Thanks to its central European location, Switzerland is served by multiple international train services, and those to Austria and Italy also take rail routes that are among the most spectacular in all of Europe.
Some of Switzerland's international rail routes are also provided by its beautiful independent mountain railways.
It can be worth taking a detour to use them to leave Switzerland by train; and if you will be travelling with a Eurail or InterRail pass, using them to access Switzerland can contribute to a pass being value for money.
As the border between Switzerland and Austria isn't particularly long the trains from Switzerland to Austria only take one of two routes.
from Buchs to Feldkirch
The two long-distance daytime train services which travel this way on a beautiful journey are:
(1) The Railljet trains which operate every other hour on the Zurich → Sargans → Buchs → Feldkirch → St Anton → Innsbruck → Salzburg → Linz → St Polten → Wien/Vienna route.
One of these trains has its journey extended beyond Wien to Budapest via Gyor.
Another of these Railjet trains has now had its journey extended to Bratislava; this is the only direct train from Switzerland to Slovakia.
(2) One EC train per day, named the 'Transalpin', which takes a Zurich → Sargans → Buchs → Feldkirch → St Anton → Innsbruck → Kitzbuhel → Zell Am See → Leoben → Graz route.
Buchs has trains from Chur, Landquart and St Gallen and a bus link with Leichtenstien.
The only other daytime trains which take this route are the local commuter trains, which shuttle across the border between Buchs and Feldkirch during the early mornings and late afternoons on Monday to Friday.
The overnight trains on these four routes come this way:
the route from St Margrethen to Bregenz:
The only trains which makes this border crossing are the six daily EC trains on the improved Zurich → Zurich Flughafen/Airport → St Gallen → St Margrethen → Bregenz → Lindau → Munchen/Munich route.
St Margrethen is served by trains which have travelled from Chur via Landquart.
Bregenz and Lindau are resort towns on the shore of the Bodensee, Begenz is in Austria and Lindau is in Germany.
With more than 20% of Swiss residents being French speakers it's not surprising that there are a comparatively high number of railways which connect France to Switzerland.
from Geneva to Bellegarde
These five train services all cross this border between Switzerland and France:
(2) The Lyria train on this route; Geneve →– Bellegarde → Lyon → Avignon-TGV → Aix-en-Provence-TGV → Marseille will now only be departing between July 4th and August 30th.
(3) Up to ten TER trains per day travel from Geneve to Lyon via Bellegarde.
Users of Eurail and InteRail passes travelling from Switzerland to Paris can avoid the comparatively expensive rail pass reservation fees charged to travel on the Lyria trains, by taking these trains to Lyon and making onward connections there into either TGV trains (will be more than 50% cheaper than taking the Lyria trains); or by taking other TER trains on to Paris.
(4) Infrequent local trains travel from Geneva which only travel as far as Bellgarde.
(5) Four TER trains per day take this route; Geneve → Bellegarde → Culoz → Aix-les-Bains → Chambery → Grenoble; and two of these trains continue beyond Grenoble to Valence, they call at Valence TGV station which has trains to a swathe of destinations in southern France including Marseille, Nice, Nimes and Montpellier.
from Geneve to Annemasse
After a lengthy closure for rebuilding, this route has re-opened and new hourly Regional Express services link destinations on the north shore of Lake Geneva, including Montreux and Lausanne, to Annemasse in France.
In some hours connections are available in Annemasse on to Evian Les-Bains or St-Gervais-Les-Bains; from where there are onward connections to Chamonix.
Though these trains on from Annemasse aren't particularly frequent.
There are also hourly local trains from Geneve to Annecy which travel via Annemasse
the route from Vallorbe to Frasne
The only trains which come this way are the three Lyria trains per day that take a Lausanne → Vallorbe → Frasne → Dole → Dijon → Paris route.
Trains from Neuchatel via Pontarlier to Frasne connect into these trains.
The other trans from Lausanne to Paris now travel via Geneve; see above.
via La Locle
Three TER trains per day travel this way from La Chaux des Fonds to Besancon-Voite, the town centre station in Besancon.
There are trains to La Chaux des Fonds from Biel and Neuchatel.
From Besancon there are TGV trains to Paris and there are also TER trains from Besancon to Belfort and Dijon.
from Basel to St Louis, Haut Rhin
These three train services all cross this border between Switzerland and France:
(3) There are also local TER trains from Basel to Mulhouse.
Travellers using Eurail or InteRail passes can avoid the comparatively expensive rail pass reservation fees charged to travel on the Lyria trains, by taking TER trains and making onward connections in Colmar, Mulhouse or Strasbourg into TGV trains to Paris; this can be more than 50% cheaper than taking the Lyria trains.
through Vallorcine on 'The Mont Blanc Express' route
Every hour during the day, trains operated by TMR depart Martigny for Vallorcine.
Martigny station is served by trains which depart at least hourly from Geneve, Brig, Lausanne, Montreux, Sion and Visp.
At Vallorcine connections are available into trains which travel on to St Gervais via Chamonix.
Some of these trains make connections in St Gervais with TER trains on to Annecy or Lyon.
This is the most scenic route from Switzerland into France, but journeys on to Annecy and Lyon need to be planned with care as the tains on from St Gervais are not particularly frequent.
The River Rhine and Lake Constance, also known as the Bodensee both provide natural barriers along the Swiss/German border, so there are only TWO routes used by long-distance express trains between Switzerland and Germany.
Though the trains on the Zurich > Munchen/Munich route travel through Austria because the eastern end of the Bodensee is in Austria.
The cities of Basel and Zurich are in the German speaking area of Switzerland, and the German national operator DB provides long-distance services from them by ICE trains, at a similar frequency to the ICE trains which serve Germany's large cities.
north from Basel towards Freibourg
Basel Bad Bahnhof is in Switzerland, but is managed as though it is a German station, so train services that only travel into Germany from this station have been excluded from this summary.
These train services below are those which travel between Basel SBB (the main station in Basel) and Basel Bad Bahnhof and on into Germany; on these summaries when Basel is used, the trains call at both stations in the city.
The train services which travel this way include the ICE trains on these three routes:
(1) Interlaken → Spiez → Thun → Bern → Olten → Basel → Freiburg → Baden Baden → Kalrsruhe → Mannheim → Frankfurt (Main) → Kassel → Berlin; 3 x trains per day from Interlaken.
(2) Zurich → Basel \→ Freiburg → Baden Baden → Kalrsruhe → Mannheim → Frankfurt (Main) → Kassel → Hannover → Hamburg (5 x trains per day)
Two of these trains commence their journey in Chur at 10:39 and 12:39 and travel to Zurich via Landquart.
The brand new ICE 4 trains now operate on this route.
(3) Basel → Freiburg → Kalrsruhe → Mannheim → Frankfurt Airport/Flughafen → Seigburg/Bonn → Koln/Cologne (→ Wuppertal → Dortmund) (6 x trains per day).
One of the trains on this route has its journey extended to Dusseldorf → Duisburg → Oberhausen → Arnhem → Utrecht → Amsterdam.
This is the only direct daytime train service from Switzerland to The Netherlands.
The daily EC trains which also come this way are on these three routes:
(1) Interlaken → Bern → Basel → Freiburg → Karlsruhe → Mannheim → Koblenz → Bonn → Koln/Cologne → Dusseldorf → Dortmund → Bremen → Hamburg; two trains per day
(2) Zurich → Basel → Freiburg → Baden Baden → Karlsruhe → Mannheim → Koblenz → Koln/Cologne → Dusseldorf → Dortmund → Bremen → Hamburg; 1 x daily train; the only direct daytime train from Zurich to Koln/Cologne.
(3) Brig → Visp → Spiez → Thun → Bern → Olten → Basel → Freiburg → Baden Baden → Karlsruhe → Mannheim → Frankfurt (Main); 1 x daily train
This train commences its journey in Milano.
In the opposite direction from Germany to Milano this train takes a different route south of Basel to call at Luzern, Bellinzona and Lugano.
Overnight Nightjet trains on these three routes also come this way:
(1) Zurich → Basel → Hannover → Hamburg
(2) Zurich → Basel → Magdeburg → Berlin; the only direct train from Zurich to Berlin
(3) Zurich → Basel → Koln/Cologne → Arnhem → Utrecht → Amsterdam; the only direct train from Zurich to Amsterdam.
from Schaffhausen to Singen
Three train services make this border crossing;
(1) German IC trains on this route; Zurich → Schaffhausen → Singen → Rottweil → Horb → Stuttgart
(2) Swiss IC trains on a Zurich – Schaffhausen – Singen route; these trains connect in Singen with other IC trains on to Stuttgart.
The train service is arranged so that when travelling from Zurich to Stuttgart, in alternate hours there is a direct train, but in other hours a connection is required in Singen.
Sit on the right when travelling from Zurich for a spectacular view of the Schaffhausen Falls.
(3) German Regio trains on a Basel (Bad Bahnhof) → Waldshut → Schaffhausen → Singen → Radofzell → Frederichshafen → Ulm route:
Connect in Frederichshafen for Lindau and in Ulm for Augsburg and Munchen/Munich.
The trains from Switzerland to Italy take one of four spectacular routes through the mountains; note that there are no overnight trains which travel between Switzerland and Italy.
From Brig to Domodossola; The Simplon Route
These four train services all take this beautiful railway line from western Switzerland into Italy:
(1) Four EC trains per day take this route:
Geneve → Lausanne → Montreux → Sion → Brig → Domodossola → Stresa → Milano
One of these trains continues its journey beyond Milano to Brescia → Peschiera del Garda → Verona → Vicenza →Padua/Padova → Venezia St Lucia.
(2) Three EC trains per day take this route:
Basel → Olten → Bern → Thun → Spiez * → Visp → Brig → Domodossola → Stresa → Milano.
*Trains from Interlaken make connections in Spiez.
Connect in Milano for cities to the south including Ancona; Firenze/Florence, Napoli, Nice, Pisa, Rimini and Roma; none of these destinations have direct trains from Switzerland.
There are now two additional daily trains from Basel to Milano which take a different route, the Gotthard route from Luzern to Lugano; see below.
(3) One Swiss IC train per day, which usually departs from Basel at 08:28 and takes this route: Basel → Olten → Bern → Thun → Spiez → Visp → Brig → Domodossola.
Users of Swiss rail passes can travel by this train to Domodossola in order to connect into The 'Centovali Railway'.
(4) Up to seven x daily regional trains are now usually scheduled to depart from Bern to take the spectacular route via Kandersteg to Brig and then travel over the border and on to Domodossola.
All of these regional trains also call at Speiz, where connections are available from Zwiesimmen and Interlaken.
Users of Eurail and InterRail passes can avoid the rail pass reservation fees, which are charged to rail pass users when crossing the border on the EC express trains, by taking these regional trains.
Italian regional trains (R and RV services) connect Domodossola to Stresa, Arona and Milano.
Users of Swiss rail passes can also take these trains to Domodossola.
From Chiasso to Como; The Gotthard route
These train services all take this railway route from Switzerland into Italy.
(1) There are now up to 10 x EC trains per day which take a Zurich → Zug → Arth-Goldau* → Bellinzona → Lugano → Como → Milano route
*Trains from Basel via Luzern connect with these trains in Arth-Goldau.
And another daily train now continues beyond Milano to arrive in Genova/Genoa; while yet another service now provides a direct link between Zurich and Bologna.
Connect in Milano Centrale station for cities to the south including Ancona, Bari, Firenze/Florence, Napoli, Pisa, Rimini Sanremo and Roma; none of these destinations have direct trains from Switzerland.
Though the trains from Zurich to Bologna and Genova don't call at Milano Centrale, because they call at other stations in the city.
(2) Two EC trains per day takes this route: Basel → Olten → Luzern → Arth-Goldau → Bellinzona → Lugano → Como → Milano; which provides Luzern with a direct rail service to Italy.
The first of these trains commences its journey in Frankfurt (Main) and also makes other calls in Germany including Mannheim, Karlsruhe and Freiburg.
This train also arrives at Porta Garibaldi station in Milan and not the city's main station, Milano Centrale.
The corresponding train in the other direction takes a different route through Switzerland, with calls in among other locations, Brig, Thun and Bern.
(3) Hourly regional trains, branded 'Ticino' now take this route: Locarno → Lugano → Chiasso → Como → Milano.
Connections into these trains at S. Antonio are available when taking the IR trains on the especially spectacular Basel/Zurich to Locarno route via Airolo and Faido.
(4) Hourly local trains take this route: Bellinzona → Lugano → Campolago → Chiasso
Regionale trains to Milano Porta Garibaldi station connect with these trains in Chiasso.
Users of Eurail and InterRail passes can avoid the rail pass reservation fees, which are charged to rail pass users when crossing the border on the EC express trains, by taking these regional or local trains.
Lugano has Swiss express IC trains from Basel, Luzern and Zurich.
Trains on Line S-10, of the S-Bahn network of local trains around Lake Locarno, operate hourly on this route: Bellinzona → Lugano → Campolago → Medrisio → Stabio → Gallarate (which is on the Milano to Arona and Stresa route) → Millano Malpensa Airport.
The journey from Lugano to the airport takes around 1hr 30mins.
via Camedo on The Centovali Express
Locarno is now served by direct trains from Basel, Luzern and Zurich, which take one of the most spectacular routes in Switzerland, because between Arth-Goldau (which is to the south of Zug) and Bellinzona they don't follow the express trains through the Gotthard Base Tunnel and instead take the older much more beautiful route through Goschenen.
Italian regional (R and RV trains) link Domodossola to Milano, Stresa and Arona.
If you will be travelling from Switzerland to Italy with a Eurail or InterRail pass, the Basel / Luzern / Zurich - Locarno - Domodossola - Milano route is a cheaper and more scenic option than taking a direct EC train.
through Campocologno on one of Europe's greatest rail journeys
Regular Italian regionale (RV) trains link Tirano with Milano via the Lake Como towns of Colico and Lecco.
By making as simple as can be connections in Samedan, from Chur to St Moritz trains; and then in Pontresina, a journey by regular trains from Chur to Tirano is easily managed
Or as an alternative to the regular trains, you can travel direct from Chur to Tirano on the Bernina Express.
Chur has one or two trains per hour from Zurich and direct trains from Basel,
If you will be using a rail pass then travelling from Zurich to Milano on this route and making additional connections in Chur, Samedan, Pontesina and Tirano, is the most spectacular means of taking a train from northern Switzerland to northern Italy; and it is cheaper than taking a direct EC train and not as complicated as it seems
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.