Switzerland is a country with marvelous infrastructure. From a train network that runs like clockwork to the hundreds of cogwheel trains, funiculars and cable cars that make even the most remote mountain top accessible. Switzerland also has the longest railway tunnel in the world, with the Gotthard tunnel connecting southern Switzerland with the rest of the country. The Gotthard base tunnel allows you to conveniently and fast pass the southern alps, for example when visiting the canton of Ticino. The downside? While the railway tunnel allows for fast travel, it also takes away the opportunity of seeing the lovely Alpine nature. However, there is a solution for those not in a hurry! Take the Gotthard-Panoramastrecke for a railway trip past alpine valleys and high mountain peaks.
My first trip to the canton of Ticino was with a train through the Gotthard tunnel. You enter the tunnel while riding past typical Swiss landscapes, and when you exit it suddenly feels like the Mediterranean. The houses sport pastel colors and palm trees are suddenly a lot more common. It was surreal to experience an (admittedly long) tunnel to separate two such different landscapes.
In June 2022, after we moved to Switzerland, it was time for a new visit to the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino. This time, I wanted to see if there was an alternative to the Gotthard tunnel. Turns out there is, and it is called the Gotthard-Panoramastrecke! Instead of going under the peaks of the alps, the Gotthard-Panoramastrecke takes you through the valley in between the alpine peaks. A route that guarantees breathtaking views!
For the slower traveler
As mentioned before, the Gotthard base tunnel guarantees convenient and above all fast travel. When opting for the Gotthard-Panoramastrecke, you are signing up for longer travel. When taking a train from Luzern to Locarno, the Panoramastrecke takes little over 3 hours. In comparison – the alternative is a base tunnel train with one change, only taking 2 hours.
Despite the longer travel time, we were not bored during a single moment of the trip. First, we got treated to the stunning lake views with a mountain backdrop around the area of Flüelen. From that point, the ascend to Göschenen begins, which is considered the start of the Gotthard-Panoramastrecke. The meadows around the Vierwaldstättersee turn into steep cliffs, waterfalls, and panoramic mountain views.
Popular with active travelers
The Gotthard-Panoramastrecke is very popular with active travelers. There are numerous hiking paths, mountain bike routes, and mountaineering destinations along this railway route. Don’t be surprised to see your fellow travelers sporting mountain bikes, helmets, and walking sticks, this area is very popular for mountain sports.
Another good thing to mention is that this route is a very convenient way of traveling. For example, it offers a direct connection between Locarno in Ticino and Basel in the north of Switzerland. Most faster connections require a transfer either in Arth-Goldau or in Bellinzona.
Finding tickets and the best views
The Gotthard-Panoramastrecke is a great way for tourists to experience the true beauty of Swiss nature. The national railway company has taken this opportunity to turn this route into a tourist attraction. During the summer season, a train with panoramic windows runs the route and is called the Gotthard Panorama Express. A quick heads-up – this is not the train I am describing here. I can’t judge if the Gotthard Panorama Express is worth the price, but I do know it will be more expensive than regular tickets for the Gotthard-Panoramastrecke.
During our trip we set both on the left side and the ride side of the carriage, and I have to say both offered equally amazing views. In my opinion, one side is not clearly better than the other one.
When booking tickets on the SBB website or app from the south to the north of the country, SBB will try to find the fastest route. If you want to travel the Gotthard-Panoramastrecke instead, I recommend adding a ‘via’ to your itinerary search. For example, when looking for tickets from Luzern to Locarno, adding ‘Göschenen’ in the via field ensures I get tickets for the Panoramastrecke.
An impression of the views on the Gotthard-Panoramastrecke
Now, enough talk about this route. Time to show some pictures of the views on offer during this train ride!