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Gotthard Panorama Express


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Must knows about the Gotthard Panorama Express

  • It's a 5.5 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 between Zurich/Lucerne and the Ticino region or Italy.
  • The train only offers 1st class seats.
  • The Gotthard Panorama Express was called Wilhelm Tell Express until 2016.
Gotthard Panorama Express

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 train actually starts in Arth-Goldau before reaching Flüelen, which is helpful if you prefer a different route without the boat.

The boat and train

The steam boat offers 1st and 2nd class seats. The train only offers 1st 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.

The train has air-conditioned cars with panoramic windows. There is also a car with opening windows specifically for photographers. The multilingual guide on board explains about highlights along the route.

What's the best season?

Any season is good to make this trip, as long as weather is fine (no rain or snowfall). If we had to choose, we'd probably favor April to early June because of the fresh spring 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:

  • The Treno Gottardo is a direct train connection that runs hourly between alternately Basel-Lucerne-Locarno (4h20) and Zurich-Locarno (3h20). The Treno Gottardo operates on the historic scenic route and offers two bistro zones with snack and beverage vending machines.
  • Most other regional trains require you to change trains at least once along the way. 
  • The quickest connections are offered by trains that use the long Gotthard base tunnel (Basel-Locarno: 3h10, Zurich-Locarno: 2h10, with one or two changes along the way).

If you value the views along the way more than a quick trip, we recommend that you travel along the historic panorama route via Göschenen, either by Gotthard Panorama Express or by the Treno Gottardo. If you use the fastest trains that cross the Gotthard base tunnel, you'll miss out on much of the remarkable scenery.

Choosing the Gotthard Panorama Express for this journey is extra special because of the steam boat and because of the train with its panoramic windows, reserved comfortable seats, catering and the information provided by the staff and the intercom. Overall, we think that the Gotthard Panorama Express provides the most complete, diverse and comfortable way to enjoy this route.

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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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