Bernina ExpressSwitzerland Trains

Bernina Express Complete Guide: Is It Worth It?

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When we started planning our trip to Switzerland, one of the main reasons we wanted to go was to ride the Bernina Express. During this magical trip, the train passes through 55 tunnels and goes over 196 bridges. We had heard of the beauty that can be seen from the train and wanted to experience it for ourselves. Did the experience live up to the hype, and was the Bernina Express worth it?

Is the Bernina Express worth it?

Before you read any further, you need to know the Bernina Express is worth the cost of riding it. It is simply put one of the best train rides in the world. It will be worth the cost in both money and time to ride the Bernina Express. It ranks as one of our top 5 train rides of all time. You will not be disappointed by riding on the Bernina Express in Switzerland

What is it like to ride the Bernina Express

First Class on the Bernina Express

Riding in first class on the Bernina Express is worth it if you are able to get the side with 2 seats by themselves that are facing each other with a table. If you are in the section of 4 seats, there is almost no difference between first and second class.

Unfortunately, the tables on the Bernina Express are really small, and even in first class, they don’t allow the outside passengers a place to use the table.

Bernina Express first class
First Class

You aren’t really meant to eat meals on the Bernina Express, but the lack of a table seemed problematic for several passengers on our train. Those sitting on the outside were less happy about their seat than those on the inside, especially if they didn’t know the people next to them.

Bernina Express second class
2nd Class

The second class seats have the same table, but slightly narrower seats. The windows are the same, so the only real difference is the width of the seats.

If however you get a seat in first class on the side with only 2 seats, that is the best way to go.

Allie in the single seats in first class

These seats give you the most room to stretch out, a guaranteed window seat, and a private table.

Are there luggage racks

In our first class car on the Bernina Express there were no luggage racks. For some reason the luggage racks were replaced by a library. In our car the passengers that had luggage kept it at their seat. In the 2nd class car however, there were luggage racks, but no books.

First class luggage racks housed a library

We didn’t see anyone take a book, but we saw a few people wish there were luggage racks! Here is a shot of the luggage racks in 2nd class.

Bernina Express luggage racks
2nd class luggage racks

How to buy tickets on the Bernina Express

To ride the Bernina Express you’ll need both a seat reservation and a ticket. If you have the Swiss Travel Pass, that counts as your ticket, so you’ll only need to buy the seat reservation. If you won’t have the Swiss Travel pass you’ll need to buy both. Tickets for the Bernina Express can be booked online at the Rhaetian Railway website.

Step 1: Once you click on book tickets you’ll be greeted with this form.

booking tickets on the Bernina Express

Type in your beginning and ending stations as well as the date of travel, trip type and class. Hit Next.

Step 2: Pick which train you want from the times listed. Some dates only have 1 train. At the bottom of the screen you’ll see a seat map. Light green seats are available, dark green seats are your selected seats and gray seats are unavailable. The seats at the top of the chart in a single line are first class seats on the side with only one seat. If you can get them, these are the best seats. For example in this picture, seats 21 and 22 would be private seats facing each other with a table. After choosing your seats click the Next button.

booking tickets on the Bernina Express

Step 3: If you don’t have a Swiss Travel Pass you can add them to your cart. If you will have a Swiss Travel Pass you need to select the pass you have so you are only buying seat reservations and not a ticket.

booking tickets on the Bernina Express

To apply your Swiss Travel Pass discount, select the Swiss Travel Pass under the Reduction box.

booking tickets on the Bernina Express

After selecting your pass you’ll note the price has gone down by whatever the cost of the ticket is for your dates.

Tip!: You don’t have to buy your ticket and seat reservation on the same day. It is important to get the seat reservation well in advance. You can wait and buy your Swiss Travel Pass or ticket right before your trip, but the seat reservations will sell out.

You can only book tickets 2 months in advance, but you can get seat reservations far ahead of that. Our advice is to book your seat reservation as soon as you think you are going on the trip.

booking tickets on the Bernina Express

How much does the Bernina Express Cost

Tickets for the full route of the Bernina Express cost CHF 63 in second class and CHF 111 in first class. This covers the route from Chur to Tirano or in reverse direction. A round trip fare is double this price.

Seat reservations are also needed to ride the Bernina Express. From June to October the seat reservation is CHF 26, from November until early December it is CHF 20, and the rest of the year it is CHF 24.

You need a seat reservation both ways if you are making a round trip.

Does the Swiss Travel Pass cover the Bernina Express

The Bernina Express is covered by the Swiss Travel Pass. You can ride the Bernina Express in whichever class you’ve booked your Swiss Travel Pass. On top of your Swiss Travel Pass you’ll need a seat reservation.

Does the Bernina Express run all year

The Bernina Express runs all year, including winter. It is available 365 days a year. It is a beautiful ride all year long, but our favorite seasons are late winter, in February and early summer, in June.

Which side is best to sit on the Bernina Express

Riding south on the Bernina Express from Chur to Tirano, you’ll want to be on the right side of the train. Most of the best views can be seen from the right side of the train. There is no way to guarantee which side of the train you’ll be on when booking however. If you are on a side that won’t permit you to see what you’d like, take advantage of the large picture windows by the bathrooms.

Bernina Express windows
Hallway windows by the bathroom in first class

You should also consider riding the regional trains back from the Bernina Express to Chur. You’ll probably have much smaller crowds on the regional train and will be able to sit on whichever side you’d like.

What is the Bernina Express Route

The Bernina Express is one of the best train routes in the world. Beautiful all year round, there is always something amazing to see around each bend on this ride. The full route stretches from Chur, Switzerland to Tirano, Italy. If you are unable to enter Italy, you can get off at one of the last stops in Switzerland and return from there. On our recent trip, we got off at Campocologno, Switzerland, which is the last place to get off before entering Italy.

Bernina Express highlights

Chur

Chur is the starting point of the Bernina Express, and a good place to base out of when riding both ways. We stayed in the Hotel Franziskaner, and had a great time there.

Albula

The Albula region is known for the famous Albula Tunnel and the beautiful circular routes around the area. The towns that can be seen from the train though are just as stunning.

Albula
Near Albula

Landwasser Viaduct

The prize of the route has to be the Landwasser Viaduct. It is a stunning piece of engineering, and one of the most picturesque sights from a train. Have your camera ready when you approach it the tunnel. It is best viewed heading south from the right side of the train. You’ll also go over it going north, but you’ll have to look back at it.

Bernina Express on Landwasser Viaduct
Landwasser Viaduct from above

Here is what the viaduct will look like from in the train.

Landwasser Viaduct
Landwasser Viaduct from the train

Ospizio Bernina

Ospizio Bernina marks the highest point of the Bernina Express route. At 2,253 meters you should have snow there much of the year. When we passed through this region there were lots of people enjoying themselves by kite skiing.

Bernina Express
Kite Skiers

In the winter this landscape can look like the surface of the moon as far as the eye can see, it is quite a spectacle.

Bernina Express
Bernina Express in winter

In the summer however, the snow gives way to a lush lake filled mountain range.

Bernina Express
Bernina Express in summer

Alp Grum

Alp Grum is a fun stop where the train will take an extended break and let passengers get off to pose with the Bernina Express sign. If you are visiting in winter, bring your hat and gloves, it will be very cold outside!

Bernina Express at Alp Grum
Allie at the Alp Grum sign

Brusio Viaduct

At the Brusio Viaduct, the train will make a complete 360 degree turn through the viaduct. It is an absolutely amazing to experience. The best views of the viaduct on are the right heading south and the left heading north.

Brusio Viaduct with Bernina Express

Which part of the Bernina Express is the best

The best section of the Bernina Express is from the Landwasser Viaduct travelling south to the Brusio Viaduct. To see all of the best sights you need to be on the train from Tiefencastel to Campocologno.

Can you do the Bernina Express in one day

The Bernina Express only takes 4 hours and 17 minutes form Chur, Switzerland to Tirano, Italy so it can easily be done in one day. If you are staying in Switzerland after riding it south you’ll likely take a regional train that takes the same route back north. We rode the Bernina Express round trip from Chur in one day, taking the Bernina Express south and a combination of regional trains back north to Chur.

We recommend doing it this way as you’ll get the experience of the Bernina Express one direction, and probably have a much less crowded ride back on the regional train. Many people, including us, think the regional trains are just as good of an experience as the Bernina Express.

Surprisingly, the regional trains have incredible windows as well, so the views will not be missed when riding them. Second class on the regional train looked almost exactly like second class on the Bernina Express. The biggest difference was that we were the only people in our car on the regional train.

Swiss regional train
2nd Class on the regional train to Chur

Can you get off the Bernina Express

You can get off the Bernina Express when you want, but it is not a hop on hop off train. You’ll need a new seat reservation and ticket each time you want to board. You should ride this train as far as you can and use regional trains to hop on and off if that is what you want to do.

How long is the Bernina Express

The Bernina Express takes 4 hours and 17 minutes to complete the route from Chur, Switzerland to Tirano, Italy.

Which route is better Bernina Express or the Glacier Express

The Glacier Express is a better train than the Bernina Express. The interior is more luxurious, and there is meal service available on board. As for the scenery, they share the same route for a few hours, and overall the beauty is about the same on both routes, totally stunning.

Glacier Express
Seats on the Glacier Express

If you could only pick one train ride, you should do the Glacier Express, but really try to make time to do them both.

What stations does the Bernina Express stop at

You can get on and off the Bernina Express at the following stations:

  • Alp Grum
  • Bergun
  • Bernina Diavolezza
  • Campocologno
  • Chur
  • Filisur
  • Le Prese
  • Lugano
  • Ospizio Bernina
  • Pontresina
  • Poschiavo
  • St. Moritz
  • Thusis
  • Tiefencastel
  • Tirano

What to bring with you on the Bernina Express

You should plan to bring a few essentials with you on the Bernina Express. If you go in winter and the sun is out the glare can be incredible, so you’ll want sunglasses.

  • Sunglasses
  • Passport
  • Lunch
  • Drinks
  • Camera

Best time of year to ride the Bernina Express

The best time of year to ride the Bernina Express is February. You’ll have smaller crowds, beautiful snow filled mountains, and cheaper prices at the hotels. Another amazing time to visit is in early summer, when you’ll still have some snow and you’ll also get to see alpine lakes.

What food is on the Bernina Express

There is no meal service on the Bernina Express. The only food available on board is a food cart with snacks and drinks that will come through the train a few times. If you want to eat a meal, you’ll need to bring it with you on the train. You are allowed to bring food and drinks.

Bernina Express food cart
Bernina Express food cart

If you are boarding at the Chur station, there are food stands open before the Bernina Express leaves. This food shop was open when we arrived at the station 30 minutes before departure.

Chur Station
Chur Station

Bernina Express Alternatives

Several alternatives exist to riding the Bernina Express, and in many ways they are the better way to ride. If you want to take the Bernina Express one direction and ride regional trains the other way, here is a sample itinerary.

If you have the Swiss Travel Pass you could just hop on any of these routes going north from Campocologno. The morning Bernina Express leaves Chur at 8:32 and arrives in Campocologno at 12:41. Any route going north after that time would work to get you back to Chur.

Bernina Express regional train alternatives
Regional routes to Chur

Other things to note about the Bernina Express

The Bernina Express offers WiFi and it is free to all passengers. While the speeds aren’t incredibly fast, it’ll be good enough to look something up, or send a text or email.

Dogs are allowed on the Bernina Express, but any dog measuring over 30cm in height will need a ticket. Height is measured at the top of the shoulder blades. You can get a dog ticket on the Bernina Express Website.

Bicycle transport is not allowed on the Bernina Express.

Robert Marmion
Rob is married to Allie and together they have been traveling the world for the past 2 years. Rob is one of the most published photographers in the world, having published over 750,000 images in the last 15 years. He enjoys doing landscape and astrophotography while on the road.