Grand Tour of Switzerland – a road trip guide

written by Joanne Owen
updated 10/3/2022
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Switzerland

— a destination you voted one of the most beautiful countries in the world — offers travellers a rewarding range of experiences. And there’s no better way to experience that range than on a Grand Tour of Switzerland. This unforgettable road trip route covers everything from glaciers and palm-backed lakeshores, to charming villages and buzzy cities.

Better yet, set off with The Rough Guide to Switzerland

on hand to enhance every stage of your road trip.

The Grand Tour takes in dozens of Switzerland’s top attractions — including five Alpine passes, thirteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and twenty-two lakes.

Divided into eight signposted segments, it's an awe-inspiring circuit of 1643km. Covering cosmopolitan Zürich, Italianate Lugano, and the majestic Matterhorn, it offers a unique road trip of a lifetime. And they're just a small sample of the route's attractions.

In good news for travellers who want to travel more responsibly, the Grand Tour of Switzerland is the world’s first road trip for electric vehicles.

Bern is a highlight of the Grand Tour of Switzerland road trip © 4kclips/Shutterstock

Start — explore the city of Zürich

Zürich

is the setting for the start of this Switzerland road trip. A vibrant city that blends urban verve with waterfront beauty and Renaissance grandeur. 

Zürich’s Old Town plays host to legend-steeped medieval churches, such as the mighty Grossmünster. It's also the stunning stage for Switzerland’s highest concentrations of clubs, and world-class museums. Kunsthaus, we're looking at you.

Head to hill-framed Lake Zürich to enjoy rewarding boat excursions. With its Mediterranean-style plazas, taking a trip to Rapperswil comes especially recommended. You also won't want to miss seeing the 15,000 rose bushes that gave rise to its “City of Roses” moniker,

Best places to stay in Zürich

  • Best for culture vultures: Alma Hotel. An upmarket hotel focused on sustainability.
  • Best for couples: Hotel Kindli. One of Zürich’s most charming small hotels.
  • Best for nightlife-lovers: Pension Furdich. Backing onto a park, this is close to funky bars and clubs.

Explore more accommodation in Zürich.

Zürich's Grossmünster church © S-F/Shutterstock

1st stage — Zürich to Appenzel

From Zürich, epic natural wonders await near Schaffhausen at Rhine Falls, Europe's largest waterfall.

With Schloss Laufen perched on a cliff directly above the falls, this top grand tour of Switzerland photo spot blazes with drama.

The Rhine Falls and Schloss Laufen — one of the best grand tour of Switzerland photo spots © maloff/Shutterstock

Schaffhausen itself is likely to be a highlight of your Grand Tour of Switzerland. Boasting one of the country’s most beautiful medieval town centres, its riverside Old Town is crammed with glorious guild houses.

More old-time magic can be found in tiny Stein-am-Rhein, an almost perfectly-preserved medieval village.

Best places to stay in Schaffhausen and Stein-am-Rhein

Discover more places to stay around Schaffhausen.

Scenic schaffhausen © Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock

No Grand Tour road trip around northeast Switzerland would be complete without spending time in relaxed St Gallen. 

Set in rolling wine country between the Appenzell hills and the Bodensee, St Gallen’s Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Best places to stay in St Gallen

  • Best for city centre style: Einstein. A grand old hotel housed in a former textile factory.
  • Best for the socially conscious: Hotel Dom. Part of a project that trains and employs people with disabilities.
  • Best for families: Vadian. A friendly two-star on a quiet street near the cathedral.

Explore more places to stay in St Gallen

The abbey of Saint Gall © Ruslan Kalnitsky/Shutterstock

The last leg of this stage of the Grand Tour of Switzerland takes you to Appenzell. In an area known for its traditional rural traditions, this impossibly quaint town has fairy tale allure.

Into the great outdoors? This region has lots of rewarding hiking trails to ramble in summer. Come winter, the hills are a paradise for cross-country skiers, with 200km of trails extending through the canton.  

All of which makes Appenzell a picture-perfect place to enjoy sports and outdoor activities in Switzerland

Best places to stay in Appenzell

  • Best for foodies: Hotel Appenzell. This gabled building on the square has a confiserie and top restaurant.
  • Best for warm-hearted welcomes: Gasthaus Hof. A friendly, old-fashioned hotel with rustic ambience.
  • Best for luxury: Romantik Hotel Säntis. This fine old hotel belongs to the prestigious Romantik group. 

Browse more places to stay in Appenzellerland.  

Appenzell oozes traditional charm, making it one of the top grand tour of Switzerland photo spots © Sina Ettmer Photography/Shutterstock

2nd stage — Appenzell to St Moritz

This stunning segment of the road trip boasts more records than any other stage of the Grand Tour of Switzerland. These include Switzerland’s oldest city, and its only world monument, Salginatobel Bridge.

The power of nature is uniquely presented at the Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona UNESCO Heritage Site. Geological formations at this dramatic spot show the collision of the African and European continents. 

Meanwhile, if you’re travelling in Switzerland with children, you won’t want to miss exploring Heidi Village. Located in the Graubünden region, little ones will love following the idyllic Heidi Trail to the Heidi House. 

More charm can be found in Graubünden’s cantonal capital, Chur. Chockful of secret courtyards and cobbled alleys, Chur is Switzerland’s oldest town.

Cable car access to Brambrüesch mountain means Chur also has a host of hiking and biking trails on the doorstep. 

Best places to stay in Chur

  • Best for couples: Freieck. A comfortable hotel in sixteenth-century buildings.
  • Best for foodies: Hotel Stern. Smart Old Town hotel with wood-beamed rooms and great food.
  • Best for budget travellers: Viva Hostel. This modern, lively hostel has a range of rooms.

Discover more places to stay in Chur.

Chur's charms are a highlight of the Grand Tour of Switzerland © Avatar_023/Shutterstock

If you fancy sampling some of Switzerland’s best outdoor experiences

, you’ll want to explore the Swiss National Park in the Engadine.

For excellent hiking and scenery that’s inspired painters and poets for centuries, take a trip to Muottas Muragl mountain. Here the Panoramic Path traverses alpine hills and meadows, with views to glitzy St Moritz.

3rd stage — St Moritz to Lugano

Meandering down from Alpine St. Moritz to Italianate Lugano, this stage of the Grand Tour of Switzerland has the most significant change in altitude and scenery.

With 350km of pistes, and no shortage of fine places to sleep, eat and make merry, it’s little wonder that St Moritz is esteemed as one of the world’s best ski resorts. 

Interestingly, though, thanks to its mineral springs St Moritz first came to fame as a summer spa town. And, to this day, there’s plenty to keep visitors happy in summer — from hiking and biking, to sailing, kitesurfing and Alpine golf.

Best places to stay in St Moritz

  • Best for luxury: Badrutt’s Palace Hotel. This legendary five-star is one of Europe’s swankiest hotels.
  • Best for families: Chesa Languard. A friendly little hotel with some of the best rates in the centre.
  • Best for romantics: Soldanella. A family-run hotel in an Art Nouveau building.

Explore more places to stay in St Moritz

Swanky St Moritz © Shutterstock

From St Moritz, nature-lovers will want to continue their road trip to Switzerland’s largest regional nature park, Parc Ela.

This stunning UNESCO Heritage Site is traversed by the Rhätische Bahn (Rhaetian Railway). One of the world's most scenic rail networks, this is travelled by the Glacier Express that runs from St Moritz and Davos to Chur. It then winds west over the Alps to Zermatt

.

To the northeast of Parc Ela, the Viamala gorge presents one of the best grand tour of Switzerland photo spots. Carved into rocks by glacial ice, the sheer 300m cliffs are a staggering sight. 

From here, the road trip route wends south to the Italianate-speaking canton of Ticino

continued below

4th stage — Lugano to Zermatt

While you could explore this stage’s top sites on the way down, we’ll kick off in Lugano. This sits at the southern end of a segment that takes in an extraordinary number of bends. These comes courtesy of the Tremola road that snakes from Airolo. 

Basking in a sun-drenched bay of Lake Lugano, Lugano is framed by wooded hills and fronted by palm tree-lined promenades. It's also criss-crossed by winding lanes packed with places to enjoy some of the best eating and drinking in Switzerland

To the north, Locarno sits on the curve of a Lake Maggiore bay, with the surrounding valleys offering some of the most beautiful scenery in the Ticino

canton.

Where to stay in Lugano and Locarno

Browse more places to stay in Lugano and Locarno.

Locarno viewed from Cardada mountain © Eva Bocek/Shutterstock

Other highlights along the Grand Tour of Switzerland route that runs through Ticino include Ascona and Bellinzona, the latter of which has a trio of UNESCO castles. 

From Airola, the serpentine Tremola extends to Andermatt in Central Switzerland

via the Gotthard Pass, which divides northern Europe from the south. 

Hair-raising hairpin bends characterise the Via Tremola of the Gotthard Pass © Freedom_wanted/Shutterstock

While journeying south towards Zermatt — the end point of this diverse stage of the Grand Tour of Switzerland — don’t miss seeing the Furka Pass on a steam train excursion. Enjoying fun train trips are among the best things to do in Switzerland with kids

.

Alternatively, if you fancy finding serenity in truly sublime surroundings, the lesser-visited Goms area of the upper Rhône valley comes highly recommended.    

5th stage — Zermatt to Lausanne

Presided over by (arguably) the world’s most famous mountain, the majestic Matterhorn, Zermatt

is one of the world’s prettiest vacation villages.

Zermatt also offers easy access to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, which includes 360 kilometres of pistes, over 400 kilometres of hiking trails, and 54 mountain railways. As such, it's a place to unleash your inner adventurer.

Best places to stay in Zermatt

Discover more places to stay in Zermatt.

The Matterhorn offers some of the best grand tour of Switzerland photo spots  © Shutterstock

The route to Lausanne will take you through sunny Sion. Capital of the canton of Valais

, Sion is home to a charming old quarter and two ancient castles. 

Another major attraction along this part of the road trip is the adventure sport hotspot of Les Diablerets. This high profile ski resort village is located in the canton of Vaud, much of which sits on the northern shore of Lake Geneva

.

Meanwhile, before reaching Lausanne at the end of this stage of your road trip, you'll want to visit enchanting Château de Chillon, and upmarket Montreux.

Home to an esteemed jazz festival, Montreux features in our calendar of festivals in Switzerland

and run-down of the best things to do in Switzerland in summer .

Enchanting Château de Chillon, Switzerland © FenlioQ/Shutterstock

6th stage — Lausanne to Neuchatel

Taking in Switzerland’s renowned watchmaking region, this stage kicks off in Lausanne

, a city that’s lively, cultured and scenic with it. Think steep wooden hills tiered above a lake, an alluring Old Town, with the Cathédrale Notre-Dame rivalling its Parisian counterpart. 

Lausanne’s many cultural highlights include the Olympic Museum, the Collection de l’Art Brut, and the Musée Historique. Then there’s the Ouchy waterfront to wander. This elegant beauty spot plays host to free festivals around the year. 

If you plan to linger in Lausanne, the train des vignes runs through the terraced vineyards of Lavaux, offering views of the Savoy and Valais Alps from above Lake Geneva. 

Best places to stay in Lausanne

  • Best for couples: Angleterre & Residence. A classy hotel on the Ouchy waterfront.
  • Best for luxury-lovers: Beau-Rivage Palace. Set in waterside gardens, this is one of Switzerland’s finest hotels.
  • Best for families: Elite. Lausanne's best mid-price hotel.

Browse more of the best places to stay in Lausanne.  

Lausanne © Keitma/Shutterstock

The road trip route from Lausanne leads to Jura Vaudois Nature Park — a magical landscape of forests, marshland and meadows. It also takes in the breath-taking Creux du Van rock formation, around which a nature reserve protects animals and arctic-alpine flora. 

Southeast of Creux du Van, the route leads to Neuchâtel, home to Switzerland’s largest archaeological museum. With a charming lakefront promenade and enchanting 12th- century core, Neuchâtel inspires wonder as it transports visitors back in time.

7th stage — Neuchatel to Bern

From Lake Neuchâtel, the wateriest leg of the Grand Tour of Switzerland road trip leads you through the magnificent lake region. 

Along the way you won’t want to miss spending time in Fribourg. With its medieval Old Town set on a forested peninsula, this is one of Switzerland’s most magical spots. 

Best places to stay in Fribourg

  • Best for affordability: Hotel du Faucon. An excellent-value little hotel in the Old Town.
  • Best for couples: Hotel de la Rose. Cosy, comfortable and housed in a seventeenth-century building.
  • Best for foodies: Le Sauvage. A sixteenth-century townhouse with a fine restaurant. 

Find more places to stay in Fribourg

Largely thanks to its fairy-tale castle, Gruyères is also a place of enchantment, with a strong tradition of cheese and chocolate-making.

As you route through the Bernese Oberland

, opportunities for adventure present themselves. Gstaad, for example, is a mecca for celebrity winter-sports aficionados. Meanwhile, friendly outlying villages offer affordable family-oriented accommodation. 

Then there’s the mighty Jungfraujoch. The Jungfrau railway has been taking travellers to the highest station in Europe for over a century. This also happens to be one of the top grand tour of Switzerland photo spots. 

The same is true of the Lauterbrunnen valley, where a whopping 72 waterfalls rush from vertical cliff faces. 

Other highlights along the Bernese Oberland road trip route include Lake Thun and Lake Brienz. Taking a paddle steamer cruise is the perfect way to soak up their splendour.  

Lake Thun © 9MOT/Shutterstock

On arrival in Bern

, take an evening stroll around its UNESCO-protected Old Town to view the Zytglogge clock-tower, and find an atmospheric dinner spot. 

8th stage — Bern to Zürich

Of all Swiss cities, Bern is arguably the most immediately charming. Tucked into a peninsula of the River Aare and surrounded by wooded hills, the views over its Old Town roofs are spectacular. 

Alongside exploring the Old Town and Münster cathedral, art-lovers will want to visit Zentrum Paul Klee. To the east, Bären Park (Bear Park) is another Bern highlight. Bears have lived in a pit at this hilly beauty spot for centuries, with three of them currently residing in a new park.  

Best places to stay in Bern

Browse more of the best places to stay in Bern.  

Bern © Shutterstock

Further along this stage, you’ll want to stop off in Lucerne’s wondrous Wild West. Namely, the UNESCO Biosphere Entlebuch — an unspoilt, romantic reserve of Alpine pastures, moorland and karst landscapes.

Lucerne

itself is Switzerland’s geographical and spiritual heart— steeped in history, and a gateway to Central Switzerland . Lucerne is also the ultimate slow travel destination .

From the city’s medieval squares, ancient guildhalls, and lakeshore, it’s easy to explore Lucerne’s magnificent regional mountains – the Pilatus and Rigi — en route to Zürich. And so our Grand Tour of Switzerland comes full circle.

Best places to stay in Lucerne

  • Best for romantics: Art Deco Hotel Montana. With its own funicular, this is among Switzerland’s best four-stars.
  • Best for families: Seehotel Kastanienbaum. In a village outside the city, this has a lakeside terrace.
  • Best for budget travellers: Backpackers. A laidback hostel on the lakeshore.

Explore more places to stay in Lucerne.  

Pilatus, Lucerne © Swiss Tourism

Grand Tour of Switzerland alternatives — start or end in Geneva, Basel or Chiasso

One of the beauties of taking the Grand Tour of Switzerland is that it’s a circuit. This means there’s flexibility around where you start your road trip of a lifetime, with awe-inspiring access road trip routes to follow, too. 

Geneva

You could choose to begin your Grand Tour of Switzerland in Geneva

. Compact and cosmopolitan, the iconic Jet d’Eau fountain sits at the city's heart.

Our tip — explore Geneva's Italianate Carouge area for innovative artists’ workshops and excellent cafés. 

From Geneva, the route continues to Nyon, with its historic Old Town and easy-access to walking through wine country. It then leads to Saint-George and Neuchatal.

Basel

Alternatively, you could start your Grand Tour of Switzerland in Basel

and work your way down to Neuchatal. 

Located on the Rhine, Basel boasts around 40 museums. It also has masses of medieval charm, with two Old Town squares and countless leafy courtyards overlooked by the majestic Münster cathedral.

Chiasso

If you’re keen to explore Switzerland’s Ticino

region, consider kicking off your Grand Tour of Switzerland in Chiasso, which lies on the southern border with Italy. 

After exploring the town’s museums and taking a trip to the breath-taking Breggia Gorges, the route winds to Lugano, Locarno and Bellinzona.

Lugano in the Swiss canton of Ticino © Shutterstock

Best photo spots on the Grand Tour of Switzerland

While it’s nigh impossible to pick the best photo spots on the Grand Tour of Switzerland, here are a few of our favourites.

  • Best for epic nature: head to the Rhine Falls to capture the cascading, crashing waters of Europe’s largest waterfall backed by a fairy tale castle. Magic. 
  • Best for adventurers: head to the Gotthard Pass along the Tremola to snap snaking hairpin bends. 
  • Best for culture vultures: Bellinzona’s Montebello Castle is a beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site that offers mighty fine views of the region.

View of Castelgrande from Montebello Castle, Bellinzona © elesi/Shutterstock

  • Best for winter wonderland fans: it goes without saying that the majestic Matterhorn offers countless opportunities to take sensational scenic shots.
  • Best for bookworms: fans of children’s literature (and rustic charm) will take inspiration from their photos of Heidi House

For more inspiration, read up on the best photo spots on the Grand Tour of Switzerland that are marked along the route.

Tips for a road trip in Switzerland

If you’re considering going on a Grand Tour of Switzerland road trip, you’ll want to arm yourself with rules and regulations of the road. 

Switzerland’s minimum driving age is 18 and third-party insurance is compulsory. It’s also compulsory to carry a red warning triangle, and the vehicle registration documents.  

If you plan to drive on Swiss motorways, you must stick a vignette inside your windscreen. Buy it from the customs officials when you first cross the border, or at post offices and petrol stations. 

Switzerland and Liechtenstein drive on the right, seatbelts are compulsory for all, and penalties for drink driving are tough. One glass of beer has you on or over the limit. 

Speed limits are 120kph (75mph) on motorways, 80kph (50mph) on main roads, 50kph (30mph) in urban areas, and 30kph (18mph) or less on residential streets. There are dozens of cameras, radars and laser traps to catch speeders, with spot fines levied. 

Trams and buses have priority on Switzerland's roads © MrinaD_37/Shutterstock

At junctions, yellow diamonds painted on the road show who has priority. If in doubt, let trams and buses go first, and give way to traffic coming from your right. On gradients, vehicles heading uphill have priority over those coming down. 

If you hear a loud horn or klaxon sounding on country lanes or twisting mountain roads, it means a postbus is approaching. This always has priority.

In winter, signs indicate where snow-chains are necessary — practise fitting and removing them beforehand.

Switzerland's mountains make a stunning backdrop for road trips © 4kclips/Shutterstock

Want to know more before planning your Grand Tour of Switzerland road trip? Get your hands on a copy of The Rough Guide to Switzerland

 and read up on things not to miss in Switzerland .

Our Switzerland travel tips

and guide to accommodation in Switzerland will also help you plan your trip.

Not a fan of planning? You could book a hassle-free tailor-made trip to Switzerland, with customisable itineraries covering the likes of unforgettable highlights of Switzerland

, and touring the Grand Circle .  

This article is brought to you in partnership with My Switzerland.

We may earn commission when you click on links in this article, but this doesn’t influence our editorial standards. We only recommend services we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

Travel advice for Switzerland

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written by Joanne Owen
updated 10/3/2022
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Joanne is a Pembrokeshire-born writer with a passion for the nature, cultures and histories of the Caribbean region, especially Dominica. Also passionate about inspiring a love of adventure in young people, she’s the author of several books for children and young adults, hosts international writing workshops, and has written articles on the Caribbean and inspirational community initiatives for Rough Guides. Follow her @JoanneOwen on Twitter and @joanneowenwrites on Instagram.

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