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Car rental vs train travel from Geneva to Zurich including Berner Oberland region

Hello! I read so much about train travel but do people rent cars in Switzerland? Some background: In June, I will be traveling with my family of 6 (including offspring ages 25, 22, 14 & 14.) We will already be in place in Geneva after concluding an official school trip. Later in the week, we will fly out of Zurich to visit friends in Stockholm. In the middle, we will have 3-4 days to travel in Switzerland. I'd like to spend most of our time in the Berner Oberland region enjoying the peaks and villages. Would it be best to simply take a train and plant ourselves in a picturesque town such as Murren? Or would a car trip be fun? I'm thinking we'd have more freedom to stop and get out during a car trip. Perhaps that's just an American mentality? I do realize trains have discounts for kids and youth including those in there 20's.

Posted by
8889 posts

As a Swiss resident I would say it is definitely US mentality.
Yes, there are roads in Switzerland, and very good roads, and car rentals, so you could drive from Geneva to Lauterbrunnen and from there to Zürich airport.
The road ends at Lauterbrunnen, you cannot drive to Mürren, you need to take a train (and pay for parking in Lauterbrunnen), but the trains and cable cars continue up to the tops of the mountains. You will be taking those trains and be just as mobile whether you arrive by car or train.

Taking a train would be as fast as driving and a lot more comfortable, but an important point is that taking the train does not involve "planting" yourselves in one spot.

Click here for a "map" of the Jungfrau Region. Lauterbrunnen is in the middle, Mürren to the right, red are rail lines and black are cable cars

Geneva - Lauterbrunnen - Zürich airport is autoroute/Autobahn/motorway all the way. You see no more or no less than you do from a train (except for the driver, who should be looking at the road), and in both cases you will see Lakes and the Alps in the distance getting nearer. Any stops would have to be deliberate detours by both methods.

I recommend Gruyères (old town with castle, where the cheese comes from), and Bern. Bern, like all big cities (including Geneva) is not car friendly, you would need to park outside the centre and get public transport in, but the station is on the edge of the old town, you can walk from here.
Bern is a good standby if you get a rainy day in Lauterbrunnen, easy day trip by train.

Posted by
1552 posts

For a party of 2-4, I'd say train. But in your case, a car is better and cheaper.

Beware: if you don't drive manual shift, then reserve your car well in advance. Also, parking will be difficult (sorry for the warning), and be sure to book a hotel with parking included. And, don't forget to reserve a parking spot (tell them it's for a bigger car). Many a time, there aren't enough spots for everybody.

Posted by
14 posts

Thank you both very much. I am definitely getting the vibe that in (small, hilly) Switzerland, a car is more of an inconvenience than a convenience. If cars are not allowed in cities and parking is difficult to find and requires a reservation, I'm beginning to think the train is the way for us to go. It will now be a matter of figuring out which sort of rail pass is right for us. Do I understand that 14 year-olds-travel for free if accompanied by parents? It certainly sounds like the country is well set up for train travel, unlike where I live in the US.

Posted by
33137 posts

To elaborate just the teeny bit on Chris F's good description, there are a couple of differences between driving and taking the train.

Approaching the vicinity of Interlaken both the road and the train follow the banks of the Thunersee (Lake Thun). The difference is that the track is right down at lake level, with unobstructed views of the lake through the huge picture windows of the train.

The road is higher up but has significant obstacles to viewing due to the trucks and other cars coming the opposite way, and the trains passing getting in the way. The road is also not straight and relatively narrow so the driver can't see any of the view. The front seat passenger also has the driver in the way.

Leaving Interlaken and going up the hill to the parking structure adjacent to station in Interlaken the road and the train follow the river which is flowing down the hill towards them. In a car the road climbs (one lane each way, very little passing opportunity) steeply and is not straight. You can get glimpses of the river but the driver needs to be watching the road because of the cliff next to the car.

The train is a cog wheel train which goes on and off the rack (neat sound) and climbs up right next to the river, criss-crossing it as it goes. Fabulous views of the mountains, the river and the forest.

In Lauterbrunnen you park the car in the covered multi-storey car park between the river (you can hear it throughout the car park) and go down to minus 1 level for the walk through the tunnel to the cable car which is the first step on the journey straight up to Mürren. By train you hop off, gaze with amazement then cross the road to the cable car or take the stairs down und go under the road and then back up to the cable car.

Posted by
16726 posts

Switzerland has one of the best train systems in the world, and they encourage visitors to use it for environmental and other reasons (less traffic congestion, etc.). It is an excellent choice for travel, especially to the car-free villages like Muerren.

The 14-year olds will travel for free on trains, lifts, boats, etc. with a free FAmily Card which is included with any Swiss Pass or Half Fare Card you buy for the parent. If you use tickets instead of a pass, the younger kids still travel free with you if you buy a Junior Card for each of them (30 CHF). Half Fare Card is likely the best option for you, but there are other options.

We stayed 6 nights in a beautiful modern 3-bedroom, 2 bath apartment in Muerren last summer. I will post a link so you can check it out. It has a 3-night minimum and the cost for a party of 6 is around $300 a night plus owner fee of $200. I recommend it highly.

It is nice to have the option of cooking “in” a least some of the time, as Swiss restaurants are quite expensive. The Coop store is a short walk down the hilll by way of a shortcut past the church. We loved the views from this location in the village, and our grandchildren enjoyed watching the nearby funicular go up and down.

We had absolutely none of the communication problems mentioned by one reviewer. The on-site manager from Top Apartments was immediately responsive to our questions, and showed up promptly when we needed help with a stuck button on the kitchen fan.

Posted by
16894 posts

A 7-passenger minivan rental is not cheap, starting at about $500 for three days, without CDW insurance (Europecar through AutoEurope). Although you could make unlimited stops along the drive, you probably wouldn't unless you plan them out.

When traveling by train, you have plenty of options for places to stop (sometimes more/different than by road), most stations have storage lockers, and a Swiss Travel Pass could facilitate hopping on and off in most locations without separate tickets or much planning. You can bring food and beverage on the train if you wish, and as already mentioned, no driver has to keep his eyes on the road.

Posted by
8597 posts

Do a google search on fuel prices in Switzerland if you need another reason.

Posted by
8889 posts

Fuel prices in Switzerland are ridiculously cheap. In real terms they are cheaper in most European countries than they were one or two decades ago. They need to increase in order to reduce consumption.
Swiss prices are cheaper than Germany, many Germans come over the border to buy fuel, and Swiss go the other way to buy cheaper German food.
(End political rant)

The current price for petrol is about CHF 1.55-1.65 per litre. Diesel is more expensive.

The British AA publishes a regular fuel price survey for most countries in Europe. The latest version is here: http://www.theaa.com/~/media/the-aa/pdf/motoring-advice/fuel-reports/november-2018.pdf

Posted by
33137 posts

not as cheap as Austria or Luxembourg

Posted by
1097 posts

Just take the trains. They are so easy and many towns, esp. in the Berner Oberland, don't allow cars anyway. We traveled from Geneva to Bern to Murren to Zurich via train over a few days and it was beyond easy, this with children and luggage. A car would have been an unnecessary headache. People aren't kidding when they say the Swiss have the best train systems in the world. They go everywhere, are clean, and are always on time.

Posted by
8597 posts

Not an important point, but gasoline is currently $1.99/gallon in my neighborhood, which is about 0.46 euro / liter. So all European fuel prices can be an unpleasant surprise to Americans who don't take that into account.

Posted by
5963 posts

I live in the midwest. I love to travel by car as much as anyone, probably more. But I'd never drive in Switzerland. The trains are wonderful-comfortable with great scenery. You can relax, play a card game, look out the windows, lunch, snack, enjoy a glass of wine, rest, etc. I spent over a week in Switzerland with my daughters who were 19 at the time. They loved being on the train.

Posted by
768 posts

I've taken my kids to the Berner Oberland region when they were young teens, and they returned there with me again when in their 20's. So I can identify with the group you're with.

If you click on my name you'll see a link to our favorite trails in the area, with maps and pics. These are trails they loved as teens and loved again as adults.

In June, the higher ones, especially around First, will likely be snow covered, but you can check with the Murren tourist office to see which are open when you get there.

Posted by
11294 posts

With only 3-4 days, you'll want to spend all of that time in the Berner Oberland (not just most of it), except of course for the time you need to get there from Geneva and then get to Zurich for your flight out. If your flight is late enough, you may be able to spend the night before in the Berner Oberland; if it's early, you'll need to be closer to the airport. But all of your other nights should be right in the Alps.

In the Berner Oberland itself, as you've already been told, you can only use a car in the valley (Lauterbrunnen to Stechelberg). To go up in the mountains, you'll take cable cars and cogwheel trains - no private cars allowed.

So, I'd base the decision purely on money. See what the train fares are for 6 people from Geneva to Lauterbrunnen and Lauterbrunnen to Zurich airport. Then compare that to the cost of a car rental big enough to hold 6 people, gas, and parking for the duration of your Berner Oberland time.

Posted by
32245 posts

I agree with the others, train is the best choice. As you're planning to spend your very short time in the Berner Oberland, another point to keep in mind is that the towns you'll be visiting (and staying in) don't allow cars. Therefore your car will remain in the Lauterbrunnen car park, accumulating rental and parking charges and gathering dust while you enjoy the spectacular scenery via cable car or other public transit.