Travelling on the Golden Pass: If you take one scenic train in Switzerland, make it this.
There’s only one way to get from Lucerne to Montreux, and that’s on the Golden Pass train. The route is relatively short and straightforward. And yet it transports you between two languages, along the shores of several pristine lakes, and across three of Switzerland’s most stunning regions. It's also one of the cheapest scenic rail routes in the country and is included in all rail passes.
There are several ways to get from Lucerne to Montreux by train. If speed is your priority, then the Eurail timetable lays out the most efficient routes. But take it from me that speed should not be your priority on this route – what you’re looking for is the Golden Pass scenic route. It takes a little longer, but will leave you wishing it could go on forever.
If you time it correctly, you’ll use a combination of panoramic and vintage trains. You should also plan on stopping at least once along the way to savor true Swiss countryside. The Golden Pass line from Lucerne to Montreux requires that you take three different trains. There are seamless changes at two stations along the way – Interlaken and Zweisimmen.
If you want to ride on the two tourist trains – one is panoramic and the other is more classic – book ahead. They fill up quickly, particularly during peak tourist season. If you miss the tourist trains, you can still travel along the scenic route in regular trains. Given the Swiss railway standards, they’re fairly impressive as well.
Pro tip: You can check availability and book ahead on the Golden Pass website. To make sure you’re on one of the tourist trains, download the official Golden Pass timetable to find out when they’re running.
What to expect on the journey
Part 1: Lucerne to Interlaken
Switzerland is a winter wonderland. This route takes you through the heart of some of the country’s prime skiing terrain. But travel this route in the spring or summer, and you’ll be treated to rapid rivers, shimmering lakes, and fields so green you’ll think someone accidentally upped the saturation.
You can take the route in either direction, but traveling from Lucerne to Montreux is simply perfect. My journey started a few miles away in Zurich. But before I knew it I was zipping along the shores of Lake Lucerne, chasing down dramatic snow-capped peaks in the distance. And when the peaks became a less-distant reality and started to rise up around the train, we continued along an impossibly tight valley and slowly gained altitude – which offered dramatic views of the small towns below. Quaint Swiss villages, ski resorts, and emerald green forests blurred past the windows.
Eventually the train ground to a halt in Interlaken. From there, small private trains – the type you might expect in theme parks – can whisk you up the valley to the small town of Lauterbrunnen. You can go even higher, if you wish, to the top of the Jungfrau.
It would be a shame to miss both Interlaken and Lauterbrunnen. These two towns are perfect to break the journey – though after the brief introduction to Swiss railway heaven you may want to just keep going.
Part 2: Interlaken to Montreux
At Interlaken, you can connect with the panoramic train to Zweisimmen. This glass-walled train offers the perfect vantage point from which to take in more of the idyllic Swiss countryside. You’ll see dramatic views of Lake Thun, more soaring peaks, and a handful of national parks.
When the panoramic train pulls into Zweisimmen station, you may feel as if this train journey couldn’t get any better. But if you time it correctly, you’ll find the old-time marvel that is the Golden Pass Classic train waiting for you at the station.
Stepping onto this train feels like you’re stepping into a forgotten era of rail travel; as if you’re traveling through Swiss heaven in your grandmother’s posh living room. Wood paneled walls and ceilings, gold-trimmed luggage racks, soft green high-backed chairs, and subtle lighting make this one of the most immersive rail experiences you could imagine – and that’s before you look out the window to see the landscape shift as you head towards Montreux on the vineyard-lined shores of Lake Geneva.
The train stations
The stations along this route are what you would expect for most Swiss rail routes outside of the large cities. They all offer basic amenities, vending machines, and occasionally a store at which to stock up on supplies. They’re clean, scenic and masterfully efficient. But given the size of the towns they’re located in, they’re not brimming with facilities you might expect at larger Swiss railway stations.
Lucerne is considered the gateway to Central Switzerland, but it’s also a beautiful little city in its own right. It’s perfectly located on the banks of Lake Lucerne, and offers panoramic views of the surrounding mountain ranges. It’s easy to spend a few days exploring the quaint streets and taking in the unusual mix of modern and traditional Swiss style. But it’s also the perfect starting point for a trip along the Golden Pass railway line towards Interlaken and Montreux.
Interlaken is almost the halfway point for trains running along the Golden Pass route. It’s a perfect scenic stop – if not for a day, then at least for a few hours. It’s on the alluvial plain between Lake Brienz and Lake Thun, and is a paradise for paragliders and water and adventure sports enthusiasts.
Pro tip: Your Eurail Pass entitles you to free passage on spectacularly scenic ferry trips on both Lake Thun and Brienz that give Interlaken its name. Check the Eurail website for more details.
Lauterbrunnen may be a slight detour from the Golden Pass route, but it’s an unmissable little village a few miles up the valley from Interlaken. You’ll need to purchase your train tickets separately, as the route is privately operated. But when you see the stunning valley that awaits you, you’ll realize just what a good decision it was to venture off the tracks for a bit.
Montreux, at the end of the Golden Pass route, is a fairytale town that lies on the banks of Lake Geneva. It’s a fitting setting in which to end a dramatic rail journey. Behind the town are the snow-covered Alps, in front of it is the pristine lake, and all around are serene vineyards. The town has also become a cultural hub, with music, comedy and arts festivals taking place throughout the year.
While Switzerland has many scenic train routes, few offer the diversity, convenience, and dramatic scenic beauty of the Golden Pass line from Lucerne to Montreux. Unlike some of the other famous Swiss rail routes, this one’s included in Swiss and Eurail passes at no extra cost. Time it right and you’ll experience some of the best trains in Europe; combine it with stops in the various cities along the way, and you’ll get one of the most dramatic introductions to Switzerland possible.