If you like to drive, then Switzerland is definitely the place for you. Amazing mountain vistas. Blue alpine lakes. Mountain passes that are a pleasure to dive and…more well-behaved drivers than most of Europe!
The biggest challenge when coming to Switzerland is not in choosing what to see. But, in what NOT to see. Yes, there are so many stunning destinations, it can be hard to choose the ones for your Switzerland itinerary.
So, in this post, I will give you what I consider to be the most amazing road trip itinerary for anyone visiting Switzerland.
From cities to villages. From valleys to 4000-meter peaks. This trip has it all. Have a look at the Switzerland itinerary map:
All you have to do is hire a car, get used to driving in Switzerland, and follow along.
Starting In Zurich
Most people will find themselves in Zurich when the land in Switzerland, and as far as cities go, it’s a great place to start.
Zurich is located on the edge of the Swiss Alps, with a massive lake right in the middle of the city and not very far from other epic spots like Weissbad.
So, the epic views start from the very first day.
To really get to know this city, it is best to do everything on foot (you can always jump on a tram if you get tired). With that in mind, here is a self-guided walking tour of Zurich to whet your appetite:
- Start at the main train station (Zurich HB) and cross the bridge to the Central tram stop.
- From there head across the road to the Polybahn (a small cog railway) and take it up to the ETH’s Polyterrasse to get the best view of Zurich
- Head back to Central and walk along Zurich’s main “old town” street – Niederdorfstrasse, all the way to the Grossmunster church
- Continue along to the lake from here and walk along the shore soaking up the view (if it’s summer you can also go for a swim in the lake)
- Head back towards the train station along the famous shopping street Bahnhofstrasse and admire the brands most of us can’t afford (Dolce & Gabanna, Tiffany’s, Prada, Rolex etc)
- Once the expensive shops run out you should be around Paradeplatz tram stop. From here you can head right, back into the old town and explore that some more. Aim to get a view at the Lindenhof too.
Note: Because parking is at a premium in most cities here, I recommend you pick up the car when you are ready to leave Zurich for Lucerne. Cars are readily available at the airport which is only 10 minutes from downtown and takes you right to the highway.
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A Scenic Drive To Lucerne
If you are in a hurry to get to Lucerne, a highlight on most people’s trip, then it’s only about 45 minutes (on the highway). However, if you want some stunning views on the way then take the scenic route via Brunnen and Vitznau along the shores of Lake Lucerne.
Once in Lucerne, you will be greeted by another highlight-filled town that I recommend you spend two days in.
On the first day, you should soak up the sights in Lucerne, of which there are plenty. And just like Zurich, it can all be done on foot:
- The iconic Chapel Bridge with paintings from the 17th century, and Europe’s oldest covered bridge
- The old town and its maze of stunning painted houses, fountains and upmarket shops
- A walk along the lake on the left-hand bank, soaking up the scene and some of the stunning hotel architecture
A Jaunt Into The Mountains
Day 2 should be spent doing one or more day trips from Lucerne, which will take you into the mountains for the first time.
You have three options (in order of stunning-ness in my opinion):
- The Golden Round Trip from Lake Lucerne up Mount Pilatus and back (via boat)
- A trip up Mount Rigi (via boat to Vitznau, or do it on your way in by car)
- A ride To Burgenstock – featuring James Bond’s glass elevator scene
A Laked-Filled Day To Interlaken
Everyone is in a rush to get from Lucerne to Interlaken, your next epic stop on this stunning road trip. My recommendation though is to take your time.
The drive to Interlaken is filled with eye-popping blue lakes and your first Swiss mountain pass.
Leaving Lucerne, the first part seems boring as you head through a few tunnels (yes, the Swiss love tunnels) out of town towards Sarnen. Soon though, you will want to take a few detours and soak up the lakes and views that are turning your head (mostly to the right) every few minutes.
First, we have Lake Sarnen, one of two beautiful lakes I have had the pleasure of paddle boarding on here. But it gets even better, once you hit Lake Lungern. This lake has a blue that is mesmerizing, and I recommend you stop at the lake to take a few photos. I always stop at the Kaiserstuhl restaurant at the head of the lake. There’s not only a great view of the lake and mountains, but it’s also a pleasure to stop for a coffee.
From here you can follow the road along the lake shore and rejoin the main road at the end, skipping the tunnel that stops you from enjoying what is an almost perfect Swiss lake.
After the lake, it’s up and over the Brunig pass, an easy but winding drive over into the true “mountains of Switzerland” around Interlaken. Don’t forget to stop halfway up for the view back down the valley. It can get busy up here, so I recommend you do this drive early if you can. The parking can be tough come midday.
After the pass, you will start to spy another mind-blowingly blue lake – Lake Brienz.
This is one of the two lakes between which sits your destination – Interlaken (literally – between lakes).
If you have time, take the right-hand side road via Oberried to get a more intimate version of this part of the trip.
Interlaken, Grindelwald & Jungfraujoch
Interlaken is yet another highlight on many people’s trip to Switzerland, and for good reason. There is so much to see and do here, you will want to stop for 2-3 days here if you can.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here is what I would visit if I was you:
- Wait for a perfectly sunny day and head up to the Top Of Europe on the Jungfraujoch (it’s so high, that any bad weather will ruin it)
- Take a train up to the Lauterbrunnen valley and then a gondola up the another James Bond classic – The Schilthorn
- Spend a half-day wandering around Interlaken’s old town (Unterseen) and head up to Beatenberg for a view of the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau (or paraglide off it)
- Take a gondola up to First and walk to the mirror reflection lake (Bachalpsee) and get a little adrenaline rush on the First Flyer or Tissot Cliff Walk
Caution, Epic Views Ahead
The best way to get to your next destination, Zermatt, is via another amazing mountain pass – the Grimselpass. This part of the journey is about 3 hours drive time, so it will take you most of the morning.
To get there, you take the road back along Lake Brienz (you can take the road on the other side this time) and head to Meiringen. This is the home of the Swiss Meringue and a great place to stop for a coffee and a massive piece of Meringue! Meringen is also home to the place where Sherlock Holmes met his demise – the Reichenbach Falls. It’s just outside of town and is reached via yet another cog railway! If you are a fan of Sherlock or waterfalls, this is an absolute must-see.
Continuing along the road to the Grimselpass you will pass by the Aare Gorge, which is certainly no Grand Canyon, but worth a look if you are taking a leisurely drive to Zermatt. If you saw the Trummelbach Falls in Lauterbrunnen area, you can probably give this a miss.
The drive up to the Grimselpass is actually quite an easy one, but take your time and enjoy the views. I also recommend stopping at the top and going for a short walk so you can get some great photos of the surrounding peaks and lakes. It’s also a good spot for a coffee if you have time (as always).
Once you are over the pass you can head almost non-stop to Zermatt, or if you have time, stop for another epic view above Fiesch. I did this with my parents a few years ago and it’s worth a couple of hours stop. You take the gondola to the top and get to see Europe’s longest glacier (23km / 14 miles) – the Aletsch Glacier. It’s actually a glacier that starts at the Jungfraujoch, but you can only truly appreciate it from up here.
One last thing to mention before you arrive in Zermatt: you cannot actually drive “into Zermatt”. It is a car-free town. So, you have to leave your car in a carpark at Täsch for the duration of your stay, and take the train one stop in the town. Sounds annoying, but once you walk around this picturesque town you will appreciate the lack of cars.
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Zermatt – A Highlight Amongst Highlights
Everyone talks about Lucerne and Interlaken, but for me, Zermatt is one of the best spots to visit in Switzerland. It is a compact, car-free alpine town that has a location that would make any other town jealous. It is nestled below Switzerland’s most iconic mountain, the Matterhorn, and surrounded by many other towering 4000m / 13000ft peaks.
Zermatt is all about “getting into the mountains” quite literally, and there really is a huge amount of things to do here:
- Take a trip on the railway up to the Gornergrat and get a distant view of the Matterhorn at Zermatt
- Test your altitude resistance, or even go for a summer ski at Zermatt’s highest gondola stop – The Klein Matterhorn (Little Matterhorn)
- Head out on some hikes either from the town up or along the mountains around Zermatt including some great lakes to get a reflection shot of the Matterhorn
- My highlight was a helicopter ride around the peaks (including an up-close and personal with the Matterhorn) with Air Zermatt
The Return Journey Doesn’t Have To Be Rushed
Now, of course, this depends on your plans and how much time you have, but returning to Zurich leaves you with lots of options. Afterall, Switzerland is a small country!
- The fastest way back: take the car on a train through the Lotschberg tunnel via Kandersteg and then head along Lake Thun, around Bern to Zurich (approx 3 hours)
- Explore the French part of Switzerland including Geneva, Montreux, Lausanne and other stunning lakes, wineries, and views
- Head East via Andermatt and the Oberalp Pass, then via Chur and the stunning Wallensee back to Zurich
There is so much to see and do in Switzerland, you just can’t do it all in one week but, the good news is, that means you will have to return for another epic road trip in the very near future!