HOW TO ROAD TRIP SWITZERLAND + TRAVEL TIPS
- 1 HOW TO ROAD TRIP SWITZERLAND + TRAVEL TIPS
- 2 TIPS FOR ROAD TRIPPING SWITZERLAND
- 3 BEST STOPS FOR YOUR ROAD TRIP IN SWITZERLAND
- 3.1 Stop 1: Zurich
- 3.2 Stop 2: Stein am Rhein & Schaffhausen & Rhine Falls
- 3.3 Stop 3: Basel
- 3.4 Stop 4: Bern
- 3.5 Stop 5: Lucerne
- 3.6 Stop 6: Interlaken
- 3.7 Stop 7: Montreux
- 3.8 Stop 8: Geneva
- 3.9 Stop 9: Zermatt
- 3.10 Stop 10: Lugano
- 3.11 Stop 11: Locarno
- 3.12 Stop 12: St. Moritz
- 3.13 Stop 13: Valposchiavo
- 3.14 Stop 14: Appenzell & Ebenalp
- 4 FINAL THOUGHTS – A SWITZERLAND ROAD TRIP
Are you planning your Switzerland road trip? Then read on because I – a Switzerland enthusiast who visits regularly – share tips with you to plan your road trip itinerary.
Switzerland is one of the best places to road trip. It is incredible to see the lakes you pass, the mountain peaks, the beautiful towns, villages, cities, the UNESCO World Heritage sites, and the lovely natural scenery.
When you drive in Switzerland, it is always mountainous, with altitude often changing quickly depending on where you drive. However, Switzerland is very safe and has great roads. It is just the best place I can imagine to road trip.
The only downside is that you can’t fully enjoy the beauty because you have to focus on the road. If you could only road trip one country in Europe, it should be Switzerland. Even though their public transportation is amazing, so is road tripping.
To visit all the places mentioned here, you need a minimum of 3 weeks. But the reality is that most of us have less time. Even if you road trip Switzerland for 7 or 10 days, this post will be super helpful.
So, whether you road trip 5 days, 1 week, 2 weeks, or 3 weeks – here are the best travel tips for your road trip.
TIPS FOR ROAD TRIPPING SWITZERLAND
For a perfect road trip, it is important to know about the best stops. You will also need some essential travel tips for driving in the country. So, here is how to plan a perfect road trip.
Switzerland Driving Tips
- You must be 18 years or older to drive in Switzerland, and your driver’s license must be in either English, German, Italian, or French.
- Watch the speed limit because tickets are costly here. The speed limit for motorways/freeways is 120 kph, and highways are 100 kph. In the city it is 50 kph, in the cities in residential areas it is 30 kph, and in rural areas it is 80 kph.
- You will be driving on the right side of the street in Switzerland. Always yield right of way to public transportation and emergency vehicles.
- Be aware of pedestrians and cyclists as well.
- If you are traveling with children, any that are younger than 18 months should be in a child safety seat; everyone else needs to use a seatbelt.
- You are required to drive with your lights on, even in the daytime.
- Don’t drink and drive. In Switzerland, the maximum blood alcohol content while driving is 0.05%, which is lower than in many other European countries.
- Gas stations are everywhere, but you’ll find that they are all self-service.
- Parking can be tricky. Check out my detailed “driving in Switzerland” post that helps you find where exactly you can park and what the colored parking spots mean.
- It would help if you got a parking disc, as you may need it. Depending on the color of the zone in which you are parking, you can park for a certain amount of time at no charge. You can get parking discs at police stations, banks, or tourist offices.
- There is little traffic overall – just in cities like Zurich, Lucerne or Geneva, you should expect more traffic.
- Some places are car-free – like Zermatt, Müren, and a very few more areas.
- If you drive to Switzerland in your own car, buy a Swiss Vignette. The toll sticker costs about 40 Swiss Francs and lasts from December to December (so, it is actually good for 14 months). If you rent a car, it will most likely already have a sticker. You can buy them at gas stations, online, or the border. It allows you to use the motorway. You could ditch buying it – and try to avoid it by just using second streets. It will make your life harder though because driving motorways might save you some time. Also, no one wants to deal with Swiss Police if you end up – by mistake – on the motorway.
- If you drive in the mountains, keep in mind that roads can be narrow and windy – especially in the Italian and French-speaking part, this could be an issue because the drivers, in addition, also tend to speed.
Mountain Passes in Switzerland
Nothing, seriously, nothing beats driving in the Alps and the stunning mountain passes in Switzerland. However, the passes are not open all year round due to weather conditions.
Snow means that the passes are closed. Unfortunately, some passes are closed for most of the year. The impressive Sustenpass for example is closed from November to June (always check the weather forecast as this is not a fixed date but depends on actual weather).
I admit it – there were days I was close to crying out loud just because I was overwhelmed by the beauty of driving in Switzerland.
Some you will “automatically pass” if you get from one destination to the other – if the weather allows it.
One day, I will dedicate one post just about the stunning passes, but for now, here are some of my favorite passes (and then we will talk about the main stops for your trip).
- Flüela (2383 meters above sea level):
- Julier (2284 meters above sea level):
- Susten Pass (2,224 meters above sea level):
- Brünig Pass (1,008 meters above sea level):
- San Bernardino (2065 meters above sea level):
- Gotthard (2106 meters above sea level):
- Albula (2315 meters above sea level):
- Furka (2429 meters above sea level):
Best Time to Road Trip Switzerland
If you want to road trip, I highly suggest doing this between the end of June and early October.
While I normally recommend visiting a popular destination in the shoulder season, driving at this time of the year will allow you to drive most (if not all) mountain passes.
The weather should be good at that time of the year (with many rainy days in between, but that is an issue Switzerland has in general).
Though Switzerland does get busy, the roads normally do not. Places like Interlaken, Zurich, or Geneva might be crowded, but most people do not road trip, so you are fine to drive on pretty empty streets.
Where to Stay When Road Tripping Switzerland
One of the best things about road tripping is, that you do not need a base but can change accommodations/locations every few nights. Check out my detailed guide on where to stay in the country.
BEST STOPS FOR YOUR ROAD TRIP IN SWITZERLAND
Tip: Fly into Zurich because it is the main city in Switzerland and has a major airport. You can start your road trip here.
Stop 1: Zurich
Zurich is located in the northern part of Switzerland, right on the edge of Lake Zurich. It is also the country’s biggest city and known for banking and finance. But it also has a very historic Old Town that dates back to before medieval times.
The promenade and buildings are centuries old as well. Zurich has plenty of cobblestone streets to stroll down as you explore the area. Some of the attractions here are Lake Zurich, Bahnhofstrasse, Lindenhof, Uetliberg, and the Opera District.
I love Zurich, and I suggest spending half a day or 1 day if you road trip Switzerland for 7 days. If you do a 2-week road trip you can stay 1,5/2 days. Of course, I have a more detailed Zurich post for you that you can check out here.
- TIP: Get from Zurich airport to the city center by train and explore Zurich without a car. Driving here means traffic and few parking spots. Even if you find a parking spot, you might only be allowed to stay for 2-4 hours. The park house might be the best option if you drive to Zurich´s city center. I suggest picking up your rental car once you are about to leave Zurich.
WHERE TO STAY IN ZURICH:
- Zurich has some great luxury hotels which are amazing to get spoiled and enjoy life. Baur au Lac is one of the best-rated luxury hotels close to the city center.
- Warning, there are not many budget hotels in Zurich. This is a good-rated hostel. I stayed here once and for a hostel it actually was quite good.
- Check out my guide on the best places to stay in Zurich.
Stop 2: Stein am Rhein & Schaffhausen & Rhine Falls
Stein am Rhein is a small town located in the northeastern part of Switzerland, just west of Lake Constance. It is best known for its medieval city center and architecture.There are many well-preserved, half-timbered houses here with painted facades along the old town’s ancient streets.
There are also nearby attractions, like St. George’s Abbey on the banks of the Rhine River, a museum, and Hohenklingen Castle overlooking the town, which was built during the Middle Ages.
The charming and ancient sights around this small village make it a popular destination for visitors to Switzerland.
- TIP: If you have more time, you can also combine the trip with visiting the Rhine Falls and Schaffhausen in one day.
- It is easy to drive to Stein am Rhine. Park your car outside the town center and walk a few minutes to the city center.
Schaffhausen is a small village in Switzerland located very close to the Rhine Falls, along the upper Rhine River.This is also very close to the German border, and there are many vineyards. The buildings in this medieval town are done in a Baroque style and often have decorated facades and bay windows overlooking the streets. Schaffhausen is a small Swiss town that has a very inviting and charming atmosphere.
You can also visit nearby attractions like the 16th century Munot Fortress, the gothic St. Johann church, and the Kloster Allerheiligen monastery with a Romanesque cathedral.
- Tip: If you don’t want to stress, you can skip Schaffhausen or Stein am Rhine. Both towns are cute and have unique features. But since the Rhine Falls are also on the list for this day, you might want to skip one of the towns.
The Rhine Falls are the most powerful falls in all of Europe. I know, the Dettifoss Falls in Iceland also claims to be the most powerful, but I think the Rhine Falls actually is more powerful.Anyhow, located near the German border, they are imposing and beautiful. During May and June, the water level is at its peak – making them even more amazing.
The average is 150 meters wide and 23 meters high. There are boat tours, viewing platforms, and guided tours offered.
- TIP: From Zurich, you can do a day trip and easily get to the Rhine Falls by car.
- Check out my more detailed guide on the Rhine Falls.
Stop 3: Basel
Basel is a city that is located in the northwestern part of Switzerland. It sits on the Rhine River, close to the borders of Germany and France.Like many cities in this area, it has been around since medieval times, and the architecture and layout of the city show this. The old town surrounds the marketplace, which has a large red sandstone Town Hall from the 16th century. Other attractions include the tomb of Erasmus, who was a 16th-century Dutch scholar. You can find some of his works in the university in town- and also a 12th-century Gothic cathedral.
Though Basel has a beautiful city center, it probably is the best place to visit if you are into arts, because it is full of galleries. Yes, there is some scenery, and you can spend time outdoors.
However, if you do a one-week Switzerland road trip and aren’t into arts, you might want to skip Basel.
- Check out my Basel itinerary for more travel tips.
Stop 4: Bern
Bern is perhaps the most beautiful capital in Europe. It is located along a crook in the Aare River, in the central part of the country, which makes it – amongst other reasons – a good stop.
The Swiss refer to it as their “Federal City.” It dates back to medieval times, around the 12th century. You can see this is the Altstadt architecture. Other impressive buildings to look for are the Swiss Parliament, the Zytglogge Tower from the 13th century or places like the Rose Garden, and the bear park.
Though I really liked Bern, I would not say it is a must-see if you have minimal time only.
If you plan a 2-week road trip, add Bern to your itinerary for 1 day. If you also visit places in the south and central Switzerland you might have to pass here.
- If you visit during your road trip, check out my 1-day itinerary.
WHERE TO STAY IN BERN:
If you can, book your hotel in the old town. From there, you can get to all (or most) attractions in Bern within minutes.
- Luxury Hotel: If you are looking for a 5-star luxury place to stay, Bellevue Palace is probably the best place to stay for your Bern trip. It is centrally located and is great for those who like to indulge in luxury. To check out rates, click here.
- Mid-Range Hotel: I stayed at the 3-star hotel Goldener Schlüssel for 1 night, located in the city center/old town. Though my hotel room was pretty small though, with no direct (and free) parking options and the breakfast was simple, the location was perfect and made up for it. It was also pet-friendly (I had my dog with me). Check out rates here.
- Budget Hotel: Switzerland is no budget-friendly place, and Bern is no exception. Bern Youth Hostel is located in the city center. It offers affordable dorm beds but also private rooms with private bathrooms. Check out rates here.
Stop 5: Lucerne
Lucerne is a city located in the central part of Switzerland where they speak German. It’s filled with colorful architecture and buildings that date back to medieval times. Without a doubt, one of the best places to add to your road trip itinerary.To the north of the Old Town, you will see a 14th-century rampart (Musegg Wall). When you travel out to Lake Lucerne, you get a great view of the Alps’ snow-capped mountains surrounding the town.
It also has other attractions that are just as scenic and picturesque. Some of these attractions include the Chapel Bridge, a 17th century Jesuit Church, Spreuer Bridge, Lion Monument, and Weggis. Make sure to drive along Lake Lucerne as well.
Lucerne should be on your Switzerland road trip itinerary whether you plan a 5, 7, or 14-day trip. With less than 7 days, 1 day in Lucerne is probably a good amount to visit.
BUT you need to make sure to also drive along the Axenroad and head all the way to Vitznau. It is an amazing road with some of the very best views in the region. Driving along Lake Lucerne (Vierwaldstättersee) is…just beautiful.
And if you want to rest at the lake, then head to Weggis (pass the main town center) until you find a little secret spot where not many people are. Here you can swim in the lake or enjoy the views.
- Check out my detailed Lucerne guide.
WHERE TO STAY IN LUCERNE
Lucerne has a very high density of great hotels. Unfortunately, accommodation is not cheap in Lucerne. Budget hotels also cost quite a fortune (at least during high season). I have stayed at several hotels in Lucerne, and here are some tips.
- Luxury Hotels in Lucerne: Schweizerhof Luzern is a lovely luxury hotel. I stayed for two nights. It is a beautiful and fun 5* hotel located at Lake Lucerne’s shores and a few hundred meters from the old town and main tourist attractions. Check out rates here.
- Mid-Range Hotels in Lucerne: Hotel des Alpes is a lovely 3-star hotel in the city center (and it comes with great views). However, it is not only about the views. The restaurant downstairs offers breakfast (with a view), and from there, you are ready to explore the city within minutes. I think there is no better 3-star hotel with a better location in Lucerne than this hotel. Click here to find the best rates for your stay at Hotel des Alpes.
- Budget Hotels in Lucerne: The Bed + Breakfast offers single and double rooms (with an occupancy of 4 people maximum). Some rooms have a shared bathroom, and some have a private one. Click here to find the best rates for your stay at B&B.
Stop 6: Interlaken
Interlaken is a resort town in the central part of Switzerland. The town is small, full of timber houses, and is between two of Switzerland’s most popular lakes: Lake Thun and Lake Brienz.When you visit Interlaken, it is not just about the town but also about driving around Lake Brienz and Lake Thun.
The drive around Lake Thun, a pretty emerald color, is especially scenic and one of the most beautiful places to road trip in Switzerland. This area is full of mountains, forests, meadows, and glaciers. A perfect destination for hiking, skiing, and other outdoor sports.
Lake Brienz is another special lake with many great villages along the shores!
- TIP: It really depends on which side of the lake you are driving. For Lake Thun, make sure to drive along Beatenberg and Sigriswil (along the northern shores of Lake Thun). Also, on Lake Brienz also drive along the northern shores (so along Niederried). Most of the time, the motorways are less scenic than the side streets.
Oh, let’s not forget places like Lauterbrunnen (the drive to Lauterbrunnen is so idyllic and yet stunning), or Grindelwald.
Whatever you do, don’t skip the region of Interlaken/Jungfrau.
Yes, it is true: This region is one – if not THE – most beautiful area in Switzerland.
No matter how often I visit, I never get enough. Depending on the length of your stay, I suggest spending at least 3 days in the region, but actually, 4 days is a minimum if you road trip here. But you could also stay here for weeks.
- Check out my guide with the 50 best things to do in Interlaken.
WHERE TO STAY IN INTERLAKEN:
- The most luxurious hotel in Interlaken is Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa. Since I have not stayed there myself, I can repeat what I heard: This hotel is supposed to be amazing, so if you are looking for a fancy place, this is probably the best pick. Check out prices here.
- I recently stayed at Hotel du Nord and I actually was very positively surprised. The reviews were not great, but since all rooms were renovated lately, it is a great place to stay. Click here to get the best deals.
- If you are on a budget, I recommend staying at this gorgeous hostel that I stayed at when I was not traveling with my dog. This hostel is a bit more expensive than other hostels, but the best I have stayed at + they also offer free parking in the heart of Interlaken. Check out the hostel here.
- Check out my Interlaken accommodation guide for more tips on where to stay.
Stop 7: Montreux
Montreux, a village on the northern shores of Lake Geneva, is known for its picture-perfect looks. Located in the more southern/western part of Switzerland it sits at the foot of the Alps and offers many attractions.
The pretty vineyards in Chexbres and Vevey, a medieval castle – Chateau de Chillon – and a promenade filled with flowers, sculptures, and trees, access to Lake Geneva, a Freddy Mercury statue… There are many reasons to visit Montreux.
If you road trip Switzerland for at least 7 days, Montreux is one of the best places to see and experience Lake Geneva (which is also known as Lac Leman).
The town is quite small, and if you don’t have much time, 1 day in Montreux will do it.
Where to Stay in Montreux:
- Luxury Hotels in Montreux: For one of the most luxurious experiences in Montreux, check out Fairmont Le Montreux Palace. This 5-star hotel has a great location and is best known amongst those who like to indulge.
- Mid-Range Hotels in Montreux: I stayed at the lovely 4-star hotel Eurotel which you can check out here – I was more than happy with my choice.
- Budget Hotels in Montreux: Okay, there are not really budget-friendly hotels in Montreux – accommodation around Lake Geneva is just pretty expensive. Find out about the best budget hotels in Montreux.
Stop 8: Geneva
Geneva is located in the southwestern end of Switzerland, along the southern tip of the crescent-shaped Lake Geneva. It is famous for its old town and diplomatic activities.
The city has the second largest population in Switzerland after Zurich and is surrounded by the Alps and Jura Mountains. Located in the country’s French-speaking part, Geneva is well-known for its cosmopolitan atmosphere and international appeal.
The city is the Headquarters of Europe’s United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, and it is also famous as a city of financial activity.
Here is the thing with Geneva – it is located quite remotely. If you really want to visit Geneva, go for it. I have always enjoyed Geneva. However, with only 7-10 days in Switzerland, I would skip it and only drive to Montreux and then not continue driving all the way down to Geneva.
WHERE TO STAY IN GENEVA:
You can see a large portion of Geneva’s attractions in one day. I have had my own experiences with hotels in Geneva. And I must say, there were quite some bad experiences amongst them. They are very, very expensive and also standards were not always what I expected.
- However, there are some stunning hotels close to all the main attractions that won’t break the bank. My personal favorite is N’vY Manotel.
Stop 9: Zermatt
Zermatt is in the southern part of Switzerland and you can actually not reach by car. Zermatt is car-free. It sits below the Matterhorn Peak at around 1600 meters in elevation and is one of the hotspots in the country.Zermatt is known for its outdoor activities, like climbing, hiking, and skiing (which you can do at any time of the year).
Within Zermatt, you will find the main street, called Bahnhofstrasse, which is full of restaurants, hotels, boutiques, as well as outdoor skating rinks, and places devoted to apres-ski in winter in Zermatt.
Park your car in Taesch and take a train to Zermatt. Depending on your time in Switzerland, I would plan in 1 or 2 days.
Since Zermatt is quite remote, you could actually also skip it; on the other hand, Zermatt is beautiful and makes a good stop on any Switzerland road trip itinerary.
WHERE TO STAY IN ZERMATT:
Zermatt is known for being an extremely luxurious destination (even for Switzerland standards). There are no real budget hotels (if you would like to find out about my best tips on saving money in Switzerland, click here).
- Luxury hotels in Zermatt: Here is one of the best-rated luxury hotels in Zermatt: Grand Hotel Zermatterho.
- Mid-range hotels in Zermatt: Sunstar Hotel Zermatt is the hotel I stayed at. The prices were very reasonable (summer prices are normally better than the prices in winter) and the location was great. I even had a great room view of Matterhorn mountain.
- Click here to find my accommodation guide for Zermatt.
Stop 10: Lugano
Located in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, in the Ticino region, Lugano is a Swiss city with a lot of Italian influence. The architecture and the food are proof of this. And the beautiful people!
Lugano sits on the northern shore of Lake Lugano – the lake is stunning and so is the scenery.
Inside the town, you can find the main square, called the Piazza Della Riforma, which is done in pastel colors and a neo-classical design. But you can also do some wonderful hikes from Monte San Salvatore or Monte Bre.
- Here is my detailed post on Lugano and its top activities.
Make sure to also visit Morcote – it is, seriously, the most beautiful village in Switzerland, and can be easily visited from Lugano.
- Check out my Morcote post for more tips (and pictures)!
I love this part of Switzerland – also because Lugano is so different from the rest of the country. However, it is also quite remote, so that you might skip it and head to Locarno instead. Ideally, you can visit both though.
Stop 11: Locarno
Locarno is also in the Italian-speaking part of the country but actually not as remote as Lugano. Located on Lake Maggiore, it’s known for its sunny climate.It has a beautiful lake area, plus some gorgeous mountain peaks that offer great views (including Cardada). The 15th-century Santuario Della Madonna del Sasso, an art-filled pilgrimage site overlooking the city, is a beautiful place to add to your road trip. Driving here is a bit more stressful (however, nothing like Italy) as the roads are narrower and busier. If you visit Locarno, also visit Valle Verzasca and enjoy this beautiful part of Switzerland. Check out my Locarno guide for more info.
WHERE TO STAY IN LOCARNO:
- Luxury Hotels in Locarno – I have stayed at a couple of very luxurious hotels, but this is probably my favorite – ever. Villa Orselina is a top luxurious small boutique hotel in Orselina, just a few minutes from Locarno. Check out prices here.
- Mid-Range in Locarno – Hotel Garni Muralto. I did not stay here, but it is one of the best-rated hotels in that price range. Check out prices here.
Stop 12: St. Moritz
Now it is time to explore one of the most stunning areas in Switzerland – Graubünden or Grison in English. It is a lesser-known canton (state) – except for St. Moritz – to foreigners, but it is one of the most popular spots for Swiss tourists.
Believe me when I say that it is one of the most beautiful states in the whole country. Especially in fall, its beauty is ridiculous with all the fall foliage.
St. Moritz is found on the southeastern side of Switzerland, in the Engadin Valley. It is located high in the Alps, with an elevation of 1800 meters above sea level. So, it is a popular destination for skiing, snowboarding, and bobsledding.
St. Moritz is a favorite resort town in Switzerland because of its excellent outdoor sports and the surrounding mountains’ natural beauty. The lakes here are extraordinarily pretty! However, even by Swiss standards, St. Moritz is expensive. I mean, really, really expensive.
If you stay for two nights, you will get a pass that allows you to use public transportation in the area for free + you can use all 13 cable cars in the area! So, under these conditions – stay 2 nights and be active – it is worth a visit! This offer is only valid until the end of October each year. So, if that sounds appealing to you, check out the participating hotels and offers.
Stop 13: Valposchiavo
Valposchiavo is a hidden gem in Switzerland that I highly recommend. It is located in the canton of Graubünden, which is close to the Italian border and close to St. Moritz. It is just stunning!It’s in a remote location, which might be why it isn’t more popular among tourists. Valposchiavo has a natural beauty that is hard to equal. With its calm and serene lake, lovely valley, and charming town, Valposchiavo is a great place to stop on a Switzerland road trip.
It is actually one of my favorite places in all of Switzerland, and it is absolutely stunning to drive here – the views, the lakes, the mountain passes.
You can find Switzerland at its best in Valposchiavo. Compared to other places in the country, it is quite a hidden gem, so you won’t see many international tourists here.
Stop 14: Appenzell & Ebenalp
If you fly back home from Zurich, you can stop in Appenzellerland as the last main stop of your Switzerland road trip. This part of the country is stunning – the rolling green hills are pretty unique.Appenzell town is located in Switzerland’s northeastern corner, near the German border, and at the Alpstein Mountains foot. It is not as well-known as other areas, but it is pretty! Pretty, pretty, pretty!
You can reach many mountain summits from Appenzell, including Santis Peak or the beautiful Ebenalp Mountain and the famous mountain guesthouse The Aescher.Ebenalp (at 1600 meters above sea level) is the most northern summit of the Appenzell Alps. You can either hike up or take a cable car from Wasserauen station.
From Ebenalp and Aescher Guesthouse, you can overlook Lake Seealpsee.
- Check out my Appenzell guide for more travel tips.
From here, you can head back to Zurich or continue your journey and head to Southern Germany and explore that beautiful part of the world.
FINAL THOUGHTS – A SWITZERLAND ROAD TRIP
Switzerland is my favorite travel destination. Given its extreme beauty and the breathtaking scenery, I cannot get enough of driving there, and I am amazed every single time.
The country’s high prices – something that I cannot ignore – will not stop me from revisiting the country and exploring what Switzerland has to offer.
I hope you enjoy this Switzerland road trip itinerary. Seeing some of Switzerland’s best places while road tripping is such a fun way to discover the country’s beauty.
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