Riding the Bernina Express Train as a Day Trip from Milan

Date
Nov, 02, 2023
red and white Bernina Express train near green field viewing mountain and green trees in The Swiss Alps

Milan is one of Italy’s most legendary cities. While there are many incredible things to do in Milan, there are also some stunning day trips within a few hours of the city. In our experience, one of the best day trips from Milan is a ride on the Bernina Express train to St. Moritz, Switzerland. The Bernina Express route, complete with panoramic windows and several stops, is absolutely stunning. 

This entire European train ride is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its stunning beauty, ingenuity, and history. On our most recent trip to Milan, we decided to spend our wedding anniversary up in the Swiss Alps on this beautiful train, and we had an absolutely fantastic time. I mean, we love Milan and we chose to leave for a day to take this train. 

Needless to say, we didn’t regret it! If you’re on the fence, thinking “is Bernina Express worth it?” you can hop right off of it, because the answer is a resounding yes.

Is the Bernina Express worth it? The answer is a resounding yes.

This post is not about the Bernina Express itself, but rather how to ride the Bernina Express as a day trip from Milan. So, if you are wondering “Can you do Bernina Express in one day?” the answer is definitely yes! 

For more information on the Bernina Express itself, including how to book tickets, check out my informational blog post on the Bernina Express. If you’re asking yourself “How do I take Bernina Express from Milan?” this post was written just for you.

Note: This post contains affiliate links that may earn a commission from purchases at no additional cost to you.

Follow us along in our vlog from our amazing time on The Bernina Express and in St. Moritz!

Can You Do the Bernina Express in One Day?

The Bernina Express is about a three-hour train ride. This is pretty short, all things considered, and it can definitely be done in one day. The thing that you need to consider is where you are starting from. 

The Bernina Express train ride itself may only be three hours, but the transportation from your accommodation to the stop where you get on and then the transportation back to your accommodation from where you get off can add significant time to your day.

If you follow the steps in this post, you will absolutely be able to do the Bernina Express in one day from Milan. It just takes some coordination on your part! I think it is well worth the time, and I even included the Bernina Express on my list of the best day trips from Milan.


How Do I Take Bernina Express from Milan?

To take the Bernina Express from Milan, you will first need to get to St. Moritz, Switzerland. While the train does run in both directions, it is best to take the train from St. Moritz, Switzerland to Tirano, Italy if you want to do it as a day trip from Milan. 

This is because the trains do not run very late in the evening or early in the morning, and taking the train from Tirano to St. Moritz doesn’t leave you much free time at all in St. Moritz. St. Moritz is a beautiful town, and you should try to maximize your time there. The most up-to-date train times can be seen directly on the Bernina Express’ website.


How to Get to St. Moritz from Milan

Since you will be taking the train from St. Moritz to Tirano, driving to St. Moritz makes no sense. Your car would be left sitting in Switzerland! Taxis are also not a viable option, as the drive is several hours. 

The best way to get from Milan to St. Moritz is via a combination of train and bus, which takes about 4.5 hours when it is all said and done. You can take a train from Milano Centrale station to Chiavenna, and then switch onto the route 4 bus to St. Moritz Bahnhof.

I recommend taking the earliest possible train from Milano Centrale to Chiavenna, as the buses only leave once per hour and you will want to get to St. Moritz as early as possible to explore. While an early morning might not sound worth it, the latest Bernina Express train from St. Moritz to Tirano leaves at 4:14pm. 

The Earliest Possible Itinerary Arrives in St. Moritz in the Late Morning

If you take the earliest possible train and bus combination, you will get to St. Moritz around 10:45am, which leaves you approximately 5.5 hours to explore.

We took a 6:20am train from Milano Centrale to Colico, then after a 24-minute layover switched onto an 8:10am train to Chiavenna that arrived at 8:35am. We then had 30 minutes until the bus departed at 9:06am, and it arrived in St. Moritz at 10:41am. This information is all also available on Google Maps, and they do a great job of showing you timetables and routes.

Tickets for the train should be bought in advance at the station or online at Trenitalia’s website, and tickets for the bus can either be bough in cash on the bus, or online in advance on PostBus’ website

For more information on using the train system in Italy, check out my post on using Trenitalia.


How to Get to Milan from Tirano

The Bernina Express train will take you through the Swiss Alps and leave you in the northern Italian town of Tirano. Tirano (not the big city of Torino, by the way) is a cute little town with some nice shops and restaurants, but not much more going on. 

This is a good thing, because you won’t really have any time here! The Bernina Express train arrives at 6:39pm, and the last train (as of current timetables) departs Tirano at 7:08pm.

This leaves you about 30 minutes to switch onto your train. If all things are running on time, this is plenty of time to switch, as the Bernina Express station is no more than a two-minute walk to the regular train station. The train from Tirano to Milan doesn’t require any switches, and after a scenic ride along the shores of Lake Como, you should arrive in Milan by 9:40pm.

Stay a Night in Tirano

If you are worried that the timing is too tight, you can plan to spend a night in Tirano. It is a charming town, and staying a night is a great idea! I recommend staying at Hotel Bernina if you decide to do this. 

Hotel Bernina is perfectly located near the train station, so you can easily check in when you arrive in Tirano and check out the next morning before heading back to Milan.


Other Things to Know About Riding the Bernina Express

The Bernina Express is a unique experience that belongs on any traveler’s bucket list. However, there are some things you should know as you plan your trip, especially if you opt not to book a guided tour.

​1. Prepare for the High Altitude

​While the Bernina Express isn’t the highest railway in Europe, it’s still way up in the Swiss Alps. The highest point of the journey is at Ospizio Bernina, which is 7,391 feet above sea level.

While you likely won’t experience any altitude sickness from such a short time at this height, you do need to prepare for the weather. Milan can get pretty hot in the summer, but temperatures are much milder in the Swiss Alps. In the winter, you can expect a lot of snow!

There are a couple of opportunities to hop off the train and soak in the views. In the colder months, you’ll want to bundle up.

2. Best Time to Ride the Bernina Express

The Bernina Express is open all year. The landscapes are drastically different between summer and winter, and both seasons are beautiful in their own right! 

Personally, I prefer the views in the summer. The mountains are still snowcapped, but the valleys are filled with bright green grass and the lakes and rivers flow a fluorescent blue. When this is all covered with snow, some of the vibrant colors get muted.

​Still, the winter season is a great time to ride the Bernina Express. If you’re a fan of the Polar Express, this is as close as you’ll get to it in real life!

​3. One Side of the Train Is Better Than the Other

If you book your Bernina Express tickets in advance, you’ll need to select a seat. For the best views, you should sit on the right side of the train if departing from St Moritz. If you’re departing from Tirano, the best experience is on the left side.

At the end of the day, this is an incredibly scenic train journey. You will have breathtaking views on either side, as long as you reserve window seats. These train tickets often sell out months in advance, and if you’re stuck choosing either an interior seat on the best side or a window seat on the other side, I’d recommend the window seat.

4. The Alps Aren’t the Only Stunning Views on the Route

Don’t get me wrong. The Engadin Valley and its snow-capped peaked are beautiful, and they’re the main highlight of the Bernina Express day trip from Milan. But they’re not the only wonders you’ll see! The Bernina Express’ scenic route passes along the steep-declining Landwasser Viaduct as well as the sharp-turning Brusio Spiral Viaduct.

Both of these bridges are incredibly unique. In addition to them, you can expect quaint, cow-filled villages, picturesque lakes and rivers, and sweeping valleys below the rails.

​While the Rhaetian Railway wasn’t designed to be a tourist attraction, Switzerland’s natural beauty and striking landscapes have turned it into one.

​5. You Can Ride a Cheaper Train Along the Same Route or Use a Rail Pass

The panoramic train is truly special, and I recommend ponying up for first class seats if you can afford them. However, if you’re looking to save some money, you can book a ticket on one of the regular regional trains that use this same track. These trains stop at more stations along the route, but are significantly cheaper.

While they do not offer panoramic windows, they still provide great views of the mountains and scenery. You can also use a Swiss Travel Pass or Eurail Pass to ride along this route, but if you want to use it to ride on the panoramic trains you will have to pay an additional fee.

6. For a Longer Trip, Add the Glacier Express Segment

The Bernina Express route takes about three hours from start to finish. For most travelers, this is sufficient. However, if you want more time riding through the Alps, you can book further travel on the Glacier Express. 

The Glacier Express is a sort of sister route to the Bernina Express. The Bernina Express connects St. Moritz south to Tirano, Italy, and the Glacier Express connects St. Moritz west to the resort city of Zermatt. Zermatt is located about 60 miles north of Turin, Italy, and 50 miles south of Bern, Switzerland. 

Much like St. Moritz, Zermatt is known for its great skiing and winter sports activities. Both cities are among the best skiing destinations in Europe.


Hopefully this post answered any questions you have about doing the Bernina Express as a day trip from Milan. While it is undoubtedly a long day, it is worth every second of traveling and is a really stunning journey. If you have any questions about doing the Bernina Express as a day trip from Milan, reach out by dropping a comment below! Otherwise, thanks for reading and have a wonderful day.

cute sleeping baby on train
Perk of such an adventure-packed day: an exhausted asleep baby for the train ride home!
If you’re planning a take the Bernina Express, let us know! Especially if you are traveling with kids! We’d love to chat ahead of time and answer any questions you have. Otherwise, have a wonderful day and stay present!

Greg

Hi, I'm Greg. I'm an avid traveler who has traveled to over 50 countries all around the world with my wife and kids. I've lived in Italy, Mexico, China, and the United States, and I dream of moving abroad again in the future. With this blog, I provide my audience with detailed destination guides to my favorite places and pro-tips to make travel as stress-free as possible.

14 Comments

  1. Reply

    Nicole

    March 29, 2023

    Hello! Just a question, I have been tossing up booking a ‘Swiss Alps Bernina Express Rail tour from Milan’ or to do the day trip on our own as you have described. Whilst a tour will be less stress on us, I’m worried that we will have very limited time in St Moritz to explore. Would love your opinion.

    • Reply

      Greg

      April 2, 2023

      Hey Nicole! My answer highly depends on your situation. If you have a large group (like a family with kids) or you are less comfortable navigating around Italian/Swiss transportation, I’d recommend the tour. You will have very little time in St. Moritz this way, but at least you get the views from the train. If you are a bit more flexible and able to get around various means of transportation, I HIGHLY recommend getting there yourself. By taking the earliest possible route to St. Moritz (which includes 2-3 different trains AND a bus), you can have about 5-6 hours in the city before boarding the Bernina Express to head back to Milan. This is what we did (with a 6-month-old, I’ll add – so it is doable!) and we wouldn’t do it any other way. But we are also professional travelers, so our comfort level could be different. Please feel free to either send me an email or Instagram message if you have any more questions!

  2. Reply

    Helen Dickenson

    May 31, 2023

    Hi Greg,
    I am nearly 70 and was wanting to do the Bernina Express but was wondering if the train from Milan to Tirano and then St Moritz would be better than Train and Bus before taking the Bernina Express back from St Moritz to Tirano and then on to Milan. Bus travel is not kind to older knees and sitting for long periods whereas by train at least you can stand in the aisle and walk along the corridors
    kind regards
    Helen

    • Reply

      Greg

      June 7, 2023

      Hey Helen,

      I absolutely understand that concern. The timetables make this very complicated to do in one day, as you’d only have a couple of hours to actually experience St. Moritz. However, it can be doable if that is what you prefer! The bus ride isn’t very long and it is very spacious, so even with older knees, I recommend it. You can always stand if you need!

  3. Reply

    Nurit

    June 19, 2023

    Hi,
    We are a couple with 3 kids. Can we park at Tirano and get on the train there? Obviously would need to return to Tirano as well. Thank you

    • Reply

      Greg

      June 28, 2023

      Hi Nurit,

      You can absolutely park in Tirano and catch the train there. It is a lovely little town with plenty of places to park. Just try to catch the earliest possible train if you plan to return on the same day, as you probably won’t get much time in St. Moritz otherwise!

  4. Reply

    Anonymous

    November 30, 2023

    I have been trying to find trains from Milan to Tirano so that I can take the Bernina pass that way as we plan to stay some days in the St moritz area, is that possible?

    • Reply

      Greg

      February 19, 2024

      Hi! Yes it is. You can take a train from Milano Centrale straight to Tirano.

  5. Reply

    Ann Marie Palumbo

    December 12, 2023

    Hello,
    This blog is very helpful. My question is when taking Bernina express to St Mortiz can we stay over night and then take Bernina express train back to Torino? Thank you.

    • Reply

      Greg

      February 19, 2024

      Hi Ann Marie! You absolutely can. You can book the Bernina Express tickets as one-way trips, which gives you the opportunity to schedule as long of a stay in St. Moritz as you want. I’d definitely recommend it, too!

  6. Reply

    Leila

    February 13, 2024

    Thanks heaps Greg for the tips in this blog. Did this day trip a few days ago. Forgot to consider the winter sunset time when I booked months ago, so it was dark by the time we were around Poschiavo. Still, it was a fantastic trip!

    • Reply

      Greg

      February 19, 2024

      Hey Leila, I’m happy you had a great time! I hope my post was helpful for you!

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Meet The Author - Greg

Hi, I'm Greg. I'm an avid traveler who has traveled to over 50 countries all around the world with my wife and kids. I've lived in Italy, Mexico, China, and the United States, and I dream of moving abroad again in the future. With this blog, I provide my audience with detailed destination guides to my favorite places and pro-tips to make travel as stress-free as possible.