I recently went on my first proper solo trip abroad to Milan, using it as base to explore northern Italy and parts of Switzerland. One of the highlights of was a day trip on the Bernina Express train to St Moritz, Switzerland. This is a concise guide to the journey from Milan to St Moritz, including getting your tickets and transport to Tirano.
The Bernina Express is a panoramic, scenic train ride through the Swiss Alps. It connects sleepy Italian town Tirano with Chur in Switzerland on a 4 hour train journey. The main highlight of the journey however, is is it’s namesake, the Bernina Pass, which is a section of the Alps between Tirano and the beautiful resort town of St Moritz, one of the best places to visit in Switzerland. From my research St Moritz seemed to be the most popular stop, so I decided that’s where I would go, and I must say I have absolutely no regrets!
South Tyrol is another amazing place to explore in the Swiss Alps region, and makes a great road trip if you’re driving the reverse of my journey (Switzerland to Italy).
Getting your Tickets
One of those gems you tend not to hear about until you’re searching for it, I found out about the well kept secret of the Bernina Express by searching for day trips from Milan before my trip. As soon as I realised a scenic journey through the Swiss Alps was an option I was onboard (literally)!
When you search for the Bernina Express from Milan the first few results will probably be tour packages that include hotel pickups and coach transfer to and from Tirano. This could be a good option if you’re looking for convenience or are worried about going alone. However, these can be quite expensive and, after doing a bit more digging and reading reviews, I discovered that if you opt for a group tour you don’t get to choose your seat or sit in the panoramic carriages.
This was a deal breaker for me already, as I knew I wanted a window seat and fully intended to take a lot of photos along the way. I soon found out that it’s actually quite a bit cheaper (I went during peak tourist times in the summer,so this may depend on the time of year you go) to get the tickets directly from the Rhaetian Railway website and get your return tickets to Tirano separately (I recommend the Omio app).
Getting to Tirano
The best way to get to Tirano from Milan is by Train from Milan Central Station, which takes around 2h30 and passes the beautiful Lake Como on the way.
Once you arrive in Tirano, the RhB station, which the Bernina Express departs from, is only metres across the square, so you don’t have to worry about missing the departure! I had an hour or so to kill so had a leisurely stroll around Tirano.
It is a lovely town with small cobbled streets, a river running through it and towering hills as a backdrop. Unless you plan to stop for food, you probably won’t need a lot of time to look around Tirano as it is fairly small. I had a quick stroll along the river and stopped to explore a local church before having a quick cappuccino (when in Italy) at the café opposite the RhB station. Bring cash with you for the cafés in Tirano.
I spent half of the journey mouthing “wow” to myself and the other half snapping photos. Every new corner we went around was a new sight that made you pick up your camera. The whole carriage was silent except for the frequent “beautiful” or “belissima” uttered quietly from the other passengers around me. The scenery really is breathtaking. I’d love to take the journey in the winter, but I can guarantee that it is still a stunning view in the summer, and you’ll still get to see snow capped mountains regardless of how warm it is when you set off on your journey.
Here are a couple of clips from the route between Tirano and St Moritz:
The train makes a quick stop in Alp Grum before continuing on the journey to St Moritz. Even as I watched almost everyone get off the train, I didn’t know it was going to stop there and worried that it would drive off without me! It does stop along the way for people wanting to get off in other towns, so I thought it was doing the same here. After about 5 minutes I got the hint and got off to take some pictures. Definitely get off at Alp Grum, it is a breathtaking view and makes a great picture, and the train stops for a good 10-15 minutes so you have plenty of time.
The majority of the passengers got off at St Moritz, where we had 3 hours to explore before the return journey. Despite having fit it all in quite nicely in one day, I can wouldn’t blame anyone for wanting to spend a bit longer in this beautiful lakeside town nestled between the snowcapped Alps. I would jump at a chance to return there in the future.
St Moritz is a beautiful little resort town, popular as a skiing destination in the winter. On stepping out of the station I was instantly taken aback by the beauty of the place. I thought I might have to walk a bit to find the lake but to my surprise it was right across the street once I left the station.
Surrounded by fresh alpine air, snowy mountains and grassy banks full with wildflowers and butterflies, I had to sit by the lake for a while to take it all in. The aqua water was crystal clear (the cleanest water I’ve ever seen, coming from the U.K.) and made me wonder how they kept it so pristine as a popular tourist destination.
After stopping by the lake and walking around it, I went a bit higher up into the town (it’s sloped and on different levels) and wandered round the pretty streets before stopping for some fuel at a cute little restaurant with this view:
After strolling around the lake and stopping for lunch, I didn’t have time for much else (aside from photo taking, obviously). This was particularly as my portable charger decided to temporarily stop working and my phone, where I not so cleverly stored my train tickets back to Milan, was rapidly losing charge.
There are however plenty of other things to do in St Moritz, including museums and taking a cable car up to the top of the mountains, but I’ll have to return for that another time. Three hours in a place this beautiful passes a lot quicker than you think, so don’t expect to pack in too much.
So, was it Worth it?
Overall, this was a long day trip. I left the hotel before 6am and returned around 10pm, but it was so so worth it and would say to anyone who gets the chance to go for it. It’s not a cheap day trip but you can certainly save some money by booking it directly from Rhaetian Railways and honestly you could easily spend more on a pair of trainers. I’m all for saving money but I’ve come to value experiences over things and this was one I’ll cherish for a while.
Thanks for Reading!
Thanks for reading my review of my experience on the Bernina Express as a day trip from Milan and be sure to check out my other posts about deciding to leave work to travel solo and things to do in Milan. I’ll be writing more content soon but in the meantime stay up to date with my travels on my Instagram page.