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.
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,
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With Schloss Laufen perched on a cliff directly above the falls, this top grand tour of Switzerland photo spot blazes with drama.
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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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.
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.
After exploring the town’s museums and taking a trip to the breath-taking Breggia Gorges, the route winds to Lugano, Locarno and Bellinzona.
For more inspiration, read up on the best photo spots on the Grand Tour of Switzerland that are marked along the route.
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.
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.
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.
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