What to expect on the Wilhelm Tell Express route

Wilhelm Tell Express

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Must knows about the Wilhelm Tell Express

  • It's a 5 hour journey by boat and train offering very diverse scenery with snow capped mountains and palm trees;
  • The famous Gotthard train line is a wonderful piece of railway engineering with many spiral loops, bridges and tunnels;
  • We highly recommend the Wilhelm Tell Express if you travel from Zurich/Lucerne to Italy or vice versa.

The paddle steamer ’Uri’ on Lake Lucerne.
© Switzerland Tourism
swiss-image.ch / Beat Mueller

The Wilhelm Tell Express

The Wilhelm Tell route is an impressive train and boat journey across the Alps. Half a day of luxury traveling and great views between Lucerne in Central Switzerland and Locarno in the south.

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What to expect on board the Wilhelm Tell Express

The route starts in Lucerne in Central Switzerland, in the northern half of the country. The climate is relatively cool and people are speaking German. You start off with a relaxed boat trip across Lake Lucerne. After that a panoramic train takes you along the famous Gotthard route to the south of Switzerland, where the climate is mild enough to grow palm trees. Culture and language are Italian here.

The Wilhelm Tell Express is not as well known as the Glacier Express and Bernina Express. Still, this 5 hour trip is one of the best scenic journeys that Switzerland has to offer. Instead of just by train, you also travel by boat, which makes it an entirely different, slow-pace experience.

The route

You can travel from Lucerne to Locarno or the other way round. Optionally you can travel to Lugano instead of Locarno if you change trains in Bellinzona. The route consists of three entirely different sections.

The boat and train

The "official" Wilhelm Tell Express trip is only available in first class. The compulsory surcharge includes seat reservations in the ship restaurant, lunch and seat reservations in the panoramic coach of the train.

What's the best season?

The Wilhelm Tell Express operates all year long. Any season is okay to make this trip, as long as the weather is fine (no rain or snowfall). If we had to choose, we'd probably favor Spring because of the fresh scenery, the snow capped peaks, and the bigger contrast between the climate in the north and the south.

Regular trains and boats versus the official Wilhelm Tell Express

The "official" Wilhelm Tell Express is an upgrade package for a regular boat and train. The connection with the optional upgrade is offered once per day in Winter and twice per day in Summer. There are many other boats and trains that cover the exact same route, and they allow you to see the landscape just as well.

You can also take the same boat and train without buying the upgrade, and travel in 2nd class without reservations. If you're looking for the very best experience, and maximum comfort, the Wilhelm Tell Express package is recommended.

Insider tips about the Wilhelm Tell Express

  • Travel in Spring to experience the climate change between Lucerne and Locarno the best;
  • Although the official Wilhelm Tell Express is very special, you can travel the same route by regular boats and trains without paying the surcharge. Swiss rail passes are valid for all the boats and trains;
  • The boat takes you right along the historical site where Switzerland was founded in 1291.

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