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Car Rental vs Public Transport for our Itenerary

Hello all, my husband and I will arrive in Zurich at 7:45am on Wed., 9/7. We will have slept on our overnight flight from Dallas so we will be ready to walk around Zurich for a few hours, get our bearings, eat, and move on to the natural beauty of Switzerland.

I have briefly considered renting a car because we enjoyed it so much on our last trip to Greece. My husband really enjoyed the driving and the freedom compared to our previous trip to Italy where we only used trains. Since my husband is keen on renting, I'd like advice based on our tentative locations.

Wed. - arrive Zurich, walk around, lunch, rent car, drive to Appenzell (sleep Appenzell Wed. night)
Thurs - enjoy Appenzell then drive to Luzern/Lucerne for the night (sleep Luzern Thursday and Friday)
Fri - explore Luzern
Sat - day trip to Fort Furigen (Stansstad), drive to Berner-Oberland (sleep Gimmelwald Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday)
Sun - explore
Mon - explore
Tues - explore
Wed - drive to Chillon Castle and spend the day (sleep Villeneuve or Montreux)
Thurs - drive to Geneva airport for 1:15pm flight home

Since we really won't use our car while we're in Gimmelwald, I realize that paying for those days may seem a waste . But I also wonder if it's worth it compared to all the train tickets we would have to buy and the stress (to me) of figuring out train and bus schedules? We do love being on our own timetable and honestly, the train schedules really do stress me out :)
I certainly appreciate any feedback on this topic and my tentative itinerary.

Posted by
20290 posts

How about the stress of finding a place to park the car?
Swiss trains schedules are not hard to figure out. A train in each direction at least every hour and often every half hour. Miss one, just wait, there will be another along. Download the SBB app, and you'll have the schedules at your fingertips.

Did you price the cost of renting the car for a week?

Posted by
378 posts

If there ever was a country in which you don’t need a car, Switzerland is it! Trains to everywhere all the time. Would likely be much less expensive too, and for me anyway, less stressful. Just turned in our 2nd rental car of our 7 week trip. Our locations in France and Spain required a car. The car got “keyed” (long scratch on the side that appeared intentional based on where we had parked it) but by some miracle, we weren’t charged for the damage. That car already had a few dings and dents. Our last car in France was rather new. I was rather stressed at the potential for damage. Luckily, no issues. While having the cars was necessary, next trip will be to locations for which no car is required.

(My generally fairly low anxiety level was likely heightened a good bit by the fact that my car was totaled in a minor accident (no injuries to all involved) just a few months ago; not my fault!)

Posted by
1442 posts

In Greece a rental car can come in handy. But for your itinerary in Switzerland a car would be a hindrance, not a help in enjoying your trip. In Lucerne, parking will be unavailable in the Altstadt which presumably is where you’ll want to be. Gimmelwald is a village you need to take a gondola to, so you’re car will be parked, likely in Lauterbrunnen, for four days. The train can take you everywhere on your itinerary and there are frequent, punctual trains. Trains in Switzerland don’t add stress- they make your journey relaxing and your husband can enjoy the scenery 100% of the time instead of having to keep his eyes on the road, he can see the same scenery you will.
Have a great Trip!

Posted by
4383 posts

A general thought for the future: when there are good public transportation options for the locations you are visiting, you should use them unless you have mobility issues. When that is not the case(Ireland, Cotswolds, Tuscany other than Florence and Siena, for example) then rent a car. Although we did not drive in Greece, on one trip we rode extensively in a car with a local driver in the outskirts of Athens and it appeared easy compared to driving in the countryside of the UK.

Posted by
20 posts

Thank you all so much! We are ready to take public transportation throughout our stay. I've tried to figure out the trips I know about based on our itinerary, and the fares without any discount, to see if the HFC or the (8 day) STP would be the best bargain.

I'm sure I've made some errors, but here's what i figured:

Full fare/no discounts: $470/person (without any discount figured to visit Jungfroujoch, I figured around $250 for that trip).

8-day STP: $587.50/person ($400/STP + 187.50/25% Jungfoujoch discount = $587.50/person).

HPC: $493.50/person ($134/HPC + $234/fares + $125/50% discount for Jungfrou)

If I'm close to being correct, the cheapest seems to be paying full fare for our short stay. Please, feel free to point out my errors! I really want to be a good steward of our finances :)

Posted by
1054 posts

I can only give you our experience, which was that we rented a car for our whole trip, even though that meant parking it for 3 days while we stayed in Murren. Trains are fantastic for city-to-city, but you just don't have the freedom of exploration you have with a car. We also found a car good value because you only pay once, while for trains you have to pay per person.

Parking for Gimmelwald is absolutely no problem. There is a huge parking lot at the Stechelberg base terminal for the Schilthornbahn you will use to ride up to Gimmelwald. EUR 32 for four days.

Luzern also was easy to find parking lots.

Posted by
21 posts

Nothing beats the flexibility of a car. Travel shouldn't be stressful, so if having a car makes you more relaxed, go for it. We have been to Switzerland several times and when the weather wasn't cooperating or we decided we needed a change of scenery we just jumped in the car and moved on.

Posted by
4465 posts

I think Americans are just conditioned to think, must get car. Especially if you're from Texas. As others have noted, with a few exceptions in Europe that doesn't really make sense. Nothing better than European trains! Well except for Japanese.

Posted by
4911 posts

Did you consider that the STP covers - among many other things-
Lucerne: the boat and cogwheel train to Mt Rigi , train and open air gondola to Mt Stanserhorn;
Transport up/down Wengen /Lauterbrunen to explore and hike;
chateau Chillon admission and transportation;
Last minute day trips if the mountain weather is bad (eg Bern);
Plus the convenience of not buying tickets and therefore not having to worry about a strict train/ boat schedule . It's so nice to have the convenience and flexibility of the STP. And I found I did other adventures, because the pass covered the cost, that I hadn't originally planned.
Have you priced gas, parking, increased rental car costs, insurance , etc?
Either way, have a great trip in this wonderful country.

Posted by
1722 posts

Based on your itinerary I have 3 words for you...trains, trains, trains. Take the money saved from the rental and parking and buy chocolate to relieve your stress. Trains are simple to use, English is widely spoken and train personnel will answer your questions. You will be spending more time maneuvering from Gimmelwald to other places in the BO, then you will on the rest of your commuting. Have are on vacation.

Posted by
29 posts

We've been in Switzerland for two weeks now and have a couple more left. We debated this issue, but in the end rented a car. I DO NOT REGRET IT. We like to explore back roads and find hidden treasures, and that is impossible to do with public transportation in a timely manner. I love having the freedom to go when and where I want.

We have stopped at waterfalls, taken great pictures without going through a glass window, swam in a beautiful stream, taken pictures of mini chapels along some roads, and other odds and ends, etc. None would be possible with the train. We didn't want to just do a cursory trip, we wanted in enjoy all aspects.

Using the train system, you get stuck having to get lodging nearby, dragging suitcases all over, etc. We're rented BNB's which are superior in most aspects every stop, and love them compared to hotel rooms, but that would not be practical using the public transit system.

Parking hasn't been bad. Most BNB's have it, and those that don't we used public street parking and paid via app for the short time we were parked during monitoring hours. We've spent about $10 on parking total.

We have take the train a couple times where we had to (Zermatt) and did in Appenzel, though wished we would have just drove there since the tracks followed the road. Roads follow most tracks, so you miss nothing by driving, in fact gain a lot by driving.

And I'm with you on the confusion of transit systems when you first begin. Most places do have an agent to ask during business hours but not after (and this whole country closes down by 6pm at the latest, except restaurants and hotels). Different language, don't know the stops, don't know if need to change trains, etc. Plus where trains don't go, you need to get a bus and make connections.

We have driven some wonderful switchback roads and been over so fantastic passes. Trains go up some of them, but not all. We've taken some single lane roads that have led to fantastic scenery, none would have been possible on train/bus. We have been up several lifts just on spur of the moment as we discovered them (Santis, EZW, Robiei), which would have never happened on public transportation unless specifically going there and taking a good amount of time doing it.

I don't regret renting a car at all, and we too are spending several days in a car-free town. I know we'll take some side trips in the car and enjoy it even in those locations.

Car and fuel will cost us about $1,400 for a month, including fuel, which is probably less than the trains would charge too. We bought the 1/2 off cards, and they pay for themselves. Otherwise we would have needed 4 Full Swiss Cards to cover 30 days, and I don't recall now, but a rental wasn't much difference in cost, and even if it were, for our itinerary at least, it was the way to go.

Posted by
20290 posts

We bought the 1/2 off cards, and they pay for themselves. Otherwise we would have needed 4 Full Swiss Cards to cover 30 days

Swiss Travel Passes almost never save money over getting the 1-month Half Fare Card and paying as you go.

Posted by
1722 posts

Pikerts...sounds like you made the right choice for your 30 day stay. However, responders were addressing that the OP will only be in country 7 days in 4 different areas with only 2 people. If I were traveling the countryside of Switzerland for a month, I would rent a car also. However, if you are flying into Zurich, then seeing Lucerne, Montreux, Appenzell and the BO, then a rental car is a waste of money. Why park a rental for 4 out of 7 days.

Posted by
368 posts

I've been to Switzerland 4 times. The first two we rented a car and the last two I've bought the train pass. The car was good because we were visiting family and going to some obscure places. However, I find the train so much more relaxing and efficient. And the SBB app makes it super easy to find out all the info you need.

Posted by
51 posts

Honestly, with that short of a trip, I'd rent the car but move around more. Gimmelwald is charming, but that is a very long time to be there when you have the rest of amazing Switzerland to see and hike. We have been to CH many times and seen many places there. While the whole country is gorgeous, we especially like Vitznau and Weggis on the Vierwaldstaatersee ("lake Lucerne") to americans, Saas Fee, Zermatt, Kandersteg, and yes, Gimmelwald/Murren/Schilthorn area.

If I'm being honest, Chateau de Chillon is not worth the drive all the way to Lac de Geneve, which can get very congested with traffic and is frankly one of the less interesting (beautiful) parts of Switzerland. The same advice applies to Zurich/the lake, which is not frankly very fascinating. And I would skip the Appenzel in favor of keeping a tighter orbit. You will need time to cover distances so you are not getting frustrated, and Switzerland is no place to speed, as there are cameras everywhere.

I would suggest:

Wed and Thurs night in Vitznau or Weggis and take the boat or drive to Luzern one afternoon. Do not miss the drive along the Axenstrasse - it is gorgeous.
On to Murren/Gimmelwalt, 2 nights
Then on to either Kandersteg or Lenk (Zimmental) or Adelboden, 2 nights
Alternatively, drop down to Zermatt instead
Then onto Geneve and return. If in Zermatt, suggest you cut through France to return to Geneve, via the Col de La Forclaz, which is an amazing drive with jaw-dropping views. Do NOT take the Tunnel du Mont Blanc as you literally see nothing - which would be a shame.

Definitely do not waste time on trains, especially a trip this short...

Posted by
17 posts

I'd add my vote for taking trains vs. car rental. You can easily get to Appenzell from Zurich in just under 2 hours via train (as we did in July). BTW Appenzell is worth at least a full day, maybe two if you like to hike. There was a museum in Stein which was not accessible via public transport but we hired a taxi (PubliCar) which was fairly cheap to get there. As others have said, a travel pass will also get you access to boats on Lake Luzern, museums, and much other stuff.