Recently, I visited Switzerland for vacation (Sep ’18) and spent a week driving around sightseeing with family.
Disclaimer: you should do your own research (regarding topics such as driving laws).
While I’ve read many great things about the public transportation system (trains & buses) and I would encourage you to take their excellent train system, driving made sense for our situation.
- Direct transportation. Walking between the train station & hotel each day is not trivial. The uphill hike from the train station to Gruyère didn’t seem easy either.
- Flexible. Not being tied to a train/bus schedule allowed us to see more places.
- Scalable. Having a large car makes sense financially with a large group. Our 8 day car rental was $400. A 2nd class, 8 day unlimited train ticket is over $400 for one person.
- Storage capacity. Storing infant items, extra clothes, etc. in your car is very convenient.
- Park centrally. All the city centers we visited had parking near the tourist areas (such as old town). The blue ‘P’ signs are very easy to find when you are looking for parking nearby.
- Expensive. This goes without saying if you are planning a trip to Switzerland. Parking in the city center for a day is not cheap. Bern was particularly expensive to park in. In Bern, I made the tradeoff to pay more for parking and enjoy the city longer.
- Coins. Older parking areas may require coins (if they do not accept credit card).
- Tight parking. Many older cities (such as Zurich) have extremely narrow parking spots & turns. This is a huge factor if you care about not scratching your rental car. Drive carefully & slow.
- Language. The parking signs may not have English instructions.
- Speed limits. I did my best to stay under the speed limit everywhere. I was told (online & in-person) that speeding in Switzerland comes with big fines. Driving & constantly checking your speed makes for very stressful driving.
- Expensive. The cost of car rental, parking, and gas quickly add up. However, I felt the cost of driving wasn’t bad compared to buying a few train passes.
- While driving in Zurich, many parking garages would show “FREI”. This confused me initially as I read it as “free parking” (no cost). The actual meaning is “free spots” (parking available).
- Not a big deal, there are a lot of tunnels to drive through around the country.
- My rental car had a number of helpful features: current location speed limit display, parking collision detection, and standard GPS navigation. I’d highly recommend these features.
- To stay under or at the speed limit, I often relied on my rental car’s cruise control system to set the exact speed. Beware because you will often enter lower speed areas, and you’ll need to lower your speed suddenly.
- While driving in Switzerland, your headlights always need to be on. I set my car rental to have automatic lights. Easy.
- I would recommend renting from Sixt at the Zurich airport. (I have no affiliation with them.) I was able to get my BMW 2 series rental quickly and received good customer service.
- There are car free areas in Switzerland, so do not plan to drive to them.
Driving in Switzerland is not cheap, but it comes with many benefits. I would recommend driving in Switzerland if you are traveling with a large family or kids.