Step by step planning
If you stick to the plan below, composing an itinerary and planning your trip should not be too difficult. Planning does take time though. If you don't have much time, you can best look into the sample itineraries and book one of them, purchase a self guided package, or have Switzerland experts make an itinerary for you.
Determine the type of trip
What would you like to do?
What regions or towns to explore?
How to travel?
Make your bookings
Step 1: Basic outlines
Write down the basic requirements of your trip. Talk to your fellow travelers about what they expect. Try to be specific. For example: "hiking" can vary from a one hour stroll on easy trails to 8 hour strenuous walks on rocky trails. Both can be great if they meet expectations. How many days should your holiday take? What's the approximate budget?
Also think about the season. Any time is a good time to visit Switzerland, but it's useful to know what to expect.
Step 2: Determine the type of trip
What kind of trip are you looking for? Some questions to ask yourself are:
- Do you want to see all of Switzerland or would it be fine to pick one or two regions and explore those thoroughly?
- Do you want to focus on the Alps or include some cities as well? We recommend not to do a city trip only, as it's the Alps that make Switzerland special.
- Do you prefer to travel slowly, or do you want to see as much as possible?
- Is it important to stay in lively towns with plenty of shops, restaurants and events, or are you looking for small villages?
- Will this be an active vacation (hiking, biking, etc.)?
Step 3: What would you like to do?
Now that you know what you're looking for, you can start browsing for specific activities that match your ideas. You do not have to hold back; just create a long list of activities and worry about the details later. In the next stage, a long wish list allows you to eliminate things that are geographically out of reach. Also a long wish list makes sure you're flexible, as many activities are weather dependent: visiting a mountain top is useless when it's covered in clouds. So make sure to list some bad weather alternatives too.
Find activities here
Step 4: What regions or towns to explore?
You now have a wish list of activities. It's time to take a look at the map of Switzerland. See where everything is located, and do not underestimate travel times. Distances may be short, but traveling in the mountains takes time. Traveling times by train can be found in the timetable. For traveling by car, please look here.
Find base towns that allow you to do the activities on your wish list, while keeping traveling time reasonable. A general advice is to limit the number of base towns, as checking in and out of hotels takes time. You'd probably prefer spending that time exploring the mountains. Plan to stay at least two full days in each base town, possibly more. That's more relaxed and also you have some flexibility weather wise: if it's raining on one day, you can still do that mountain trip the next day. Take the time to enjoy a region rather than rushing from one highlight to the other. Of course this is all a matter of personal preference. If you are planning a scenic train trip across the Alps, moving around every day is obviously not an issue.
If you leave Switzerland by plane, then you may want to consider your last base town to be close to the airport (max. one hour of traveling), especially if your flight departs in the morning. If that's not an option: there are comfortable airport hotels for your last night.
A final note: there's nothing wrong with picking one base town only. It's relaxed to only have to do the unpacking and packing once, and many regions offer plenty to do and see to keep you busy for two weeks or more. The Bernese Oberland and Lake Lucerne are good examples. If you don't mind a few days of longer travels, you can still see a fair bit of Switzerland that way. Even an isolated resort like Zermatt would be an option, but that does limit your options, especially in case of bad weather.
Find regions and towns here
Step 5: How to travel?
Basically there are two options: road or rail. Switzerland is famous for its efficient, safe and clean rail system. All major highlights can be reached by public transport. Not all highlights can be reached by car. We highly recommend train traveling. See here to compare car and train traveling.
If you decide to travel by train, this is the time to pick a suitable rail pass, or perhaps point-to-point tickets. First make sure that the basics of your itinerary are now set: your start and end point (airports or the Swiss border), the order of the base towns where you will stay, and the day trips you intend to make from there. With this information, you can see whether a rail pass saves you money, or whether point-to-point tickets will be cheaper. In the vast majority of cases, some kind of rail pass saves money. A pass is more convenient too as you can just board trains and don't have to buy tickets for each trip.
Learn how to choose the best rail pass
Unless you live in one of the surrounding countries and travel by your own car, you need to rent one. In any case, it's good to be prepared and read about how to drive in the mountains.
Find a car rental company
Step 6: Find accommodation
You're almost done planning! You now need to find accommodation that fits your plans. Hotels are the best choice in most cases. If you're staying a week or more in one town, you may also want to look into apartments or homes (some can be rented by the day, but most not).
If you travel by train, be sure to book accommodation within walking distance of the rail station. We've selected excellent hotels near the train stations, so that's a good place to start looking.
If you travel by car, you may want to avoid accommodation in the center of larger cities. Parking options are mostly limited and always quite expensive. A nearby smaller town or a hotel in the suburbs can be a good alternative if you want to limit your expenses.
About other accommodation
Step 7: Finalize
The list below shows what you may need to book:
Your in- and outbound trip
Traveling within Switzerland
The Swiss Alps are suffering from global warming. Be a responsible traveler:
Enjoy your stay!
Hopefully this guide has been useful to you. If you're in doubt about your itinerary, please feel free to post to the forum. Please post your trip report once you're back. We really appreciate that, and so do other travelers.
Enjoy your stay in the Swiss Alps!