Yesterday, I was on board the Glacier Express from Chur to St. Moritz, Switzerland and I want to give you guys some tips and share some notes from my experience of the world's slowest fast train! First off, I want to warn those who haven't been to Switzerland, it can be expensive. You can be resourceful and use tips such as bringing your own food (if you can), buy a discount card, or grab food and drinks at a local grocery store but it will still cost you an arm and leg to just exist in this elegant country! (Ok, I'm exaggerating) I guess beauty will come with a hefty price tag here, but it's definitely worth checking out because the views are pretty much that amazing!
What is the Glacier Express?
This scenic express train takes you through the Swiss Alps with breathtaking views equipped with panorama coaches. The train winds and curves through picturesque valleys, dark tunnels, and towering bridges leaving you with a lasting impression of the pleasant countryside. It's been said that the Glacier Express is one of the most beautiful railway lines in the world connecting through top Swiss cities such as St. Moritz and Zermatt. What also makes the Glacier Express attractive, aside from the spectacular views, are the comfortable coaches, freshly prepared meals, and the Panorama Bar. Your journey across the Swiss Alps starts with the Glacier Express!
Reserving a Seat and Buying Your Ticket
There are quite a few websites you can grab tickets for this Swiss rail pass but I went to the source at www.glacierexpress.ch/en/ and purchased my tickets about two weeks in advance in the low season (from mid-December to late March). I advise to purchase your tickets far more in advance, especially if you plan to travel during high season. I purposely purchased a short route because I knew if I had picked anything longer, it would cost me my whole stay in Switzerland (which was more than I wanted to spend but I'll get to that later). This is my third time in Switzerland so I don't even know why I'm acting so surprised about how much I spent but here we are! A burning whole in my wallet! :eyeroll:
If you're using the Glacier Express website, you can click on the Tickets link in the menu to start your Glacier Express journey. You will choose your departure and your arrival destination along with a choice of 1st or 2nd class. There really isn't much of a difference between the two except the latter has more seats. In 1st class, you can have the "luxury" of sitting on one side of the wagon without having a stranger sit next to you. If having strangers sitting next to you is that much of a disturbance, then I suppose 1st class is the way to go. If not, I would just save the money and hang out in 2nd class.
Next comes the two most important parts of reserving your Glacier Express tickets: choosing your seat and viewing your bill. The side of the train that you sit on will depend on the route and the direction that the train is going in which you might not know of at the time of reserving. Luckily, I went in low season and selected a window seat that had no one else sitting in my quadrant and no one had reserved the seats on the opposite side. I didn't want to disturb anyone since I knew I would be hopping back and forth with my camera attempting to capture the best views. Of course, you're booking this journey because you want to experience the best scenic view via the railway so you're most probably interested on where to get the best views.
For the routes going Southeast (such as the one I took), you might want to pick a seat on the right side of the train because the left side of the train mostly hugs the mountains and you will want to see the cute valleys plus the Wasserviaduct if you're passing it on the journey I went on. This map shows you the seating on board. Even if you can only reserve a seat on the left side, that is fine because you'll still see some valleys and the narrow but long waterfalls bursting from the mountains. From what I have learned on the train I was on, was that the even numbered seats were facing the direction of the train route whereas the odd numbered seats were facing away. I am not sure if this is the case in all the routes but I was glad to have choose an even numbered seat. (Plus, I have this infatuation with even numbers, so I sat in seat 36). If you're going in the low season, you'll most likely be able to move freely without disturbing anyone but during high season, I imagine you'll be restricted to being in your own seat at all times. Another tip is that you'll want to sit in the very corner of the wagon because if you sat, for instance where I sat in seat 36, and you're looking towards the front of the train out the window, you'll mostly see reflections of what's around that area whereas if you are in the corner, there won't be much to reflect on.
You'll be able to view the pricing list here which also displays the surcharge that will be added on top of your ticket depending on what time of the year you plan to ride the Glacier Express and the length of the journey. Once you're done reserving your seat and paying your ticket, please be sure to print it out or at least have it saved on your mobile device prior to boarding.
On Board the Glacier Express
I arrived 15 minutes early and the stewardess helped me to my seat. There were only 3 other people in the wagon I was on so I settled in my seat immediately and started to read the pamphlets and restaurant menu on board. You can view the menu ahead of time here as they prefer to have your meals ordered in advance but you can also order while on board. I opted out of the menu (although it did look delicious) and ate some snacks I had brought for my trip. I can't say much about the menu but someone ordered some goulash just 10 minutes into the journey and it smelled heavenly! I also saw videos and photos of waterfall schnapps that looked really neat but I was abstaining from alcohol (and from spending more money) at the time so I decided to pass. There was a couple sitting near me with bottles of wine and dessert that looked too tempting to not order.
Although the journey was only 2 hours long, you're in such an awe that it will feel faster than you know it! There were headphones which you could plug in for travel information and interesting facts throughout the journey and also, non stop traditional and modern Swiss music on two of the channels if you need some background noise.
Just a little over halfway though the journey to St. Moritz from Chur, you'll be notified on your headphones about the most impressive sight on the trip, that is the Landwasser Viaduct. This 65 meter high construction has become the emblem of the Glacier Express and everyone is usually excited to see this part of the ride. Since there weren't many people aboard the train, one of the staff members excitingly alerted everyone to go to the last wagon to get the best view of the Landwasser Viaduct. I thought that was a really nice and fun thing for him to enhance our experience that way. He just couldn't wait to have everyone in the cabin together capturing the view of the train curving slowly over the bridge! it was quite the viewing and worth getting up from your seat to get the best view.
The Good and the Bad
One of the things I enjoyed on this trip was that even though I wasn't seated in 1st class, I still felt that I was because the stewardess attended to my needs and the needs of the passengers. Bottles of wine were brought out in ice buckets and white table clothes were placed for food servings. There was a certain experience on the Glacier Express that you couldn't get on a standard railway.
Something that kind of bugged me was the reflection in every photo or video I tried to take. It was hard to capture that "instagrammable" (did I say it right?) photo of the beautiful churches because overlaying the photo was either my camera or the seats or even just the sun shining through the other side of the cabin! Another first world issue I had, (I say that because it really wasn't that big of a deal) was the watermarks all over the windows. It would be neat to have some wipers but who am I kidding, huh? We can't have it all, ha!
For What It's Worth
The first time I heard about the Glacier Express was when I first moved to Europe in 2014 and since then, I've been wanting to ride the Glacier Express like a kid wants to ride the Polar Express! I had very high expectations for the price I paid for and that was probably the cheapest ticket (it was 55 CHF which was $57 USD for just one way, 2 hours to be exact). I was still impressed by the panoramic scenery until I learned how little research I really did for this trip.
My plan for this trip was to take the Glacier Express from Chur to St. Moritz, stay the night there in a hostel and then take a regional train back to Chur whenever I wanted to get back to my car. I assumed the regional ticket would make a significant difference in the price until it didn't. In Germany, a one way regional ticket is maybe about 15 Euro and that could take you pretty far within one region, but definitely not the case in Switzerland.
I went to the ticket counter at the Chur Bahnhof and the representative gives me a total of 42 CHF for the cheapest one way journey from St. Moritz back to Chur... "Hm, that's weird", I tell him. That price seems really close to the price of the Glacier Express. Then it all started to click! Light bulb! So essentially, the difference in price is only the surcharge of the Glacier Express. For a low season-short journey, it's only an extra 13 CHF on top of a regular train ticket which in this case was 42 CHF. At that point, I might as well just go on the Glacier Express again back to Chur but decided to see what the actual difference was. To be honest, I feel that even just the standard railway was really fun and had a nice experience to it.
On the train back to Chur, I sat on the opposite side to be sure I didn't miss anything on the route from Chur to St. Moritz. The train was very clean and modern, similar to the Glacier Express minus the "panoramic view" which was only the addition of the portioned window ceiling. It was also a bit smaller so I would say the Glacier Express was definitely more comfortable. During the 2 hour train ride, there were several announcements of the focal points and interesting facts along the ride. This was similar to the Glacier Express as the announcements also mentioned when we would approach the Landwasser Viaduct. There was also a sweet gentleman rolling a cart with snacks and drinks available for purchase, this included coffee, wine, and beer.
In my opinion, and this is just purely from my experience, I would say the Glacier Express was definitely worth going on, especially because for me, it was only an extra 13 CHF for the journey, so why not? I had slightly higher expectations but overall, I was quite pleased with the trip and it certainly fulfilled that "dream" of riding the Glacier Express one day!