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Austria to Switzerland (Car or Train???)

HELP PLEASE! I am new to travel. I have never been out of the states. I won a trip to Berlin for 6 nights on a game show. We are going in June. My wife and I want to add a week to fly into Zurich and tour the region. Here is what we plan to do. Rent a car in Zurich, drive and stay 2 nights in Salzburg, Austria (my wife wants to do the Sound of Music tour), then drive to Interlaken to stay for 2 nights and then Zermatt for 2 nights, then back to Zurich to fly home. I know it seems very aggressive but we my never get the opportunity again so we want to make the most of it. I considered flying into Salzburg and renting a car there and dropping it off in Zurich but it way too expensive to drop it off in a different location. Can anyone help me figure out what type of rail pass I should get for my plan and how much this would cost me by rail in US dollars??? Also, any wisdom, guidance or travel advice is appreciated. Thanks for your help friends!

Posted by
4637 posts

You don't need a car for Switzerland. You would not get to Zermatt by car. Only train. Fly to Salzburg then everything by train. You will spend less, see more and be more comfortable.

Posted by
12040 posts

The problem with "trying to make the most it" is that in the Alps, if you only budget one day, you risk losing that entire day to bad weather, making your stay there little more than a grey rain-out. I would pick two of your three destinations and cut one, which should give you enough wiggle room to have at least two nights in an Alpine location. I personally have never seen scenery as spectacular as that above Zermatt, but you have to hike pretty hard for it to open up. If you don't plan any vigorous hikes, the Berner Oberland might be a better option for you. The magnificent scenery here is a little more accessible with less effort.

Posted by
47 posts

our family did a similar trip in June this year. We flew into munich for 3 days, took a short train ride to Salzburg for 2 nights then a train from Salzburg to Berner Oberland and stayed in Murren a small car free village in the Alps overlooking the Lauterbrunnen valley. From here if weather permits and it is a clear day go up even higher to see the Schilthorn Piz Gloria for gorgeous views. From Murren we took the train to Luzern for 3 days or you could go straight on to Zurich to fly home. The Swiss pass makes train travel very easy, the connections seem tight but we never missed a train once as you don't have to stop and buy tickets at each station. We never even thought about a car while we were there the trains are so efficient and comfortable. Good luck and have fun!!
Erin

Posted by
31510 posts

Brad,

First of all, congratulations on your win! A few comments and questions.....

As this is your first trip to Europe, I'd highly recommend reading Europe Through The Back Door prior to your trip. That provides a lot of good information on "how" to travel well in Europe. You'll need to get up to speed on a lot of small details fairly quickly, such as money, using your ATM and credit cards overseas, travelling with electronic gadgets, Plug Adaptors and electrical matters, pickpockets and scams, etc. For information on the places you'll be visiting such as sightseeing, transportation, hotels, restaurants, etc., use the country or city-specific Rick Steves guidebooks (all are available on this website, or check your local Library).

To begin with, your planned route is rather convoluted and inefficient. If I'm reading correctly, you're planning to arrive in Zürich, drive to Salzburg, drive back to Interlaken and then to Zermatt. That's going to waste a lot of time and there are some other "issues" to contend with.....

  • for driving in Austria with a car rented in Switzerland, you'll need to buy the Austrian highway tax vignette or face hefty fines, which will be collected on the spot!!!
  • it would be a good idea for each driver to have the International Driver's Permit, which is used in conjunction with your home D.L. These are easily obtained at any AAA office for a small fee, and are valid for one year.
  • you'll also have to contend with highway tolls in some cases, as well as high fuel and parking costs.
  • renting a car in one country and dropping it off in another often comes with a huge surcharge!

With the above points in mind, it would be MUCH easier to use well planned journeys by rail, as they will be much faster and a better use of your very limited holiday time. The Swiss rail network especially is exceptional.

A few thoughts on your travel plans......

  • I'm not clear from your post where Berlin fits into this scenario?
  • you have a lot of two-night stops, which will in reality only allow about a day in each place, once travel times are deducted. I'd suggest visiting fewer locations and spending a bit more time in each.
  • it would be a good idea to use open-jaw flights, for example inbound Munich and outbound Zürich.
  • you won't necessarily need a Rail pass. In some cases, buying P-P tickets are a better option. However, using something like a Half Fare card in Switzerland should save some money, especially for some of the mountain lifts. I'll leave that question to others as passes in Switzerland can be complicated to figure out.
  • finding flights into Salzburg will likely be a bit more difficult than using one of the larger cities. You could (for example) fly to Munich and then travel by train to Salzburg. I'm not too familiar with flights from your area, but hopefully one of the others can provide information on that.
  • keep in mind that you'll arrive in Europe the day after you leave home, and you'll likely have to contend with jet lag for the first few days so won't be up to "full touring speed".

Good luck with your planning!

Posted by
2737 posts

Since the trip isn't costing you anything, why not pay for a travel agent to put it together for you? They will do a much better job than you will (just saying) since that's their job.

And yes, forget about cars take the train.

Posted by
22 posts

Thank you everyone for your advice! I very much appreciated it being so inexperienced in traveling. I have looked further into the trains and have decided to take advantage of the Flex Pass for 4 days which includes half off the mountain rails, boats and free museums (open to other suggestions). To clarify my plans, I won a trip to Berlin on The Price is Right. I have to fly into Berlin and use the hotel they provided. Unfortunately there is no flexibility. My wife and I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and make a quick trip to Austria and Switzerland because it has always been her dream trip. You all have really made me reconsider the plan and made me aware of so many other things. Ken (Thank you!) gave me so much to think about. So here is the new plan. Please let me know what you think. Fly to Salzburg from Berlin. I checked and I can get a one way ticket for under $100 each. Spend the 2 days in Salzburg and then take the train from Salzburg to the Swiss Border where I will then have the 4 day Flex Pass to use all the way to Interlaken. Spend a few days there and then use the train pass to Zermatt. Spend a few days there and then take the train to Zurich (final destination). I am hoping that I can just fly from Zurich back to LAX. The Travel agent is checking with the Price is Right to see if that would be okay (fingers crossed) otherwise I will have to fly back to Berlin and fly home from there. The travel agent has not been very responsive or helpful yet. I am still waiting to here back from him then I will take care of all these questions. I have already secured the hotels (free cancellation) because I have seen hotels I wanted already get sold out. I can always changed them if needed. As soon as my flight is booked (should be this week) then I will book my local flights and purchase the train pass. I know it is an aggressive schedule and totally understand what you all are saying about take your time but as I mentioned before, I may not have this opportunity again so I am going for it. Please let me know if there are any flaws in this new plan. Thank you my friends!

Posted by
7205 posts

Yes, Phred, there are SOOOO many qualified travel agents out there who know SOOOO much more than the experts here on this board and have actually TRAVELED to these places (unlike most so-called travel agents) ;-)

Posted by
31510 posts

Brad,

A few further thoughts and questions.....

The Flex Pass is probably a good option, but I'd have to do some number crunching. I usually leave the question of Swiss passes to others on the forum.

How many nights is provided at the hotel in Berlin and how many days is the total trip?

For the trip from Berlin to Salzburg, you could use a budget airline but keep in mind that the $100 fare you quoted may end up being somewhat higher. Which airline did you find that fare on? European budget airlines are notorious for tacking on all kinds of extra fees, and some are worse for that than others. You can expect to have strict rules regarding luggage and things like checking luggage, printing boarding passes, etc. often come with hefty charges.

For the Berlin - Salzburg trip you could also travel by rail although it would be at least an eight hour trip with at least one change. Travel by air will require about 4-6 hours when all is considered (travel to and from airports, check-in, security, waiting, boarding & de-planing, etc.). I so detest the "dog & pony show" at airports that I would tolerate an eight hour rail journey just to avoid that (but having said that, I will use budget airlines on some occasions depending on logistics).

Some information on the other rail trips you'll be making.....

  • Salzburg to Interlaken - the shortest and easiest trips will be departures at 07:56 or 09:56 (or others), which will take 7H:32M with two changes in Zürich and Bern. Note that there are two stations in Interlaken and which one to use will depend on whether you're staying in Interlaken or the Lauterbrunnen Valley.
  • Interlaken to Zermatt - this trip will be about 2H:15M with about two changes in Spiez and Visp. There are numerous departures available and the travel time and other particulars may vary a bit between them.
  • Zermatt to Zürich - the shortest trip appears to be about 3H:20M, with a minimum of one change.

Many European cities have more than one station, so you'll need to be clear on which ones you're using. You'll also need to have some idea of the local transportation (Metro, Trams, Buses) in each of the cities you're visiting, and which tickets or passes to buy in each case.

I suspect that you probably have to work with a travel agent, due to the fact that you won the trip in a contest. He will probably be able to plan the contest part of your trip well, but may not be as well versed on the other part of your trip. That's where the well travelled group on this forum can help.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I would highly recommend having a look at Rick's guidebooks for each of the areas you're planning on visiting, as they will be invaluable in planning efficient touring and good hotels. One point to mention regarding hotels is that in some cases the hotels you'll find on the internet (or from a travel agent) may not always be located in the "heart" of the city, so will require extra time and cost to get to the sights you want to see. Something to think about.....

For your stay in Zürich, using hotels close to the main station is very convenient, as it's only about a 10 minute train ride from there to the airport.

Posted by
2737 posts

You're right Tim, of course travel agents are scam artists and not to be trusted. What knowledge and experience could a good one possibly have? And if some aren't good, then they're all bums.

P.S. When an inexperienced traveler comes here looking for advice, you ARE acting as a travel agent.

Posted by
22 posts

Thanks Ken for your advice! After giving it some thought I have changed my plans. I am no longer going to Salzburg. I cut it out of the plan because I think it is just too far out of the way and going to take up too much time and it was already stressing me out (LOL). I will save it for another time if we get the opportunity to go back. Now the plan is to fly into Zurich, take the train and stay in Montreux for a few days then to Wengen for a few days and then to Zermatt for a few days and then back to Zurich and fly home. All on the train with the purchase of the 4 day Flex pass. It seems to work out perfect for my 4 travel days. I welcome any suggestions and please feel free to point out any flaws in the plan. Thanks for your help!

Posted by
31510 posts

Brad,

I haven't looked at your revised Itinerary in detail in terms of logistics. However, one thing that occurred to me is that you've chosen three very posh locations in Switzerland. Be sure to budget accordingly as you'll need money!

Posted by
354 posts

Brad, we stayed/ate at Hotel Baeren in Wengen. It is a gourmet restaurant with a small chalet-style hotel attached. I highly recommend it. You can just walk from the train station. Wengen is a lovely town with nice hiking.