Fastest journey10hr 33m
The train journey from London to Zermatt in the Swiss Alps starts with a high-speed run on Eurostar from London to Paris. It is necessary to change stations in the French capital for the onward TGV Lyria service to Lausanne in Switzerland. In Lausanne you transfer onto a Swiss InterRegio train for the journey to Visp where you join the Matterhorn-Gotthard-Bahn (MGB) for the last hour up to Zermatt. There is some very fine mountain scenery on the latter part of this journey (viz. from Lausanne via Visp to Zermatt) so we suggest leaving London as early in the day as possible, if you want to make the most of the daylight for the views.
This route is the one taken by most travellers but there are other options. There are alternative routes from Paris to Zermatt via either Basel or Geneva, both giving a broadly similar travel time to the route via Lausanne.
Whichever route you choose for your journey from London to Zermatt, tickets normally go on sale two months prior to travel. If you are keen to get a bargain fare, that’s the moment to book.
London to Paris
Board a Eurostar service from London to Paris. There are upwards of 15 trains to Paris from London each day with departures at least hourly from the beautifully restored station at St Pancras in London. The fastest trains speed to Paris in just 2 hrs 16 mins, with slower services taking up to 20 mins longer to reach the Gare du Nord in Paris. The first part of the journey from London sweeps through Thameside landscapes and rural Kent to reach the Channel Tunnel. Little more than an hour after leaving London you'll already be in northern France, tracking south through Flanders fields towards Paris.
Remember to factor in at least half an hour for Eurostar's airline-style baggage check prior to boarding your train. There is a luggage and body scan and you'll be asked to show your passport. There are no restrictions on taking liquids on board Eurostar trains.
Paris interchange: Paris Nord to Paris Lyon
When you alight from the train at Gare du Nord look for signs to the Metro and RER. Once you've bought a ticket follow the signs to 'RER D', direction 'Melun' or 'Malesherbes'. So long as you're heading in the right direction, all the trains on this line stop at Gare de Lyon. The actual train journey takes around 10 mins with just one stop on the way at Châtelet-les-Halles. Upon alighting from the RER train at Gare de Lyon, follow the signs to the mainline station. The signs read 'Accès aux trains Grandes Lignes'. The whole journey from the concourse at Gare du Nord to the mainline departure platforms at Gare de Lyon will normally take about 40 mins but we recommend leaving at least 50 mins.
If you are arriving at Gare du Nord from London, bear in mind that you can buy Paris Métro tickets at the Eurostar terminal at St. Pancras and on board the Eurostar train. Similarly, passengers arriving at the Gare du Nord on Thalys trains from Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands can buy Metro tickets on the train (at the Thalys Bar). Although universally referred to as Métro tickets, they are in fact valid on RER trains too.
Paris to Lausanne
Comfortable TGV Lyria trains serve the 480-km Paris to Lausanne route. These trains depart from the Gare de Lyon in the French capital and terminate at the main station in Lausanne, from where it is just five minutes on the Metro to either the city centre or down to the shores of Lake Geneva.
The journey starts with a high-speed dash to Dijon. The train then traverses increasingly hilly country on its way through the Jura to the Swiss border. Once in Switzerland, it takes just 35 minutes to reach Lausanne. There are normally four trains each day on this route, and the journey time is 3 hrs 40 mins. An extra train on certain days takes a completely different route, running via Mâcon and Geneva. It takes over four hours.
Lausanne to Visp
Swiss InterRegio trains run every half hour from Lausanne to Visp. The journey takes 90 to 100 minutes with trains making six to nine stops along the way. Leaving Lausanne, the railway skirts the beautiful Lavaux wine-growing region. Look out for great views across the lake to the Alps beyond. Just after leaving Montreux you’ll see the fortress of Château de Chillon. The route then follows the Rhône Valley upstream through vineyards and orchards to Visp with brilliant views on both sides of the train: the Pennine Alps to the south and the Bernese Oberland to the north.
Visp to Zermatt
Trains of the Matterhorn-Gotthard-Bahn leave for Zermatt from platform 3 at Visp station. Services run every half hour during the day, but only hourly (or even less) in the evenings. The 36-kilometre journey takes 65 to 70 minutes. Sounds slow? Once you see the difficult terrain, you’ll understand why. This is a very challenging mountain route.
There are six intermediate stations between Visp and Zermatt, though at two of these the train stops only upon request. Zermatt station is an extraordinary supersized Swiss chalet – a nice introduction to the surreal circus of Zermatt life.
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Image credits: Gornergratbahn Zermatt © Gerd Kohlmus