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Car vs. Swiss Pass - 4-5 Day in Switzerland (Zurich, Lucerne, Bernese Oberland)

Hi everyone -

My mother and I are taking a trip to Switzerland in late May. We will be flying into Zurich, and were hoping to spend a touch of time both there and Lucerne, but to really base ourselves in the Bernese Oberland area. Our thoughts were to spend an afternoon in Zurich, then hit the road the next morning to get to Bernese Oberland stopping in Lucerne and Interlaken on the way. We would then have 3 full days in Bernese Oberland and would most likely stay in Murren (unless there are other suggestions in that regard).

Our biggest question is whether to rent a car or to buy Swiss passes. If we went the car route, we would rent the car in Zurich, and then drive through to Lucerne and Interlaken, and then park it at the cable car station to head up into the mountains as we know it is car free up there. We know we would then have to buy a ticket every time we would need to use a lift/train in Bernese Oberland, but the Swiss pass is expensive for the 2 of us and we wonder if we would save money renting a car as well as have more flexibility?

Or if doing the Swiss pass and just doing trains the whole time is really the easiest in the end. If we went that route we are also worried that we would be dragging our luggage all around Lucerne and Interlaken when we are wanting to stop there along the way but not sleep there?

We have read that the train system is amazing and the way to go, but just want to make sure it makes the most sense for us.

If anyone has any opinions/advise on this it would be greatly appreciated! At the end of our trip we would be heading back to Zurich to either take a train or plane to Lake Garda in Italy. (or if we rent a car a small chance we would just drive).

Thanks so much!

Posted by
7205 posts

Take the train. It's simple, efficient, RELAXING, and you do NOT have to drag your luggage around. There are plenty of luggage lockers in Lucerne train station. But what I would actually recommend is that you don't spend the night in Zurich. Just get on the train directly from Zurich Airport and be in Lucerne 50 minutes later. Spend a night in Lucerne if you'd like...that way you only need to roll your luggage to your hotel or to a taxi to take you to your hotel. Choose a hotel next to the train station and you'll just drag your luggage across the street (not a big deal). Continue on to Gimmelwald or Murren - bypass Interlaken, there's absolutely no need to stop there except to change trains.

Trains are relaxing because you get up and walk around, sleep, watch the world go by without worrying about getting lost or where to park or how much is petrol. You can buy some wonderful snacks in the train stations to carry on the train with you. Beer, wine, sodas, cheese, fruit, sandwiches - there's just a plethora of options. You'll be glad you invested in a pass if you do any sightseeing on the rails, gondolas, funiculars all around this area. A Swiss Pass is expensive, but you can just hop on and off anywhere anytime you like.

To Lake Garda area - why not just take the train? You'll be very close to Venice, and I definitely hope you can see that.

Posted by
16883 posts

You have not mentioned any persuasive reason for driving. Train is the way to go between these destinations. On your travel day with the stops, go ahead and use SBB's Fast Baggage transfer service. The train stations also have lockers, if you do carry your bags yourselves.

If your next route is train to Lake Garda, then you would not necessarily go through Zurich, you would follow a connection plan suggested on SBB.ch or DB train schedules. If you drive from Switzerland to Italy and drop a rental car in a different country, then that adds a lot to the rental price.

If you primarily have one long travel day from Zurich to Muerren (in a straight line) and one from Muerren to the Italian border (or back to Zurich), you could consider the Swiss Transfer Ticket + Half Fare Card, total of $214 per person, which gives you half off all transportation during your interim 3 days in Muerren. If your Swiss travels happen to fit into 4 consecutive days, then I'd also consider that version of the Swiss Travel Pass for $268, but that doesn't work if you are actually spreading travel over 5 days.

Posted by
11286 posts

You have asked about Swiss Passes vs car rental. But you have other options. For instance, a Half Fare card gets you half off anything that moves in the whole country. If you're not going to museums (covered by Swiss Pass but not by Half Fare card) and if you don't mind buying tickets each time (with the pass you just hop on, except for the few things not fully covered that will require you to buy discount tickets in advance), the Half Fare card may be better for your needs.

When comparing costs, remember to include not only the car rental, but the cost of gas and parking. And when looking at train prices, remember that the default setting on the Swiss Rail website http://www.sbb.ch/en/home.html is with a half fare card.

I haven't been to Zurich, but the advice above is standard and is what I followed - go right from the Zurich airport to Luzern. And unless you want an Asian restaurant, a large supermarket, or large tour groups, there's no need to stop in Interlaken. Go right to Mürren. One other reason to spend as much time there as possible is the weather; it's unpredictable, and more time there is a good hedge. Even with an extra afternoon, you can take a short hike if the weather's good.

Posted by
27 posts

Thanks so much for everyone's advice and quick responses! We primarily were thinking car as it is generally the way we travel in Europe as we like the flexibility that it gives us, and thought it may be more affordable, but after all of your comments it definitely seems like train is the way to go in Switzerland... and a fun way to switch things up!

And then definitely train from Interlaken to Italy as well.

Zurich is definitely completely something we should skip? I like the idea of going straight to Lucerne but want to make sure we wouldnt be missing anything in Zurich.

Thanks again, really helpful and appreciated!

Posted by
7205 posts

You won't miss anything by skipping Zurich. Just head to Lucerne.

Posted by
650 posts

Agree skip Zurich and head to Luzern, in my opinion one of the most beautiful small cities in Europe. Plenty to keep you busy for a day or two before heading into the mountains.

Posted by
50 posts

Another vote for train (and for passes), and for Lucerne over Zurich. In the Berner Oberland, we prefer Lauterbrunnen as a home base. Easier to get to, more open in May, etc., etc. Try Hotel Staubbach there. Spend an hour or two walking around Interlaken if it looks appealing (the walk from the east to west train station is easy), but there are much better ways to spend your days there. The round trip from Lauterbrunnen up to Mürren, over to Gimmelwald and down to the valley from there, stopping at Trümmelbachfalle on the way back is one of our favorite travel experiences. You can add in a trip up to Schilthorn as well. Train is much easier than car in Switzerland, in my book.

Posted by
31471 posts

I definitely agree with the others - skip Zürich and skip the rental car. Go straight from Zürich airport to Lucerne for a few days, as that would be a great place to get over jet lag and get up to "travellling speed". It's one of the most beautiful cities I've visited, and there are some good possibilities for day trips (as well as some interesting sights in Lucerne).

I'd also skip Interlaken and go straight to the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Which place to stay there will depend to some extent on what touring you're planning to do in that area. If you're going to be focusing mostly on the west (?) side of the valley, then Mürren makes a good home base. If you plan on visiting both sides of the valley, Lauterbrunnen makes a good base as it's central to both and is the transportation hub.

Which Swiss Pass to buy is usually a complicated matter to decide, and the best one will depend to some extent on what touring you plan to do. In addition to the Swiss Pass of Half Fare Pass, there are also Berner Oberland or Jungfrau Regional passes. You'll have to do the number crunching and figure out which one works best for you.

Posted by
6 posts

I have a question along the lines of this thread. I see the mention of regional passes. If we already have a Swiss Pass and are touring around the BO area, do we also need a regional pass? My impression was that the Swiss Pass would cover all the local transportation also.

Posted by
16764 posts

You should start a new thread to get answers quickly. Few people are reading old threads.

Posted by
7205 posts

No, you don't need any additional pass if you have the Swiss Pass which is the Top Of The Line pass for Switzerland.