets start at 23.80 CHF (St. Moritz to Poshchiavo) and go up to 222 CHF for a return trip between Chur and Tirano in first class.

Discounts: Free tickets with Interrail Pass, Swiss Travel Pass; 50% discount with Half-Fare Travel Card, and various discounts for children, teenagers, and young adults

Website: RHB.ch

Accessibility: Wheelchair access (special train car and wheelchair-friendly toilets)

The Route

Bernina Express
Bernina Express

There are two routes of the Bernina Express train. The Chur-Tirano scenic train route is the only one that runs year-round and is always available. The other route, which runs only in the summer, is St. Moritz-Tirano. It’s important to note that the regular Berning Express route bypasses St. Moritz entirely.

The Bernina Express route passes through 55 tunnels and over 196 bridges and viaducts. You’ll see valleys, mountains, and lakes, and you’ll love every second of the four-hour ride. The journey from St. Moritz to Tirano is approximately two hours.

The standard Bernina Express routes stop at 25 train stations along the way, where you’re free to get out and enjoy your views, or even disembark entirely.

If you really like the Swiss panoramic trains, you should know that it’s possible to combine a trip on the Bernina Express with a ride on the Glacier Express, but only in the summer. Ride from Tirano to St. Moritz on the Rhätische Bahn, and then continue the journey from St. Moritz to Zermatt on the Glacier Express for an epic journey full of stunning, panoramic views.

Finally, it’s important to know that this isn’t the only way of traveling between the two cities. You can board a standard, direct regional train to travel from Chur to Tirano and you can still admire the same beautiful sights while paying significantly less for train tickets.

Timetable

Ospizio Bernina Train Station
Ospizio Bernina Train Station

The Bernina Express train departs daily from both Chur and Tirano. There are two departures from Chur every day (at 8:28 AM and again at 1:34 PM), but five departures from Tirano – 8:06 AM, 10:06 AM, 13:17 PM, 14:24 PM, and 16:06 PM. That’s because not all the trains from Tirano make it all the way to Chur; only two complete the full route, and the other three go only as far as St. Moritz.

It’s important to note that this is the schedule for most of the year, but there’s only one route that runs year-round and that’s the train that departs from Chur at 8:28 AM. All the other lines are seasonal; some run the entire year except for a few months in the winter, while the others only run between May and October. All the routes from Chur to St. Moritz are seasonal and available only in the warmer months.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that there are no guarantees you will spend the entire travel time on the train. Roadworks happen along the route every now and then, and in case of maintenance works on the rail tracks, you will continue part of the journey on the Bernina Express bus, at no additional cost.

Classes Available

Bernina Express First Class
First-class windows on the Bernina Express

Two classes are available on the Bernina Express train – first class and second class. There are two main differences between the classes, which are the cost of tickets and the windows on the train cars.

First-class tickets are almost double the price of second-class tickets, but the wagons have much larger windows. The windows in the first class curve onto the roof so that you can experience non-stop panoramic views throughout the duration of your train ride.

The second class has standard train windows, so although you can still enjoy the views, they won’t be as all-encompassing. I would highly recommend springing for first-class tickets if you can afford it. This train journey isn’t something you get to do every day, and if you’re going to do it, you might as well do it right.

Riding in the first class is truly a different experience to being seated in the second class; the views are absolutely epic and you will be enchanted for the duration of the train ride.

Cost

Bernina Express Winter

The cost of tickets varies depending on a few things, so let’s start with the full-price tickets. The journey from Chur to Tirano costs 63 CHF in second class, but 111 CHF in first class. From St. Moritz to Tirano it’s 32 CHF for a second class ticket and 56 CHF for a first class ticket. Round-trip tickets are just double the cost of one-way train tickets.

This is the price of train tickets for the full journey. The Bernina Express offers 20+ additional stops along the way, and you can buy train tickets to any one of those stops. They will be cheaper than tickets for the full route, but the price difference is very small. You can check out the Bernina Railway shop to see the cost of tickets for routes between different stations.

One important thing to note is that you must pay a seat reservation fair, regardless of the season, class, or type of ticket. The fee is 26 CHF in the summer (from June 1st until the end of September), 20 CHF from November 1st until the 9th of December, and 24 CHF in between.

You can choose the exact seat you want on the Bernina Express booking page. It’s recommended to sit on the right side of the train if you’re going from Chur to Tirano, but on the left side in the opposite direction, for the absolute best views.

The Bernina Express seat reservation fee must always be paid in full price, regardless of any train passes you might have. Children under the age of six are not required to pay for a seat reservation, but that’s because they’re not entitled to a seat.

If you’re fine with having the child in your lap during the train ride, you don’t have to get them a seat reservation. But if you want your child to have their own seat, a seat reservation must be made.

Tickets & Passes

ospizio bernina
Ospizio Bernina

The seat reservation fee might be the only thing you need to buy if you have any Eurail passes. This includes the Interrail pass and the Swiss Travel Pass, both of which include free Bernina Express tickets. If you have the half-fare card, you get a 50% discount on the train tickets (but not on the seat reservation fee).

Other passes that are valid on the Bernina Express regional train and can get you either a discount or a free ticket are the GA travel card, the municipal 1-day-travel pass, the Junior Travel Pass, the 1-day travel pass, and other Eurail passes.

Regular tickets for the Bernina Express can be bought online here, or at various European rail sales points. It is highly recommended to purchase the tickets online, especially in the summer because the train is very popular and tickets sell out fast.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Bernina Express worth it?

Yes, the Bernina Express is definitely worth it if you are traveling around Engadine. The train trip takes you past stunning glaciers, 3000m peaks, and alpine lakes, and into the Mediterranean southeast of Switzerland or Italy if you wish.

Can I bring luggage on board the Bernina Express?

You can bring luggage on the Bernina Express, like any train in Switzerland. Just be aware that space is limited and you may have to store some of it in the entrance to the carriage or overhead. So, try to pack as light as possible, if you can.

What is the best season to experience the Bernina Express?

The best season to experience the Bernina Express depends on whether you prefer warm or cold weather. In summer, everything is green, the lakes are melted and rivers are in full flow. And in Spring there are alpine flowers to enjoy. Winter brings its own magic with everything covered in ice and snow. The choice is yours!

How many days is the Bernina Express?

The Bernina Express can easily be done in one day. The only thing you have to decide is how many days you stay at either end of the journey because there is an endless amount of things to do in the region.

Written by Ashley Faulkes
As a twenty-year resident of Switzerland, I am passionate about exploring every nook and cranny of this beautiful country, I spend my days deep in the great Swiss outdoors, and love to share these experiences and insights with fellow travel enthusiasts.

2 thoughts on “Riding The Bernina Express: The Most Famous Swiss Panoramic Train

  1. Hello
    I try to avoid travelling thru tunnels- how long would I be travelling through the tunnel for the entire journey from Chur to Tirano?

    1. Very difficult to say. There are a lot of tunnels, apparently 55 of them. But, they are nothing like the long tunnels you need to take to get through the alps – Gotthard, Mt Blanc, etc. Which can take 15 minutes or more.

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