Spending as much time as you can within easy walking distance of pretty much any Swiss station practically guarantees a heavenly holiday.
Wherever you are there’ll be at least an hourly train departure and thanks to connections which are typically designed to be as simple as possible, you'll be able to travel there and back in a day to any other Swiss location, on a jaw-dropping journey.
Though these three locations in particular have been singled out because of the exceptionally easy access they offer to multiple days to remember!
Few locations in Europe have benefitted from improved railway connections in recent years to the extent that Bellinzona has, which is fairly remarkable, because the town has long been an important meeting point of multiple train services.
The catalyst for Bellinzona’s railway evolution has been the construction of two enormous railway tunnels, the Gotthard Base Tunnel to the north of the town and the newer Ceneri Base Tunnel to the south.
Meaning that Bellinzona is now at the point between the two tunnels, so its station is where trains travelling between the cities of northern Switzerland and both Lugano and Milano come up to the surface.
Those tunnels mean that taking an express to and from Bellinzona is faster and easier thanks to a step up in frequency, but a less gorgeous experience than it used to be, however, the local and regional trains still take the spectacularly wonderful older routes.
When constructing the approach lines to the new tunnels, the opportunity was also taken to enhance the local rail network in the area, so Bellinzona has local trains which are as frequent as those found in big cities.
As a consequence Bellinzona is an ideal ‘turn up and go’ destination, you can simply head to the station and take a train somewhere wonderful depending on your mood and the weather.
A gateway to the Swiss and Italian Lakes:
If having something to eat and drink while taking in a gorgeous lakeside view is your idea of heaven then Bellinzona is pretty much a dream destination, despite it not being on the water’s edge.
That’s because no less than four stunning lakes (Como, Lugano, Luzern and Maggiore) are within 90 minutes by train, plus it’s also a location that ticks the box for those seeking a ride or two on a spectacular Swiss mountain railway.
Five ideas for taking a day trip by train from Bellinzona.
(1) Locarno occupies a fabulous location on the northern shore of Lake Maggiore and it’s linked to Bellinzona by local trains that typically depart twice an hour and complete the journey in less than 30 minutes.
Locarno station is steps away from the shore of the lake and a 5 min walk will take you to the base station of the Locarno funicular, which provides fabulous views over Lake Maggiore and also gives access to the pilgrimage site of the Madonna del Sasso sanctuary.
The summit station of the funicular also enables an easy transfer to the cable car gondola which can transport travellers to beautiful Cardada.
Though you won’t have to step outside the station in Locarno to access the trains which an alternative stunning route through the mountains.
The Centovali Railway commences in Locarno and twists its way through the valleys and gorges in the mountains on route to Domodossola in Italy.
A tip is to buy a return journey to Domodossola at the station in Bellinzona, so that you won’t have to book against the clock in Locarno.
Or an idea is to buy a Saver Day Pass, because it can be used to travel on from Domodossola back over the border to Brig in Switzerland, from where it can also be used on trains between Brig and Zermatt, or to head back to Bellinzona via Andermatt and Goschenen.
(2) The train journey from Bellinzona to Locarno only offers fleeting glimpses of Lake Maggiore, but the railway which runs along the lake’s southern shore provides some of the most spectacular views over water (as seen in the first 20 mins of the video) which can be enjoyed from a European train.
Those trains which travel between Bellinzona and Locarno call at Cadenazzo station from where easy connections are available into trains to and from the Italian lake shore town of Luino.
Though plan a journey with care, because unlike every other train service in the area, the trains between Cadenazzo and Luino aren’t particularly frequent.
Sit on the right when boarding in Cadenazzo to make the most of the lovely views over Lake Maggiore.
Also it’s a good idea to make this trip on a Wednesday as that happens to be market day in Luino, hence it also being the day of the week when there are opportunities to take a ferry across the lake to Stressa.
(3) Another Italian lakeside destination which now has improved access to and from Bellinzona by train is Como.
Regional trains to Como San Giovanni station typically depart from Bellinzona hourly and the journey time is under an hour.
Also by taking the regional trains, you can pay the same price for the tickets when booking last minute.
In Como the station is a 10 minute walk from the pier from where fast ferries can be taken across the lake to and from Colico.
(4) A particularly fabulous adventure is to head north from Bellinzona for a 90 minute journey on one of the hourly regional trains to Arth-Goldau, as these trains still take the wonderful older Gotthard railway which the express trains now avoid.
At Arth-Goldau easy transfers are available to one of the Rigi Bahn routes which will take you up to the summit of the namesake mountain – sit on the right for the best views.
Then once you have had your fill of the views from the mountain top, you can take the other Rigi-Bahn route down to the shore of the Luzernsee at Vitznau – one of SMTJ’s Top 10 Swiss Train Journeys.
From there you can take one of the regular boats across the lake to Luzern/Luzern.
Then you’ll have a choice of routes back to Bellinzona, take an express or regional train, or head back across Lake Lucerne to Fluelen, from where you can also take a train back to Bellinzona.
All of the above train and boat trips will be covered by a Saver Day Pass.
Or keep things simple by taking a direct train from Bellinzona to Luzern, the IR trains take a much more scenic route than the IC or EC trains.
(5) Lugano is only a 20 – 30 min hop from Bellinzona on trains that depart up to four times per hour.
One stop south from the main Lugano station is Lugano-Paradiso and the local trains from Bellinzona will also call at this station.
The reason for heading to Lugano-Paradiso station is that it is less than a five minute walk to the base station of the Monte San Salvatore funicular which offers fabulous views over Lake Lugano.
Those trains which call at Lugano-Paradiso also go on to call at Capolago-Riva S. Vitale station, which offers an easy interchange with the wonderful Monte Generoso Railway.
Accessing Bellinzona by train
Thanks to easy connections at Basel SBB station it’s possible to make a daytime train journey between Bellinzona and a swathe of destinations including Amsterdam, Berlin, Koln, London and Paris.
For some years now Bellinzona has had a daily direct rail link to and from Venice/Venezia via Verona, but on the new timetable, it also now has daily direct trains to and from Bologna and Genova.
When travelling between Bellinzona and destinations further south in Italy, easy connections are available in Milano Centrale station.
Bellinzona doesn’t have direct trains from the station at Zurich Airport, but easy connections are available at Zurich HB station, particularly if you take a train that calls at the same part of Zurich’s main station that the trains on to Bellinzona will depart from.
These include the RE services heading to Luzern or the locals trains on line S24 heading to Zug.
The airport which does have a rail link with Bellinzona is Milano Malpensa, hourly trains complete the journey in around two hours.
As a result the express (EC, IC, and ICE) trains on all of these routes call at Olten station:
(1) Basel – Olten - Bern – Interlaken
(2) Basel - Olten - Luzern – Bellinzona – Lugano
(3) Basel – Olten - Bern – Visp – Brig
(4) St Gallen – Zurich – Olten - Biel – Neuchatel – Lausanne
(5) Zurich – Olten - Biel – Neuchatel – Geneve
As a result thousands of people per day change trains at Olten station, but because Olten also happens to possess a charming old town, just across the river from the station; it’s also a fabulous location in which to holiday and explore the best of Switzerland.
Its room rates also tend be lower than the big cities, SMTJ can personally recommend The Hotel Oltenhof, functional accommodation at reasonable price and less than a 5 min flat walk from the station.
Easy trips from Olten to multiple mountain railways
Olten may be located some distance from any of the Swiss mountain railways, but many of them are within easy reach of Olten, thanks to direct trains, which depart at least hourly, to:
- Arth Goldau for the RigiBahn
- Luzern for the Zentralbahn
- Visp for the MGB routes to Zermatt and to Andermatt and beyond
- Interlaken Ost for transfers to the Zentralbahn and the routes heading up to Jungfraujoch, Lauterbrunnen, Kleine Scheidegg, Murren, Schynige Platte and Wengen.
And only one straightforward connection is required when accessing virtually any of the other Swiss Mountain railways via Olten:
- Head to Martigny via Visp so that you can take a ride on the Mont Blanc Express.
- Take a ride on the MOB Railway by heading to Zweisimmen via Bern or Spiez.
- Head to Chur or Landquart via Zurich to access the Rhaetian Railways
Also connect in Bern or Spiez for the Lotschberger trains on their incredible journey to Brig via Kandersteg.
Another fabulous journey is to head to Lugano on the newly restored service of direct IR trains, which take the amazing slower route via Goschenen;
you can then rush back to Olten on an IC train.
Holiday in Basel and not only will there be opportunities to see the best of Switzerland by train, you can also head off on day trips into both France and Germany, as both Alsace and The Black Forest will be within easy reach.
A day trip or two to France
Frequent French TER trains link Basel SBB station to the charming town of Colmar and the beautiful city of Strasbourg – so it’s simple to combine both locations on one day of exploration.
The train journey to Strasbourg takes less than 90 minutes and the on the way there they make stops in Mulhouse and Colmar.
For those with an interest in railways, one of the world’s greatest rail museums, the Cité Du Train is a very easy day trip from Basel thanks to the TER trains which depart at least hourly to Mulhouse.
From in front of its main station Tram line 3 departs every 10 – 15 minutes and the journey to the Musées stop – which is a 10 min walk from the museum entrance, takes around 15 – 20mins.
The end-to-end journey between Basel SBB station and the Cité Du Train will take around 1hr 15mins.
Or you could stop off to see the museum on the way to or from Colmar or Strasbourg.
Tickets for journeys by the TER trains won’t cost any more if you book them last minute at the station, but something to remember is that you have to stamp your ticket in the machines by the entrance to the platforms/tracks.
It’s easy to forget, because you don’t have to do this when boarding any other train at Basel’s main station.
A fabulous day in Germany’s Black Forest
The easiest means of experiencing The Black Forest from Basel is to make the journey to the incredible Schauinslandbahn which can proudly claim to be Germany’s longest cable car ride.
The end-to-end journey from Basel city centre involves:
(1) Taking a Regio train from Basel Bad Bf station to Freiburg – cheaper and not much slower than taking the express trains.
On arrival at Freiburg (Breisgau) hbf, don’t head to the main exit, instead head up to the bridge across the station, which will be located beyond the rear of the train – the tram stops are up on the bridge
(2) From Freiburg (Breisgau) Hbf take tram line 2 (direction Gunterstal) to its final stop (the tram stop is on the bridge above the railway tracks at the south end of the station).
(3) At the Gunterstal tram stop you can transfer to bus line 21 (direction Horben). Bus line 21 stops at the funicular base station – ‘Schauinslandbahn Talstation).
This sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is, all the connections run fairly frequently.
You can be tucking into a slice of Black Forest Gateaux and taking in the stunning views at the top of the mountain (one of the highest peaks in The Black Forest) within 2hr 30 mins of heading off from Basel.
And see the best of Switzerland
With its location in the north-west corner of Switzerland, Basel may not seem an obvious location from which to explore the country by train; and to be honest, if you don’t want to ALSO head off into France and/or Germany, then basing yourself in Olten will reduce the amount of time you will be travelling on Swiss trains.
However, it’s possible to make a day trip by train from Basel to anywhere in Switzerland, even distant destinations such as Lugano, or St Moritz via Chur, or Zermatt via Visp. the journeys will be comparatively long, but they’ll be beautiful.
Though the wonderful Swiss Mountain Railways which have the easiest access from Basel are:
- connect into the Rhaetian Railway trains on towards St Moritz by taking an express train direct to Chur;
- the RigiBahn is an easy journey thanks to an easy connection at Arth-Goldau station;
- for the Zentralbahn head to Interlaken Ost or Luzern by direct train, as simple connections are available at either station;
- the routes up to the mountain railways in the Bernese-Oberland by connecting at Interlaken Ost.
(A tick in the box for staying in Basel and not Zurich is that Basel has direct trains to Interlaken, but Zurich does not).
Where to stay in Basel
When choosing somewhere to stay in Basel, you can usually save money with some lateral thinking.
The main SBB station is on the southern edge of the city, it’s a four stop 10 minute tram ride to and from the city centre.
There are a handful of hotels within a few minutes walk of Basel SBB station and this convenience tends to come at a price, so it can pay off to look for somewhere with easy access by tram to both the SBB and DB stations.
Or look out for locations with easy access to central Basel by frequent local trains.
I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.
This is one of more than 100 train travel guides available on ShowMeTheJourney, which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make. As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.