Panoramic Trains in Switzerland and Canada

Scenic trains are the stuff of dreams! The best known are the many panoramic trains in Switzerland: Bernina Express, Glacier Express, Gotthard Panorama... And the most spectacular is Canada's Rocky Mountaineer panoramic train.


Panoramic train: definition

Before the appearance of real scenic trains at the beginning of the 20th century, "panoramic trains" were actually trains equipped with observation carriages, which offered a scenic view of the landscapes they passed through. These were carriages attached to the rear of the train, with large windows, or even completely open. Such carriages can still be found on some luxury trains, such as the Royal Scotsman in Scotland or the Rovos Rail trains in South Africa.

It was not until the 1970s that the scenic carriages as we know them today appeared, followed by genuine fully scenic trains. What is a panoramic train? It is a train carriages that "offer an unobstructed view of the landscape from their seats". 

Panoramic trains in Switzerland

These days, when you think of those scenic trains, you immediately think of a panoramic train in Switzerland. The whole world has heard about these train journeys in Switzerland on board the (usually) red trains, and in particular the most famous of them all, the Bernina Express.

 Bernina Express SBB

Bernina Express ©  SBB

The Bernina Express is famous for being the highest train in Europe. It gives you a real "close-up view of the glaciers". Its route between Chur and Tirano offers breathtaking views of the Alpine heights. The particularly large windows of its 1st and 2nd class categories follow one another to create a wall of glass. The panes are first straight, then curved upwards where they meet the roof.

          Gotthard Panorama Express SBBBernina Express 2 Kecko

                                                        Gotthard Panorama Express © SBB                                                             Bernina Express © Wiki commons Kecko                                                    

Another famous

train in Switzerland is the Gotthard Panorama Express, which links Switzerland and Italy through the Gotthard Tunnel. Its windows are also curved, but over their entire surface and not just at the top. This detail gives its compartments a slightly tubular appearance.

Glacier Express panoramic train in Switzerland

After the Bernina and the Gotthard Express, the finest example of a panoramic train in Switzerland is of course the Glacier Express. It is often considered the most elegant of the Swiss trains. Unlike its two predecessors, its windows are not rounded but straight. Instead, they are two large panes of glass placed side by side, allowing you to fully immerse your gaze in the landscape.

Glacier Express 2e classe Glacier Express

2nd class compartment on board the Glacier Express © Glacier Express

Compared with other Swiss trains, the Glacier Express has a special feature: it has a... "panoramic carriage". This is actually an old car with opening windows (unlike the windows of modern cars). So this is where you can take photos without being bothered by any reflection from the glass.

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The MOB GoldPass line 

Panoramic trains in Switzerland also include trains that run between Montreux and of Zweisimmen. They are owned by the Montreux Obernland Bernois Railway (MOB), which is famous for having launched the world's first fully scenic train in 1975.

There are still 3 regular trains on this route, which is part of the GoldenPass Line:

  • The GoldenPass Panoramique
  • The GoldePass Belle Epoque
  • The new GoldenPass Express (GPX, blue)

Test our train tour on the GoldenPass line : Top of Switzerland

MOB VIP panoramique MOB

VIP seats on board the MOB Panoramique © MOB

Scenic scheduled train in Switzerland

The Bernina Express, Gotthard Panorama Express, Glacier Express trains are tourist trains. Most of the passengers on them are foreign visitors or Swiss nationals discovering their own country. But there are also non-tourist scenic trains.
Some of Switzerland's regular trains, used by the Swiss population for everyday travel, are also genuine panoramic trains.
One example is the Luzern Interlaken Express. As its name suggests, this regular train runs regularly between the Swiss cities of Lucerne and Interlaken, connecting them in two hours. Its carriages are truly panoramic. In the panoramic compartments, the main window is straight and matched by a glass aperture in the roof, rather like the Glacier Express.


Luzern Interlaken Express goldenlinepass

Luzern-Interlaken-Express © GoldenPass Line

Another example of a regular train with panorama cars is the Transalpin. This EuroCity daytime train between Zurich and Innsbruck (Austria) via Graz also has an elegant Swiss panorama car, which you can reserve if you have a first-class ticket for this route.
The same goes for the Basel Cologne Eurocity. This standard direct train between Switzerland and Germany has a superb Swiss panorama carriage in 1st class at the rear. Its windows are slightly curved, rather like the Gotthard Panorama. Passengers lucky enough to travel in this unique car will be able to admire the sumptuous landscapes of the Rhine Valley. And on arrival in Interlaken, the view of emerald-coloured Lake Brienz is impressive.

Rocky Mountaineer: the Canadian panoramic train

After the Swiss trains, the most famous panoramic train in the world is the Canadian Rocky Mountaineer. This legendary train in Western Canada runs from Vancouver to Jasper over a distance of almost 1,000 km.

Train Rocky Mountaineer

Rocky Mountaineer double-decker © Membeth

The most luxurious of its two on-board services, the GoldLeaf service takes place in an enormous double-decker dome car. The windows are oversized, taking up almost the entire surface area of the roof. The swivelling reclining seats make the most of the splendid views of the Canadian Rockies. The SilverLeaf service offers exactly the same thing, but its dome cars are on a single level.


Train Rocky Mountaineer

Service GoldenLeaf à bord du Rocky Mountaineer

The Canadian, the Californian American Zephyr

The other legendary Canadian train is called the Canadian. A transcontinental train running at night, Not all its compartments have large glass windows. However, there are several carriages equipped with a dome along the length of the train. All passengers can go there and enjoy the exceptional view.

On the Vancouver - Jasper section, the most impressive part of the route, the train sometimes has a special extra carriage. A fully glazed Rocky Mountaineer-type panorama car for unrestricted enjoyment as you cross the majestic Rocky Mountains.
Just as legendary as the Canadian, the American California Zephyr train follows the same logic. This legendary train, which opened in the USA in 1949 and links Chicago to San Francisco Bay, also has a panoramic lounge car with swivel seats.

California Zephyr Vista Dome car Steve Wilson

California Zephyr, Vista Dome car © Steve Wilson

Luxury train or panoramic train ?

Contrary to popular belief, luxury trains are rarely true scenic trains. Quite simply because luxury trains are generally sleeper trains, designed to spend one or more nights. Scenic trains, on the other hand, are essentially day trains: their purpose being to offer views of the countryside, they might as well be visible!
However, luxury trains very often have a panoramic carriage. This is the case in Spain on board the Spanish luxury train El Transcantabrico. Its panoramic carriage has a single row of panoramic windows towards which the lounge seats face.

Salon panoramique du Transcantabrico Discovery Trains

Panoramic lounge of the El Transcantabrico train © Discovery Trains

In Peru, the Belmond Hiram Bingham train (named after the explorer who discovered Machu Picchu) has a beautiful covered carriage with large windows in the lacquered wooden roof. As in the 19th century, it is known as an "observation carriage".
The Eastern & Oriental Express train, which carries passengers between Singapore and Malaysia, has a panoramic coach with opening windows, like so many balconies overlooking the lush landscapes of Asia.

Eastern Oriental Express Belmond

Eastern & Oriental Express © Belmond

But the scenic winner is always the spectacular Canadian Rocky Montaineer train. Not only, as already mentioned, does it have marvellous domed carriages, but it also has an open observation carriage on the first floor of each of its double-decker cars!

Scenic route trains

As this article will show, real scenic trains are in short supply. On the Internet, however, you'll find dozens of articles listing "the best panoramic trains in the world", including trains that are anything but panoramic. This is because there is often confusion between a scenic train and a scenic rail route. 
If we're talking about "scenic rail routes", in other words trains that offer splendid views, then yes, the list is long! The Rauma line or the Bergen railway in Norway are usually mentioned, as is the West Highland Line in Scotland on which the Harry Potter train travels. The route from Levanto to La Spezia, in the Cinque Terre region of Italy, the Douro Valley in Portugal and even the Inlandsbanan in Sweden are sometimes mentioned.

 Italie-Train des cinque terre

 Vue panoramique par la fenêtre du train des Cinque Terre

None of the trains on these routes are truly panoramic trains. But it is true that the views offered by these routes are so beautiful that even a modest window can sometimes give the impression of being transformed into a real picture window.




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