Turn travel into an experience by taking the Gotthard Panorama Express from Lugano to Lucerne in Switzerland. Starting in Lugano, the journey takes you from the sunny Mediterranean south right through the heart of Switzerland – and the Gotthard tunnel completed in 1882 – over the Alps towards the north and the placid banks of Lake Lucerne.
During our Grand Train Tour of Switzerland we took many panoramic trains and the Gotthard Panorama Express was easily our favourite. It encompasses dreamy views, attentive staff eager to share information on the locations you pass and an emotive journey through time as you pass through the incredible Gotthard Tunnel.
The entire journey involves two modes of transport just like the old days. From Lugano to Flüelen the journey begins on luxurious 1st class panorama train over the world-famous and historic Gotthard route. From Flüelen you will enjoy a leisurely trip on a historic steamboat or a beautiful modern boat operated by the Lake Lucerne Navigation Company (SGV).
Apart from the many breathtaking sights, you can enjoy special presentations about history, myths and legends around Gotthard during this historic journey through time. Last but not least, you can enjoy delicious food onboard. You can relish warm meals on the steamboat or enjoy snacks and beverages on the train.
What is it like onboard the Gotthard Panorama Express?
The interiors of the first-class coaches of the Gotthard Panorama Express are exceptionally spacious, with lots of space to stretch your legs and admire the views through the large panoramic windows. Second-class seats aren’t as generous, and the windows aren’t as large, but they cost much less than first-class fares and the views can still be enjoyed. Seat reservations are essential and 2nd class ticket holders wanting to enjoy the panoramic wagon must pay for a class upgrade for the corresponding route on the panorama train. On the train a surcharge of CHF 16 per person is charged on the panoramic train between Flüelen and Lugano.
There is a photo coach on the train where you can open the windows and feel the breeze and enjoy taking photographs without worrying about the reflection in the glass. But if you simply want to sit back and relax and soak it all in you can do so in style on the panoramic wagons. The entire wagon has been raised to provide unobstructed views.
- The Gotthard Panorama Express runs from mid-April to late October every year (Tuesday-Sunday).
- Out of season the Treno Gottardo can be used as an alternative. It traverses the Gotthard panorama route once an hour, 365 days of the year.
- The entire journey takes 5.5 hours.
- The price for the Gotthard Panorama Express consists of the ticket for the boat and railway journey and the mandatory “Gotthard Panorama Express” supplement of CHF 16.
- Seats must be reserved in advance on the train but you do not need to reserve seating on the boat journey.
- Click here for information on tickets and pricing.
- Groups benefit from a 30% discount on tickets (does not apply to the compulsonary supplement).
- You can enjoy the journey in either direction, Lugano-Lucerne or Lucerne-Lugano.
- You don’t have to worry about dragging your luggage around from train to boat. At Lugano your luggage will be collected and after you board the boat at Flüelen to Lucerne your luggage will continue on by train and will be waiting for you at Lucerne’s main train station.
Enjoy the history onboard the Gotthard Panorama Express
Once you board your designated wagon on the Gotthard Panorama Express your guide will introduce themselves and briefly explain what you are to expect onboard. They will continue to show you points of interest, share historical facts and ancedotes, and answer any questions that you have along the way. Information and history of the Gotthard Pass will also be given en-route over the trains speakers so that you can fully immersive yourself in the entire journey.
Read our guide on whether we think the Swiss Travel Pass is worth it or are individual tickets a better option.
Best things to enjoy on the Gotthard Panorama Express
- Chapel Bridge, Lucerne.
- Lake Lucerne steamer calling at Treib.
- Tell’s Chapel, on the Swiss Trail.
- Flüelen, where the Gotthard Panorama Express boat and train meet.
- Gotthard Panorama Express and Wassen Church.
- Lugano lakeside promenade with Monte San Salvatore.
Take a journey through time as you pass through the Gotthard Tunnel
The Gotthard Tunnel connects Göschenen with Airolo and was the first tunnel through the Saint-Gotthard Massif in order to bypass the St Gotthard Pass. It is a major transport axis of Europe connecting north to south Europe. The Gotthard Pass has been a crucial commercial route between Northern and Southern Europe since the Middle Ages, and travel across it has played a significant part in the history of Switzerland. Through the 13th century, the only way to get across the alps was by negotiating the slippery granite mountain. Slowly, cliff-hugging wooden paths and bridges were built to transport goods. The Gotthard’s central and advantageous location has led to it being dubbed to as the “King of Mountain Passes”.
The Swiss engineer Louis Favre received the contract to build the tunnel and in 1871 construction of the Gotthard Rail Tunnel commenced. It took 10 years to complete and was an internationally acclaimed feat of engineering. It was no easy task and many men lost their lives during the tunnel’s construction. Besides the difficulty in creating the 15 kilometre long Gotthard Tunnel (which at the time was the longest tunnel in the world), overcoming the altitude differences of almost 1,000m was a complex challenge. The solution was to create loop tunnels that will be a highlight of your journey on the Gotthard Panorama Express. Countless spiral and horseshoe tunnels, galleries and bridges testify to the remarkable achievements of the men who built this masterpiece of civil engineering.
Once you enter the tunnel the train slows significantly and you can enjoy a visual presentation documenting the building of the tunnel. It is a wonderfully immersive experience and really gives you an indication of how harsh conditions must have been for the workers and just how big of a challenge it was.
Send a postcard home
In memory of the horse carriages that used to trek the Gotthard Pass daily delivering mail you can send your own message to home directly from the Gotthard Panorama Express. Stamped postcards are provided and are collected just before your journey ends.
Enjoy views of Tremola Road
On the southern side of the mountain runs the Tremola Road – this old pass road is maintained in its original state since 1832 and is Switzerland’s longest street monument with even the old dry-stone walls still in place. The 24 hairpins over only four kilometres of granite cobblestone and 300 metres of altitude were part of the first carriage road through the Gotthard, built between 1828 and 1832 by the engineer Francesco Moschini based on the old mule track. You can enjoy the terrifying twists and turns of this impressive road from the comfort of your seat.
Corkscrew views of Wassen Church
The beautiful Baroque church in Wassen is certainly one of the most well-known in Switzerland, if not the most well-known, because you get to see it three times at three different elevations from the train. The height increases dramatically in Wassen, where the train makes two corkscrew, or helical, loops through mountain tunnels to increase altitude. You will see the charming St. Gallus Church before and after each loop from a different perspective, moving from eye level to higher and then higher again, without even seeming to advance.
Middle Meienreuss Bridge
The train crosses a number of beautiful bridges and tunnels in Ticino but perhaps the most eye-catching of these is the Middle Meienreuss Bridge. Spanning over the river gorge it is supported at each end by three arches.
Look for the man waving the Swiss Flag
Just before the Gotthard tunnel in Göschenen, the train is greeted by a man waving a Swiss flag. Every day as the Gotthard Panorama Express passes a white-haired man stands in his garden and passionately waves a Swiss Flag to the delight of passengers onboard. Xavier Andermatt lives three metres from the tracks in a former railway attendant’s cottage and loves this ritual. He may even yodel to you.
The train makes its way to its final stop at the historic stop at Flüelen. As you disembark the train you will be greeted by colourful flags waving in the breeze and a jawdropping mountain backdrop. Flüelen is the gateway to the high Alps and you will follow in the footsteps of passengers and merchants who started making the same change from rail to water since the arrival of steamboats and trains in the 19th century.
Here either a restored paddle steamer or a modern and elegant motorboat will be waiting to take you on a beautiful 2 and a half hour journey to Lucerne. You can choose to sit in the lounge with its bar, or relax on the outside seating, soaking up the sun as you go. The boat will slowly glide past pretty villages with fantastic views of the mountains as it makes its way to Lucerne. Awe-inspiring cliffs soar up from the water with views of the Fronalpstock mountain.
The Tellskapelle (Tell’s Chapel) is located on the Tellsplatte or Tellenplatte on the shore of Lake Lucerne at the foot of the Axenberg cliffs. You pass by it as you make your way to Lucerne. It marks the spot on the bank of the lake where Swiss hero William Tell escaped the boat of his captor, the brutal ruler Albrecht Gessler, during a storm. From there Tell ambushed and killed Gessler with an arrow, launching the young Confederacy’s rebellion against Austrian rule. The current chapel was built in 1879 and it is decorated with four frescos by Ernst Stückelberg. The frescos show “The Rütli Oath”, “The Apple Shot”, “The Tell Leap” and “Gessler’s Death in the Hohle Gasse”.
Pass by the Rütli meadow
On your journey to Lucerne you will sail past the Rütli Meadow where three cantons confirmed their confederation pact on 1st August 1291 – the very beginnings of Switzerland. Today, the Rütli belongs to the school children of Switzerland, who collected money in the 1990s to save the historic meadow from being sold.
You will also pass by two of Lake Lucerne’s most famous mountains. To one side of the lake there’s Mount Rigi, with the oldest cog railway in Europe leading up from Vitznau, and to the other there’s spectacular Mount Pilatus which is reached by the world’s steepest cog railway from Alpnachstad. If you prefer you can disembark the boat at this point and enjoy either excursion before rejoining a later boat on to Lucerne.
Lucerne might just be one of our favourite cities in Switzerland. It is the ideal destination for tourists making their first trip to Switzerland. You will be greeted by a dazzling lake surrounded by towering mountains, antique painted buildings in the Old Town, and shops selling the most exquisite chocolates. Here, you can explore the well-known Chapel Bridge, dine by the river, and travel to Mount Rigi, also referred to as the “Queen of Mountains.”
Lucerne is actually a great base for a number of mountain expeditions. The ‘Golden Round Tour’, a day trip that involves transit by boat, cable car, and the steepest cogwheel railway in the world, is a well-known feature of Mount Pilatus. The top offers breathtaking vistas. Providing a cliffside walk with amazing views over the lake, while the Stanserhorn is another favourite for walking and the chance to ride in an open top cable car.
Read all about how we spent one day in Lucerne with our full itinerary and tips on how to enjoy 24 hours in the city.
Excursions that you can enjoy from the Gotthard Panorama Express
- Castles of Bellinzona – UNESCO World Heritage site
- San Salvatore – local mountain and the “Sugarloaf” of Lugano
- Lake Lugano Cruises
- Pilatus – Lucerne’s legendary local mountain
- Rigi – the queen of the mountains
We are Nicola and Ronan Lavin experts in finding unique accommodation all over the world. Nominated as top 6 travel bloggers in Ireland we are dedicated to helping you find authentic and immersive travel experiences to help you plan your perfect vacation.
**Disclaimer: Our trip on the Gotthard Panorama Express was hosted by Swiss Travel System. We only ever work with brands that we are 100% happy to recommend to you guys and happily pay for ourselves. Complimentary travel passes allowed us to fully experience Switzerland, give honest reviews and create content for you guys to enjoy. All opinions are our own. This post contains affiliate links meaning that if you book through one of our links we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps us create the wonderful travel guides that we do**
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