Getting around Switzerland

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View over Lucerne © Swiss Tourism

What’s the best way to get around Switzerland ? If that’s the question on your mind, the answer's sure to make you smile. The Swiss public transport system remains one of the wonders of the modern world. It really is hard to overstate how good it is — you can get anywhere you want quickly, easily and relatively cheaply.  

Is it easy to get around Switzerland? Can you get around Switzerland without a car?

In a word, yes. Services almost always depart on the dot, and train timetables are well integrated with postbus schedules.

Postbuses operate on routes not covered by rail, including remote valleys — good news if you're planning to get off the beaten track to enjoy the best outdoor experiences in Switzerland .

Extensive ferry services run on Switzerland’s many lakes, and cyclists are well served by the Swiss instinct for green thinking. 

If you're into cycling and keen to travel more sustainably in Switzerland, you might want to find out why Lake Lucerne is the ultimate slow travel destination .

Lake Lucerne is a breeze to visit, thanks to getting around Switzerland being so easy © Andy Faessler/Shutterstock

How do Swiss people get around?

Everyone relies on the Swiss public transportation system as a matter of course. It’s clean, safe, pleasant and punctual.  

One point can’t be stressed enough, though — Swiss people virtually never pay full fare for public transport. Follow suit by investigating Swiss travel passes to make getting around Switzerland a whole lot cheaper.

Travel passes in Switzerland

There are several different Swiss travel passes. While they're all good value, it takes some untangling to decide which option best suits your trip — see My Switzerland for full details.

Get your hands on a regional travel pass to make getting around Switzerland easy. Lauterbrunnen, Bernese Oberland © Gaspar Janos/Shutterstock

The convenience and universal validity of these passes are alluring, but it pays to do some sums before you splash out. 

Depending on the kind of journeys you’re liable to take, you may find you’d be better off getting a Half Fare Card than forking out for a pricey Swiss Travel Pass.

If you’re based in one resort, investigate the terms of the local guest card, issued free when you check in at your hotel. These often give free transport on local buses and trains and – sometimes – cable cars and funiculars. 

Timetables and travel information in Switzerland

The most convenient way to consult the national timetable covering all rail, bus, boat and cable-car services. 

This lets you research individual journeys on specific dates between any two points in meticulous detail, including complete information on every train — from platform numbers and onboard refreshments, to fare quotes and station maps.

Best scenic routes in Switzerland

While few Swiss journeys lack the kind of scenery that saw you vote Switzerland one of the most beautiful countries in the world , some routes are extra-special.

Though some require changing from train to boat, or bus to train, you never have to walk more than the length of a station platform, and timetables are designed so you never have to hurry.  

Here’s a selection of top scenic routes in Switzerland — see The Rough Guide to Switzerland to discover more.

Glacier Express passing Oberalp Pass © Swiss Tourism

Glacier Express

This spectacular — and very popular — route takes in 291 bridges and 91 tunnels in eight hours. Setting out from St Moritz or Davos, you head down to Chur, then up the Rhine valley to the Oberalp Pass and Andermatt. 

From here, you enter a tunnel beneath the Furka Pass and scoot down the Rhône valley to Brig, before climbing to Zermatt

Best places to stay in Zermatt 

  • Best for Alpine atmosphere: Kulmhotel Gornergrat. Currently the highest hotel in the Alps.
  • Best for glamour: Grand Hotel Zermatterhof. One of the finest hotels in Switzerland.
  • Best for cosy comfort: Hotel Allalin. Modern, folksy decor, outstanding service, and all rooms have balconies.

Explore more of the best places to stay in Zermatt.

Top trip to take in Zermatt

Board the world's highest cable car to explore the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise.

Zermatt chairlift © Swiss Tourism

GoldenPass

This flagship panorama route from Lucerne runs over the Brünig Pass to Interlaken and Gstaad.  

Then there’s a spectacular descent through vineyards to the Lake Geneva shore at Montreux.

Best places to stay in Montreux

  • Best for palatial luxury: Le Montreux Palace. This legendary hotel is set in its own gardens on the lake.
  • Best for couples: Grand Hôtel Suisse-Majestic. A belle époque beauty that's half the price of Le Montreux.
  • Best for good-value elegance: Villa Toscane. A fabulous Art Nouveau creation on the waterfront.

Explore more places to stay in Montreux.

Top trip to take in Montreux 

For fairy tale charm, it doesn't get better than Chateau Chillon.

Chillon Castle, Lake Geneva, Switzerland © FenlioQ/Shutterstock

Wilhelm Tell Express

After travelling by boat to Flüelen from Lucerne , a train south corkscrews up into the Gotthard tunnel beneath the Alps 

From here, you travel through the Italianate Ticino region to Lugano.

Best places to stay in Lugano

  • Best for couples: Hotel Federale. An atmospheric, good-value old town hotel in a quiet leafy district.
  • Best for families: Lugano Dante. A quality four-star in a converted townhouse by the funicular base station.
  • Best for big spenders: Splendide Royal. Traditional public spaces and rooms characterize this classic.

Browse more of the best places to stay in Lugano.

Top trip to take in Lugano

Book a boat cruise and walking tour of the Olive Tree Trail from Lugano to Gandria.

Getting around Switzerland by train

The Swiss are the most frequent train users in Europe – not surprising, given the quality of the network, which makes getting around Switzerland a pleasure.

Travelling through Switzerland by train is invariably comfortable, efficient and scenic — there’s a reason Switzerland features in our overview of the most scenic train rides in Europe .

Getting around Switzerland by train is a slick experience © Shutterstock

Getting around Switzerland by bus

A comprehensive bus system backs up the train network. These cover ground not served by rail, such as in the high mountains and deep countryside.

The bus and train timetables are coordinated, ensuring watertight connections from one to the other. 

Bus stations are nearly always located beside train stations, and all Swiss travel passes are valid for travel on buses as well as trains. 

Buses are also the most common form of transport within cities. Many cities also have trams, and a few have funiculars.

Getting around Switzerland by car

Driving gives you extra freedom to explore, and Switzerland’s road network is comprehensive.

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.

Beware of driving with sunglasses on — since there are hundreds of road tunnels, you can be plunged into darkness with little warning.

Swiss motorways/freeways are signed in green, while main roads are signed in blue. 

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.  

If you hear an outrageously loud klaxon sounding on country lanes or twisting mountain roads, it means a postbus is approaching. It always has priority, so get out of the way. 

Driving in Switzerland

Minimum driving age is 18 and third-party insurance is compulsory. You must carry a red warning triangle and the vehicle registration documents.  

If you plan to drive on Swiss motorways, you have to stick a vignette inside your windscreen. This remains valid until January 31 of the following year. 

Buy it from the customs officials when you first cross the border, or at post offices, petrol stations and My Switzerland

Car rental can be expensive, so cut costs by renting in advance from the big international agencies.  

To rent a car, you need a clean UK, EU or international driving licence that you’ve held for more than a year. 

Hire a car to enjoy the freedom of the open road in Switzerland. Basel port © Swiss Tourism

Taxis in Switzerland

Metered taxis are always available, but given the density of public transport they’re rarely necessary. What’s more, you need to be on a Swiss salary to afford them. 

Uber is available in nine cities across Switzerland — Geneva, Lausanne, Basel, Bern, Fribourg, Sion, Winterthur, Zug and Zürich. 

Best scenic drives in Switzerland

Inevitably the most scenic drives in Switzerland are over spectacular mountain passes — high routes that connect different parts of the country with each other or with neighbouring countries.  

All except the Bernina route (open year-round) are closed for up to eight months of the year. 

Here are a couple of sensational scenic drives in Switzerland — see The Rough Guide to Switzerland for more.

Bernina Pass

Linking Pontresina to Poschiavo in Graubünden , there’s no alternative road tunnel under this pass.

A prime artery between southeast Switzerland and northern Italy, it can be icy even in summer. 

Best places to stay in Graubünden

  • Best for budget travellers: Viva Hostel, Chur. This modern, lively hostel has a range of rooms, some en suite.
  • Best for couples: Arosa Kulm, Arosa. This historic palace hotel is right on the edge of the slopes.
  • Best for romantics: Soldanella, St Moritz. A family-run hotel in an Art Nouveau building. 

Browse more great places to stay in Graubünden

If you don't fancy driving, board the Bernina Express © Peter Stein/Shutterstock

Furka Pass

Running from Andermatt to Gletsch in Valais , this pass is a key east–west route across southern Switzerland. 

Its western limb switchbacks past the spectacular Rhône glacier. 

Best places to stay in Valais

Explore more places to stay in Valais.

Getting around Switzerland by boat

All Switzerland’s bigger lakes, and many of its smaller ones, are served by regular ferries.  

Most run only during the summer season – generally April to October – and are primarily pleasure-oriented, duplicating routes which can be covered more quickly by rail.  

All Swiss travel passes grant free travel by boat everywhere except on Lake Maggiore, which is mostly in Italy. 

That said, a leisurely cruise across Lake Geneva , or through the Alpine foothills to Interlaken in Switzerland’s Jungfrau region beats the equivalent train journey.

Best places to stay in Interlaken

  • Best for couples: Hotel Restaurant Hirschen. This atmospheric inn has been in the same family for 300 years.
  • Best for luxury: Victoria Jungfrau. One of Switzerland's grandest hotels, with a spa and sensational views.
  • Best for affordable comfort: Weisses Kreuz. This centrally-located, affordable hotel offers basic, cosy rooms.

Discover more places to stay in Interlaken

Getting around Switzerland by plane

Though Switzerland is small, the presence of so many mountains can lengthen journey times, so it might sometimes make sense to take an internal flight.  

Swiss flies between Geneva and Zürich several times a day. 

Aerial view over Interlaken, Switzerland © 4kclips/Shutterstock

Given that getting around Switzerland is so easy, you might be ready to book your trip — The Rough Guide to Switzerland  and our run-down of things not to miss in Switzerland  will help you plan.

Not a fan of planning? Book a hassle-free tailor-made trip to Switzerland, with customisable itineraries curated by local experts covering everything from unforgettable highlights of Switzerland , to touring the Grand Circle .

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.

The Rough Guide to Switzerland and related travel guides

Travel advice for Switzerland

Find even more inspiration for Switzerland here

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updated 8/24/2022
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