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Switzerland Itinerary July 2016

My family of two adults and three children ages 13,11 and 9 will be traveling to Germany, Austria and Switzerland this summer for a month. We will fly into Munich and out of Zurich. From previous trips I find that if we move to frequently people get cranky. I also find that with the children we have to take things slower. What Rick Steves can do in a day often can take us 2-3 days. I think the driving puts us over the edge. We like to do some urban touring of museums and historic sites. We also like to spentd time hiking, bicycling and seeing nature.

Here is the itinerary plan: Munich 3 nights. Rent a car and drive to Saltzburg Austria for 5 nights. Drive to Fussen Germany for 6 nights. Drive to Chur Switzerland for one night and drop off car. Take Glacier Express to Zermatt and spend 3 nights in Zermatt. Take the train to Grimwald, Switzerland and spend 5 nights, take train to Lucern and spend 3 nights, take train to Zurich for two nights and fly home. I thought we could buy a Swiss Rail Pass. Do people think this is a reasonable itinerary.

I understand that children travel for free with adults holding Swiss Rail passes. Is it difficult to make a reservation for a family when only the Adults hold passes. Would I need to make reservations for any other leg of my trip other then for the Glacier Express. What is the cost of making reservations? Would buying the Swiss Rail pass be more economical for my family then buying individual tickets?

We are a family of five so it makes it expensive to stay in hotels as we require two hotel rooms. I have leads on where to stay in Germany and Austria but none yet for Switzerland. Any suggestions of where to stay. We thought that for Chur and Zermatt we would try the hostels. If anyone went to the destinations we are going to what did they enjoy and what would they take a miss on.Any advice is welcome

Posted by
19244 posts

First 2 thoughts:
1. It is expensive to rent a car in one country and drop it in another. The Swiss can't rent a car with German plates, so it will have to be shipped to Germany at your expense (basically). Also, for the short drive, you will still need to purchase a Swiss vignette for about 40 chf. In light of that, drop the car in Lindau, Germany and go to Chur on the train. Only one change at St Margrethen. For about the same money, you could also drop the car in Fuessen and take a train from there via Buchloe.
2. If you don't like to pull up stakes often, skip Zurich altogether. You can get a direct train to the airport in one hour. If you have a pass and you feel the need to see something in Zurich, do it as a day trip from Luzern.

Posted by
56 posts

Thanks Sam:
Are you suggesting we could take a train to Zurich from Lucern? Our flight does not leave until 1:30pm.

Posted by
11174 posts

I think you mean Gimmelwald, not "Grimwald." Gimmelwald is really small, especially for 5 nights. We like to stay in the valley, in Lauterbrunnen, where we can get a nice apartment, cook our own meals (eating out is $$$ in Switzerland) and being in the valley we can easily access both sides of this magnificent hiking area.

In addition to train passes, look at passes for lifts. The Berner-Oberland Regional Pass is terrific for getting around.

We are on our way there and renting a new-to-us apartment. If you will PM me in 10 days or so, I'll tell you how it was and how to contact the owner.

Posted by
12040 posts

I just want to note that five nights if an awful long time for Salzburg, unless you take a lot of daytrips. The actual Altstadt of the city is surprisingly small and takes less than a full day to explore.

I'm usually of the opinion that the more time you budget for the Alps, the better. But six nights in Füssen seems excessive. If you're going to spend that much time in the region, go for one of the major resort towns, like Garmsich-Partenkirchen or Oberstdorf. You'll have much more varied and convenient options for outdoor excursions and you can easily visit Füssen and the castles as a daytrip. Füssen's a fine enough place, but a bit of a one-note town.

Posted by
8889 posts

jrwest1, Yes, take a train from Luzern direct to Zürich airport (Zürich Flughafen). Takes 1¼ hours, 2 trains per hour, fare CHF 29. Zürich is not worth a stay.

Another place to drop off a car in Germany with rail connections to Switzerland is Konstanz. Konstanz station is served by Swiss railways.
Don't bother to book any Swiss trains apart from the tourist-specials (Glacier express etc.). Not necessary.

You need to get your place name spelling correct, or your internet searches will not work.

  • Füssen (or Fuessen) - not Fussen. The two dots matter, U and Ü are two different letters.
  • Gimmelwald or Grindelwald (two different places) - not Grimwald
  • Salzburg - not Saltzburg
Posted by
60 posts

I concur with the others that 2 nights in Zürich is probably overkill when you're staying in Lucerne before. Lucerne - Zürich is 45 minutes to an hour by train. And the airport is about 10 minutes by train from Zürich. Zürich is pleasant for a visit but also one of the most expensive cities in Switzerland. There are some nice spots along the lake and in the old city but unless you're planning to visit the zoo I don't think you'd need more than a day trip.

I've you've got a day to spare somewhere I'd encourage you to consider putting it to Chur. The first section of the Glacier Express sends you through the very pretty Ruinaulta valley, which IMO would be very much worth that day. There are great hiking trails on either side of the valley and on the north side you've got lake Cauma which is said to be gorgeous.

I depending on how much you use the publich transport in Switzerland the Swiss Rail Pass should be very good for you since your 3 kids would then travel for free. Based on the 15 day pass that's 17 CHF per day per adult in individual tickets (2nd class). For comparison. Just going from Lindau to Chur is probably going to be twice that for an adult with an individual ticket. Since your kids are older than 6 their tickets cost half-fare. Unless you're only going very short distances every day or only very long distances on very few days you're probably comming out ahead with the pass.

I can't really advise you much with accomodations since I have little to no experience in that area. But some recommendations to sightseeing activities:

  • HR Giger (designer of Alien) bar in Chur
  • Riverrafting, hiking, Lake cauma (bathing lake), viewing platform "Il Spir" in the area of Flims and Laax (near Chur)
  • Swiss transport museum in Lucerne
  • Old town, bridges, city walls, lion memorial and glacier garden in Lucerne
  • Pilatus and Rigi mountains near Lucerne
  • public transport boats on lake Lucerne.
  • The Rütli at lake Lucerne (according to legends the birthplace of Switzerland)
Posted by
7209 posts

5 nights in Salzburg and 6 nights in Fuessen is WAYYYY too many nights there.

Posted by
11174 posts

For those who are saying 5/6 nights is too long in certain places, not everyone will find it so. Day trips or just hanging out can be worthwhile. As the OP says, with kids it takes longer to do almost everything including just getting everyone up and out in the morning. If you have not traveled with children you have no idea! Every meal takes longer, some sleepy heads are hard to blast out of bed and harder to get into bed at night, and a group of 5 moves through museums at a slower pace than 2 adults. It's still a great trip, but the OP has wisely recognized the family pace will not be the R.S. Tour pace. BTW, we have found that going places in Italy with younger visitors causes us to look at the "same old things" with new eyes.

Even without children, we love settling in somewhere for 5-7 nights in places many people pass through in 2 or 3.

Posted by
7209 posts

I have 2 kids and countless trips through Europe and 5 nights in sleepy little Fuessen is too long. Salzburg is a bit overrated (and boring) with all of its Sound of Music fame. Yes, yes I know Mozart was born there, but the SOM paraphernalia even overshadows that, too.

Posted by
56 posts

Thank you very much for your input. Tim's points about spending so much time in Fussen and Salzburg will be taken under consideration. I find that with a family of 5 that our best way to travel economically is to book places through VRBO or Homeaway so sometimes we have to stay for a minimum number of nights. For us to stay in Hotels we have to rent two rooms which results in things becoming quite more expensive and then we have to eat out which I understand in Switzerland can be very expensive. If you had a month Tim where would you go flying into Munich and out of Zurich and how long would you spend in each place? Yes I have already bought the tickets. I thought that we would have a car for the first two weeks of the trip but I am now thinking that I may keep the car for Switzerland as well. I can get a car for a month with an extra driver for $1100 CDN which I think is pretty good including drop off fees. I am open to all any suggestions. I have been reading about the St. Moritz area and also about the Lauterbrunnen/ Grindelwald region. We like spending time outside and doing hiking so these places would offer such opportunities. What would people recommend to do with children aged 13,11 and 9 in these areas? Thanks Rob

Posted by
19244 posts

Water parks? There is a good one near Soelden, Austria. Its about a 2 hour drive through the mountains from Fuessen. Called the Aqua Dome, its indoor-outdoor. I'm sure there are plenty others, that's just one I've been to.

If you want to do a scenic train ride, try the a round trip on the Bernina Express between Chur and Tirano, Italy. It has reservation fees, like the Glacier Express, just not as much. Just take the actual Express one way, and come back on regular trains (at least one connection required) but no reservation fees and the windows open.

Get 2 one-month Half Fare Cards and the free Family Card so the kids ride free. That will come in handy in the Lauterbrunnen area where you must use trains and cable cars to get to the interesting spots.

Remember to get vignettes for both Austria and Switzerland when you cross the border. An International Drivers Permit for both drivers would be a good idea.

Posted by
60 posts

I've looked up Hertz car rentals and you can actually drop off a car in Chur that you picked up in Munich. Based on your original itinerary it looks like about 960 € for large station wagon.

If you're going to St. Moritz instead of Chur you can still take the Glacier Express to Zermatt via Chur. Or the Bernina Express to Tirano (and then a bus to Lugano). Personally I'd prefer the Glacier Express since I'm somewhat sceptical about the bus ride to Lugano and since staying in Tirano would be somewhat awkward itinerary wise (you can't do much more than ride back to St. Moritz or Chur). Also St. Moritz is an expensive place.

Instead of going to St. Moritz you could stay in Scuol or Davos. They should be less expensive and still offer plenty of activities. Scoul - Davos is about 1 hour by car meaning you can easily do one from the other as a day trip and take the Glacier Express from Davos. Davos has a lot of mountainsides to hike at and a nice lake where you can go feed the squirrels. Scuol has a nice thermal bath.

As for things to do with kids I second the suggestion of water parks. Here are a few links to collections of water parks in Switzerland. Unfortunately they are all german but there are google maps attached where the pins generally have links to the official websites.

But there's overlap.

Another recommendations would be Adventure Parks

Posted by
19244 posts

I wouldn't recommend the bus continuation to Lugano either. Just to Tirano and return.

Posted by
60 posts

Speaking of water parks. Since you arrive in Munich you should really consider "Therme Erding" - Europe's largest thermal bathing complex.

Posted by
195 posts

I am going to suggest staying in Murren in the Berner Oberland. Murren overlooks the mountains and the Lauterbrunnen valley and most of the hotels have great views! There is plenty of hiking from there both level hiking (especially on the valley floor) and up and down hiking. It has a sports center with a swimming pool and a funky mini-golf set-up made mostly of concrete that kids love. Plenty of restaurants and shops including a Coop, a small grocery store. I stay at the Hotel Alpina in Murren which has a couple of two bedroom suites separated by a bathroom which might be a fit your family. The view from the balcony is looking straight down into the Lauterbrunnen valley and out over the famous mountains. Also recommend the boat trips on Lake Thun (leaving from Interlaken West) and Lake Brienz (leaving from Interlaken Ost). Lots of families on those. Interlaken also has a McDonalds which, in my experience, is extremely popular with kids that have been eating strange foods for a while on these trips. Be sure to check out Rick's Travel Tips on this site for more information on the various rail passes. Sounds like a great trip!

Posted by
328 posts

With this much time, 3 kids and a car I'd suggest the following home bases:
- Munich
- Berchtesgaden: we spent a week there with our kids in the spring and I can guarantee you will love it and not run out of things to do ... plus, it's a very easy day trip to Salzburg.
- Garmisch/Mittenwald: a great central location and with a car you can easily visit Neuschwanstein/Hohenschwangau, Linderhof, Zugspitze, Innsbruck, Hall, etc, etc.
- Lauterbrunnen or Murren: give this area a good 5-7 days out of your itinerary if you can
- Lucerne: again a great central location for lots of fun mountain, lake and city excursions

Obviously, you will want to fit a day in here and there in other locations to help make your itinerary flow smoothly.

Like you, we tend to prefer apartment rentals when travelling with our kids. Our practice had always been to have a picnic lunch and eat at a restaurant for dinner but ... on our last trip, we actually ate restaurant/kiosk lunches and then cooked our own meals (I LOVE market shopping in Europe) in our apartment in the evenings. It saved us a lot in food expenses and our kids didn't always have to be on their best behaviour in a restaurant after a full day of exploring (our kids are a little younger than yours). I strongly encourage you to try this in Switzerland where eating out with 3 kids will get pretty expensive.

We have always rented a car for the Switzerland portion of our trips. We like the flexibility to be able to explore mountain roads or passes and stop for photographs or scenic picnics on a whim. My one regret about that decision is that we have never actually taken one of the scenic train rides, like you were initially considering.

Posted by
81 posts

We have just arrived home from the RS Alpine Europe My Way Tour and spent extra days afterwards in Muerren and Luzern.
I agree that 5-6 days is too much time in Salzburg and Fuessen. If you want to "hang out" I would suggest staying extra days in Muerren. It is absolutely stunning, much nicer than staying in Lauterbrunnen and you can still access both sides of the valley from there- and as mentioned there is the Sportscomplex for the kids. We stayed at the Bellevue Hotel and can highly recommend it. Take a walk down to Gimmelwald.
- Luzern - two days is enough.
- skip Zurich

Posted by
15542 posts

Do check the car rental rates carefully before ruling out dropping off in another country. I looked at this issue a couple of months ago, and it didn't seem like there were excessive drop-off charges between Germany and Austria, or Switzerland and either Germany or Austria (don't remember which one).

From Salzburg, a day trip to the Freilicht (outdoor) Museum would be enjoyable for the kids as well as the adults. There are also bike tours in Salzburg.

In Fussen, you can rent bikes. Many people bike to the castles. There are other possibilities as well.