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Up the Rack on Cogwheels
Steam Romance on the Brienz Rothorn Railway

The Rothorn Railway station in Brienz

The romance begins at the Brienz Rothorn Railway station. The charming fairy-tale like building looks very much as it did in 1892 when the nostalgic steam cogwheel train started hauling the first visitors to the summit.

The leisurely ride up to the mountain ridge of the Brienzer Rothorn is an experience for the senses; fresh mountain air mixed here and there with a whiff of oil and smoke, the hissing and puffing sound has a calming effect - especially on screaming children - and the scenery is eye candy for the soul.

The train steeply rises through a romantic mixed forest, cuts through rock walls and crosses Alpine meadows while overcoming 7.6 kilometres (4.7 miles) and an altitude difference of 1678 metres (5505 ft.) in a bit over an hour.

And while the Brienz Rothorn Railway was a major success right off the bat, interest was fading quickly after two other stimulating mountain peaks in the Bernese Oberland were made accessible by mountain trains: Schynige Platte above Wilderswil and the famous Jungfraujoch.

The Brienz Rothorn Railway lokomotives
Three generations steam locomotives of the Brienz Rothorn Railway

The Brienz Rothorn Railway struggled to survive and was closed in 1914. They received permission for demolition in 1916. Ironically though, the rail authorities were so short of money they couldn't even afford to knock it apart. Fortunately, in 1931 regular operations resumed and the cogwheel railway stayed uninterrupted in business ever since.

The Brienz Rothorn Railway deliberately was never electrified in the hopes to attract more visitors - steam fans and day trippers alike. The historic locomotives push the carriages wheezing up to Rothorn Kulm the same way as they did in 1892.

Typical wooden Brienzer chalets

Shortly after the conductor whistles us off, the train drives through front- and backyards, passing flower adorned wooden chalets.

View to Lake Brienz while from the Brienzer Rothorn Railway

Lake Brienz is one of the cleanest Swiss lakes and takes up most of the flat space of the narrow strip between Brienz and Interlaken Ost. Visitors are charmed by its intense turquoise colour that changes to a silvery gray, depending on the weather and the volume of mineral particles and suspended solids the two major tributaries "Aare" and "Lütschine" carry in their glacier water.

The Brienzer Rothorn Railway chugging up to the summit
View to Lake Brienz
In and out of tunnels on the Rothorn Bahn

Six tunnels cut through soil and rock, and if you pay attention, two large panorama windows appear in the two lower tunnels and reveal surprising views.

Another glimbse onto Lake Brienz
A glimpse of Lake Brienz from one of the 'wall widows'
Lake Brienz
A holiday hut above Lake Brienz

A cluster of chalets appear on Planalp, the first stop to refill the thirsty beast with water. It is a small hamlet above Brienz, now mostly a holiday destination for the Swiss. Only a few farm huts remain. A restaurant caters to thirsty and hungry hikers.

A salut from the Brienzer Rothorn Railway

Planalp is the only station where passengers can disembark or board the Brienz Rothorn Railway. Many hikers leave from here or return from their hike and join the last bit of the ride down to Brienz.

The restaurant sign on Planalp on the way to the Brienzer Rothorn

The path to the Restaurant on Planalp is well marked :)

Crossing path - Brienzer Rothorn Railway

The trains pass each other on three occasions...

Another view to Lake Brienz and the Bernese Alps
View to Lake Brienz to the left and Lake Thun to the right

For much of the route, the waters of Lake Brienz glitter in the distance. The view along the way is magnificent, and the higher the better. Lake Thun peeks out on the far right.

Alpine huts on Rothorn mountain above Brienz
Alpine hut on Mount Rothorn

Now that the cows have left their summer vacation spot and returned home to the barn, the buildings of the two Alp Stafels look lonely and abandoned.

Wondrful fall colours on the way up to the Rothorn from Brienz

The experience changes with the season. Spring brings lively greens and flower filled alpine meadows; summer colours are a little more subdued and the grass is shorter since cows feast on alpine herbs all summer. Fall brings intense shades of rich greens, oranges, ochre and sprinkles of grays from rocky areas.

The Brienzer Rothorn Bahn in a magnificent landscape
View from top of the Brienzer Rothorn
Puffing up the hill - Brienzer Rothorn Railway
View from top of the Brienzer Rothorn

The sweeping panorama views from the top are breathtaking - Lake Brienz and and the eastern edge of Lake Thun as well as more than 690 peaks can be seen; the partly snow covered Bernese and central Swiss Alps, the Grimsel- and Brünig regions and the Jurassic mountains are inspiring sights.

View from top of the Brienzer Rothorn

Sörenberg with its scares from a landslide to the North.

View from top of the Brienzer Rothorn

Lakes Lungern (in the foreground) and Sarnen in the distance.

Berghaus Rothorn Kulm above Brienz

Once at the top station, a short walk on a small graveled path leads up to the two restaurants - the Berggasthaus Rothorn Kulm (also a guest house) and just a few steps further up the Summit Restaurant of the Cableway station Sörenberg.

Cable Car from Soerenberg to Rothorn Kulm

Good to Know

Getting there

The Brienz Rothorn Railway station is right across the regular train station and boat launch in Brienz, Bernese Oberland.

From Zürich, Basel, Bern, Luzern, Interlaken Ost and beyond:
  • By train: direct trains to and from Lucerne and Interlaken Ost;
  • By boat: regular scheduled boat rides between Brienz and Interlaken Ost;
  • By car: From Lucerne via Lungern and Brünig Hasliberg pass; from Bern via Interlaken and A8 motorway (pay parking available).
The summit of the Brienzer Rothorn can also be reached from Sörenberg (Luzern) by cable car in summer and winter:
  • By train/bus: to Schüpfheim, change to the bus to Flüli-Sörenberg (Sörenberg Rothornbahn stop) and then by cable car to Rothorn Kulm;
  • By car: Lucerne to Sörenberg (approx. 50 km), exit Emmen-Süd to Wolhusen - Flüli-Sörenberg; From Bern: a beautiful ride through the Emmental via Langnau to Schüpfheim and from there to Flüli-Sörenberg. Parking provided near the gondola station.
Operating hours
  • Daily regular schedule between June and end of October; reduced operations in May. Depending on the weather, the Brienz Rothorn Bahn might only go up to Planalp until June 7 - do check first if you intend to travel early in the season (see link below).
Restaurants (and small museum)
  • Two summit restaurants offer typical Swiss meals.
  • Any of the Swiss Railway Passes and half fare card/Swiss Card offer 50% discount;
  • Children up to the age of 16 free with the family card.
Special Offers
Brienz Rothorn Bahn Hungry? The Sausage Express
might just be the answer :)
  • 0836 ticket, the early bird catches the worm: The ticket for the first train run in the morning (departure 8:36am) is discounted. No advance sale and you have to purchase the ticket in Brienz. It is only valid if you return on the same day;
  • Last week in the season reduced ticket prices;
  • Free trip on your birthday, even a first class trip on Lake Brienz is included;
  • Steam-sausage Express every Wednesday;
  • Swiss National Day with evening program;
  • Sunrise rides including breakfast in July and August.

You will have to make a reservation for some of these special trips, so do check the latest news on their website.

Tip: Also, if you intend to visit in the busy touristy summer months July and August, buy your ticket in advance at your starting point - wherever you are in Switzerland. There's just one ticket booth and the line can get quite long. It is a popular excursion destination for the Swiss too, so you could run into a crowd.

  • Hikes down to Planalp, direction Brünig Pass, and Kemmeriboden-Bad add to the adventure. So, lace up your shoes and follow one of the six well marked hiking trails. With a little luck you'll meet ibexes, chamois and soaring golden eagles while smelling the fragrant alpine flora.

The journey takes you from balmy Lake Brienz (566 m / 1857 ft.) to cool mountain air in 2254 m (7395 ft.) above sea level (Brienzer Rothorn 2350 m (7710 ft.). Weather can change quickly in the Alps. As you can see in these photos, the mid October day started out sunny and pleasant but by the time we reached the summit, harsh winds blew over the exposed ridge and clouds covered the blue sky. The terrace emptied quickly end everyone hurried inside to warm the chilled bones. So, even if you visit on a warm sunny summer day, bring a windbreaker and wear good shoes, especially when you intend on hiking part of the journey.

If the quirky engineering feat of the steam track railway attracts you to make this journey be aware that sometimes a diesel driven engine will be used should a steam locomotive fail or for extra runs. Option: Wait for the next train or contact the Rothorn Bahn for information.

The wonderful scenery is absolutely worth the slow and magical excursion. Enjoy!

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Where in Switzerland is Brienz?

Bernese Oberland map

Train route Brienz to
Rothorn Kulm

Mapped out route of the cogwheel train between Brienz and Rothorn Kulm



What you see here are "Nuggibäume", or "Pacifier / Dummy Trees".

Sometimes it's hard to convince small children to let go of the soother. Parents bring their little ones here to celebrate the letting go of the soother with a small ritual. Children can see that other's contributed their dummy to the "Pacifier Tree".

When the child is ready to let go of the soother it will be tied to the tree and the child will say goodbye to it for good.


The "Dummy Trees" are right next to the Rothorn Railway tracks to the left on the way up to Planalp.

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