Booking Panoramic Trains in Switzerland: Tips and Tricks

bernina express

One of the biggest challenges I see when visitors to Switzerland want to ride one of the many panoramic trains is reserving your seat.

In this post, I will show you exactly how it all works, where to reserve your seats, and a whole range of other tricks to make booking easier.

Do You Need Tickets Or Seat Reservations (Or Both?)

The confusion starts when people want to book a panoramic train and they have to decide on

  • seat reservation
  • ticket purchase
  • or both

Swiss Travel Pass Holders

If you have (or plan to have) a Swiss Travel Pass that is valid when you take your panoramic train, then you do not need a ticket. The Swiss Travel Pass is your ticket. You only need a seat reservation.

Half Fare Card Holders

If you have a Half-Fare Card, you should be able to apply that discount when you purchase your seat and ticket.

Where To Book Your Seats (And Tickets)

Unfortunately, each panoramic train company has a different and equally confusing website to book everything.

So, below I am going to link each of them for your convenience:

How Many Days Ahead Should I Book?

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The simple answer is as soon as possible. Especially with the more popular routes (I have listed them in order of what I think is most popular above).

Some routes only open reservations a specific time period ahead:

  • Glacier Express: 93 days (ie. three x 31 days = 3 months ahead more or less)
    • Excellence Class does not have this restriction
  • Bernina Express: No Restrictions
  • GoldenPass Line: 60 days
  • Gotthard Express: 360 days (Closed December to March)
  • Palm Express: Any Time (Daily from mid-June to approx. mid-October)

Choosing Seats & Direction Of Travel

Glacier Express 2nd class – note the top “No Information on Driving Direction”

One of the other more perplexing topics is the direction of travel and getting the best views.

It can be quite challenging to say on many of these trains which side of the train is best. And on top of that, for trains like the Glacier Express, the carriage reverses many times (because it comes to an end station – comes in, and goes back out the same way), so even if you think you know, you don’t!

There are a variety of useful posts on these topics online that I have read that I will reference below:

Glacier Express

According to the pros at seat61

Eastbound from Zermatt, the right-hand side is best along the Mattertal Valley from Zermatt to Brig, but in the Rhine Gorge, all the river scenery is on the left.  The train changes direction in Chur.  Then from Chur to St Moritz the best views are on the right hand side, including the classic view as the train curves onto the Landwasser Viaduct.  Westbound from St Moritz, it’s obviously the opposite side in each case.  However, when booking you can’t tell which way round the carriages will be, so unfortunately you can’t reserve a seat on a specific side.

Bernina Express

Apparently, the reservation system does not say which way round the carriages are, so it becomes a little irrelevant (let me know if I am wrong).

The only advice here is couples should sit opposite each other in a 2-seater, and families of 4 in the four seater if it allows.

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.

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