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Lucerne and Lauterbrennan by train or car?

We have a family of 4 (two kids - ages 11 and 15) and will be visiting Switzerland for 3 days/3 nights. Realizing that Switzerland has some of the best train services in the world, I'm trying to decide if we should rent a car or travel by train for our trip. Here is our tentative itinerary:

Day 1 - Fly from Rome to Basel (cheapest airfare into Switzerland) and drive to Lauterbrennan
Day 2 - Visit Lauterbrennan valley - Go to a mountain peak in the morning (would love suggestions) & visit the Trummelbach falls in the afternoon. Is this possible - again suggestions of which peak?

Day 3 - Visit Lucerne area and spend evening in Zurich
Day 4- early flight out.

I'm trying to balance cost, time to see things and do activities, and trying to optimize my three days in this beautiful country, so trains or car rental? Itinerary suggestions - we like to hike (easy hikes) and ride bikes.

One last note- I can spend one extra night in Swizerland or if I only allow two days for sightseeing in Rome? Where would you spend the extra time with kids?

Thanks for your suggestions. This site is awesome - thanks for everyone who contributes. Debbie

Posted by
16883 posts

You don't need a car for this trip. If you had one, you would very likely just leave it parked in both Lauterbrunnen and Luzern.

A Swiss Travel pass for 3 consecutive days costs about $224 per adult and your kids accompany you for free with a Swiss Family Card. If you will complete travel by June 30, then use the coupon code online to save 20% on e-ticketed consecutive passes. There is a 4-day version if you decide to stay longer. A ticket from central Zurich to the airport costs about $10 per adult, if your pass has run out.

A one-month Swiss Half-Fare Card for $130 per adult also offers the free Swiss Family Card.

Posted by
27759 posts

Others can work you through the prices, but I can help you understand the timing issues on your journey from Rome to Lauterbrunnen.

I'm willing to bet that the train will be easier, and may well be cheaper, than the flight you have outlined. Remember that the train has no security theatre to put up with. You just get on (after ticketing and any needed validation).

The 8am train from Roma Termini (ES35610) is a non stop, FrecciaRossa 300 kph train which gets to Milano Centrale by 10:55 which gives you an almost perfect amount of time (28 minutes) to get to the Swiss EuroCity train (EC52) which gets to Spiez in only 6 stops at 13:53, with a 12 minute connection at Spiez to the local train to Interlaken Ost, arr at 14:28. No sweat if you miss the connection at Spiez, the trains are frequent and easy to get.

Anyway, that's 6 hours 28 minutes, city centre to city centre. From Interlaken Ost (don't get off at the first Interlaken station of Interlaken West, that's all the way across town from the little trains up the mountains) the route is identical.

Can you beat that by flying? It will be close.

So - same starting point, Roma Termini.

Every half hour(at xx:05 and xx:35) is the Leonardo Express (Regionale but expensive at €14 per adult) which takes 32 minutes to the airport, and you need walking time and at least 2 hours for an Intra-European flight. So shall we say 3 hours from Termini to departure? Then an hour for the flight, 30 minutes to get out of the airport and on the bus and half an hour on the bus (rounding up) to Basel SBB Hbf. Trains from there take 2 or 3 minutes short of 2 hours straight through to Interlaken Ost and go every half hour at xx:59 and xx:31. Add half an hour in case the flight is late or the bus is just missed, or luggage takes a long time.

So, 3 hours plus one hour plus one hour plus 2 hours is 7 hours, or half an hour SLOWER than the train.

Granted, I have made some allowances on the flying option, but having flown around Europe enough I think they are fair. I also picked the fastest nonstop Freccia that there is, and if others have 3 or 4 station stops it will add a few minutes, but the result will be similar. You can also plan to add time in Milano to have a meal, but I'd just get nibbles for the train. And you can add another hour or so to the train by going through Luzern and via the most fabulous narrow gauge cogwheel train from Luzern to Interlaken via the Brunig Pass - the kids and you might love that train as much as I do. But you can always do that on your way out for your planned time in Luzern.

I can't tell you if the kids would prefer Rome or Lauterbrunnen Valley or Luzern. There are a million kid friendly things to do at each.

You know your kids. What do they each like to do? Bike ride down a mountain? Climb on a glacier? Ride a revolving cable car? Ride a steam boat on a lake where you can actually see the steam engine driving the paddle wheels and watch the different bits move? Be a gladiator? See the Pope or his house? Walk in the 2000 year old cart tracks on an ancient road with its original "paving"? See where Caesar was assassinated? See the 75 cats which live there now? Walk across an ancient painted bridge? Go to one of the top transportation museums in the world which is really hands on?

Is one (or both) of the kids a real girlie girl or a real sporty type, or some other broad description?

Tell us and we can help....

Posted by
27759 posts

How "early" is early, for your early flight out?

Many people prefer the last night in Luzern and make the short train trip in the morning right to the train station under the Zurich airport.

Posted by
31473 posts

I agree with the others - you don't need a car for this trip as trains will be faster and more efficient. My suggestions would be the same as Nigel mentioned. Take the high speed Freccia to Milano Centrale, and connect with the EuroCity to Switzerland. When you arrive at Interlaken Ost, take the small Berner Oberland Bahn for the short 20 minute ride to Lauterbrunnen. Be sure to check the digital display on the side of the car to make sure the destination of that car is Lauterbrunnen and not Grindelwald.

Significant savings are possible with pre-purchased tickets on the fast trains. Note that the cheapest tickets are non-refundable and non-changeable, so choose carefully. The tickets are specific to train, date and departure time and can ONLY be used on the ONE train listed on the ticket. Boarding a different train even by mistake will likely result in hefty fines, which will be collected on the spot! When is this trip taking place? Tickets for the fast trains are offered for sale up to 120 days in advance.

From Interlaken Ost, it's also a very easy trip to Lucerne (1H:51M direct), and from Lucerne very easy to Zürich (~50M direct). You could perhaps stay in Lucerne the night prior to your flight, as there are direct trains to the Zürich airport (the first direct train departs at 04:55, arriving 06:13).

Given the ages of your kids, I assume you're travelling in the summer? It would be a good idea to get hotel bookings locked down ASAP, as it will be busy in Europe then.

One final point to mention. If you're arriving in Rome and taking the Leonardo Express into the city from FCO, be sure to validate your tickets prior to boarding the train. That's a Regionale and tickets MUST be stamped or again, hefty fines! The same is true with Metro, Buses, etc.