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Travel On Train Bernina Express (Switzerland)
The Bernina Express to Tirano waits to depart from Chur

Bernina Express (Switzerland)

All that's good to know about the trains which take Switzerland's most beautiful railway journey

In ShowMeTheJourney's experience, the most wonderful rail journey in Switzerland is riding the Bernina railway and the Albula railway is also in the Top 5.
So what makes the Bernina Express special is that it is the only train service which rides the length of both of these railways, during its magnificent journey.


At a Glance

Travel Pass Supplement

Rail Pass Reservation Fees

Time of Day


Accessing the train

Wheelchair Spaces
Train Specification

Attributes of the train

Has a Conductor

Food services available

Trolley Service:

Which country these trains operate in.

Travel Passes
Swiss Travel Pass
Saver Day Pass

The Bernina Express is operated by the Rhätische Bahn (RhB)/ Rhaetian Railway which operates a network of routes in south-east Switzerland.
One of the RhB routes is the Albula railway which links Chur with St Moritz - and the other special train service which calls in Chur, the the Glacier Express, uses this railway at the beginning or end of its journey to and from St Moritz.
Another RhB route is the Bernina railway which travels between St Moritz and Tirano, which is located over the border in Italy - the Bernina Express lives up to its name by using the Bernina Railway, but the Glacier Express doesn't take this route.

The Rhätische Bahn also has a railway which in effect by passes St Moritz and links the Albula and Bernina Railways, so a very special aspect of the Bernina Express experience, is that it uses this other railway to travel direct between Chur and Tirano.

In the summer season, which is usually from the second Saturday in May to the final Sunday in October, because the Bernina railway is so wonderful, there are also two Bernina Express services per day which take a St Moritz ↔ Tirano route.

During the summer season there is also an additional second train of the day in each direction on the Chur ↔ Tirano route

12 things which are good to know:

A 2nd class Panoramic coach of the type used on the Bernina Express 2nd class Panoramic coach of the type used on the Bernina Express

1: Like the Glacier Express, the Bernina Express uses special panorama coaches with extra large windows to make the most of the spectacular views.
Though the newer RhB regular 'red' trains between St Moritz and Tirano also have large windows, bigger than on the older regular trains.

2: Regular coaches, which are cheaper because they don't have the mandatory reservation fees required for travel in the panorama cars, are also typically available on most Bernina Express departures, though not all have them.

3: In the panorama and regular coaches both first and second class is available, in first class the seats are larger, they have more leg room and are arranged 2 + 1 across the aisle instead of 2 + 2.
So parties of two people can avoid having people occupying the seat next to them.
Note that there is no catering included with first class tickets.

4: Seats in the panorama coaches must be reserved and they can be booked up to twelve months ahead - see the info below on how to book reservations and tickets.
You have to choose specific seats on a seating plan, though you won't know whether window seats will be looking out on views to the left or right during the journey.

5: If you want to travel on a specific departure, note that seats in the panorama cars, particularly by the windows, can be fully booked months ahead of a travel date.

6: If you have a valid Eurail, InterRail or Swiss Travel Pass, or Saver Day Pass you can board into the ordinary coaches/cars which don't require a reservation.
Or you can travel in the panorama cars on The Bernina Express by only paying the reservation fee.
The reservations fees when using Eurail / InterRail passes vary according to the time of year:

7: If you don't have a rail pass and want to travel in the panorama cars, you can either:

  • book a reservation more than six months ahead and then make a separate booking for a ticket; which become available up to six months ahead of the travel date, or
  • book a ticket up until six months before the travel date, which will automatically include the reservation(s) - see below for more info.

8: Note that you can book reservations up to more than 6 months before you can buy a ticket.
However, booking reservations as soon as your travel date is known is highly recommended, even if the tickets are not already on sale

9: An option is to book the reservation for the panorama cars online and then buy your ticket(s) at the station, just prior to boarding.

10: Or if you have already booked tickets and then decide that you want to travel in the panorama cars, you can book go back to the website and book separate reservations.

11: Reservations are not possible in the ordinary coaches, though a benefit of travelling 1st class in these coaches is that they tend to be much less busy than 2nd class.

12: You don’t have to take the Bernina Express to travel by train in either direction between Chur and Tirano.
Regular RhB 'Red trains' operate on all parts of the route, but to make the Chur to Tirano journey by the other trains, connections have to be made in both Samedan and Pontresina - though the transfers couldn’t be more straight forward.

How to book the tickets and reservations

How to book Bernina Express tickets and reservations How to book Bernina Express tickets and reservations

On the Bernina Express website, click the hard to miss 'Book now' button, be aware that a ticket + a reservation are required to travel in the Panorama cars/coaches and these can now be booked together from up to 6 months ahead.
Though reservations can be booked from up to 12 months ahead - the annual Swiss timetable refreshes on the second Sunday in December.
So when looking up a journey between the second Monday in December and the second Sunday in June, you can book reservations before tickets are released for sale (see below)

Or if you have a valid rail pass, including Eurail, InterRail and Swiss Travel Passes, you will only need a reservation

2: Destinations and class of travel

Selecting destinations and class of travel for the Bernina Express Selecting destinations and class of travel for the Bernina Express

Whether you will be booking tickets + reservations together, or solely reservations, at this next step you select both the start and finish locations of your journey, by using the drop down arrows.
You also select whether you require single / one way tickets, or return / two-way tickets; and whether you want to travel in 1st or 2nd class.

3: Choosing a departure

Choosing a specific Bernina Express departure Choosing a specific Bernina Express departure

The five things to note at this next step are:

  1. The text here will say 1 x reservation.
  2. But when booking less than 6 months ahead, this price at top right is the cost of the ticket (a 1st class ticket has been used for the example)
  3. On most days of travel you can select a specific departure from more than one option.
  4. The green circles indicate the popularity of each departure; no circles = sold out. 1 = limited availability, 4 = excellent choice of seats etc
    Note that this journey was being looked up 5 months ahead and only two green circles were present for each departure, meaning that around 50% of the seats had already been reserved
  5. When you click Next you will have to wait at least a couple of seconds for the seat selection page to load.

4: Seat selection

Using the Bernina Express seating plan Using the Bernina Express seating plan

The four things to note at this step are:

  1. More than one coach will be included in the train for both 1st and 2nd classes of travel, so if you can't see a window seat etc on this initial option, you can take a look at the other coaches
  2. Note that the optimum seat(s) won't be automatically offered, it can be random - in this instance window seats are available, but they haven't been pre-selected.
  3. The paler green seat(s) are the alternative seats which can be selected instead
  4. Note that the website makes clear that you won't know if seats are on the left or right, or whether the seat is forwards or backwards facing.

5: Booking stage one

How to book tickets for the Bernina Express How to book tickets for the Bernina Express

The three things to note at this step are:

  1. This is the cost of the seat reservation(s)
  2. The price at top right is now the total cost of the reservation + the ticket(s)
  3. This is the stage at which reductions can be applied - including making a booking when travelling with a valid rail pass.

Booking rail pass reservations; and applying other reductions

How to book the Bernina Express when travelling with a rail pass How to book the Bernina Express when travelling with a rail pass

As can be seen, the reductions menu has access to numerous alternatives to paying the full price for tickets.
These include:

  1. Travelling with a Half Fare Travel Card
  2. Child tickets (no charge for those age 5 and under if they sit in a lap)
  3. Travelling with Saver Day Passes aka the 1 Day Travel Pass
  4. Travelling with Swiss Travel Passes
  5. Travelling with Eurail or InterRail passes valid for use in Switzerland
  6. If you have already bought a ticket for the journey by the ordinary trains and now want to travel on the Bernina Express instead, so only need a reservation.

Note that once the reduction has been selected, the price at the top right will be reduced.
When using a rail pass the ticket cost is covered, hence the price will solely be the cost of the reservation.

Booking more than 6 months ahead

When a journey is being booked more than 6 months ahead the warning notice will appear, informing the traveller that the booking will only include the reservation.
The same steps as above need to be taken, but within 6 months of the travel date a separate ticket booking needs to be made - so when booking the journey, care needs to be taken that the ticket being selected is for the exact same train on which the reservation has been made.

Ordinary journey tickets by RhB trains can theoretically be booked online on the RhB website - click on Timetable or Fahrplan - but it seems glitchy.

So it's simpler to book on the SBB national rail website, despite the fact that SBB doesn't operate the trains.
For first time users the SBB website can be a comparatively unconventional experience, so take the time to check the step-by-step guide.

Or you can simply buy tickets at the station prior to boarding the train.

Highlights of the journey between Chur and Tirano

The videos were captured when travelling in the opposite direction from Tirano to Chur on an ordinary train.

The highlights of the northern part of the Albula Railway between Chur and Filisur include, the River Rhine between Chur and Reichenau-Tamins, the the Lake Alora north of Tiefencastel and the views looking down on that village and the village named Surava.

Though the ultimate wow moment on this part of the trip is the valley to the north of the Landwasser Viaduct.
The train will rush into a tunnel on the other side of the viaduct when heading south, or burst out of it when heading north.

The spectacular Landwasser Viaduct is a moth to a flame for photographers and as can be seen, ShowMeTheJourney is no exception!
The 15 Most Scenic Swiss Railways: Chur to St Moritz

The two highlights of the part of the journey between Filisur and Samedan are a result of the railway using spiraling loops cut into the mountain side to gain height, as the trains ascend or descend there are spectacular views looking back down the valley.
These spirals are located just to the south of Filisur station...

....and between Bergun station and Preda station, to the north of the Albula Tunnel.

The 15 Best Swiss Train Journeys: Chur to St Moritz

The route also taken by St Moritz <> Tirano trains

As you head south from Pontresina, the best of the journey will be ahead of you.
The train ride as far as Bernina Suot station is delightful, but it doesn’t have the wow factor of the second phase of this part of the journey between there and on to Alp-Grum station.
Between those two stations the trains travel through the stunning Bernina Pass, which due to its elevation and lack of vegetation, has an other-worldly quality in the height of summer....

.... but a snow covered landscape is pretty-much guaranteed between November and April.
The number 1 on a list of 15 Most Beautiful Swiss Train Journeys

As the train traverses the Bernina Pass, it passes by some small lakes, these can be seen on the right when heading south, so are on the left when travelling north from Tirano; the snowy scenes were captured by SMTJ on the second weekend in May.
The 15 Most Beautiful Swiss Train Journeys: The Bernina Railway

The 15 Most Amazing Swiss Train Rides: St Moritz to Tirano

The third phase of the journey comes when the train exits the pass just to the north of Alp-Grum station the on-board commentary available on all of the trains which follow this route, will point out the view of the glacier on the other side of Lago Palu.

The fourth phase of a southbound journey commences at Cavaglia station, between there and Poschiavo station the railway loops like a snake on the mountain side; and on this part of the route, at the top of this summit, there are second-to-none views from a train to revel in.

Ascending from Poschiavo to Cavaglia on the Tirano to St Moritz train journey

Because the railway loops across the mountain side, so that the trains can descend and ascend between Cavaglia and Poschiavo, there are incredible views back down the valley, from both sides of the train.

The highlight of the fifth phase of the journey between Poschiavo and Miralago station, are the beautiful views of the lake, the Lago di Poschiavo, along with the river to the south Poschiavo station, they are both on the left when heading south towards Tirano; so are on the right when heading north.

Travelling by Lago Poschiavo on the Bernina Railway

Between Miralago and Tirano the railway follows a valley and here the best of the views switch to the right when travelling south.

At the foot of this valley, just to the north of Tirano is the uniquely fabulous Brusio Spiral Viaduct.

Travelling over the Brusio Spiral Viaduct on the Bernina Railway

Good to know:

This video was taken from a train travelling from Tirano to St Moritz and it showcases the weather extremes, which can be experienced on this trip.

The section of the route through the Bernina Pass had experienced a heavy snow fall on the previous day, but just a five minute train ride away to the south of the pass, there was no snow to be seen at all; so quite the wow moment, but sadly not guaranteed on every journey!

to and from Chur

The year round Bernina Express on the Chur to Tirano route typically departs from Chur station shortly before 08:30.
A connecting train typically departs from Zurich shortly before 06:40.
The effort to make this early morning departure is rewarded by being able to make a return journey back to Chur on the Bernina Express - and the connecting train on from Chur will arrive in Zurich before 20:00.

Though in the summer season, which is usually from the second Saturday in May to the final Sunday in October, a second Bernina Express train to Tirano departs from Chur shortly after 13:30.
Connecting trains depart from Bern at around 09:35 and from Zurich after 11:30.
Though this later train arrives in Tirano too late to make a return journey back to Chur, though it's possible to return from Poschiavo on the regular trains
So a return day trip to Poschiavo is possible from Zurich if you depart at around 11:30 - and then return by connecting in Pontresina, Samedan and Chur.

It's also to possible to take a journey from Zurich to Milan and to travel on the Bernina Express.

Year round the schedule is:

  1. Depart from Zurich at 06:40
  2. Take the Bernina Express to Tirano
  3. After a connection in Tirano of around 15 mins, arrive into Milano Centrale at 15:40.

During the summer season the additional option is:

  1. Depart from Zurich shortly after 11:30
  2. Take the Bernina Express to Tirano
  3. After a connection in Tirano of under 10 mins, arrive into Milano Centrale at 20:40.

to and from Tirano

The year round Bernina Express on the Tirano to Chur route typically departs from Tirano station shortly before 14:25.
A train from Milano Centrale, typically departs at around 10:20 and arrives in Tirano around two hours prior to the departure of the Bernina Express.
Year round its possible to make the journey from Milano to Zurich on this combination of trains:

  1. Depart Milano Centrale at 10:20
  2. Ride the Bernina Express which departs Tirano shortly before 14:25.
  3. Connect in Chur into a train on to Zurich which arrives there before 20:00.

Day trips from Milano

It isn't possible to make a day trip from Milano which includes a return trip to Chur from Tirano by the Bernina Express.
Though in the summer season, which is usually from the second Saturday in May to the final Sunday in October it's typically possible to:

  • Depart Milano at 06:20
  • Just eight minutes after arrival into Tirano, so this connection is not guaranteed, it's possible to arrive in Chur at around 13:00 by taking regular trains and connecting in Pontresina and Samedan
  • Board the Bernina Express which will depart Chur shortly after 13:30
  • Arrive back in Tirano at around 18:00 for a nine minute connection into a train which will be scheduled to arrive in Milano Centrale at around 20:40.

Though in the summer season it's possible to make a return day trip from Milano and ride the Bernina Express in both directions between Tirano and St Moritz.
The connecting trains typically depart from Milano Centrale at 10:20 and arrive back there at 21:40


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