What to expect on the Gotthard Panorama Express route

Gotthard Panorama Express

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Must knows about the Gotthard Panorama 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 Gotthard Panorama Express if you travel from Zurich/Lucerne to the Ticino region or Italy, or vice versa;
  • The Gotthard Panorama Express was called Wilhelm Tell Express until 2016.

View from the Gotthard Panorama Express in northern Ticino, on its way from Lugano to Flüelen.

The Gotthard Panorama Express

The Gotthard Panorama Express is an impressive train and boat journey across the Alps: half a day of great views between Lucerne in Central Switzerland and Lugano in the south.

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What to expect on board the Gotthard Panorama 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 Gotthard Panorama Express is not as well known as the Glacier Express and Bernina Express. Still, this 5.5 hour trip is one of the best scenic journeys that Switzerland has to offer. It's not only a train. You'll also travel by boat, which makes it an entirely different, slow-paced experience.

The route

You can travel from Lucerne to Lugano or the other way round. Lucerne to Flüelen is the boat section, Flüelen to Lugano is the train section. The route consists of three entirely different sections.

The boat and train

Both the steam boat and train offer 1st and 2nd class seats. The ship has a restaurant to have lunch. Snacks and drinks can be purchased on board the train as well; you'll be serviced at your seat in 1st class.

All 1st class seats in the train are in air-conditioned cars with panoramic windows. The 2nd class seats are in air-conditioned cars with regular windows. There is also a car with opening windows specifically for photographers. There is a multilingual guide on board the 1st class train coach, who will explain about highlights along the route. You will also receive a travel book with route information.

What's the best season?

Any season is fine to make this trip, as long as the weather is fine (no rain or snowfall). If we had to choose, we'd probably favor April to early June because of the fresh scenery, the snow capped peaks, and the bigger contrast between the climate in the north and the south.

If the Gotthard Panorama Express doesn't operate while you're there, or if the schedule does not suit you, you can travel by regular boats and trains on the same route all year round.

Regular trains and boats versus the official Gotthard Panorama Express

The route of the Gotthard Panorama Express is serviced by regular trains and boats as well. Choosing the Gotthard Panorama Express for this journey is extra special because of the steam boat, and the train with panoramic windows, reserved seats, catering and the information provided by the staff and the intercom. We recommend doing this trip with the Gotthard Panorama Express if possible.

The regular trains require you to change trains once or twice along the way. Be sure to travel on the regional trains via Göschenen and Airolo, not the fast direct trains. The fast trains cross a long tunnel and you won't see anything of the remarkable scenery.

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Insider tips about the Gotthard Panorama Express

  • Travel from April to early June for the best experience of climate diversity between Lucerne and Lugano;
  • The official Gotthard Panorama Express is the easiest way to travel, but you can cover the same route by regular boats and trains without paying the surcharge. Swiss rail passes are valid for all boats and trains;
  • The boat takes you right along the historical site where Switzerland was founded in 1291;
  • Parts of the Gotthard Panorama Express and Glacier Express can be combined in one day.

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