Tips and Inspiration for your European holiday

It’s one of Europe’s most scenic countries with towering mountain peaks, sparkling lakes and lush green fields and the best way to discover Switzerland is by car. If you’d love to explore everything from modern cities to charming alpine villages at your own pace then a Switzerland road trip is perfect for you.


Choosing which places to visit and which ones to miss on your Switzerland vacation can be difficult so,
realising that their country has so much to offer visitors, Switzerland Tourism launched the Grand Tour of Switzerland.


The Grand Tour is a scenic route which highlights the best of Switzerland.  Covering around 1600 kilometres, the Grand Tour takes in 44 top attractions - eleven of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites - two biospheres, five mountain passes that are 2000 metres above sea level and 22 lakes, along the route.


Below you’ll find a suggested 14-day itinerary based on the Grand Tour of Switzerland route but keep reading for my own two week itinerary for touring Switzerland by car.


Lungernsee from Brunig PassWhen driving over the Brunig Pass between Lucerne and Interlaken, you are rewarded with views like this one of Lungernsee.


Whilst the Grand Tour includes visits to Switzerland’s beautiful cities including Zurich, Luzern, Basel, Geneva and Bern (amongst others), for me the real delight in the scenic itinerary is the chance to enjoy some of the best mountain scenery and views in the world. 


Day 1 - Basel to Neuchatel

Distance: 158 km  Highlights along the route: St-Ursanne, La Cahux-de-Fonds, Lake Neuchatel


Day 2 - Neuchatel to Bern

Distance: 252 km  Highlights: Murten, Fribourg, Gruyeres, Gstaad, Interlaken and Thun


Day 3 – Spend the day in Bern


Day 4 - Bern to Lucerne

Distance: 220 km  Highlights: Emmental region, Aargau

>> Fun fact: In Solothun there are 11 fountains, 11 museums, 11 churches, a clock with 11 hands, and even an Oufi-Bier (Eleven Beer)! <<


Day 5 – Spend the day in Lucerne


Day 6 - Lucerne to Zurich

Distance: 221 km  Highlights: Sisikon, Einsiedeln, Rapperswil (a favourite of mine)


Day 7 – Spend the day in Zurich


Day 8 - Zurich to Appenzell

Distance: 175 km  Highlights: Schaffhausen and Rhine Falls, Stein am Rhein, St Gallen


Day 9 - Appenzell to St. Moritz

Distance: 200 km  Highlights: Heidi’s village in Maienfeld, Zernez, St. Moritz


Day 10: St. Moritz to Lugano

Distance: 221 km  Highlights: Three Castles of Bellinzona, St. Gotthard Pass, Locarno,


Day 11 - Lugano to Zermatt

Distance: 264 km  Highlights: Airolo, Furka Pass, Bettmeralp, Matterhorn


Day 12: Zermatt to Lausanne (on Lake Geneva)

Distance: 178 km  Highlights: St-Maurice, Montreux


Day 13 – Spend the day around Lake Geneva


Day 14: Geneva to Neuchatel

Distance: 190 km  Highlights: Nyon, Yverdon-les-Bains, Creux du Van


To plan your Grand Tour of Switzerland, visit the fantastic interactive Grand Tour website where you’ll find suggested routes and useful information.

>>  If you'd prefer to explore Switzerland from the comfort of the Swiss trains, see my Grand Train Tour of Switzerland itinerary here. <<


Switzerland self-drive itinerary

My 14 day Switzerland by car itinerary includes major cities and smaller towns, mountain and lakeside locations and some of the country’s most popular attractions. 


Itinerary DAY 1 | Geneva

Welcome to Switzerland - it’s time to get your Switzerland road trip underway!


Geneva’s location on the shores of the lake of the same name means it is the perfect spot for relaxing but there are plenty of sights and attractions to visit, too.


Most visitors head straight for the Jardin Anglais (English garden) beside lake to admire the
l’horloge fleurie (flower clock) which was created in 1955 to commemorate Geneva’s watchmakers.  


It’s at the English garden that you’ll probably get your first glimpse of the Jet d’Eau, the city’s emblem.  This fountain spurts a huge jet of water 140 metres above the lake, so it’s hard to miss.


Allow some time to stroll around the lake, or even relax onboard a paddlesteamer as it chugs its way across the water.


Other attractions worth a visit include the Palais des Nations, the European headquarters of the United Nations, and its surrounding park; the Reformation Wall; and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum.


For fabulous views of the city and lake, climb the 175 steps of St. Peter’s Cathedral.


Stay: Novotel Geneva Centre - click here to check room rates


Lake GenevaGeneva is a cosmopolitan city on the shores of the beautiful lake of the same name.


Itinerary DAY 2 | Geneva

Having explored the major sights in Geneva city, it’s time to see more of the lake.  There are plenty of lovely towns and villages dotted along the northern shore of the lake including Nyon, Rolle, St. Saphorin, Lausanne and Montreux (read more about this lovely town here).


After a leisurely drive around the lake, be sure to visit Chateau de Chillon, a turreted Medieval castle that has served as a fort, a summer residence for the Counts of Savoy, and a prison!


Check opening times for Chillon Castle here


Stay: Novotel Geneva Centre


Chillon CastleChateau de Chillon perches on the shore of Lake Geneva not far from Montreux.


Itinerary DAY 3 | Geneva to Zermatt

Today’s journey to Zermatt (232 km) should take around three hours if you don’t stop but I suggest you take a break at Martigny.  Visit the 13th century fortress Tour de la Batiaz, the Roman amphitheatre or enjoy a ride around the city aboard the tourist train.


After your break, it’s time to head to the beautiful alpine town of Zermatt. At Visp, the road starts climbing and you’ll be winding your way up the mountain until you reach the village of Tasch.


Zermatt is a car-free town so all vehicles must be parked in one of the parking lots in Tasch and shuttle trains transfer passengers to Zermatt.  The underground car park adjoining the railway station is the most convenient. 


Parking costs CHF15.50 per day (24 hours) and shuttle trains from Tasch to Zermatt (and vice versa) run every 25 to 30 minutes - price CHF16.40 return per adult.  Tickets can be purchased from the machines in the station (English language option available) using a credit card.


After checking in to your hotel, spend the rest of the day exploring Zermatt and admiring the views of the stunning Matterhorn.


Stay: Hotel Mirabeau - click here for current prices


Zermatt SwitzerlandZermatt is a typical Swiss alpine village built at the foot of the iconic Matterhorn.


DAY 4 | Zermatt

Spend the day getting up close and personal with the Matterhorn.  There are two ways to experience this amazing peak at closer range - either catch the Gornergratbahn (train) for front on views or take a cable car ride to Matterhorn Glacier ParadiseItinerary 


The Gornergratbahn is a rack railway that winds its way up from Zermatt to Gornergrat (3089 metres above sea level) where the Matterhorn sits right in front of you.  Trains depart every 30 minutes from the Gornergrat station, opposite the main railway station in Zermatt, and the journey takes half an hour.


Alternatively, jump aboard a cable car for a spectacular ride to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise (3883 m.).  There’s plenty to do here, including summer skiing on the glacier and you’re so close to the majestic Matterhorn you’ll almost be able to reach out and touch it.


After your day’s sightseeing, head back to Zermatt for some retail therapy or treat yourself to a bit of relaxation in one of the many spas and wellness centers in town.


Stay: Hotel Mirabeau


Riffelsee with Matterhorn reflectionA number of walking trails above Zermatt offer you the chance to visit alpine lakes with Matterhorn reflections. This one is Riffelsee on the way to Gornergrat.


Itinerary DAY 5 | Zermatt to Ascona

Today we’re off to another popular Swiss holiday resort but this time it’s one with an Italian flavour.  During today’s drive (148 km), which should take around three hours, you’ll cross into Italy for part of the trip before re-entering Switzerland.

>> Make sure you keep your passport handy in case you are asked to present it at the border. <<


Ascona is situated on Lake Maggiore, the northern tip of which lies in Switzerland.  Italian is the main language spoken here and the architecture has a strong Mediterranean influence.  The climate, too, resembles the Mediterranean and this part of Switzerland is said to be the sunniest in the country.


Stay: For pure luxury, splurge on a room at Eden Roc Ascona - click here to check prices


Ascona SwitzerlandAscona is located in Switzerland's Italian-speaking Ticino region and enjoys a Mediterranean climate.


Itinerary DAY 6 | Ascona

There are plenty of ways to amuse yourself today. (You can find plenty of options in this article.) Why not enjoy a lake cruise to another of the lakeside towns or to one of the two Brissago islands?


Or wander the streets of Ascona’s pretty Old Town where you’ll find plenty of boutiques and galleries lining the narrow cobbled streets.  Many of the buildings date back to the 14th Century.


If it’s too hard to make a decision, head to the lakefront and enjoy a cold drink or a coffee whilst you take in the gorgeous views.


Stay: Eden Roc Ascona


Ferry at Ascona SwitzerlandCruises on Lake Maggiore are popular with visitors to Ascona.


Itinerary DAY 7 | Ascona to Lucerne

It’s only a two hour drive (170 km) to Lucerne this morning so you might like to stop on the way at Bellinzona, a fortress town built in the Middle Ages. 


Three castles remain in Bellinzona today - Castelgrande, Montebello and Sasso Corbano - and all have together been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Castelgrande is the most impressive with its crenellated walls connecting two square towers.


Allow time to explore Lucerne’s Old Town this afternoon.  After checking out the pretty frescoed buildings along the cobblestoned streets, the Chapel Bridge should be your next stop. Other sites worth visiting include the Jesuit Church and the Dying Lion statue.


Stay: Hotel des Alpes - click here to check room rates


Chapel Bridge Lucerne SwitzerlandLucerne's stunning Chapel Bridge is a highlight of any visit.


Itinerary DAY 8 | Lucerne

What a choice you have today!  There are numerous mountain excursions available from Lucerne including trips to Mt. Pilatus, Mt. Titlis and Mt. Rigi.  Titlis boasts the world’s first rotating cable car or you can ride on the world’s steepest cog railway to reach Mt. Pilatus.  Click here to check prices of mountain excursions from Lucerne


Alternatively you could enjoy a lake cruise or spend a few hours at the fascinating Swiss Transport Museum which houses a huge collection of trains, planes, automobiles and ships.  There’s also an IMAX theatre and heaps of interactive displays.


Stay: Hotel des Alpes


Mt Rigi cogwheel trainThe are numerous mountain excursions available from Lucerne including this one to Mt Rigi.


Itinerary DAY 9 | Lucerne to Interlaken

Your Switzerland road trip continues today with a short drive (72 km) but the scenery will blow you away. Allow plenty of time for photo stops as you pass the pretty village of Lungern and drive over the Brunig Pass.  There’s a great lookout point at the top of the Pass with room to park off the road.


Further along, you’ll drive along the shore of Lake Brienz.  The main motorway is the fastest route into Interlaken but why not take a detour into Isetwald and follow the smaller road by the lake to Bonigen? You’re then just a couple of kilometres from Interlaken.


A great way to appreciate Interlaken’s location is to take the funicular to Harder Kulm.  The station is just a few minutes’ walk from the Interlaken Ost railway station in the town centre and the funicular runs every 30 minutes.


At the top you’ll see that Interlaken is nestled between two lakes - Lake Brienz and Lake Thun - and surrounded by alpine peaks.  The Two Lakes Bridge is the perfect spot from which to appreciate nature’s beauty.


Stay: Hotel Derby - click here to check prices


Two Lakes Bridge InterlakenFrom the Two Lakes Bridge on Harder Kulm you get fantastic views of Interlaken and lakes Thun and Brienz.


Itinerary DAY 10 | Interlaken

One of Switzerland’s most scenic train rides is right on your doorstep so if you’ve ever dreamt of visiting the Jungfraujoch, today’s the day.  With a journey time of two hours, you’re advised to set off early to get the most out of your day.


After a scenic train ride, the last thirty minutes of the trip is through a tunnel carved inside the mountain before you emerge at what is known as the Top of Europe. 


There are plenty of activities available at the summit including skiing, sledding and tobogganing in the Snow Fun Park (during summer only). You should also visit the Ice Palace and the Sphinx Observatory. Click here to check ticket prices 


If you don’t fancy sitting on a train for so long, an excursion to the Schilthorn is another great option.  Drive to Stechelberg, just past Lauterbrunnen (about twenty minutes from Interlaken) and then take the cable car via Murren to Schilthorn.


The 360° views you get from up here are simply amazing!  The Schilthorn is also where the James Bond movie “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” was filmed sixty years ago, and the Bond Museum is an interactive and fun display of Bond memorabilia. Click here to check prices 

 

>> TIP: The cable car stops between Murren and Schilthorn at Birg.  Be sure to disembark and check out the Thrill Walk and the Skywalk Platform - if you’re brave enough!  <<


Stay: Hotel Derby


JungfraubahnThe train journey to the Jungfraujoch is one of Switzerland's most popular day excursions from Interlaken.


Itinerary DAY 11 | Interlaken to Bern

It’s less than an hour’s drive (57 km) to the Swiss capital, Bern, so you’ll have plenty of time to see the city’s main attractions, which are all close to the Old Town.


Sites to tick off include the Zytglogge (clock tower), Albert Einstein’s house - he developed the theory of relativity here, the Berner Munster (cathedral) and the
Laubengange, a series of covered arcades that stretch for nearly six kilometres around the Old Town.


Cross the Nydegg bridge over the River Aare to Barengraben, a specially-designed park alongside the river that is home to Pyrenean brown bears, Bern’s symbol.


Heading back into the Old Town you’ll find plenty of places to sit and enjoy the atmosphere in this friendly, vibrant city.


Stay: Hotel Savoy - click here to check room rates


Bern AltstadtThe Swiss capital of Bern is a friendly city with a compact Old Town.


Itinerary DAY 12 | Bern to Basel

Today’s drive should only take an hour so you’ll have plenty of time to have a good look around Basel.  The city, which is close to both France and Germany, is situated on the Rhine River.


Basel’s medieval Old Town sits on the south bank of the Rhine and it’s here you will find the Romanesque-Gothic Munster (cathedral), the brightly painted Rathaus (town hall) and Marktplatz, where a busy market is held every weekday morning.


There are plenty of ancient alleyways and modern shopping streets to explore, too.


Stay:
Steinenschanze Stadthotel - click here for current prices


Basel SwitzerlandBasel sits on the Rhine River close to the borders of both France and Germany.


Itinerary DAY 13 | Basel to Zurich

Although you’re probably keen to reach the lively Swiss city of Zurich, why not stop en route at Baden, one of Switzerland’s oldest health resorts?


Take some time out to immerse yourself in the healing waters of Baden’s spa centre which are rich in sulphur before getting back behind the wheel and continuing on your way.


From Baden it’s just a short drive to Zurich - just enough time to decide how you’ll spend your time in the city.


A city tour is a good way to get your bearings and get a quick lesson in Zurich’s history at the same time but if you’d rather do your own thing, grab a city map from your hotel or the Tourist Office and start exploring on foot.


Stay: Sorell Hotel Zurichberg  - click here to check prices


Zurich SwitzerlandSwitzerland's largest city, Zurich, is often overlooked by tourists but has plenty of sites worth visiting.


Itinerary DAY 14 | Zurich

It’s the final day of your Switzerland road trip and whilst you probably won’t need your car today, there’s still plenty to see and do.


Highlights of Zurich include the Old Town with the Fraumunster and St. Peter’s Kirche (church), the upmarket shopping street Bahnhofstrasse, Limmatquai, and the Grossmunster cathedral.


For great views of the city, head to Lindenhof across the river from the Old Town or take the cable car to Uetliberg, Zurich’s own mountain.


Be sure to wander down to Quai brucke (bridge) where the Limmat flows into Lake Zurich.  Not only do you get fantastic views of the many bridges spanning the river but this is also the place to jump aboard a boat for a pleasant lake cruise.


Before you call it a day, head to Zeughauskeller, a former weapons warehouse that is now home to a popular restaurant serving traditional Swiss meals.  The Zürcher Art schnitzel, a pan-fried veal schnitzel with creamy mushroom sauce, is delicious.


It’s the perfect way to end your Swiss vacation.


Zurich skylineZurich is built on either side of the Limmat River which runs into lovely Lake Zurich.


This 14 day self-drive itinerary of Switzerland covers a good part of the country without requiring long travel distances.  It provides the opportunity to explore cities, holiday towns and mountain resorts at a leisurely pace with plenty of jaw-dropping scenery along the way.


I hope it has encouraged you to go road tripping in Switzerland.


Isetwald Lake BrienzWith a car you have the freedom to explore smaller towns and villages like Isetwald on Lake Brienz.


Important info for driving in Switzerland

  • Before you set off on your road trip, be aware that Switzerland law requires that all vehicles travelling on motorways have a toll sticker (called a vignette) attached to the windshield. 

  • If your rental car does not have a Swiss vignette, you can purchase one from any gas station for CHF40 (valid for 12 months).

  • The maximum speed permitted on Switzerland’s motorways is 120 kilometres per hour.

  • Click here to check prices for car rental in Switzerland


You can find more information about driving in Switzerland - and Europe in general - in my eBook “The Stress-Free Guide to Driving in Europe.”  BUY IT HERE!


Switzerland Travel Planning Facebook Group


Join the Switzerland Travel Planning Facebook group

You are also welcome to join my Switzerland Travel Planning Facebook group where you can ask questions about your upcoming trip to Switzerland.  Click here to join!

 
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Comments   

# Kathrin 2016-08-23 21:30
I’m Swiss and I have seen the Grand Tour signs on the streets, but I did not bother checking the website of Switzerland Tourism. But when I saw a post on pinterest, I clicked on it and got to your website.

I liked your comments and fun facts.

But day 6 was my favourite – Rapperswil (my hometown) is one of your favourites. I absolutely agree with you. It is a cool city to visit and live.
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# Carolyn 2016-08-28 16:25
Thanks for visiting my website to learn more about the Grand Tour of Switzerland, Kathrin. I'm glad liked the article.

How lucky you are to live in Rapperswil. It's a town I'm going to write more about soon.
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