Visit Brienzer Rothorn, the highest mountain of the Emmental Alps in Switzerland via an outrageously scenic ride on the Brienz Rothorn steam train staring from the lakeside village of Brienz. You can of course hike up if you’re feeling energetic – or down, but the train is a fun experience and a great way to enjoy the landscape.
Sitting at an elevation of 2,350 m, the Brienzer Rothorn enjoys superb views of Lake Brienz – the lake that lies directly east of Interlaken. On a clear day it’s also possible to see an incredible 693 peaks – at least according to the Interlaken website, though I can’t say that I tried to count them. Without a doubt, this is a quintessential mountain experience in Switzerland.
The scenic train ride to Brienzer Rothorn
The journey to Brienzer Rothorn starts in the beautiful town of Brienz on the shores of Lake Brienz, not far from Interlaken. The station for the steam train is located across the road from the main train station.
We missed our hoped for departure time on the train because of the summer crowds. Fortunately in Brienz that isn’t a hardship. Across from the railway station there’s a lakeside path that seems to go on for kilometres. I explored a short section of it before heading back to catch the train while John went looking for birds.
Fun fact: The Brienzer Rothorn steam train climbs up Switzerland’s fourth-highest railway track over a distance of 4.7 miles with grades reaching 25%.
The Brienz Rothorn Railway
The spectacular 7.6 km train journey takes one hour to climb on a cog railway from Brienz (elevation 566 m) to the summit of Brienzer Rothorn (elevation 2,244 m). The steam train has been doing this scenic journey since 1891 – though it’s been through three generations of steam engines. The maximum grade encountered is an astonishing 25%.
Hop on board open-air, bright red cars. Try to score a seat at the side of the car rather than the middle to enjoy better views. As the train pulls away, enter the forest with peek-a-boo views of the lake. Pass a few fine looking Swiss homes, bedecked with red geraniums and enjoy the ride as you continue to chug your way up. All told you go through five tunnels and make one brief stop above treeline at Planalp. The engine’s tank needs to be refilled here for the final stretch to the summit.
At the summit on a clear day the panoramic views are take-your-breath away beautiful. Reportedly you can see the 4,000 metre plus peaks of the Bernese Alps including the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau – peaks we’d see a few days later from a very different perspective while hiking the Via Alpina.
Hiking from Brienzer Rothorn
Enjoy fabulous hiking trails off the top of the Brienzer Rothorn. There’s lots of choice no matter what your hiking ability. Choose from easy 15 minute strolls to full day hikes.
When we visited we had time for about a 75-minute hike. That was enough to get our heart rate up and our legs moving after a solid day of travel. I think the exercise helped us get on the time zone too. Though it wasn’t a tough hike that we did off the summit, we thoroughly enjoyed the views and the wildflower displays that were at their peak in the beginning of August.
Plan your hiking trip ahead of time by visiting the Brienz Rothorn Bahn website. They have route suggestions along with a trail map. The Swiss have done an incredible job signing the trails but note that its time not distance that is provided. I have found that their posted hiking times match my pace.
Where to eat and sleep on the Brienzer Rothorn
Of course you can bring a packed lunch with you to enjoy on a hike from Brienzer Rothorn but there’s a lovely restaurant near the summit where you can also enjoy the views. If you want to appreciate the landscape with far fewer people around, book in for a night at the Mountain Hotel Rothurn Kulm. The sunsets from up here would be glorious.
When is the Brienz Rothorn Railway open?
Every year be sure to visit the Brienz Rothorn Bahn website for exact dates
In 2023, the Brienz Rothorn Bahn runs from June 3 – October 22. There are frequent departures up to eight times a day beginning at around 8:30 AM. It takes just under an hour to reach the summit of Brienzer Rothorn.
On the way down from Rothorn Kulm, the earliest train returns to Brienz at 9:38 AM and the last one leaves at 5:40 PM. You have lots of time to eat and hike but don’t miss the last train down.
On Sundays only in summer (July, August, September) there is an early service train leaving Brienz at 7:36 AM, with an early return from the summit at 9:06 AM.
Planalp, the refueling stop, can be reached beginning on May 6, 2023 via a 30-minute train ride, but the train doesn’t go to the summit until June 3rd.
How much does it cost to ride the steam train?
There are all sorts of variations and permutations when it comes to pricing for the train ride. Are you doing a one way trip, a round-trip or traveling with your children or dog? Perhaps you’d want to catch the first train in the morning for the best prices. The bottom line – check out the website for detailed pricing. But count on about 92 Swiss francs per person without the discount with a Swiss Travel card.
Meiringen to Brienz using our Swiss Travel Pass
On our 10 day trip to Switzerland we had a first class Swiss Travel Pass. It allowed us to hop on and off any train in Switzerland. Once you figure out how it works (and that doesn’t take long) and what to look for on the schedule posted in the train station, it’s a breeze. And of course the trains runs like clockwork.
John and I had to travel on the local train to the town of Brienz from Meiringen – our base for several days, to get on the Brienz Rothorn Railway. We were there in 11 minutes.
As a side note the Swiss Travel Pass also includes a 50% discount on scenic trains like the Brienz Rothorn Railway, discounts on cable cars and free admission to over 500 museums around the country.
Further reading on travel in Europe
- A Dram Good Time: The Speyside Way Whiskey Tour
- What it’s Like to Hike the Full Tour du Mont Blanc
- Cycling Andalucia from Grenada to Ronda
- Highlights of a Week Long Hiking Trip in Mallorca
A huge thank you to Switzerland Tourism for hosting my stay and developing the fantastic itinerary. All opinions are mine.
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