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How to travel in Switzerland

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How to travel in Switzerland

This is a frequently discussed question, so I thought it might be useful to create a thread to post in the top questions.

There are pros and cons for different transportation methods, and it's important you make an informed choice about what works for you.

Public transport:

Public transport in Switzerland is efficient, clean, punctual, environmentally friendly and often takes you through tremenous scenery. Villages, towns and cities are linked through an excellent integrated system (whereby bus timetables are often linked to train arrival times, so you can travel seamlessly). Buses and sometimes even trains or funiculars can take you up to high villages. There are some places that are not accessible by public transport, but this is a very very small percentage of the country.

Journeys can be planned from your start point (say in a big city or at the aiport) all the way to a tiny rural bus stop. The useful Swiss public transport website www.rail.ch or www.sbb.ch/en will help you work it all out. Simply enter your "from" point and your "to" point. You need not enter anything in the "via" box unless you have a particular route in mind. Where the website offers you a number of options for a town or village, this means that the place has a number of stations and bus stops. It will automatically default to the main one, and you can just choose that if you are unsure. The website will only offer transfers between trains and buses etc that are possible. For example, if it says there are 5 minutes between trains, this will be possible for a person walking at a standard pace. You can also check fares on the site.

There are a number of travel passes that can save you money:


Specific areas often have their own regional travel passes, some of which you pay for and some of which come free to those staying in hotels etc. Check the local websites, or discuss with the local tourist office for more information.

Many people travel without difficulty with their luggage on the train (in luggage areas at the end of the carriage or behind some seats). Some travellers feel reassured by having a thin wire type bike lock to secure their baggage, if they are going to be out of sight. It is also possible to arrange to have your baggage transported for you:


Many stations have secure lockers or left luggage offices for baggage, so it is possible to leave your bags and sight see en route.

Public transport is unfortunately not yet fully accessible across the network. However, with advance notice, assistance can be provided to those with mobility or sensory challenges:


Car driving/ car hire:

Driving in Switzerland is a good option for some people. Roads are well maintained and sign posted. For people who enjoy the classic motoring experience, there are some great mountain passes to take (largely Summer only). For those with mobility problems, fatigue or social/behavioural difficulties, vehicle hire may be very practical.

In the winter, driving is more challenging. Roads are quickly ploughed and salted, but it is important to plan ahead. Hire cars will usually come with winter tyres and chains in the boot (trunk). Those driving their own cars from other countries would be wise to have winter tyres and certainly must carry chains. It's a good idea to take a look at these before you need them, so that you don't get too stressed if that time comes. It's also useful to carry a blanket (a small silvered blanket from outdoor shops is an option), a torch with batteries, an ice scraper (usually provided with the hire car) and ideally some type of small shovel (a small plastic one can do). It is probable that you won't need to use any of these things, but it's good to be prepared. Generally speaking, driving in Switzerland is an ordinary every day activity without any difficulty.

Many people drive with their headlights on year round, and this is seen as sensible practise. If you speed, prepare for a large fine. Some may find that people drive quite close to each other's bumpers - try to keep your own distance and do not see this as an aggressive act. Slip roads on motorways are often quite short and people can drive onto the motorway quite quickly. Be prepared to move over.

If you plan to drive on any motorway in Switzerland (which is very likely), you will need to make sure your car/ hire car has a motorway vignette. This is a small sticker that goes on the windscreen. It costs CHF 40 and lasts for one year. There is no shorter duration version. Hire cars hired in Switzerland usually come with this already on the windscreen. If you drive on the motorway without this, you can be heavily fined. You can buy it at border crossings, petrol/gas stations across the country and near border crossings.

Parking in many cities and towns can be expensive and sometimes a bit hard to find. If this will be a problem for you, you may like to consider using public transport for the urban portions of your trip.

If you plan to pick up your car in one country and drop it off in another, check carefully about drop off fees. These are often very high. If this is the case for you, you might want to think about dropping off your hire car in the country you hired it in, and hiring another car in Switzerland. Or, you might want to think about public transport for Switzerland.

Cars do have an environmental impact that is important to think about. There are some lovely car free villages in Switzerland where you can really enjoy the fresh air. If these interest you, you will need to travel in by public transport (leaving your car in a car park). Some, such as Zermatt, offer electric taxis, so those with lots of luggage or mobility or fatigue problems need not be put off visiting.

Other alternatives:

Switzerland is covered in well marked hiking/walking paths. You might also want to bike, climb, ski and even snow shoe to your destination. Wherever you want to get to, there's a way!

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1. Re: How to travel in Switzerland

Forgot to add, that a useful website for planning driving routes is:


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2. Re: How to travel in Switzerland

Great thread, NWL, as usual. And very thorough! As usual!!

I would add just a couple of comments: The high mountain passes usually open in mid to late June (depending on the winter we have had) and close in mid October, again depending on the snow. A good site to check to see which passes are open and which are not is

tcs.ch/main/…paesse_tunnels.html This site is available in German, French and Italian. To see what is happening in the sector in which you will travel, draw a rectangle on the map, which will enlarge the details.

Normally in winter four wheel drive cars and SUV's etc do not need chains.

The Conseil Fédéral has a project of a law to be put before parliament very soon which will require that ALL vehicles keep their headlights on at all times This is expected to become law sometime this autumn... Meantime it is highly recommended that you do so.

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3. Re: How to travel in Switzerland

I would also like to add a few points.

For many folks (such as Americans like myself), train travel in Switzerland can be a unique and fun way to travel. Many folks don't always have the option to use trains in their own countries, so when they are available, it's a good idea to try them out! So, considering that using trains is so good for the environment, it's a good bet.

Also, both Zürich and Geneva airports have attached train stations. You simply load your bags onto a trolley at baggage claim and wheel your stuff all the way down to the tracks.

And finally, many people may not know that it's acceptable -- and a great idea -- to bring aboard food for the journey. Many people stop at a grocery store or a cafe or bakery and buy some gourmet delights to enjoy on the train.


Zurich, Switzerland
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4. Re: How to travel in Switzerland

Excellent information!

For those travelling by train I just like to add some points about tickets and reservations:

Reservations are not very common on normal domestic trains in Switzerland. There are only a few tourist trains where reservations are required or recommended, for instance on Glacier Express, Bernina Express or the Golden Pass route. For Intercity or other fast trains it's possible to reserve, but mostly not necessary, unless you travel during rush hour or at peak dates (Easter, Christmas).

Tickets can be obtained from vending machines at every station. In larger stations there are additionally counters which sell tickets and reservations. A ticket is normally valid for 24 hours, which means that you can take any train on the route you have bought it for. You can also interrupt your journey as you like. Please note that a return ticket for shorter distances is only valid for 24 hours too. If you stay overnight at a destination you should buy two single tickets, which cost the same as a return ticket. In larger cities there is an integrated system with different zones. If you buy a ticket for a certain zone, this entitles you to use every mean of transport within this zone.

On this forum there are often lively discussions about whether it's better to use a car or public transportation for a holiday in Switzerland. Everybody has to decide what means of transport is best for him/her. But as a general rule I would say a car makes sense if you like to discover the mountain passes or rather remote places. If you stay mainly in cities, a car is more of a hassle than a help. Beside of expensive and difficult parking, finding your way is often not easy (at least without GPS) and there are frequent traffic jams. Worst city to drive in is definitively Zurich. For city-to-city travel, trains are normally more relaxing and often even faster than driving by car.

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5. Re: How to travel in Switzerland

Buying train tickets from an automatic ticket machine need not be a daunting experience. They have an English language option and it is possible to get a 'hands on experience' before you even visit Switzerland for the first time by using the online demo at the SBB website.

The following link will take you through the procedure and then you can try it yourself by clicking on the red lettering 'Automatic ticket machine (SBB)'


Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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6. Re: How to travel in Switzerland

Great information on this posting.

Can someone please advice on the following:

We are going for just 4.5 days to Switzerland & plan to stay in zurich for a day & then the rest in Interlaken area. I am considering using Public trains for travel b/w Zurich & Interlaken and for going to Jungfrajouch & Zermatt & surrounding areas from Interlaken.

My question is: would it be cheaper to buy individual trip tickets using machines at the stations OR should one get a 3/4/5 day Swiss Pass. The Swiss Pass seems somewhat pricey at $200-$250 per person, albeit that its unlimited.

What is not clear is if the Swiss Pass covers the smaller trains to JungF, Zermatt, Grindewald etc?? The other alternative is to rent a car for travel b/w Zurich & Interlaken & back, and then combine with individual train tix for Interlaken/Zermatt areas.

Thanks in advance for your responses!

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7. Re: How to travel in Switzerland

You have to do your maths based on your travel itinerary to see how much it would cost you based on different options. The website to find out fares and connections is


The below link would tell you which all routes are covered in swiss pass:


In the footnote of the map it is mentioned where all you get 50% discount and 25% discount.

For your information if you do not plan to travel too much then most of the people recommend train travel using half fare card.

Still you need to your calculations and see what would work for you.

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8. Re: How to travel in Switzerland

I will be taking my honeymoon this September. We will fly into Zurich and make a quick trip to Wil to visit friends. From there, we'd like to make our way to

the Amalfi coast. We will do some traveling around Italy for 2 weeks and fly out of Zurich.

What is the cheapest way to get from Zurich to Wil? Train, Bus, Rental Car or Taxi? It seems that round trip train tickets from Zurich to Wil could set us back 200.00 dollars. Somehow that just doesn't make sense as Wil is a mere 26 miles outside of Zurich..Any suggestions?

Lucerne, Switzerland
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9. Re: How to travel in Switzerland

Looking at the Swiss Railways website, two second-class returns from Zurich Airport to Wil would cost 70 francs (34.80 each), which is about $50 I think.


Add an extra $5 or so if you're leaving from Zurich central station rather than the airport.

Edited: 3:52 pm, August 14, 2010
Anchorage, Alaska
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10. Re: How to travel in Switzerland

Hi, a couple more points

first, in the to and from boxes there are drop down menus where you can pick, for example, street address for planning your journey. If you have an address for your trip, put it in and the website will give you the tram/bus/train/boat route from and to specific addresses all over Switzerland. What a wonderful system!

Second, when driving you often go around the lovely villages and the views are blocked by stands of trees and walls as the autobahn/autoroute/motorway/freeway are noisy so they do these things to block the noise. On the trains/buses, etc., you go through the villages and towns so you often get to see places you will miss by driving. Of course, if you plan your route to minimize the autobahn/autoroute/motorway/freeway, then you can see much more! I have travelled around Switzerland in my own car, a rented car, with friends in their cars as well as by train and I have enjoyed it all. If I am going to be in cities for more than a few hours, I'll take the train - parking is awful and very, very expensive plus you have the difficulty of trying to find your way around a strange city. Swiss cities aren't much different from most cities - too much traffic for easy driving particularly if you aren't really familiar with your routing and with the parking you want.

Michelin is a great webiste for maps and they do walking maps as well. That can be handy if you want to print off a map to walk from your hotel to somewhere, etc.

Happy travels whether by foot, bicycle, car, bus, train, tram or boat!