Gotthard Panorama Express: Scenic Boat & Train Ride

gotthard panorama express eurail

Switzerland is well-known for its scenic train rides and they really are one of the best ways of traveling through the country. Riding the train can be a tedious and boring experience, but it’s something entirely else when you’re seated on a panoramic train and the views in front of you are mesmerizing.

The Gotthard Panorama Express is a scenic journey that includes both a train and a boat ride. From Lucerne to Bellinzona or Lugano, this is an epic journey that features valleys, lakes, rivers, mountains, and palm trees, so it’s almost like a crash course on the variety of the Swiss landscape. If you’re interested in the journey and want to learn more before buying tickets, you’ve come to the right place!

General Information

Key Takeaways

Duration: 5 hours 30 minutes (boat and train ride)

Ticket prices: 109-176 CHF for the full route from Lucerne to Lugano

Discounts: Free ticket with GA travel card/Swiss Travel Pass (1st class), 50% discount with Half-Fare Travelcard

Website: gotthard-panorama-express.ch

Accessibility: The train cars of the Gotthard Panorama Express are not wheelchair accessible and there are no wheelchair-friendly bathrooms on the train. Boarding in a wheelchair is possible only in some stations (Arth-Goldau, Flüelen, Lugano, and Bellinzona), and it’s necessary to call ahead and book assistance.

The Route

Gotthard train
Gotthard train

The Gotthard Panorama Express route through central Switzerland goes on for 182 kilometers. From north to south, the route is Lucerne to Fluelen (by boat), Goschenen, Airolo, Bellinzona, and Lugano.

It’s important to note that many regular regional trains operate on the same route, and you can experience the same journey at a significantly lower cost but you’re not guaranteed views from panoramic windows on the train.

Highlights of the Journey

Before we get into the boring details about ticket prices and travel times, here’s a quick overview of the stunning places and landmarks you can expect to see along the Gotthard route!

Boat Ride to Flüelen

Although the principal route for the Gotthard Panorama Express train ends in Lucerne, the ride aboard the panoramic train actually ends in Fluelen. From there, you continue your panoramic journey on a boat, and if you’re doing it in the opposite direction, you can access the Fluelen train station from multiple cities on the shore of Lake Lucerne.

  • Lucerne City
Chapel bridge in Lucerne
Chapel Bridge in Lucerne

Lucerne is the main starting point for this journey, with historical paddle steamers traveling between Lucerne and Fluelen. The boat ride across Lake Lucerne is scenic, with stunning views of the city, the Chapel Bridge, Mount Pilatus, and even Mount Rigi. If you want to be seated at the restaurant on the boat and have the opportunity to eat or drink something, you will need to make a reservation in advance.

  • Rigi
View of Mt. Rigi from Lake Lucerne
View of Mt. Rigi from Lake Lucerne

Mount Rigi is probably the most impressive mountain you will see during the boat journey. It towers above Lake Lucerne and it is home to the oldest railway in Europe – Rigi Railways. If you’re doing the panoramic journey from south to north, I highly recommend visiting Mount Rigi during your stay, if only for a day.

  • Rütli
Rütli
Rütli

Rütli is a stunning lakeside meadow that is considered the birthplace of the Swiss Confederation and a national monument of the country. It is incredibly important to Switzerland, and you will be able to catch a glimpse of this gorgeous meadow from the boat. If you’re traveling from Lucerne to Fluelen, the meadow will be on your right side.

  • Tell’s Chapel / Tell’s Slab
Tell’s Chapel
Tell’s Chapel

Tell’s Chapel is another iconic landmark you can see during the boat ride from Lucerne to Fluelen. It will be on your left side if you’re doing the boat journey north to south, and you should easily notice the 1880s chapel because it’s situated on the lake shore. The chapel is linked to William Tell, a folk hero whose brave actions ultimately led to the founding of the Old Swiss Confederacy.

Train Ride from Flüelen

When you arrive at the pier in Fluelen you’ll immediately see the train station and know where to head to next. The two are so close because this is where the ships used to unload trains for the fastest transport of goods throughout the region.

The Gotthard Panorama Express should be easy to spot and you can board the train with a valid ticket.

Loop Tunnels

Near the beginning of the journey, you pass through spiral tunnels with multiple loops to gain altitude in a very short amount of time. You can sit on either side of the train because you see the Wassen Church three times as you gain altitude and pass through a range of tunnels.

Wassen Church

Wassen Church
Wassen Church

Wassen Church is built into the hillside, and it towers over the village. You’ll get a good view of the old baroque church when you’re passing through the loop tunnels, and it’s easily one of the most famous landmarks you’ll see from the panorama train.

Gotthard Tunnel

Gotthard Base Tunnel
Gotthard Base Tunnel

After the spiral loops comes the original Gotthard tunnel. The 15-kilometer tunnel was the first tunnel through the Saint-Gotthard Massif, and at the time of its opening in 1882, it was the world’s longest tunnel. It was also one of the most controversial tunnels in the world because hundreds of lives were lost during the construction.

The panoramic train bypasses the Gotthard Road Tunnel, and passes through the Gotthard Base Tunnel, which only allows trains through. Many people still come via the Gotthard Road tunnel in summer as there are always huge traffic jams, even on weekends.

It always seems to be jammed in my experience, so if you are heading to the south of Switzerland, this is one of the most scenic and enjoyable ways to do it. Avoiding hours of traffic jams as well.

Bellinzona

bellinzona switzerland
Bellinzona, Switzerland

Make Bellinzona your final destination on the Gotthard Panorama Express train if you want to explore medieval castles and countless art museums. The city is the capital of the Ticino canton, and it is famous for medieval castles, gorgeous architecture, churches, art museums, and excellent hiking in the area. It’s a stunning city worth exploring, especially if you’ve not previously traveled to this part of Switzerland.

Lugano

Lugano
Lugano

Lugano is one of the prettiest towns in southern Switzerland and a fabulous destination you have to experience. It’s charming, sunny, and boasts epic lake views. Lugano also has a historic center that’s wonderful to walk around, with loads of museums and galleries.

The city boasts mostly delicious Italian cuisine, and it’s the highlight of any trip to the Ticino canton. If you’re wondering whether it’s worth it to do the full journey all the way to Lugano, I reckon it absolutely is, and go for it!

Timetable

Gothard Panorama Express Timetable
Gothard Panorama Express Timetable

The panoramic train runs twice a day from Tuesday to Sunday during the season. The train runs once in each direction; the earlier trains depart from Lugano at around 9 AM, but the trains that travel in the opposite direction depart from Fluelen at around 2 PM.

At the moment of writing this guide, the 2023 season of the Gotthard Panorama Express train has been closed, and the timetable for the next year is still not available. The photo I included represents the timetable for the year 2023; although it might not be exactly the same the next year, or even the year after that, drastic changes in the schedule are unlikely.

Classes Available

One way in which the Gotthard Panorama Express is different from most other trains in Switzerland is that it offers only 1st class tickets. There are no 2nd class tickets for this train, and if you have a 2nd class Swiss Travel pass, you will need to pay for an upgrade and a seat reservation. Travelers in possession of the 1st class Swiss Travel Pass still need to pay full price for the seat reservation only, but otherwise, ride the train for free.

The boat ride does distinguish between 1st and 2nd class, and it’s a decent option to save some money during the trip. The cheapest ticket possible will have you seated on the deck throughout the ride, but if you want a more luxurious experience, you can reserve a table at the boat’s restaurant and enjoy a meal and drinks while you cruise across Lake Lucerne.

Cost

The cost of tickets for the Gotthard Panorama Express depends on a few different things. First, it depends on the starting point of your journey – the trip can be done from either Lugano or Bellinzona in the south, and it’s cheaper if you’re departing from Bellinzona.

Another thing to consider is that the train can only get you as far as Fluelen. From there, the journey continues with a three-hour boat ride across Lake Lucerne, and the price of boat tickets significantly increases the overall cost of the journey.

To put things into perspective, a first-class ticket for the entire journey is 160 CHF, plus the mandatory supplement for seat reservations (16 CHF). A first-class ticket for just the train is 93 CHF, so if you want to experience the panoramic journey but aren’t super interested in the boat trip, ride a standard regional train into Lucerne to save money.

Tickets & Passes

You can enjoy certain perks if you have access to the Interrail pass, the Swiss Travel Pass, or the Half-Fare Card. Passengers in possession of the Swiss Travel Pass and the Interrail Pass don’t have to purchase tickets for the Gotthard Panorama Express. Instead, they only need to pay a seat reservation fee ( train tickets are free) and will get a 50% discount for the boat ride.

With the half-fare card, you pay 50% of the ticket cost but still must pay the full price for the seat reservation fee.

One thing I will say is that even I found the official webshop very confusing, so it could be a good idea to try and purchase tickets in person if at all possible. I didn’t see the option to immediately buy tickets for the train and boat, and trying to buy tickets from Lugano/Bellinzona to Lucerne included train changes in Fluelen instead of scenic lake cruises. Anyway, here’s a photo of what to look for when buying tickets:

Many other trains operate on the historic Gotthard Panorama route, but the only one is the Gotthard Panorama Express train, and it will say so in the top left corner. To be able to find this connection you will need to input the time when the train is expected at your departure station, so around 2 PM from Fluelen but around 9 AM if you’re doing the journey from south to north (departure from Lugano or Bellinzona).

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it worth riding the Gotthard Panorama Express?

Yes, it is absolutely worth riding the Gotthard Panorama Express train. It is one of the most stunning, scenic train journeys in Switzerland, and the only one that includes a boat ride. 


Can I bring luggage on board the Gotthard Panorama Express?

Yes, you can bring luggage on board the Gotthard Panorama Express. 


When is the best time to experience the Gotthard Panorama Express?

The Gotthard Panorama Express runs from spring to early fall, so summer and the shoulder months will be the best time to ride the panoramic train. It’s usually available from mid-April to mid-October, and I would recommend booking a ride either in May or September/October to avoid the crowds. 

Can I book tickets in advance for the Gotthard Panorama Express?

Yes, you can book tickets in advance for the Gotthard Panorama Express train. 

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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