My Top 10 Glacier Express Tips

Switzerland’s Glacier Express is one of the greatest train journeys in the world.

Over eight hours, the so-called slowest fast train in the world chugs its way across 180 miles of spectacular Alpine scenery. For me, it was a travel dream fulfilled and 100% worthwhile.

To help you have the best experience, I am excited to share my top Glacier Express tips. I’ve also included practical information on how to book tickets for the Glacier Express, essential money-saving tips and a few recommendations for where to stay in Zermatt and St. Moritz.

red and white glacier express train

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vintage poster of st moritz

My Experience of the Glacier Express

I travelled from St. Moritz to Zermatt on the Glacier Express in first class. This journey is one of my most cherished travel experiences and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

It is train travel at its best. The landscape changes with the season, the green pastures of summer giving way to winter’s snowy valleys. Therefore, there is a strong argument for taking this train ride in different seasons.

The cost is staggeringly high but using a rail pass will make this more affordable. If you are on a budget you can travel the same route on one of the cheaper local trains.

Taking luggage on the Glacier Express was easy. There were luggage racks near the carriage doors and room for a smaller bag near my seat.

Glacier Express Route

The Glacier Express starts in St. Moritz and finishes in Zermatt (or the other way around, depending on the direction travelled). During its 300km journey, the Glacier Express travels through three different cantons of Switzerland –  Valais, Uri and Graubünden – and seven stations between Zermatt and St. Moritz:

  • Zermatt
  • Brig
  • Andermatt
  • Disentis
  • Chur
  • Tiefencastel
  • Filisur (for Davos)
  • Samedan
  • St. Moritz

Chur is the starting point for the fabulous Bernina Express which runs to Tirano (I have also taken this train journey which I recommend).

After leaving St. Moritz, the dramatic Rhine Gorge – the “Swiss Grand Canyon” –  gives way to the Oberalppass and the highest part of the journey at 2033 metres. Clattering through the Valais region, on the approach to Zermatt, you are greeted with mile after mile of larch woods and vineyards tumbling into the valleys below.

During its eight-hour journey, it passes through 91 tunnels and trundles across 291 bridges, including the famous Landwasser Viaduct.

glacier-express-route-map
Glacier Express route. Map Data @ 2021 Google

My Top Glacier Express Tips

In no particular order, here are my top tips for riding the Glacier Express.

1. Book well in advance

The Glacier Express is extremely popular. Therefore, you need to book well in advance, especially if you are after a prized window seat.

You can make seat reservations for the Glacier Express 93 days in advance.

When I checked availability six weeks before I was due to leave for Switzerland, I was astonished to discover only a few window seats available over a booking window of three days. I booked there and then.

There’s all you need to know about booking tickets for the Glacier Express later in the article (here).

2. Don’t stress over which side of the train to sit

As you will have no control over which way the train will be facing, you will not know on which side you will be sitting until you board the train.

Broadly speaking, if you are on the left-hand side of the Glacier Express from St Moritz to Zermatt you will get a better view of the Landwasser Viaduct. When the train reaches Chur, it travels back along the track. Now, the old right-hand side is the new left-hand side, from which you will get better views during the latter half of the journey.

Does this make sense?

But on whichever side of the Glacier Express you are sitting, the panoramic cars of the train are enclosed in glass, giving you 180-degree views.

3. Board the train early

You can board the Glacier Express at any time before departure. Stewards will guide you to your seat and check your lunch reservation.

I recommend you board the train at least 20 minutes before departure time. This gives you time to settle into your seat and stow your luggage.

If you are boarding the train at St. Moritz, the Glacier Express may be coupled to a regular train between St Moritz and Chur. In this case, the Glacier Express coaches will be displayed on the train indicators.

4. Don’t plan on taking great photos

Sweeping landscape shots? Forget it.

My advice is to put your camera away and immerse yourself in the landscape unfolding outside your window. This is coming from a complete shutterbug and is why you don’t see many images included in this post.

A combination of hazy reflections of fellow passengers in the windows and the train’s movement is likely to kill any chances of capturing a decent image.

Glacier Express travelling through verdant swiss valley
A rare image taken from the Glacier Express

5. Consider using a rail pass

exterior cover of an interrail pass

The Glacier Express is not cheap.

The cost of a ticket for the full journey is 159 CHF for second class and 272 CHF for first class (May 2024 prices). In addition, there is a compulsory reservation fee of 49 CHF for the full journey.

This is where a rail pass is a gift that keeps on giving. A trip on the Glacier Express is included in the Swiss Travel Pass and Interrail and Eurail passes, subject to payment of the reservation fee.

More about this later (here).

6. Don’t expect the Glacier Express to be a luxury train

Make no mistake. This is not like the Orient Express so manage your expectations.

Although very comfortable, it is not plush and has service levels to match.

7. Dine onboard the Glacier Express

This is one of the great rail travel experiences and is not the time for frugality. The Glacier Express is an eight-hour journey and you will need sustenance.

Of course, you can assemble a packed lunch and eat that on board. However, feasting on a dish of Beef Stroganoff, washed down with a glass of Blauburgunder, with the changing alpine scenery as your backdrop is an unforgettable experience.

Dining onboard The Glacier Express
A table with a view: Me dining onboard the Glacier Express

Make a reservation at least one day before the day you travel if you want to order the special of the day or the two, three or four-course menu. Do this at the same time as booking your ticket or via email to info@panoramic-gourmet.ch

You can also order à la carte on the Glacier Express.

8. But also bring your water and snacks

Dining on board the Glacier Express is wonderful but won’t sustain you through an 8-hour journey. As buying drinks and snacks on the train will cost a pretty penny, pack a bottle of water and light snacks to sustain you.

9. Tune in to the commentary

To make the most of your journey, take advantage of the commentary on board.

When a chime sounds, this is your cue to listen to the pre-recorded commentary through headphones plugged into the side of your seat. This guide provided interesting facts about that section of your route.

Although earbuds are provided, you may want to use your own.

10. Consider alternative ways to travel the Glacier Express route

As I am waxing lyrical about the Glacier Express, offering alternatives may seem weird.

However, you can travel the same route using regular trains, albeit involving more changes. There is no significant difference in the travel time.

The advantage of doing it this way is that you will not need to book your tickets in advance and you can break up this long journey, stopping at places of interest. This gives you greater flexibility.

Alternatively, if you are short on time, why not pick just one section of the Glacier Express route? Many people plump for the super-scenic St. Moritz to Chur section, which includes the Landwasser Viaduct.

a small pasture in switzerland with the backdrop of snow capped mountains

Travel Classes on the Glacier Express

There are three classes of travel on the Glacier Express:

  • Second Class
  • First Class
  • Excellence Class

1st class vs 2nd class on the Glacier Express

The only difference between these two classes is space. Both 1st and 2nd class have panoramic cars.

In first class on the Glacier Express, seats are in a 2-2 configuration facing each other on one side of the carriage, and a 1-1 configuration on the other side (i.e. three seats across). As a solo traveller, you can reserve a solo seat.

Seats in 2nd class are in a 2-2 configuration on both sides (i.e. four seats per row). 

Is Glacier Express Excellence Class worth it?

If you wish to splurge, there is the Glacier Express Excellence Class. For a significant premium, you get a guaranteed window seat plus the following:

  • Exclusive access to the Glacier Bar
  • Tablet with Bordinfotainment
  • Concierge as host in the Excellence Class
  • Welcome-Desk & personal check-in on the platform
  • Luggage transport in dedicated lockable sections aboard

Upgraded catering:

  • Coffee, juice, soft drinks
  • Starter plate with Champagne
  • Seasonal, regional 5-course menu including wine
  • Tea Time in the afternoon with goodies
  • Snacks throughout the day

To my mind, you would need to eat and drink a lot to justify this extra charge.

group of 4 people sitting around table on the glacier express switzerland

Ticket Prices

Switzerland is rarely the home of the travel bargain and riding the Glacier Express is no exception. At full price, this is an eye-wateringly expensive train journey.

To travel on the Glacier Express you need two things:

  • a base ticket
  • a seat reservation

The base ticket cost is determined by the distance you travel and in which class (1st or 2nd). Base tickets are free with Eurail, Interrail and Swiss Pass, and 50% off with the Swiss Half-Fare Card. 

The reservation fee depends on the travel class (1st/2nd or Excellence) and the length of the journey (long and short).

To travel in Excellence Class, you pay a flat reservation fee plus the price of a 1st class base ticket.

Travel classBase ticket (CHF)Reservation fee (CHF)Total cost (CHF)
2nd Class15949208
1st Class27249321
Excellence Class272470742
Price of Glacier Express ticket from St. Moritz to Zermatt in 2024

You can check ticket prices for the Glacier Express here.

red and white glacier express train going over a small bridge

How to Save Money on Glacier Express Tickets

This is a lot of money to pay for a train ticket, however scenic the journey. But the good news is that there are a few ways to save money on the Glacier Express.

1. Use an Interrail / Eurail Pass

This is my top Glacier Express money-saving tip and how I did it.

Using an Interrail Pass, I needed to only pay the seat reservation fee for my 1st class ticket. With just one ride on the Glacier Express, an Interrail ticket almost pays for itself.

It really is the gift that keeps on giving.

You can check the current prices of Interrail passes here. They come in different flavours so pick the one that will be most useful to you.

If you live outside Europe, it’s the same story with the Eurail Pass.

2. Use a Swiss Travel Pass

Alternatively, the Swiss Travel Pass gives you the same deal on the Glacier Express.

As it provides unlimited transportation on trains, buses and boats plus discounts on museums and mountain excursions, it may be a good option if you plan to travel in Switzerland only. Just do your sums to make sure that it will be good value for you.

Check the current price of a Swiss Travel Pass here.

3. Use the Swiss Half Fare Card

This pretty much does what it says on the tin.

For 120 CHF (May 2024 price), it gives you a 50% discount on most journeys by train, bus and boat, as well as most mountain railways for one month. You also benefit from half-price public transport in urban areas.

You can find more information here.

Considering the minimum cost of a Glacier Express ticket, you’d just need a few more journeys to break even with a Swiss Half Fare Card. As ever, do the maths.

glacial river enclosed by small mountains in switzerland

Making a Glacier Express Reservation

Tickets are available from the official Glacier Express website. There is no Glacier Express service between mid-October and mid-December. In the winter, there is one daily Glacier Express between Zermatt and St Moritz. Additional services run from May to October.

Seat reservations for 1st and 2nd Class open 93 days ahead of the date of travel. Buy this as soon as you can after sales open. The Glacier Express train is extremely popular and prized window seats sell out rapidly.

Excellence Class seat reservations can be made for any train in the current booking period.

When you enter the Glacier Express shop, first select your travel class: Classic Glacier Express (1st and 2nd Class) or Excellence Class. You will then need to enter your departure and arrival points, date of travel and class of travel (for (Classic Glacier Express).

The next screen will show you seat availability and allow you to select your seat.

screenshot of glacier express seat reservation

Next, enter your personal information and pay for your seat reservation. here. you will be able to indicate that you have a railcard.

screen-shot-of-glacier-express-ticket-booking-with-railcard

What to Do if Glacier Express Tickets Are Sold Out

All is not lost if no seats are available for your dates of travel.

OPTION 1: BOOK YOUR TICKET VIA A TOUR OPERATOR

It’s worth checking the availability of day tour packages from one of Switzerland’s major cities (e.g. Bern, Zurich or Lucerne).

This will be more expensive but the tour company will do all the heavy lifting, and you can start your Glacier Express trip from another city. This is also the only way that you will be able to secure Glacier Express tickets more than 3 months in advance. 

To find the package that best meets your needs head to GetYourGuide or Viator, my preferred platforms.

A word of caution though. Some Glacier Express tickets booked as parts of organised day tours do not include the entire route. Check the description carefully.

OPTION 2: THE DIY APPROACH

Perhaps a better option – and certainly a cheaper choice – is to cover the same route using regional trains. Although you will need to change trains, it’s a more flexible option.

These local trains may not have the panoramic cars of the Glacier Express, but standard Swiss trains are far from shabby.

Where to Stay in Zermatt and St. Moritz

If you are taking a journey on the Glacier Express independently, chances are you will need to stay overnight in either Zermatt or St. Moritz, or both.

My recommended St. Mortiz hotel

The resort town of St. Moritz is enchanting but does not come cheap.

lakeside of st moritz switzerland
St. Moritz, Switzerland

I stayed at the Soldanella, which offered an excellent balance between comfort and affordability. This traditional hotel is in a great location, overlooking the lake.

>>> CHECK RATES & BOOK A ROOM HERE

My recommended Zermatt hotel

Zermatt, home of the mighty Matterhorn, is one of my favourite places in Switzerland.

matterhorn-reflected-in-riffelsee
Matterhorn

This small alpine town punches above its small weight in terms of accommodation options, many of which have great character. I stayed at the Hotel Ambiance Superior, a friendly hotel, which is a 10-minute walk from the train station and five minutes from the town centre.

>>> CHECK RATES & BOOK A ROOM HERE

bridget coleman the flashpacker 2

About Bridget

Bridget Coleman has been a passionate traveller for more than 30 years. She has visited 70+ countries, most as a solo traveller.

Articles on this site reflect her first-hand experiences.

To get in touch, email her at hello@theflashpacker.net or follow her on social media.

4 thoughts on “My Top 10 Glacier Express Tips

  1. Sarah Indelicato says:

    Thank you very much for this advice and information. I am having fun researching a trip in Dec. 2022.

    • Bridget says:

      I hope that you make it. It’s wonderful (I’m tempted to do it again in winter)

  2. Jorge Pinto says:

    Love your blog and the way you describe everything. This is a great tool for planning. Thank you so much!!

    • Bridget says:

      Hi Jorge. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I”m delighted that I can be of help! Take care. Bridget

Comments are closed.