HOW TO PLAN A PERFECT SWITZERLAND ROAD TRIP
- 1 HOW TO PLAN A PERFECT SWITZERLAND ROAD TRIP
- 1.1 ROAD TRIPPING SWITZERLAND TIPS
- 1.2 BEST STOPS FOR YOUR ROAD TRIP IN SWITZERLAND
Are you planning our Switzerland road trip? Then read on because I – as a Switzerland road trip enthusiast – share my road trip travel tips with you.
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, and cities, the attractions, 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 as a driver, 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 2 weeks – however, 3 weeks road tripping in Switzerland would be even better. But reality is, that most of use have less time – so even if you road trip Switzerland for 7 or 10 days, this post will be super helpful to you.
So, whether you road trip 1 week, 2 weeks or 3 weeks – here are the best travel tips for your Switzerland road trip.
ROAD TRIPPING SWITZERLAND TIPS
For a perfect Switzerland road trip it is not only important to know about the best places to stop and see, but also about some essential travel tips for driving in the county. So, here is how to plan a perfect Switzerland road trip.
- You must be 18 or older to drive in Switzerland, and your driver’s license must be in either English, German, Italian, or French.
- Watch speed limit because tickets are very expensive here. The speed limit for motorways/freeways is 120 kph and highways are 100 kph. In the cities, the speed limit is 50 kph, in residential areas 30 kph, and in rural areas 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.
- In Switzerland, you will need a toll sticker for the motorways. It costs about 40 Swiss francs and lasts from December to December (good for 14 months).
- Parking can be tricky. Check out my detailed “driving in Switzerland” post that helps you fining out where exactly you can park and what the colored parking spots mean.
- You should get 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, Grindelwald and a very few more places. However, it is not like Italy where you have to deal with that issue in almost any city.
- If you drive to Switzerland with 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 already have a sticker. You can buy one for your car at gas stations, online, or at the border and it allows you to use the motorway. You could ditch buying it – and try to avoid it by just using second streets but it makes your life harder – and no one wants to deal with Swiss Police if you end up – by mistake – on motorway.
- If you drive in the mountains, keep in mind that streets can be narrow and windy – especially in the Italian-speaking part this could be an issue.
Mountain Passes – nothing, seriously nothing beats – driving in the Alps and passes 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 time of the year. The stunning Sustenpass e.g. is closed from November to June (always check the weather forecast as this is not fixed date but depend on actual weather).
I admit – there were days, I was close to cry out loud just because I was overwhelmed by the beauty of driving in Switzerland.
So, here are some passes I highly recommend (and which 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 with images (and then we will take about the main stops for your Switzerland road trip).
- Flüela (2383 m above sea level): Vereina car-train service from Klosters-Selfranga to Sagliains
- Julier (2284 m above sea level): Pass road open all year and cleared by snowfall
- Sustenpass (2,224 metres): Wassen to Innertkirchen)
- Brünig Pass (1,008 m aviv sea love): Meiringen to Lungern and Giswi
- San Bernardino (2065 m above sea level): Road tunnel from Hinterrhein to San Bernardino
- Gotthard (2106 m above sea level): New pass road or road tunnel from Airolo to Göschenen
- Albula (2315 a above sea level): Thusis to La Punt
- Furka (2429 m above sea level): Car-train service from Realp to Oberwald
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 Switzerland road trip here.
Zurich should be on everyone’s road trip itinerary.
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 historical 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, the hiking and views from Uetliberg, and the Opera District.
I love Zurich and I suggest spending 1 day if you road trip Switzerland for 7 days, if you do a 2-week road trip you can stay 2 days. Of course, I have a more detailed Zurich post for you that you can check out here.
Tip: You can rent a car from the airport in Zurich, or you can take a train to get to the city center and explore Zurich without a car. Driving here means traffic and little parking spots. So, I suggest picking up your rental car once you are about to leave Zurich.
Stein am Rhein & Schaffhausen & Rhine Falls
Stein am Rhein is a small town is located in the northeastern part of Switzerland, just west of Lake Constance. It is best known for its medieval city center and the architecture.
There are many well-preserved, half-timbered houses here with painted facades along the ancient streets in the old town.
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 can spend more time in Stein am Rhine but 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 but park your car outside the town center and walk a few minutes to the city center.
Schaffhausen is a small village in Switzerland that is 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 Romanesque cathedral.
Tip: If you don’t want to stress, you can skip either Schaffhausen oder Stein am Rhine. Both towns are cute and have unique features – so either, you visit the three mentioned places in one day, or you leave out one of the towns.
The Rhine Falls are probably the biggest and 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 very impressive and beautiful. Though they are a very popular tourism stop, the waterfalls and surrounding greenery are really pretty and worth visiting. During May and June, the water level is at its peak and the falls are at their biggest, making them even more amazing.
They average is 150 meters wide and 23 meter high. There are boat tours, viewing platforms, and guided tours offered.
Tip: From Zurich, you ca do a day trip and get to the Rhine Falls easily by car. For tips on where to park (for free and more) check out my more detailed guide on the Rhine Falls.
Basel is a city that is located in the northwestern part of Switzerland. It sits on the Rhine River and is also 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 to be found in Basel 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 is a beautiful city, it probably is the best city to visit if you are into arts. Yes, there is some scenery and you can spend time outdoors but if you do a one-week Switzerland road trip (and aren’t into arts) you might want to skip it (especially because the drive there i snot really scenic).
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.
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 meeting place called the Bundeshaus, or Federal Palace, the Französische Kirche, and the Zytglogge tower from the 13th century.
Bern has a lot of history, but is also an important part of Switzerland today.
Though I really liked Bern, I would not say, it is a must-see on a Switzerland road trip. If you plan a 2-week rad trip, add Bern to your itinerary. If you want to 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.
Lucerne is a city located in the central part of Switzerland, and also in the German-speaking part of the country. It’s filled with colorful architecture and buildings that date back to medieval times.
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 snow-capped mountains of the Alps, which surround the town.
It also has other attractions that are just as scenic and picturesque. Some of these attractions in Lucerne include 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 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 just enjoy the views. Check out my detailed Lucerne guide.
Interlaken is a resort town that is found in the central part of Switzerland. The town is small, full of timber houses, and found between two of Switzerland’s most popular lakes.
When you visit Interlaken, it is not just about the town, but about driving around Lake Brienz and Lake Thun. The drive around Lake Thun, which is a pretty emerald color, is especially scenic. This area is full of mountains, forests, meadows, and glaciers, making it a good destination for hiking and skiing, as well as other outdoor sports.
There are so many stunning spots to drive along – up to Beatenberg, Sigrswill Suspension Bridge (park there and then you can pay a fee to walk the bridge), Thun, Spiez and more…..Oh let’s not forget places like Lauterbrunnen (the drive to Lauterbrunnen is so idyllic and yet stunning), Grindelwald….You get it, don’t skip the region of Interlaken/Jungfrau.
Yes, it is true: This region is one – if not THE – most beautiful area in my opinion. No matter, how often I visit, I never get enough. Depending on your length of your stay, I suggest spending at least 1 day in the region but actually 3 days is a minimum if you road trip here.
Montreaux is known for its picture-perfect looks, from its proximity to Lake Geneva to the nearby mountains.
The pretty vineyards – which comes with a view of Lake Geneva – add to its popularity. There are medieval castles just offshore and the promenade is filled with flowers, sculptures, and trees.
This city in the eastern part of Switzerland sits at the foot of the Alps and offers many attractions. Here you will find access to Lake Geneva, a Freddy Mercury statue, Chateau de Chillon, the vineyards in Chexbres and Vevey, and Rocher de Nayes.
There is also the Montreaux Jazz Festival, the second largest jazz festival in the world, taking place in the summer.
I loved Montreux – and would add it to your road trip itinerary – if you stay in the country for at least 7 days. It is one of the best places to see and experience Lake Geneva and (also known as Lac Leman), is located in a very picturesque area. The town is quite small, and if you don’t have much time, 1 day in Montreux will do it.
Geneva is located in the southwestern end of Switzerland, along the southern tip of the crescent-shaped lake and 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 French-speaking part of the country, Geneva is well-known for its cosmopolitan atmosphere and international appeal.
The city is the location of the Headquarters of Europe’s United Nations and also the Red Cross. It is also famous as a city of diplomatic and financial activity. There is a heavy French influence on both the lifestyle and food in Geneva.
Here is the thing with Geneva – it is located on the southern shores of Lake Geneva and is quite remote – if you really want to visit Geneva, go for it. However, though I suggest spending time in Geneva, with only 7-10 days in Switzerland I would probably skip it and focus on other area.
Zermatt is found in the southern part of Switzerland and can actually not be reached by car – it is car free.
So, in order to get there, you must leave your car and take a 1-day trip to this popular mountain resort. Zermatt is known for its outdoor activities, like climbing, hiking, and skiing. It sits below the Matterhorn Peak at around 1600 meters in elevation.
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.
Park your car in Taesch and take a train to get 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 (but on the other hand, Zermatt is really pretty).
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. The scenery and attractions in the city are beautiful – Lugano sits on the northern shore of Lake Lugano and is surrounded by mountains.
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, as well as the Monte San Salvatore and the Villa del Balbianello.
I love the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland – also, because Lugano is so different than the rest of the country. However, it is also quite remote. and if you only 1 week in Switzerland, then you might skip that and head to Locarno instead.
Locarno is also in the Italian-speaking part of the country but actually not as remote as Lugano (not that much close but still). 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 Cardaga). Also, 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 streets are narrower and busier and if you visit Locarno also visit Valle Verzasca and enjoy this beautiful part of Switzerland.
St. Moritz is found on the eastern side of Switzerland, in the Engadin Valley. It is located high in the Alps, with an elevation of 1800 meters above sea level, making it a popular destination for skiing, snowboarding, and bobsledding.
It has even hosted two Winter Olympics. When the lake freezes over, there is cricket, polo, and horse racing done on the ice. St. Moritz is a favorite resort town in Switzerland because of its excellent outdoor sports and also the natural beauty of the surrounding mountains.
It is absolutely beautiful to drive in this area – if you don’t have much time, however, I suggest, not staying in St. Moritz as it is not the most interesting location (despite being gorgeous, competition in Switzerland is just too big).
Valposchiavo is a secret place that I highly recommend. It is located in the canton of Graubünden, which is close to the Italian border, but is mostly German-speaking.
It’s in a remote location and that might be why is 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.
Switzerland at its best in Valpaschiavo– also, compared to other places in the country it is quite a hidden gem so you won’t see that many tourists like in other parts of the country.
Appenzell & Ebenalp
If you fly back home from Zurich you can stop in Appenzellerland as the last main stop.
Appenzell is located in the northeastern corner of Switzerland, near the German border, and at the foot of the Alpstein Mountains. It is not as well-known as other areas, but it is a pretty scene with rolling hills, high mountains, and old and colorful buildings.
There are a lot of mountain summits that can be reached from Appenzell, including Santis Peak or the beautiful Ebenalp Mountain.
Ebenalp is the most northern summit of the Appenzell Alps. If you enjoy hiking, this is a great place to go – Ebenalp is 1600 meters high. You can also ascend it by taking a cable car from Wasserauen. At the top, you will find a guest house, Ebenalp, where you can stop for drinks or food, or you can stay for a night.
There are great views here because of the elevation and surrounding scenery. It overlooks Lake Seealp and there is also a nearby Alpine garden that is quite lovely.
From here, you can head back to Zurich. I hope you enjoy this Switzerland road trip itinerary and seeing some of the best places in Switzerland while road tripping.