Cost of train vs car rental

We are planning a trip starting and ending in Paris, a few days in Alsace, a few days in the Interlaken area, 2 weeks total. We would like to do it all by train, but when I look at 4 day Eurorail pass, the cost is almost $400 US each, total $800. We can rent a car for under $400. Even with gas, it will be much less to do this. However, we have traveled a lot in Europe by car and know that even a 3 hour drive eats up a day and is tiring. Am I missing something on figuring out the cost of taking the train? Or do you pay for the convenience of not driving?

Posted by Andrea
Portland, OR, USA
19 posts

I had forgotten about tolls, which could easily add $100+. Does anyone have an opinion between Eurorail and Swissrail passes?

Posted by Sasha
Bainbridge Island
1585 posts

I think what you are "missing" is that often p2p tickets are cheaper than a railpass. You would be paying $100 for each dayof use of the pass. Madvance- purchase discount tickets should be considerably less than that. But if you are planning on riding some lifts and mountains while in Interlaken, you might want some kind of Swiss pass or card. You would need that anyway if you come by car, but the right one will cover your travel frommthe Swiss border to Interlakennand back, as well as reduce the cost of the mountain lifts.

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
10860 posts

First, you do not compare with a rail pass since a rail pass is often more expensive than point to point tickets. You need to plot out your trip and price the individual train segments. I know, it is some effort but that is the only way to get a true comparison.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17738 posts

Andrea, Also keep in mind that if using a Railpass, you'll have to pay separately for reservations which are compulsory on some trains. In some areas, these are restricted for Pass holders, so you may have to end up buying P-P tickets anyway. The cheapest method is often pre-purchasing tickets online. There will likely also be a few "extra fees" if using a rental car. To begin with, renting in France and dropping in Switzerland may come with HUGE drop fees! You'll also have to consider CDW, high fuel costs, tolls, parking, possibility of tickets and perhaps a highway tax vignette (I haven't checked that). As you've noted, driving takes longer and I find that when driving long distances, I often arrive at my destination tired and stressed so I'd much rather use a relaxing trip by rail and enjoy the scenery. Happy travels!

Posted by Sasha
Bainbridge Island
1585 posts

Yes, but the opinion depends on what you plan to do while at Interlaken.

Posted by Andrea
Portland, OR, USA
19 posts

The plan is to stay in Murren for 3-4 days and hike.

Posted by Sasha
Bainbridge Island
1585 posts

OK. I checked ticket prices. You can get from Paris to Strasbourg on the TGV for 25 euro if you buy well in advance. Strasbourg to Interlaken is 82 CHF regular fare, 28 CHF with a Swiss Pass. To Mürren would be the same (28 CHf if you have a Swiss Pass. Ma Eurail pass only covers 25% after Interlaken. Interlaken back to Paris is 133 on the Special Offer ticker ( advance purchase) or 79 CHF with advance purchase and a Swiss Pass. A 3-day Swiss Flex pass costs much less than that $400 Eurail pass you are looking at, and will take you all the way to Mürren. And will give you 50% off any lifts you may use to access hiking trails. If you drive there, you will have to pay for parking for the car while you are in Mürren.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

Hi Andrea,
Mürren is a great place to go for hiking. It sounds like you would rather go by train, but need to confirm that it is not a lot more expensive than a car. I agree with the others that you should look at point to point ticket prices, not a Eurail pass. Those discount prices Sasha mentioned are probably for purchase about 3 months in advance, so you need to plan ahead, but it is worth it. I am quite sure the car cost will add up to a lot more than $400 by the time you add gas, tolls, the vignette for driving in Switzerland, and parking fees at Lauterbrunnen or Stechelberg. So let's say you do the discount tickets, plus some king of pass in Switzerland. Mthere are your options: 4- day (consecutive) Swiss Pass that covers all trains, boats, travel to Mürren, and 50% off lifts above, $250. 3-day Flex pass that gives the same coverage but only 3 days, plus 50% off trains and boats on additional days, $240. Swiss Card that covers two travel days ( inbound and outbound to/from Mürren), plus 50% off everything else, $211. Transfer Ticket that covers only two days of travel, to and from Mürren, no other discount, $147. That would be your least expensive option if you plan to mainly stay around Mürren and hike from there. Hope this helps.

Posted by Andrea
Portland, OR, USA
19 posts

It appears we have Northwest travel buddies! Thank you. We use the train often between Portland and Seattle and do prefer it to driving if it pencils out. To add another twist, since you all have been so helpful, we plan to spend 3 days in the Alsace region. The thought is that this might be the place to rent a car for those days to be able to better see that region. Maybe train to Salsbourg, car down to Colmar, back to trains there. Comment?

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2826 posts

To get the good train fares everyone is talking about: For France, use http://www.tgv-europe.com. Choose Great Britain as your country, France as your ticket collection country, and refuse to be redirected to Rail Europe. For Switzerland, use http://www.sbb.ch/en/home.html. Others here have warned that the default prices it shows are with the Swiss half-fare card, so do double check. For both of these, you can look at fares tomorrow and for 3 months out, and see what the difference is.

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
3314 posts

The best is usually a mix of the two. Trains for city to city travel. Car for countryside and small villages roaming. If you can arrange your trip so that you minimize your car rental to few days to utilize to visit the countryside, you will save and you'll visit more places more efficiently.
I'm also not fond of rail passes. They are a deal only when you spend a lot of time on trains. Based on your trip as described I think you'll do better with point to point tickets. I don't think you are covering a lot of ground to justify a Eurail ticket.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

Hi Andrea---we too like the train between Seattle and Portland ( unless we are bringing the dog!) Renting a car for Alsace would be a good plan. The train connects Strasbourg and Colmar, but many of the smaller, charming villages can only be reached by car (or bicycle, which is what we are looking at for our next trip). A short time back I started a thread on Strasbourg versus Colmar, and got lots of good suggestions on which villages to visit. Riquewehr was one that I remember; I will have to dig up that thread to see the others. Mor maybe someone can create a link to it here ( I don't know how to do that). Let me know if you would like hike suggestions for Mürren.

Posted by Andrea
Portland, OR, USA
19 posts

Thanks again. It looks like the best bet is to take the train from Paris to Basel. Then rent a car to loop back up into Alsace, Ribeauville maybe and drop back there for train to Interlaken. Would love ideas on hikes and can you answer this question? Do we need our hiking boots or can lighter weight hiking shoes be enough? We like to pack lightly and I hate the idea of lugging our boots.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

Getting the carin Basel is a brilliant idea. Why didn't I think of that? I am currently planning a trip that includes Alsace and Switzerland, and flying into Basel makes sense for that. You should be able to get a good price on the TGV from Paris to Basel. Boots: the trails we have used in the Swiss Alps are very similar to what we have here in the PNW. Rocks, roots, some mud, generally well graded but rugged in someplaces. If you are happy hiking in trail shoes here, you should be fine with them there. I take my lightweight boots because that is what I am accustomed to, but my sister hikes in trail shoes and is glad to avoid the extra weight of boots. Hikes we have done from Mürren include up to the Rotstockhütte ( most of a day) and up to the top of the Allmandhubel and back around (that was only 2 hours). Hikes we would like to do but haven't found time for yet are up to Tanzbödli, and from Stechelberg up to Oberhornsee. All of these are listed and described on the Gimmelwald website, www.gimmelwald.com or Gimmelwald.ch. If you want to head over across the valley to Kleinescheidegg, there are more great hikes there. The Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg walk is a classics, and very easy. And I highly recommend the Eiger Northface Trailmthat goes between Eigergletscher ( on the train just above Kleine Scheidegg) and Alpiglen ( also on the train line). We hiked it downhill but you can do it in reverse as well. This one is spectacular and less crowded. Then from Grindelwald, we love the hike up to the top of the Faulhorn from First: www,Faulhorn.ch for pix. Finally, the Panoramaweg from SchynigePlatte to First is a classic, a long ridge top ramble with views down to the Brienzersee on one side, and across the Grindelwald valley to the high peaks on the other.

Posted by MM
San Diego, ca, usa
8 posts

Hello Andrea, I traveled myself by TRAIN 12 days 6 cities in Switzerland. It was the best experience I have ever had. I bought monthly pass in Geneva and took train to any city that I want. It's very convenient on and off any time and any station. I went to Bern, Luzern, Zurich, Zimmat ...

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

I would echo Roberto. For cities, a train is generally the best option. For country driving with lots of stops, a car is the better choice. When training, point to point beats a pass for all but the longest legs - but a pass also offers some free local transportation options, like KD line boats on the Rhine (but only on pass days), that could be valuable and factored into the overall cost.

Posted by Kim
Paris
541 posts

Another point in favor of the train to Basel or Strasbourg rather than driving yourself -- you easily shave probably three hours off your travel time! The TGV gets there so much faster than you can drive -- and with no headache on your part of getting out of Paris, fussing with the Peripherique, etc.

Posted by Tom
Suffolk, UK (formerly St. Louis, MO, USA)
166 posts

I'll also add another to the pile of, "dont forget about tolls, CDW, parking, etc." As previous posters have said, it sounds like you need a gentle blend of both. Taking the train is SO much less hassle than driving when you can. Its also a lot quicker in many cases.

Posted by Andrea
Portland, OR, USA
19 posts

Thank you all. based on the information we have received here, we are planning a point to point from Paris to Luasanne, 2 days here. Swiss Pass, train to Interlaken/Murren, 4 days here. Train to Basel, rent car and tour Alsace for 3 days and return by train from Basel to Paris. Thank you for all your help!

Posted by Tim
Knoxville, TN, USA
3064 posts

I vote 100% for the train. Forget about Eurail Passes. Buy point to point. If you have kids their fares will be less than yours...even 100% free in Switzerland if they're < 16. Don't take chances on rental cars and rental car companies. They can eat you alive.

Posted by Sasha
Bainbridge Island
1585 posts

Tim, you must have had a really bad car rental experience. That is not the norm. Note that Andrea has already decided not to get a Eurail pass and to travel by train, except in Alsace where they will rent a car. An excellent approach to this trip, I would say.

Posted by Andrea
Portland, OR, USA
19 posts

I would also like to say to Tim that renting cars has always been very successful for us in France, Spain and Italy. I even had a kick driving the Amalfi Coast last year! we have never had a problem with driving. What we have learned is that, unlike driving in the US, anything more than a 3 hour drive is a really long day. hence the other reason our wanting to do the train from Paris to Switzerland.