Fastest journey5hr 23m
The train journey Zurich to Tirano is one of the most memorable in the Alps. Passengers in a rush to get to Italy from Switzerland opt for the direct EuroCity service from Zurich to Milan through the Gotthard Tunnel. This route via Tirano is very much slower but takes in some wonderful scenery. This is the only north-south rail route from Switzerland to Italy that really climbs over the Alps rather than burrowing through the mountains in a tunnel. So you are in for a real treat on the journey over the Bernina Pass to Tirano, as the trains tackles formidable gradients and skirts snowfields before dropping down steeply into Italy.
The journey can be done with just one change of train at Chur – but with only one or two direct trains per day (depending on season) between Chur and Tirano you may want to consider changing trains a second time in St Moritz. This has the advantage of upping the frequency of train services and comes at no extra cost nor extra time. Trains run at least hourly over the entire route, and you can hop on and off the train at will (without any need for seat reservations). We describe the one-change option via Chur below. But the details are much the same if you take the two-change option via St Moritz.
Bookings on this route usually open about four months in advance, and that's when you'll find the cheapest tickets.
Zurich to Chur
Trains normally run every 30 minutes from Zurich to Chur (Coire in French), taking about between 75 and 95 minutes for the 116 kilometre journey. The route is served in the main by Swiss Intercity or InterRegio trains, although from late 2015 an occasional German ICE also plies the route. These services all leave from Zurich Hauptbahnhof (shown as Zurich HB in the Loco2 booking system). It is a pleasant journey through broad valleys with excellent views of the Alps. You'll pass the shores of the Zürichsee and later the Wallensee to reach Chur in the Rhine Valley. At Chur, there are onward Rhaetian Railway (RhB) narrow-gauge trains giving connections to Arosa, St Moritz, Davos and other destinations across Graubünden. The bus station (on the upper level of the station complex at Chur) has regular departures to buses across the region.
Chur to Tirano
Occasional trains run directly from Chur to Tirano and are branded as Bernina Express. Apart from these direct trains, there are hourly connections via St Moritz that follow the same route but on trains that are often quieter than the Bernina Express services. Whether you take the Bernina Express or the regular service, you’ll have a rail experience of a lifetime as the train follows the Bernina rail route over the Alps to Italy. In 2008, this route was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. In Tirano there are good onward connections to Milan. The journey from Chur to Tirano takes just over four hours.
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Image credits: Tirano © Ludmila Smite