A Photography and Train Tour of Switzerland

By Meng Tay

During this difficult pandemic year, you either dream of the places you want to travel or revive memories of places you’ve been.  In this blog I want to share memories of my travel to Switzerland in 2018.

Combining elements of towering peaks, green pastures and beautiful lakes, Switzerland is perhaps one of the most photogenic countries in the world.  If you’ve always wanted to capture images that you see in postcards and calendars, this blog tells you where and how to do it at a reasonable budget.

Options for traveling around Switzerland include guided tours, self-drive or public transportation.  Of the three options, taking public transportation is the most budget-friendly and flexible.  However, it requires a fair amount of research and planning.  Rail Europe sells a Swiss Travel Pass that provides free rail, bus and boat and city transportation all over Switzerland for 3, 4, 8 or 15-day durations. Search this Rail Europe website for the Swiss Travel Pass and suggested itineraries for the rail journeys.  We took a 4-day train tour following this itinerary:

Day 1:  Lucerne to Interlaken to Montreux

Day 2:  Montreux to Zermatt

Day 3:  Zermatt to St. Moritz

Day 4:  St. Moritz to Zurich

We flew into Zurich, checked in our luggage at the main train station for long-term storage, then took a one-hour train ride to Lucerne.  Lucerne is such a beautiful town that it deserves at least a day’s visit.  There are many beautiful photographic opportunities around the lake and the Old Town area.  Some of the buildings and churches go back a few hundred years, including the famous Chapel Bridge, which was built in the 14th century.  If you want to venture further out you can take the cable car to Mount Pilatus for a bird’s eye view of Lucerne and the surrounding mountains.

Chapel Bridge and Old Town on a Cloudy Afternoon

The first day’s destination is Montreux, a small beautiful town by Lake Geneva.  This is the GoldenPass train, reputedly one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world as it cuts through some of Europe’s most magnificent mountain scenery.  Most of the trains have panoramic views and some even have glass dome roofs.  You may stop and stroll around the town of Interlaken for a short break before catching a connecting train to Montreux.

River Scene by Interlaken

As it approaches Montreux, it winds down the mountain with beautiful views of the town and lake.

Rooftop view of Montreux and Lake Geneva
Lake Geneva

Christmas Markets are very popular in Europe and we were lucky to find one going on in Montreux.  There is plenty of food, warm mulled wine, chestnuts, ornaments, souvenirs, etc.  There are beautiful sceneries along the shoreline of the lake.

It is only a 3-hour train journey from Montreux to Zermatt.  Zermatt is a popular ski town but what is better known here is the Matterhorn, a large, near symmetric pyramidal peak that sits on the border between Switzerland and Italy.  There are plenty of photo opportunities – Zermatt, the town itself with the mountains as a backdrop, and the picturesque areas around the Matterhorn.  In the summer you can take short hikes around the base of the mountain and capture some beautiful landscape scenes.

Panoramic View around the Matterhorn
The Matterhorn

The third leg of this trip is another famous train journey called the Glacier Express.  It is so popular that reservation is highly recommended.  However, if you cannot get on the Glacier Express, you can ride the local trains which provide the same views but without all the frills.  The actual Glacier Express is a narrow-gauge train that offers panoramic windows and on-board meals.  It is an 8-hour journey through magnificent alpine landscape and some of the highest mountain passes.

An Alpine Village

St. Moritz lives and breathes money.  It is a place where the rich and famous come to shop and ski.  It is a popular place for winter sports, having hosted the Winter Olympics twice.  There are many beautiful landscapes around the lake area, about a 10-minute walk from town.

Lake Scene by St. Moritz

The final leg of this beautiful train journey is the most dramatic.  It descends through mountain passes, villages and crossing the iconic Landwasser viaduct.  It is difficult to take pictures here but you can just soak in the scenery as the train makes turn after turn and each turn reveals a different sight.  We changed trains at Chur for a fast train to Zurich.  Although Zurich is a big city it has its own beauty.  The old town is across the river from the train station.

Looking at Old Town Zurich from Across the River

If you do not want to travel on your own, Arizona Highways Photoscapes offers a workshop to Switzerland in 2021.

Meng Tay is a Photo Guide for Arizona Highways PhotoScapes.