Renting car vs buying swiss pass

Question: I am visiting Swizterland from US. I have six day stay in Switzerland. I will be travelling to Zurich (2 day), then will go the Interlaken/Lucerne(2 days), then go to Geneva (2 days). Swiss Rail Pass is roughly 724 CHF for five days for 2 adults and 1 kid (free). Car rental is 400CHF (with collision insurance). Should I buy swiss pass or go for car rental? We will not be visiting any museum. Our primary destination will be go around zurich, rhine falls, interlaken, mt. tittnis/jungfrau, golden pass train, glacier express, go around geneva. Things to consider; 1. Is US driver license valid in switzerland? 2. Are there any hidden cost in driving, eg. Parking? How much should I include? 3. Are the Switzerland driving rules much different than US?
4. Can I rent car seats in Switzerland? Thanks in advance for your help.

Posted by Jim
Dallas, Texas, USA
495 posts

RK, I'm giving you a simplified answer, someone with better typing skills and time will explain why.....take trains, purchase Swiss one-half fare card, child should be free, especially if you intend to do pricy events such as Jungfrau and Schilthorn. At the top of this page, type in your question in search box for varied posts from the past.

Posted by Anita
Long Beach, California, USA
575 posts

1. Yes, but it needs to be paired with an intl. driving license...you can get one at AAA or online. 2. Yes...Switzerland, like much of Europe, is almost all toll roads. You need to factor this cost into your budget as it can be significant. Parking varies based on the type (lot vs. garage) but it can be pricey as well. Don't forget gas for the car...a little less than twice what we pay in the US. 3. Not too different except there is no right turn on red, lots of roundabouts where the car coming from the left gets priority, AND at gas stations you fill up first then pay afterwards.
4. I have no idea about this one...sorry! All that said, in Switzerland I highly recommend renting a car. Although a train will deliver you to the locations in the country where you want to be, actually getting to the sights you want to see can be challenging. Zurich, Interlaken, Lucern and Geneva have good public transport in the way of trams and busses for getting around town. If you want to go out into the mountains to see the rhine falls or drive around Lake Geneva to the Chateau de Chillon, the vineyards or up to some of the gondolas to hike in the high alps, then you really need a car. Public transportation is great but you waste a lot of time waiting for the time when it is scheduled to go where you want to be. Plus getting luggage on and off trains and busses is a huge hassle...I hate it! Having a car just make the process of moving from place to place so much more efficient with the limited time you have. Especially with a child! With the prices you quoted, I think it will be a wash costwise between public transport or a car, with the possibility that the car will be a little more expensive. It's just a matter of what you're more comfortable with. Having myself travelled in Europe with a child though, I would go for the car! Enjoy your trip!

Posted by Tim
Knoxville, TN, USA
3076 posts

Switzerland has a vignette that you must purchase and affix to your windshield. Vignette allows you to drive your rental vehicle on the roads and takes the place of tolls. There are no toll roads in Switzerland despite what the previous poster said. Swiss rental vehicles should already come with the vignette. Otherwise purchase them at any petrol station along the way. In fact I have a hard time believing the previous poster is referring to the same Switzerland that I've been to for the last 15 years. Car makes traveling to the Mountain Villages and places like the Jungfrau simpler??? Where did THAT come from? If you like paying high prices for petrol, high prices for non-existent parking, CDW with a huge deductible, AND long term parking while you visit and hopefully stay in those beautiful alpine villages (where cars are NOT allowed) then rent a car. Otherwise do like the other 99.9% of Switzerland's Tourists and take advantage of that great public transportation that's 2nd to none.

Posted by Jim
Bern, Switzerland
341 posts

Having lived in Switzerland for over 20 years, I have no hesitation in saying that a car is not the way to go! For at start, in your car calculation, you need to include the full cost of taking trips on the Glacier Express, Golden Pass, etc... And then the question comes as to what do you do with the car if you take the Glacier Express for instance, come back for it, drop off and pick up another one... You will easily rack up more in travel costs with the car option. You should also keep in mind that as a policy we favor public transport over the car, so you can expect to find limited parking spaces, parking restrictions, traffic lights that restrict rather than ease the flow and so on. I lived in Zurich for seven years and I never met a local that enjoyed driving there. It was something you did when you had to - such as shifting furniture, otherwise you just jumped on a tram. As for convince, most tourist places have public transport connections every half hour or so and if you pack light as everyone suggests then putting your bags on a train etc. should not be much of an issue either.

Posted by Marcus
Kansas City, United States
206 posts

I'm with Jim and Tim. DON'T rent a car. While a car is handy for visiting off the beaten path places in some countries in Europe, in Switzerland its absolutely unnecessary. Skip the car, ride local trains and busses, walk a little and inhale the scenery. If you really get into a bind, taxis are available at nearly every station.

Posted by Bob
Minneapolis
589 posts

Hi RK. Renting and driving is easy in Switzerland. Up to you on how much you value flexibility. Make a list of days and decide which days the car would be good vs. a hassle. Maybe rent when leaving Zurich and turn in when get to Geneva...? Enjoy your trip!

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

First,the cost of travel by train Zurich to Luzern to Interlaken to Montreux to Geneva is under 150 CHF per person. Second,if you're taking day trips and want a pass, no need for a five-day-pass. Where did you see that price? A three- day Flex would do nicely; Saver price is $242 each-or $484 for two.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8758 posts

Sorry I have a few issues with a prior answer - - 1. Yes, but it needs to be paired with an intl. driving license...you can get one at AAA or online. If you buy anything called anything like an "International Driving License" online it will have no value. It is a scam. Don't do it. In the USA the AAA is authorized to provide the internationally recognized International Drivers Permit (IDP). It is not something that you can get online. 2. Yes...Switzerland, like much of Europe, is almost all toll roads. You need to factor this cost into your budget as it can be significant. No, its not. As said above, all roads are covered by the CHF40 mandatory vignette. There are no separate toll roads, toll tunnels or toll bridges in Switzerland. Parking varies based on the type (lot vs. garage) but it can be pricey as well.
You will be parking a lot. And it is almost always quite expensive. You can't take the car to most mountain villages - it is illegal. Don't forget gas for the car...a little less than twice what we pay in the US. Current prices for unleaded are around CHF 1.80, diesel CHF 1.90 per litre. That's CHF 6.82 a US gallon. Or $7.32 for unleaded. Don't expect it to stay so low.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9131 posts

I would also correct the following statement
"2. Yes...Switzerland, like much of Europe, is almost all toll roads". In addition to what Nigel wrote, there are several countries in Europe that have no or very few tolls, including Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, most of Scandinavia, etc.

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2176 posts

You should absolutely rent a car. The vignette is already present for Swiss-plated cars, so you don't need to worry about that. It is only an issue if you rent a car from outside Switzerland and bring it to its highways. Rules of driving are nor that different from US, save for no red-turn (major difference). You should also get used to the notion of "city limits" within which speed is restricted to 50km/h. The major advantage of renting a car is to visit places that are out of reach of the train system (which is good). For instance, you can take a half-day or more to drive between the Alpine road passes of Grimsel, Fürka and Stuten. No train goes there. Much better than take a train there, which will go through the Furka base tunnel. You can also take the road that goes through the same are that the Golden Pass train does. Advantage: stop wherever your want for whatever photo op you want, stroll in some scenic village, and don't mind schedules. You can also drive up and down the Lauterbrunnen valley, it is a scenic route.

Posted by Marcus
Kansas City, United States
206 posts

Just my $0.02...I find it really funny that the two people that live in Switzerland are recommending taking public transport (I take it every day) but yet those that don't live here are arguing against it. The Swiss chuckle at Americans and their love affairs with big cars. Even those with families of 5 or 6 do just fine with compact cars. While many Swiss own cars, many choose not to and do just fine. In fact a large number of Swiss have gotten rid of their cars entirely just for cost and inconvenience reasons. Honestly the only reason I can see to rent a car is having a young child and the convenience with that aspect of traveling. With respect to crossing the Furka (and the rest of the alpine passes mentioned), there are busses that traverse the passes. There is even an organized day trip that covers all three in one buss with a stop for lunch and stops at certain scenic locations.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

In case it wasn't clear from my response, I am advocating for the train. The Swiss travel system ( public transport) is wonderful. I am only too happy to use it and forget about cars, parking, etc. when we visit Switzerland. My point was that it will cost much less to use the train than RK thinks.

Posted by Mark
Santa Barbara, CA, USA
144 posts

3. Are the Switzerland driving rules much different than US? It is easy to drive in Switzerland. You need however to be mindful of certain rules that apply when driving on narrow mountain roads and how to interact with trucks, postal buses etc... Also in some areas, the road is shared with narrow gauge trains or trams and you need to know how to position yourself when you travel in the same or opposite direction to the train. I have seen tourists panic and create a dangerous mess.

Posted by Marcus
Kansas City, United States
206 posts

If you do choose to drive in Swtizerland, here is an excellent resource: http://www.swiss-switzerland.com/driving-in-switzerland.html#.UXW0XrWsh8E Some unwritten rules: Cows (and there are many of them in Switzerland) have the right of way. If you go in spring or fall, there can often be huge traffic jams on mountain roads when the farmers bring their cows up to or down from higher ground. Be cautious of farm machinery. I don't believe that they have the right of way per se, but give them room. Also don't be surprised if you see a 10 year old (or younger) driving the tractor hauling a big load.
When driving on mountain roads, guard rails are sometimes nonexistent. My wife still gets nervous when the edge of the road is a 100+ meter drop

Posted by Tim
Knoxville, TN, USA
3076 posts

I don't live in Switzerland and I totally recommend public transport all the way. I, too, laugh at Americans and their love affairs with vehicles. I'm an American and I do NOT have a love affair with my car. I hate cars and gas stations and especially CAR INSURANCE!!!

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2176 posts

With due respect I have many Swiss friends, even had a girl;friend from there, and many Swiss people have cars and drive them. Actually, despite all the hype 65% of all km-passenger traffic in Switzerland is car-based, not transit based (in US that figure is 93% for comparison). Rural buses in Switzerland are pure crap. Trains area good, subways are nice, buses are horrible, especially rural buses. The bus line on the Grimsel route has a mere 5-a-day schedule. I'm very familiar with the region, I know the corners of the routes there pretty well. The major attraction of a mountain road is the ability to drive, stop, make detours and small hikes at whim, not be cramped with a bus that has a fixed scheduled. Then, again, I dislike like a flu open-top buses, city tours, or bus-based tours. I just think different people have different preferences and that just because someone doesn't use cars one shouldn't go claiming the "I'm local" card to dismiss all other opinions. Switzerland has excellent road infrastructure (as it has rail infrastructure as well), one could take advantage of either - or both -. If one doesn't like cars, that is totally fine. Just don't try to make people feel like they were being "un-Europeans" by renting one and driving around. (incidental comment: from time to time I get some rather angry messages on TA from other expats living in Amsterdam when they read me explaining in details how to drive in the city for would-be tourists, as if I were committing some sort of "crime" by promoting car drives in the city and making them look less horrible than the escapists who ditched their cars at DFW or JFK and never got one here do).

Posted by Jim
Dallas, Texas, USA
495 posts

Is this issue really just a generational situation? Let me try to explain. When I first started following Rick Steves, it was the allure of riding the trains and understanding the rail passes, something most Americans (especially in the South)don't do much of(we had never been on a subway until our first Paris trip). I've noticed over the last 5-7 years more emphasis on Rick offering more info on CDW and in most of his recent shows, more use of cars. I'm going to get myself in trouble, but I'm suggesting that those that favor use of car.....MAY be age 35 or younger. As an example, my S-I-L, German born and raised,insisted on driving the roads Rick described as difficult on the way to Cinque Terre (Vernazza) and driving into Rome(generally a no-no by anyone's standards). Outcome: we loved the CT drive, a little nerve wrecking, but exciting, driving into Rome City; never do this! The young European with their GPS's want to feel like their American counter parts, have the freedom of an auto and not be constrained by time. We've enjoyed driving in Europe, but also enjoy the trains."Can't we just get along"??

Posted by Tim
Knoxville, TN, USA
3076 posts

Oh I think we can all get along :-) But misinformation like: 1. Switzerland, like much of Europe, is almost all toll roads.
2. If you want to go out into the mountains to see the RHINE FALLS or to the Chateau de Chillon, or the gondolas to hike in the high alps, then you really need a car. Just must be corrected. I have to laugh, the person driving to Rhine Falls I guess has never heard of the train station "Schloss Laufen am Rheinfall" which drops you right at the falls ;-) Yes, and those cars really come in handy when you visit Mürren, Wengen, Gimmelwald - all villages that are accessible only by trains and gondolas (both of which are perfectly married in 5 minute transfer intervals).

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2176 posts

Tim, the only toll booth I've found in Switzerland is one on the Grand San Bernardo tunnel, on the route connecting Orsieres with Aosta (Italy). The rest of Switzerland has major highways that require a vignette to be driven over. However, Swiss-plated cars (the ones you rent in Switzerland as OP suggests doing) already have such vignettes. So there are no extra tolls to be paid. Ditto for the environmental sticker on German cars, the vignette for Hungarian cars etc. =============== As for mountains in CH, you don't need a car to visit some, but you do need one to visit others. The problem is limiting "mountains in Switzerland" to Pontresina, Zermatt and the Bernse Oberland.

Posted by Mark
Santa Barbara, CA, USA
144 posts

When you rent a car in Switzerland, perform a thorough inspection of the vehicle when you get it and make sure everything is noted and reported on the damage form. They can be very picky and charge you for the smallest ding that was not reported.

Posted by Sasha
Bainbridge Island
1590 posts

Has anybody actually read the question? He asks if he should rent a car to drive from Zurich to "Interlaken/Lucerne" (can't tell if it is one or both) and then on to Geneva. He thinks it will be cheaper than riding the train but he has figured the cost of train travel wrong (too high) and underestimated the cost of driving, as he hasn't considered cost of gas, parking, etc. They won't want the car in Zurich or Geneva, and haven't indicated they will go anywhere else besides Interlaken or Lucerne in the other two days. They don't really have time to go anywhere else. So a car makes no sense at all!