Our trip on the Gotthard Panorama Express: from the mystical Lake Lucerne to Lugano.

The journey to Ticino on the Gotthard Panorama Express promises an intriguing sample of the Swiss landscape. As a travel blogger, I’ve been to the most beautiful locations in Switzerland, but it’s rare that I get to experience so many different sides of the country in just one day.

Take in the sights of Lake Lucerne from a steamboat.

Our varied journey, combining boat and train, begins in stunning Lucerne. After taking a detour to see the Kapellbrücke bridge, my partner and I step aboard the steamboat, named “Unterwalden”. Sounding its whistle and puffing steam, the boat heads towards Flüelen. There is an enchanting atmosphere on the lake today. Tendrils of mist trail through the high peaks, while the dark green depths of the lake and the central Swiss mountains make a lasting impression.

We pass picturesque villages such as Weggis, Gersau and Beckenried. Steeped in history, the “Wirtshaus zur Treib” tavern is located on the Seelisberg bank and provides direct access to the “Swiss Path” hiking trail.

The journey continues on the exceptionally beautiful Lake Uri. The boat heads towards Rütli, flanked by towering cliffs. From the lake, we also have a good view of the Rülti meadow, the legendary birthplace of Switzerland. Our steamboat continues its smooth, leisurely journey past the Schillerstein rock and the Tellskapelle chapel. We savour the last few metres of our boat trip over coffee and cake, before reaching our next stop in Flüelen.


A legendary railway journey and a Ticino-style platter.

After we disembark, our journey continues seamlessly on the Gotthard Panorama Express towards Lugano. The train takes the historic Gotthard route.

We take our reserved 1st class seats. The large windows provide a wonderful panoramic view. Our tour guide tells us lots of interesting facts about the route, hands out chocolate and is on hand if anybody wants to buy any pocket knives or souvenir trains. Their witty patter also brings a cheerful, friendly atmosphere to the compartment.

On the way, we see the line of cars at the north portal of the Gotthard Base Tunnel and the fairy tale Wassen church. It’s easy to snap a photo of the little church from the train window, as we go past it no fewer than three times!

As we travel from Göschenen to Airolo through the old Gotthard Tunnel, our tour guide regales us with the dramatic tale of the tunnel’s construction. The story is accompanied by the sounds of mining and lighting effects showing scenes from the miners’ lives.

When we start to get hungry, we order a Ticino-style cold meat platter which is brought right to our seats.

As we emerge from the tunnel in Airolo, the landscape changes significantly. Ticino unveils its spectacular side with its waterfalls roaring over the steep slopes of the railway route. Green hills, typically Ticinese stone houses, granite buildings and the Castles of Bellinzona rush by. It isn’t long before we arrive in Lugano.


Salami, ice cream and Lugano’s beautiful lakeside promenade.

We’re drawn in by Lugano’s picturesque old town. Although the weather is a little overcast today, we still get a sense of Ticino’s mild climate.

The Piazza della Riforma is the beating heart of Lugano and the most beautiful square in the city. It bustles with Mediterranean life, celebratory festivals and people eating pizza and pasta. We take a shopping break at Gabbani, the well-known delicatessen. Oversized (decorative) sausages are hanging from the archways. Inside, you can find authentic Ticinese souvenirs such as cured ham, mortadella, coppa and salami straight from Lugano’s salumerias.

Parco Ciani is right by the lakefront and just a few steps from the old town. The walkways are bordered by lush flowerbeds while wisteria winds around the ancient trees. From here, we enjoy a spectacular view of Monte San Salvatore.

In the “Seven Lugano” restaurant, we discover the city’s trendiest roof terrace. The high-rise building is located right outside Parco Ciani. From the 5th floor, we drink in a wonderful panoramic view over the lake.

At the “Gelateria di Lugano” on the lakeside promenade, we treat ourselves to a sizeable helping of stracciatella ice cream. We consider taking a bright red pedalo out for a spin on the lake but opt to take a stroll along the bank instead.

We catch a glimpse inside the Church of Santa Maria degli Angioli, which doesn’t look like much from the outside, but is home to a genuine treasure, the most famous renaissance painting in Switzerland. The impressive piece was painted by a student of Leonardo da Vinci and is an absolute must for lovers of culture.

On our way back to the station, we nip through the Via Nassa, Lugano’s luxurious shopping street, where brands such as Bucherer, Gucci, Hermes and Louis Vuitton have branches.

Our mini-break in Ticino draws to an end and we take the direct train to Zurich and then on to Bern and Freiburg, watching a colourful sunset over Lake Zug as we go by.

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7 thoughts on “Our trip on the Gotthard Panorama Express: from the mystical Lake Lucerne to Lugano.

  1. This trip sounds fantastic! Could you give an indication of how long it took to get from Lucerne to Lake Lugano and how much it cost please?

  2. Sounds like a great trip. Could you please let me know if the Swiss GA card is valid for this trip?

    1. Hi Joey,
      Yes, the GA travelcard is valid. You only pay the special “Gotthard Panorama Express” supplement: CHF 24 / per seat respectively person. Partial routes can also be booked, some with a reduced supplement of CHF 12.
      You’ll find more information about the supplement and the online booking on this page.
      Have a nice stay and a good trip!
      Daniel, Community Manager

  3. I have done this trip twice, though not yet on the Panoramic coaches. The trip three times past Wassen church is unique, but taking a picture is not easy-a certain guide that shall be nameless used a picture from the model in the Verkhaus museum instead! Families may prefer to visit Swiss Minatur, a short bus or boat trip from Lugano

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