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18 days in switzerland

Hello all travelers,
I will be taking a family vacation in Switzerland next July. We plan to do one big loop around the country in about 18 days. My question is, would renting a car be a good idea or just stick with their rail system? Wife loves to take pictures along the way, but wife and kid get carsick easily. At any rate, aside from that, what do y'all think? Thank you all in advance. We've also been thinking about checking out Hallstatt in Austria for a day or two. Thanks again.

Posted by
27438 posts

Swiss roads are excellent, well maintained and well marked.

Swiss roads can be smooth and straight(ish) or they can be like a corkscrew.

For example, from Interlaken for the Berner Oberland to Luzern (Lucerne) the road has a few tunnels behind the Brienzersee, then around Brienz it is one or two lane and reasonably straight. A bit further it is down to one lane, and it climbs up the cliff face over Meiringen with many hairpin turns and a corkscrew tunnel. Then, over the pass and it is gently down with fab view over the lakes and just a few more hairpins, all single lane. Then back on the flat and you get an extra lane from time to time and a dozen or so more tunnels, then onto motorway past the mountains near Luzern and into the city tunnels. Then you have to park the car. Although not cheap, I have found that parking in the multi story car park at the station works well. Then onto the trains and boats and trams of Luzern.

By train, the carriages have big picture windows - even in the lowest class - with views of the lake Brienzersee because you go right along the shore, then past Brienz you cross the plain to Meiringen. On the way you can see all the waterfalls in the cliff sides and at Meiringen you can go up the funicular to the middle of Meiringen Falls where Sherlock Holmes battled Moriarty. Then, having changed ends (the engine goes from the front to the back and the train go off in the opposite direction) the train climbs the cliff face using the cog mechanism which allows very steep climbing without spirals or switchbacks. The views are incomparable. Up into the woods, and look at all the waterfalls from a different angle, and the lakes and you can touch the pine trees. Heading down the other side it uses the cog again, then runs between the lakes and mountains all the way to Luzern where it ends next to the ships for Lake Luzern (Vierwaldstaettersee).

Or the first part, the Brienzersee can be done by ship to Brienz where you join the train to Luzern. The train and ship stations are about 50 feet apart.

The best bit is you don't have to worry about humping your luggage. You can drop it off at your starting station and it travels the network and goes to your next overnight destination, leaving you just carrying a small bag with what you need for the day. The Swiss Travel Service does all the transport for you. You just have to relax.

Either car or train, 18 days in Switzerland, provided you stay a reasonable time at each stop will be magic.

Posted by
3336 posts

You really can't plan a bad itinerary in Switzerland so I won't comment on that.

What I will comment on is that fact that you have carsick-prone people! The main highways in Switzerland are lovely, smooth, straight, generally uncrowded, and easy to drive.

To get up into the mountains though, count on hairpin turns like you really don't see in most other countries. To get across any pass, up into any mountain village or town, or up to places where you want to hike, the roads double-back on themselves MANY times and European drivers are not patient with slow drivers who are trying to minimize movement! I would highly recommend that you use trains as much as possible otherwise your passengers will be miserable. You won't be able to get to some less-visited places but most of the popular areas are accessible by train.

Posted by
12939 posts

How ole is your child? If under 16, he or she can travel for free on Swiss trains, boats, and cablecars with a family card or junior card. The family card is free if you and your wife buy travel passes of some type---Swiss pass, Flex Pass, Half Fare Card, or Swiss Card. The passes cover travel on trains, boats and some cablecars. Other cablecars and other lifts are 50% off rather than free; it depends on whether the lift provides access to a village such as Mürren, or is purely a recreational/sightseeing lift.

Two adults traveling together get a 15% discount off the price of a Swiss Pass or Flex Pass, but not the Half Fare Card.

With 18 days in Switzerland you are certainly going to want to do some boat and cablecar rides. Paying full fare for these can become quite expensive, so take that into account when comparing car versus train travel with a pass.

Also, there are some very scenic places to stay in car-free villages that are reached by cablecar. You must pay to park your car in a lot below the village and you likely won't use it during that time. Our favorites in this category are Mürren and Wengen ( on opposite sides of the Lauterbrunnen Valley), Bettmeralp above the Rhône valley, Oeschinensee near Kandersteg, and Zermatt. All of these will provide wonder photographic opportunities for your wife, as well as fun activities for your child.

See photos at www.oeschinensee.ch, www.bettmeralp.ch, www.zermatt.ch

Posted by
16883 posts

If you do choose to drive, there will still be places where you have to park and switch to public transport, such as to get up most mountains from the valley floor. These local transport prices can add up, but most are either covered or discounted 50% when you have a Swiss Travel System pass. Lake ferry rides are also covered by passes, whether you use them to "get somewhere" or as a sightseeing excursion, and over 400 museums are covered on counted rail pass travel days. Details of the Swiss Passes are changing in January, so don't bother reading up until then; you can't buy a rail pass more than 6 months before you'll start using it. The free kids feature won't change, for your children who are under 16 at the start of the trip.

A side trip to Hallstatt, Austria seems unnecessary on this particular trip. It's a lovely town and a scenic route to get there, but not better than the options you'll find in Switzerland. Train travel time from Zurich is 8 - 10 hours one way and drive time at least 6 hours (no tolls but Austrian highway tax vignette is required for your car). Dropping a Swiss rental car in Austria would add a large fee to the rental.

Posted by
6520 posts

steveshih what do you have in mind as the advantages of renting a car? That would help pin down answers.

I don't see any advantage in flexibility when the rail network is so good. If you think it is more economical to drive, then please consider the cost of fuel. Don't forget the time spent looking for parking, and the stress on the driver. Note that there might be places you want to stay that you can't get to by car, e.g., Zermatt, Mürren.

Halstatt is indeed beautiful, but if that is the only place you see in Austria, it might not be worth the detour, considering how much of Switzerland is equally beautiful..

Posted by
8 posts

My wife & I have traveled around Switzerland on the Swiss Pass, which is my recommendation for you and your family. Besides the not having to purchase tickets at each station, you just show your pass to the conductor when asked, you just hop on and off where you want. Also, the pass has been free travel on most trains, boats, buses, trams and Cable Cars. Some Cable cars and trains you receive 50% discount.

One of the best reasons, though, is that most museums are free. As you look at Ricks book, you'll find some amazing museums to see for both the children and adults. If you pay for admission, that could really add up.

One way to save some money on meals is to go to Migros (grocery store) you can pick up supplies for lunches or they can make you sandwiches. Had a wonder meal of Hard Roll, Sausage, cheese and a bottle of wine with chocolate for desert one night instead of a restaurant.

I've flown Swiss directly into Zurich three times now and even the Economy seats were OK. You go to the lower level at the airport in Zurich and you can catch both the local trains and Inter City Trains. When you leave for home, the trains then take you directly back to the airport.

Posted by
111 posts

We rented a car while touring 2 weeks in Switzerland this fall, and it was great. Enjoyed setting our own schedule/pace & having car for out of the way places/side trips/ and while searching for accommodations.

Drove from Zurich to Lucerne (3 nights)-Hasliberg Goldern (3 nights)-Murren (4 nights)-Lac Leman (3 nights)-Basel (1).

Didn't put a lot of miles on the car.

$375. Auto Europe car rental
$ 68. total fuel bill
$ 19. to park in the Lauterbrunnen Valley while in Murren (4 nights)
Received free parking as promo at Lucerne hotel. No charge the other places. Turned in car in Basel-no charge at hotel.
Spent minimal $ on public transport/cable cars/boats within cities/villages, and complimentary bus/train in Lac Leman & Basel.
Might want to save Hallstadt for another trip......Austria is our favorite!

Posted by
145 posts

Patsy:

Was that an automatic transmission car - if so, was there a premium for it?

Also was there an extra charge to drop off at different location from pick up? Is Auto Europe a specific car rental place?

Porcupyn

Posted by
16 posts

The Callier Chocolate Factory in Broc is a nice tour and the all you can eat chocolate tasting after the tour is wonderful. Very similar to a winery tour. http://cailler.ch/en/

While there you could also do the Gruyere cheese tour and Gruyeres Castle.