Arguably one of the world’s most scenic railways, the Bernina express is and should be on the top of every Interrailer’s bucket list. Run by the Rhätische Bahn this narrow-gauge service goes through eastern Switzerland, from Chur and St. Moritz down to Tirano in Italy and vice versa. You can travel on this route all year round and you will get a different experience every time as the scenery along the way is altered each time depending on the season and lighting conditions.
Bernina Express in winter
In my case, I chose to travel during winter in order to get the authentic Swiss experience. However, my decision resulted in a major drawback which is no other than reduced sunlight. During winter, days are obviously shorter, and the sun sets quite early. Switzerland was no exception, thus, allowing me to enjoy only 3/4 of the route’s landscape without experiencing the rest as the last one hour or so of the 4-hour journey was completely covered in darkness. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this trip a lot and I’m definitely travelling on the same route again in the future. In this post, I’ll try to explain how to use the Bernina Express, how to book tickets and give you a taste of what it’s like riding it.
Traditionally, most travellers prefer taking the train from Chur or St. Moritz and then terminate at Tirano. Personally, I had to travel the other way round since I was coming from Milano after having covered the Nightjet service from Vienna to Milano about which you can read in one of my recent posts.
Tirano is a lovely little Italian town on the border with Switzerland. When there, make sure to check out the area around the train station(s) as it has a lot of local shops, cafes and restaurants of great quality. Nearby the station you can find a series of bridges over a river and you can even see the snowy Alps glowing on the horizon.
Tirano has two train stations. The yellowish one (photo below) is the Trenord station, used by regional trains linking Tirano with Milano Centrale. The other one which is the Rhätische station from which the Bernina Express services start their journey. Rhätische Bahn also runs a bus connecting Tirano and Lugano and connects with the Bernina Express.
The Route of the Bernina Express
Soon after leaving Tirano, the Bernina Express starts running through the streets while cars are held at traffic lights allowing it to pass. The train, then, climbs up the valley just out of Tirano and continues all the way up the mountainside thousands of feet above sea level. Ospizio Bernina is the summit and highest point of the route at 2,253 meters above sea level. After that point, the train starts its descent to Chur. In Chur, it’s usually a simple cross-platform interchange between Bernina Express and the train to/from Zurich which runs every 30 minutes.
This service has first and second class seats as well as panoramic carriages. The scenery is exactly the same, the only difference being the seating layout. While first class seats are arranged in a 2+1 fashion, second class ones are arranged 2+2 across the car width.
There is no reason to upgrade to first class unless you need more legroom and tranquillity on board. Another thing to note is that the panoramic windows don’t open. On first and second class you can open your window so that you can capture those window glare-free photos you’ve been always dreaming.
If you are going south, then you might as well sit on the right-hand side of the train for the best views. In case you are going north, you should sit on the left-hand side.
Chur railway station was built in 1858 and is one of Switzerland’s most important railway junctions. SBB intercity, Regio Express and Regional services stop at the station alongside “>Rhaetian Railway Regio Express and Regional services. There are SBB trains to Landquart and then stations to Zurich and beyond. The Glacier Express also calls and reverses here.
How to buy tickets for the Bernina Express
Chur to Tirano normally costs CHF 63 (57 EUR) in second class and CHF 111 (100 EUR) in first class.
A special reservation fee of CHF 10 (9 EUR) during winter for the panoramic compartments applies. During summer it goes up to CHF 14 (13 EUR).
If you have an Interrail or Eurail Pass you don’t need to pay for a reservation. Your Pass is valid on this route. Only if you want to travel on one of the panoramic compartments do you have to pay extra.
In case you need to buy a reservation for the panoramic seats head to Rhätische Bahn and click buy tickets. Then find the Reduction section and select Eurail or Interrail Pass. Click buy and that’s it!
Timetable of the Bernina Express
Review of the Bernina Express
I had a great time riding one of the world’s most scenic railways. I was only disappointed for being unable to enjoy the full route due to the absence of daylight. So, bear in mind the northbound service will run the last 1-2 hours in darkness.
If you have any questions about this or any other train service don’t hesitate to post them on our friendly forum where one of us will be glad to help! Thanks for reading this trip report and hope you enjoyed reading about it as much as I did.