All aboard the Bernina Express!
Updated: Apr 25, 2020
Since moving to Italy, I've started an exhaustive "dream travel list" of all the places I want to visit in Europe. One activity I had always wanted to do was take the UNESCO heritage little red train up the Alps from Italy to Switzerland. So, when I learned that American Express had a deal on tickets I rushed to get us a pair. Let me tell you, it made my Instagram dreams come true!
As with any trip I sometimes wonder if it will actually be as beautiful as the photos I look up online beforehand (Click here to see all the gorgeous shots I looked through before). Would the train actually loop around to allow us to get a great photo? Are people actually allowed to put their heads out the window for a selfie?
For this trip I did a lot of research and prepared to make it the best experience possible. That, and the fact that our entire day was organized by a tour company made it the perfect Swiss experience! If you're interested in booking through a company I found that our company, Zani Viaggi, was professional and well organized!
If you don't particularly like organized tours, you can also book just the train trip from Tirano, Italy to St.Moritz, Switzerland on your own. However, in our case we found it was easier to go with the organized group because it meant we didn't have to worry about driving from Milan to Tirano (2.5 hours) and we could therefore relax and enjoy all the wine and cheese we wanted! On the downside it meant that we had a strict schedule to follow in Tirano and St.Moritz (our "free time") but in the end it was sufficient to see enough of each city without feeling too rushed. We also only took the train one way, and took a panoramic view bus back to Milan (to visit other parts of Switzerland on the way back). The 2 hour train ride was enough to get all the gorgeous photos I could have ever wanted!
If anyone else dreams of taking the Bernina Express (commonly known as the little red train) themselves, here are a few tips:
Book in advance! I had been trying to find tickets for a day-trip on Saturday or Sunday for months... Act fast because they really fill up in the winter
Arrive to the train early to get a good seat! Although you can stand and move around on the train, getting a window seat makes taking photos much easier. In second class there are no assigned seats and so it's first come first serve
...but If you don't get a window seat don't worry! There are windows between each of the cars that you can open to take amazing photos (that's where I took all of mine).
Try to sit in a train car with the smaller windows! If you look on Pinterest or Instagram you will see train cars with windows that go all the way to the ceiling. Although they look beautiful in photos, these windows don't open and can cause a glare on a sunny day. So unless you are travelling with a professional camera (I simply used my iPhone) I suggest the cars with the smaller windows because they open all the way, making it easy for the perfect shot!
Sit on either side of the train! The beautiful thing about the train ride is that it loops around and through the alps so you get amazing views on both the right and left side of the train. Plus you can always get up and move!
Bring a selfie stick or a GoPro! To get the best angle, even with the window open, it's best to use a selfie stick. Make sure your camera is well attached but the train doesn't go so fast as to cause any issues. Just watch out for upcoming tunnels (there are 55 that the train goes through on the trip).
Pay attention to the map! Below each window there is a map detailing the path the train will do. This is useful because it shows you when to prepare to open the windows to get the best shot. The best areas for photos, in my opinion, are :
Right after Campascio (the train will go on the famous "brusio loop")
Between Poschiavo and Cavaglia
Between Cavaglia and Alp Grum
Between Alp Grum and Ospizio Bernina (Lago Bianco is gorgeous and on a sunny day you can get amazing reflection shots)
Between Bernina Diavolezza and Morteratsch (the famous "Curva di Montebello")
So all this to say, I highly suggest booking a train ride on the Bernina Express because the experience is like no other! You can book tickets online here, or directly at the train station at Tirano (if you want to try to grab a last minute ticket).