Do not take the Bernina Express
(take the regional train instead)

The Bernina Express (left) and the open wagons of the regional train (right)
The regional trains run roughly every hour
The Bernina railway is a world heritage railway in Switzerland. It is served by the Bernina Express, a touristic train. However, the same track is also served by normal Swiss regional trains. In my opinion, it is much better to take these regional trains instead:
  1. The windows in the Bernina Express cannot be opened. Result: you cannot take pictures without reflections. The regional trains, in contrast, have special photo wagons where the windows can be opened.
  2. The regional trains often have open wagons (see picture) and it's super fun riding them.
  3. The regional trains allow you to get on and off at leisure — for example to visit St. Moritz.
  4. The regional trains run roughly every hour — while the Bernina Express runs only a few times a day.
  5. The regional trains are cheaper.
The caveats with the regional trains are:
  1. The seats cannot be reserved. You have to be early at the track to get the good places.
  2. There is no guarantee that you'll have the open wagons. Then again, in the worst case, shooting pictures is just like in the Bernina express (just cheaper).
For the details, read on.

The Albula & Bernina Lines

The Bernina and Albula rail lines
The World Heritage rail line consists of two parts:
  1. The Albula line from Thusis to St. Moritz (shown in blue on the map). This line includes the famous Landwasser Viaduct.
  2. The Bernina line from St. Moritz to Tirano (shown in green). This part has the circular viaduct of Brusio.
The rail line is spectacular:
The Landwasser Viaduct
Two serpentines (the train is on the third)
St. Moritz
The first snowy mountains
A glacier
The train creeping up
The Bernina Pass
The train going down
Passing a river
The southern, steep, side of the pass
The circular viaduct of Brusio
The train heading towards Italy
The train taking the street in villages on the Italian-speaking side

The Bernina Express

You cannot open the windows on the Bernina Express
The Bernina Express is a touristic train. It serves both the Albula part and the Bernina part of the rail line, and runs services between Chur and Tirano. The big problem with the Bernina Express is that its windows cannot be opened, so that you cannot take pictures easily without reflections. A Bernina Express representative confirmed this to me by email.

The regional train

The regional train is the normal Swiss railway train that connects the cities in the region. Surprisingly, the trains are specially prepared for tourists.
Albula line: The photo wagon from outside.
Albula line: The photo wagon from inside (the windows can be opened).
Albula line: The windows in the normal wagons (they cannot be opened, but are very large).
Bernina line: An open wagon.

On the Albula line, the photo wagons are explicitly marked on the booking Web page, so you can make sure you get a train with this facility. On the Bernina line, the open wagons run only in July and August, and only when the weather is good. That said, we had them in August in bad weather.

Booking the regional train

The Bernina and Albula rail lines
Booking the regional trains on the Bernina and Albula lines
Book the regional train via the Swiss railway Web site. Watch out:
  1. If you book from/to Chur, be sure to go via Thusis, not Davos (see map). Otherwise you miss the Landwasser Viaduct.
  2. The faster connection bypasses St. Moritz, and has you change trains in Samedan and Pontresino. If you don't want this, book explicitly via St. Moritz.
  3. You can at any time hop off and hop on the trains, which run roughly every hour (check the schedules and the validity of your ticket).
  4. The Web page may offer you also bus connections between Tirano and St. Moritz. Avoid these, of course.
  5. The photo wagons on the Albula line are marked “FW” on the Web site, so you know in advance which trains have the photo wagon (see screenshot).
  6. The Bernina line has open wagons, but only in July and August, and only with good weather.
  7. You cannot reserve the seats, so be early at the track!
  8. From Tirano, you can take hourly trains to Lake Como and Milan, or busses to Lugano.