Heading to the beautiful Swiss city on an Italian lake from Switzerland's largest city is fabulously simple, thanks to a fairly frequent service of comparatively comfortable express trains.
Final Destination: Lugano (IC trains on route IC 2), Milano or Venezia or Genova or Bologna (EC trains)
All trains also call at: Arth-Goldau and Bellinzona (connect for Locarno)
Taking the train from Zurich to Lugano:
There are two types of express train service on the Zurich to Lugano route:
(1) Swiss IC trains which will be heading to Lugano; a mix of trains is used on this route, with the new Twindexx double-deck trains appearing on some departures; though the same trains which are used for the international EC services are used on many IC departures.
(2) International EC trains, which will be heading to Milano or other destinations in Italy
(Some of EC train departures MAY will still be by the Astoro trains)
Swiss 'rules' apply to this journey, so whether you will be buying tickets or using a rail pass, it doesn't particularly matter which of these train services you choose to travel by; seat reservations aren't compulsory on Zurich to Lugano journeys by the EC trains.
The timetable is slightly eccentric because in most odd hours both an IC AND an EC train depart, but in most even hours there are no direct trains from Zurich to Lugano.
Though in most even hours there will be an IR train heading to Bellinzona on a more spectacular route, so if getting to Lugano in the fastest possible time isn't your primary criteria, take that train and connect there.
Or another option in the even hours, is to take that IR train as far as Arth-Goldau and connect there for an IC or EC train that takes the more direct and faster route
The IC and EC trains to Bellinzona and the IR trains to Arth-Goldau should all depart from the street level platforms/tracks in Zurich HB (gleis 3 - 18).
From Zurich Flughafen/Airport:
There are no direct trains between the station at Zurich Flughafen/Airport and Lugano.
You will have to change trains at Zurich HB station.
Making the transfer will be much easier if you take a train from Zurich Flughafen to Zurich HB which uses the same part of Zurich HB station (platforms/tracks/gleis 3 - 18) that the trains on to Bellinzona will depart from.
So when taking a train from the airport target either;
10 x IC trains per day
8 x EC trains per day
The train service between Zurich and Lugano is split between:
1: IC trains - that are slightly slower, but also generally cheaper, than...
2: the EC trains that call at Lugano on route to Milano.
Book early and save: Yes - If you book Supersaver tickets (more info is available on the the SBB ticket guide below).
You may need to search through the departures to find them using the ‘earlier’ and ‘later’ buttons - the Supersaver tickets tend to sell out particularly quickly on THIS route.
So try and be flexible with your departure and arrival times, book as near to 30 days ahead as possible and don't be overly concerned whether you will be taking an IC or EC train
Online bookings open: up to two months ahead of the travel date
If you will be making a return day trip to Lugano from Zurich, be open to the possibility that Saver Day Passes are likely to be a cheaper option than booking return tickets.
Seat reservations are optional on Swiss IC trains, so seats won't be assigned when booking online.
You can book reservations online for journeys by these IC trains, AFTER you have booked a ticket, by using the SBB (Swiss national railways) seat reservation service OR request a reservation when booking at a station ticket office.
Travelling with a rail pass:
Rail pass users can jump on any train, without having to make reservations.
|Ticket Provider||Approximate Cost|
The alternative more scenic route:
If you will be travelling with a rail pass, you can still travel from Zurich to Lugano on the much more spectacular route via Biasca and the older Gotthard Tunnel.
Take an IR train to Bellinzona and make a straight forward connection there into regional trains on to Lugano.
Now that these trains travel through the epic Gotthard Base Tunnel, these journeys* are now less scenic than they used to be.
But this still a route with some wow moments.
The train will spend most of the first 10 mins of its journey travelling in a tunnel, but soon after it emerges into the daylight, the train will ascend upwards from the sure of Lake Zurich.
So from the left of the train (when facing the direction of travel) there are sweeping vistas to be enjoyed down over the lake.
Then, if the weather is behaving itself, after departure from Zug station comes the first highlight of the journey, the view over the Zuger See.
This lake with its mountain peaks on the far shore can be seen on the right for more than 15 mins between Zug and Arth-Goldau station.
The next beautiful vista to look out for comes after departure from Arth-Goldau station, when on the right, the train will pass by the Lauerzersee.
The train then travels through a dramatic landscape to the north of Schwyz, which used to be a preview of what was to come when the trains still used the older Gotthard route, to Bellinzona via Goschenen.
Just to the south of here, also look out on the right for glimpses of the Luzernsee.
South of Bellinzona these trains now travel through the new Ceneri Base Tunnel.
Help keep us advertising and paywall free!Donate
This second version of ShowMeTheJourney is exciting and new, so we are genuinely thrilled that you are here and reading this, but we also need your help.
We’re striving not to let anything get in the way of providing the most useful service possible, hence a facility has been set up with DonorBox which can be used to support the running costs and make improvements.
Instead of advertising or paywalls, your financial support will make a positive difference to delivering an enhanced service, as there’s a lot of ideas which we want to make happen.
So if you have found the info provided here to be useful, please consider saying thank you.
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.