Lugano to Lucerne - 3 possible ways

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107 posts
active member
May 6, 2018 - 11:27 PM

I have determined three possible travel experiences on Thursday 13th September to get from our Hotel in Lugano to our hotel in Lucerne. Seeking guidance from those who may have already experienced one or all of these. Two adults (in their 60s), two suitcases, dislike crowds and queues.

1. Iconic Gotthard Express. Panorama train to Fuelen and boat to Lucerne.

Pros: The full panorama experience plus tunnel light show, then boat cruise.

Cons: An hour in a tunnel, full of tourists on both train and boat, 7 hours.

Pay 29chf pp for upgrade plus 33chf pp for reservation (124chf – about $A165 on top of pass; just for train section. Boat is free on STP).

2. Regional trains to Fuelen (or even direct to Lucerne).

Pros: same scenery but more of it by avoiding the tunnel. Avoid crowds. No surcharges – just use your pass all day.

Cons: miss the GEX experience, change trains two or three times (with luggage), takes longer.

3. Take the high speed tilt train direct Lugano to Lucerne. Drop Luggage at our hotel. Spend the day on the ferries on Lake Luzern (possibly go to Sisikan see the Tell Chapel and return by train via Arth-Goldau).

Pros: fast journey (2 hours and we have never been on a tilt train). No stops or changes. Leave luggage and enjoy an afternoon on the lake. No surcharges just use pass all day. Less crowds/tourists on both train and boat.

Cons: miss the GEX panorama scenic experience.


1. how absolutely fabulous is GEX?

2. Is regional scenery worth the five or more hours and the train changes (with luggage). If so what towns do I put in the ‘via’ field to get the best route from Lugano to Lucerne?

Personally I am leaning toward option 3. But I am open to persuasion otherwise. Time and money are not critical. We will be taking regional trains Zurich to Wengen (via Bern) and Wengen to Chur and BEX Chur to Lugano (plus trains and funiculars to Jungfrau, Pilatus, Titilus, Rigi, Stanserhorn, Shilthorn, Arosa etc as time and weather permits – so we won’t be starved of train experiences).

On arrival we have 5 nights in Lucerne so have time for other experiences.

4625 posts
May 6, 2018 - 11:52 PM in reply to BarSal

Hello Sally,

I can only say what I would do - the GPEX. The boat ride was the highlight for me so you can always do regular trains to Flüelen if you want to save a few CHFs.

Where did you get the notion you spend an hour in a tunnel? In late May last year 1st Class carriage was only 30% full.

The route if Lugano to Flüelen via Göschenen for the GPEX or regular train equivalent. Lugano to Lucerne fastest route goes via the 57Km Gotthard Base tunnel.

Your choice at the end of the day. Do you want to take the fast route and forever wonder what the GPEX would have been like?

107 posts
active member
May 7, 2018 - 2:57 AM in reply to rockoyster

OK 😀 so your choice would be option 1.

I read a review that said GPEX was ‘ordinary’ and the tunnel was long and boring, so thought I’d get some second opinions. I also thought the boat would be the highlight so the idea of doing more boat and less train (and being on the boat without luggage) and being able to get on and off the boat, was appealing. It’s the same boat and we can go to Fuelen and or any place in between.

At an age where time is more important than money but my professional career (in technology) involved a lot of analysis of ROI (return on investment). Old habits die hard.

Having never been on a tilt train I thought it might be a fun ride; great to get rid of luggage and the idea of a greater amount of time to enjoy on the lake, as well as disembark and enjoy immersion in some of the smaller places rather than view them from the deck had appeal. Want to ‘tick’ the big tourist boxes but fit in some little rocks too.

If you went from Lugano to Luzern again, you would take the GPEX? Great scenery?

4625 posts
May 7, 2018 - 3:26 AM in reply to BarSal

I read a review that said GPEX was ‘ordinary’ and the tunnel was long and boring . . . .

LOL. There's always one. I once read a review saying someone was bored witless on the Glacier Express. On the GEX trip we were on there was an American family on the other side of the carriage from us. The parents never once looked out the window. The teenagers never looked up from there iPhones.

Are you sure your "reviewer" wasn't getting confused with the Gotthard Base Tunnel? I don't recall the GPEX route tunnel being long and it certainly wasn't boring with the picture show and history lesson.

If you went from Lugano to Luzern again, you would take the GPEX?

No, but that's because I've already done it not because I didn't enjoy it.

Great scenery?

All things are relative. I wouldn't call it "great" but that was coming on top of the Glacier Express and the Bernina Express so all things are relative.

You are going on holiday. Enough of the time and motion study already! 😎

Oh and by the way just because a train is tilt-capable there is no guarantee it will on a particular track. Some rail buff might pipe in here and advise if any Lugano to Lucerne trains tilt.

107 posts
active member
May 7, 2018 - 5:51 AM in reply to rockoyster

Good to know :-)

My perverted logic was ... if the scenery is really great then take the regional train, avoid the tunnel and take a bit longer to see/enjoy OR ... if the scenery is good, but similar to our other train journeys, then get to Luzern quickly and spend some extra time on the lake (and make some stops). You mentioned the number of freeways running alongside the train line in your report, which doesn't sound very green.

Quote (trip advisor): "From Chur I travelled to Lucerne to take the 'Gotthard Express'.
The first part of this journey is on a restored paddlewheel steamer to Fluelen. This voyage up the lake was excellent. However, the first class section of the boat was regularly patrolled by the 'company police' to evict the second class riff-raff..... in this endeavour however, they were only marginally successful. To add to the confusion, there was no clear delineation between 1st. and 2nd. class sections.
Unfortunately the train section was very very disappointing. A great deal of the journey is in the spiral tunnel, a great engineering feat, but from a tourist's perspective it was just a tunnel!
The whole exercise was also very expensive....even second class.
I would recommend the boat but NOT the train.
I agree that it is a complete rip off!"

There are five similar reviews.

The 'fast' train takes less than 2 hours (I think its the new Giruno) but looking at GPEX it departs at 9:32am and meets the noon ferry at Fluelen (my Swiss malapropisms are decreasing) so its only 2.5 hours anyway. Just wondered if it was worth an extra $165 on top of our STP to sit in the GPEX. As you say, probably only do it once, so make up my own mind. Watch this space!

I have booked the Continental Park in Luzern (your recommendation). Great location for both the ferries and the trains - thank you for that tip! :-)

4625 posts
May 7, 2018 - 6:18 AM in reply to BarSal

Aaaah I now see what you mean by the "fast" train and your option 2. I couldn't work out how doing the GPEX route via Göschenen on regular trains caused you to avoid "the tunnel".

You mean going via the Gotthard Base Tunnel as far as Arth-Goldhau then backtracking to Flüelen to catch the boat. Not the GPEX route at all. That will cut out a fair bit of scenery but not life threatening as long as you get t do the boat.

I don't like Tripadvisor - lots of serial whingers over there. 😇 I never saw any "company police" on the steamer and the 1st and 2nd class is clearly delineated by a sign saying 1st Class Only when you go to head up the stairs to the upper deck.

Last modified on May 7, 2018 - 6:19 AM by rockoyster
107 posts
active member
May 7, 2018 - 7:03 AM in reply to rockoyster

No. I meant taking the direct train Lugano to Luzern. Zero stops, zero changes. The EC train. Yes through the base tunnel and straight to Luzern. Not to Fluelen. Direction Basel, through Schwyz. 1 hour 59 minutes.

Short walk from Luzern train station to hotel. Check in. Leave bags. Go to ferry stop and take ferry to Fluelen or the stop before (Sisikan) and visit Tell Chapel. Can come back by ferry too, if weather is good, or there are trains from some of the ferry stops back to Luzern.

Basically get any train direct to Luzern and spend the day on Lake Luzern with no luggage. But if the route Lugano to Fluelen has merit we would go that route and then get the connecting ferry which arrives at Luzern quai at 14:47.

in your report you said you paid the upgrade to go upstairs on the ferry but “people seemed to roam around at will” - which would only be annoying if very crowded - ferries not connecting to the GPEX would, I presume, be quieter. They depart every hour from both Luzern and Fluelen and are covered by the STP.

so I guess the question is - what scenery between Lugano and Fluelen makes the GPEX worth the reservation cost.

4625 posts
May 7, 2018 - 7:11 AM in reply to BarSal

Sounds like a plan. You can spend the whole day on the lake hopping on and off ferries at will. I like it.

What scenery between Lugano and Fluelen makes the GPEX worth the reservation cost.

I forget. But Slowpoke will be back later this month and he went to some lengths to get a seat in the Photographers Carriage so I guess we will see some of his handiwork directly.

84 posts
active member
May 12, 2018 - 11:01 AM

Hi BarSal,

We are in the same age group as yourself and also enjoy the quiet life on our Swiss holidays. We think we’ve earned it.

If you haven’t ridden the train over the ‘old’ Gotthard route and especially as you have a technical background, you will enjoy the changes in scenery as well as the amazing engineering feats as the train spirals to gain or lose height and you can look down on the line you traversed a few minutes before. You pass the village of Wassen no fewer than three times. Yes, there are tunnels including, of course the main Gotthard tunnel which is just over 9 miles long. If you have a map of the line with you, you’ll have a better idea of exactly what’s going on.

There’s a through train from Lugano to Flüelen by that route at a sensible time. You seem to have looked at the timetables, so you can soon work that out.

I would definitely use the boat from Flüelen to Luzern. The transfer from train to boat at Flüelen is easy, even with luggage. Also definitely consider upgrading to first class on the boat and, as has been written, the demarcation is quite clear on the stairs leading to first class. When settling into our places we always play a little game guessing which, if any, of our fellow passengers have second class tickets and wait to see if they are ‘demoted’. Only once have we seen the ticket inspector defied by an unruly (as it happens, American) group.

We went through the new base tunnel last summer. It took 18 minutes for just under 36 miles. An average of 120mph!

Enjoy your trip whichever way you go.


107 posts
active member
May 14, 2018 - 2:41 AM in reply to andrew

Thank you Andrew! Exactly what I wanted to know.

We have 5 nights in Lucerne so, weather permitting, can still schedule another day on the lake disembarking at stops that I have read about and found interesting.

We are coming from five nights in Lugano so might have had quite a few lake trips to interesting villages. We have a few mountains on our list for Lucerne and will need to cherrypick based on the weather.

Liesurely pace with activities that have us talking about them enthusiastically over an evening beverage while we flip through the day’s photos is our goal.

You are right about it being ‘our turn’!

thanks for taking the time to give such a detailed response. 👍

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