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Drive or Public Transport in Switzerland???

We are spending a few weeks in Switzerland in May. There are four of us, and I love the idea of having our own car as we mainly want to enjoy the countryside and small villages, and aren't interested in spending much time in the larger cities. Will navigation be impossible as we aren't fluent in French, German or Italian?

Posted by
19118 posts

Switzerland is small, so it's total mileage of track is not great, but it does have the most dense rail system in Europe (1% more dense than Germany). Small towns in Germany are very accessible by public transportation. 85% of my time in Germany has been in small towns; I've never had any trouble getting to them with public transportation. I think it's the same with Switzerland. In fact I have heard that, because of the rugged terrain, there are a lot of small towns in Switzerland that are only accessible by train. I would suggest that, before committing to a car, you come up with an itinerary and run it through the Bahn or Swiss Rail websites to see if the train will get you where you want to go.

By the way, if you understand the universal traffic signs use in Europe, that will go a long ways to helping you navigate, but I have seen signs that give specific instructions for a part of the road that are only in the local language.

Posted by
8889 posts

I concur with what Lee says. If there is one country in Europe where you should go by train, that is Switzerland,
Yes, there are some places in the Alps which are only accessible by train. (Mürren, Zermatt etc.). If you come by car you just have to leave your car parked at a station in the valley (and pay for the privilege), and get a train to your destination.
And there is NOWHERE in Switzerland you cannot get to by train or by connecting bus. Every single village in the country has a railway station or connecting bus station. All rail lines, and many bus lines, have at least one train per hour.
And by train and bus everybody gets to see the views, by car the driver has to keep his/her eyes on the road.

For a map of all the rail routes in Switzerland, and the long-distance bus routes, click here:
This only shows main stations, there is no room to do otherwise.

Either way (road or rail), you need to learn some basic phrases you will see on signs. For example station=Bahnhof=gare, train=Zug=train, departures=abfahrt=departs, platform=Gleis=voie etc.

Posted by
4465 posts

I think as Americans we just assume car is the best way to travel. In rural US yes, but in Europe usually not. Parking, tolls, navigation, gas prices, it's a lot of work that is totally unnecessary in Switzerland.

Sounds like your planning is just starting so you need to read Rick's chapter(s) on Swiss transport options. Especially if you're going to be there a few weeks, there's a lot to know and plan. And English happens to be quite widely spoken everywhere in Western Europe.

Posted by
7209 posts

My head is spinning just reading the title of the post! Driving or training in Switzerland? OF COURSE you take the train in Switzerland. It's clean, punctual, goes everywhere you could possibly want to go. Public Transportation in Switzerland encompasses a vast array of methods: buses, boats, gondolas, funiculars, trains. Half the fun of traveling in Switzerland is getting to travel on all those wonderful modes of transportation.

Posted by
32228 posts

I most definitely agree with the others. Travel by train or bus will be faster and much more efficient than using a car. The transportation system in Switzerland is exceptional and just about always on time. Depending on where you plan to visit, some of the mountain towns are not accessible by car.

Posted by
3391 posts

Personally I'm in the camp of preferring a car in Switzerland especially if your aim is to go to more remote areas. We spent a month there are were very glad we had one. We weren't tied to public transportation schedules, could see a lot more in a shorter time, and could get to places that would be very difficult to reach via public transport. We went to very remote glaciers, quite a few villages that are well off the beaten track, and a few gondolas and lifts that are also very out of the way but which offered amazing views.
Navigating is not an issue at all...roads are excellent and well-signposted and if you have a good GPS you can go anywhere easily. There are lots of speed cameras that you need to watch for but just stay under the posted speed limits and you'll be fine. There is no leeway for speeding.
Just go in with your eyes open with it comes to cost. Gas prices are insane so make sure to factor in that cost before deciding to rent a car. We had a Volvo SUV and it was literally $150 to fill it up.

Posted by
4637 posts

Anita, on the other hand there are also villages or towns where you cannot get by car, only by train. One example: Zermatt.

Posted by
7209 posts

THere are MANY stunning sites in Switzerland not accessible by car...only public transportation and/or hiking. The Swiss have truly perfected their system of trains, buses, boats, gondolas, funiculars.

Posted by
69 posts

Buy a railpass and enjoy their AMAZING public transportation!!! We've made about 6 trips and the only place my hubby and I were unable to get to using public transportation in Switzerland was WAY off the beaten path when we visited absinthe distilleries in western Switzerland near the French border. Otherwise, we have never had any problems getting around by train or bus. I know a few words in French and German, but have never had any difficulty in Switzerland. Enjoy your trip!!!!