A beautiful train ride is from Zürich, Switzerland to Innsbruck, Austria. This three and a half hour trip treats riders to comfortably sit and gaze from large windows onto blue inland lakes, green pastures, and picturesque mountain passes all set among the backdrop of the grand European Alps.
Our trip began at the enormous Zürich Hauptbahnhof (Zurich’s main train station). We had arrived at the main station on a local train and several levels below ground. The escalator brought us to ground level where a number of trains were queued to leave for their respective destinations. A large train schedule board overhead flipped to life every few minutes to update the departure times.
The station was enormous and busy but well maintained and clean. A flurry of people passed; some briskly walked to work, others sprinted by with shopping bags, some people lugged backpacks. Vendors at stalls sold everything from sandwiches to cigarettes.
We found our ride at track #3 and boarded. The train was immaculate and spacious, which at first seemed curious since we were in the economy section. We found a moderately empty passenger car, stowed our backpacks and sat down at a table. A digital display over the seat stated our seats were reserved at Salzburg but that was long after we were to depart. The WC (bathroom) was very clean, well stocked with supplies and roomy. An attached Bistro car sold beer and sandwiches.
Exactly at 10:40 A.M. the train left the station. For the entire trip, the passenger car gently rocked. There was little if no noise from the tracks.
The passengers on the left of the train enjoyed great views of the Zürichsee, an inland lake that stretches roughly 40 km in length. The shallow waters were blue and emerald and people were seen swimming in several areas. Sailboats were occasionally berthed just offshore. The giant lake ended and soon was replaced by a smaller but equally beautiful Walensee. Here large gray mountains plunged into the steely blue waters. After twenty minutes or so the lake transitioned to gentle fields of green were fat mountain cows grazed.
At the Buchs Station, the train stopped and a small number of people transferred. Several lightly armed border police did a walkthrough of the cars. The train departed and within minutes passed over an emerald mountain river, this was the Rhine, one of Europe’s major rivers. The waters of the Rhine would ultimately empty in the north Atlantic Ocean. At this location, the Rhine marked the border between Switzerland and the small country of Lichtenstein. As we crossed over the river we saw lots of trees but soon there were houses and businesses, this soon gave away to green lush woods. After 6 km (roughly 4 miles) or so we quietly passed into Austria.
A few kilometers into Austria the train stopped at Bludenz and the border police we had seen earlier departed the train. From here the train moved further into Austria and climbed higher in elevation. The streams cascaded down the sides of mountains and the valleys became very steep; the train soon left the valley floor and snaked along the edge of the steep and forested mountain. Occasionally the trees would open and flood the car with light and astounding views of the valley below. The train disappeared into a tunnel and for the next five or so minutes only darkness could be seen outside our well-lighted passenger cars. The water in a bottle sitting on the table in front of me slowly changed from being slightly angled down at the front of my bottle to that of the back and suggested the train’s ascent had now become decent. We had just passed under the continental divide of Europe! From here all of the streams and rivers would flow to the Mediterranean.
Shortly after exiting the tunnel the small trickles of water now tumbled in a different direction. Snow still dotted the high peaks. The train raced down the mountainside and the scenery whizzed past. Here the road and the tracks seemed to dance down the valley sometimes sharing the same side of the river. The barren high peaks turned into forests and the small waters of the neighboring stream became the mighty Inn River, another major river of Europe.
Mountains still bordered both sides of the valley and large green pastures opened up as the valley became wider and more gentle. The valley itself was flanked by peaks that towered 2,427 meters (7400+ feet) overhead. In the distance was Innsbruck. We gathered our belongings as the train pulled into the Innsbruck Hauptbahnhof. We stepped off the train into the historic and beautiful city.
The train is more affordable if you can reserve ahead of time. If you purchase tickets at the Bahnhoff the day of travel the price can double, costing 75 Swiss Franks (or $100 US Dollars). Make reservations online if possible. The trip was from Zürich to Innsbruck was 284 km (176 miles) with only 7 stops. It is a very fast, clean and excellent way to see this amazing countryside.