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6-day all-season discovery of northern Switzerland by car

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Must knows about this tour

  • during this 6-day tour you’ll explore the peaceful landscapes of northern Switzerland;
  • you’ll visit farmlands, lakes and charming towns such as Murten, Aarau, St. Gallen and even Vaduz in Liechtenstein;
  • the short driving times allow you to make side trips to mountains, castles, monasteries, the Rhine Falls and much more;
  • this itinerary can be enjoyed in any season and is fully adjustable to your needs: skip sections or plan extra nights wherever you like!
Road in Emmen valley Switzerland

The road between Langnau and Trubschachen in the Emmen valley in Switzerland.

About this 6-day driving tour in northern Switzerland

This relaxed driving tour is a must for lovers of charming towns, fresh green hills and farmlands, small lakes and views of the Alps in the distance. Within 6 days you’ll drive from Basel to Zurich without any highway stress: you’ll use regional roads only, having a close look at the pretty scenery of northern Switzerland and Liechtenstein. No mountain passes are involved, so this is a perfect tour for any season:

  • in spring and fall, you’ll admire the combination of lovely colors in the lower farmlands and the snow-capped Alps in the distance;
  • in summer, you can take many breaks along the lakes and at the towns’ sunny terraces;
  • in winter, snow in these lower regions isn’t guaranteed, but in clear weather you’ll definitely see the snowy mountain ranges at the horizon. In November and December, this driving tour can well be combined with Christmas markets in Basel, Bern, Einsiedeln, St. Gallen and Zurich.

Adjust the tour to your needs and plan side excursions

The itinerary below is just a suggestion. You can change the order of the sections, use alternative routes, shorten your tour (easy shortcuts to the destination of Zurich can be made at the end of most days), and of course you can lengthen it. We recommend to add nights in the towns you’re most interested in, in order to explore the surroundings. The travel times per day aren’t too long. This allows you to take breaks and to make excusions to towns, lakes and mountains. We’ve suggested sightseeing tips for each of the 6 days. You’ll probably be using public transportation when exploring the surroundings, and it’s worth calculating whether a Swiss Half Fare Card will save you money.

Hotel and base town sugggestions

We’ve carefully selected smaller base towns for this relaxed tour, as well as hotels that suit a driver’s needs. The hotels we recommend are well rated, are easy to reach by car and offer parking options. Many are also located close to rail stations, meaning you can easily switch to public transportation for side excursions.

Planning and preparation tips

Note that the suggested travel times are estimates. They assume you don’t take any breaks and that there’s no delay due to traffic jams or road construction works. When planning, assume you’ll be driving longer than the indicated times. You can plan your route with these tools:

  • the entire route can be found on the map;
  • find up-to-date traffic and road information here;
  • make sure you’ve studied Swiss traffic rules before you leave and stick to them;
  • check weather forecasts each day before hitting the road. In case of weather conditions like heavy rain, thunderstorms or summer snow, driving may be uncomfortable or even dangerous. Adjust your plans if necessary.

Shopping list for this tour

This is what you need to arrange for in advance:

  1. your own car or a rental car;

  2. in case of your own car: get a motorway vignette;

  3. a Swiss Half Fare Card if you plan to make trips by boat, tram, cable car, etc. Here’s how to calculate if it saves you money;

  4. hotel bookings;

  5. CO2-compensation. Driving is not the most eco-friendly way of traveling. Please help protecting the Swiss Alps by compensating for your CO2-emission. Thanks!

Seat reservations for train, boat and mountain excursions usually aren’t required.

Download the coordinates here (KML file)

The route - day 1: Basel-Murten via Tavennes and Biel: 125 km, 2h35

Your tour starts off in the north-western city of Basel, offering a mixture of modern architecture and an attractive old town center. You’ll head south over the regional road to Délemont, in the French-speaking canton of Jura. A road surrounded by forests and rocks takes you to Moutier, and then onto villages like Valbirse and Tavennes. After Tavennes, you’ll head for Biel ('Bienne' in French), and then you’ll drive through the small villages along the eastern banks of Lake Biel. You’re now in the beautiful Three Lakes region at the border of the French and German speaking areas, and close to your destination of Murten ('Morat' in French) along the lake.

Alternatives:

  • of course you can start this tour in other towns as well. For example:
    • if you start in Zurich, you can reach Murten within 2 hours;
    • if you enter from Geneva, you can reach Murten in even less time than from Basel;
  • an easier route from Basel to Murten, in terms of navigation, is the via one Liestal, Solothurn and Aarberg. This route too passes hilly scenery and attractive towns (114 km, 2h30);
  • you may prefer the larger towns of Neuchâtel or Biel as your destination.

Side trip suggestions

  • your starting point Basel may not look attractive from the train or car if you pass by it. However, the town center is surprisingly nice and definitely worth your time. This city hike is recommended. Please find more tips here;
  • you’ll pass several villages that are worth taking a break. An example is Laufen, south of Basel, with its historical alleys and clock tower. Délémont, the medieval capital of the canton of Jura, shouldn’t be missed either;
  • Biel is a gem. It has a beautiful old town center and its location along Lake Biel allows for relaxed boat trips. You’ll also find lots of watch shops and the ‘Omega Museum’ here. A hike into the nearby Taubenloch gorge is great for hot summer days;
  • Murten is an 8-century old town with lovely facades, an atmospheric harbour and wonderful views of the lake. Take a stroll after arrival, or enjoy a boat ride. At nearby Mont Vully you can hike through the vineyards or visit the Lamberta caves.

Hotels

  • we recommend the 3-star hotel Murtenhof & Krone: ideally located in the old town center and at walking distance from the railway station and the lake. Free parking places are available in front of the hotel. Other (paid) options include the hotel’s own parking garage and the public parking garage very close to the hotel;
  • find other options in Murten here.

HOTELS

Find our hotel suggestions for Basel.

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THINGS TO DO

Tips for activities in and around Basel.

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The route – day 2: Murten-Aarau via Langnau and Olten: 151 km, 3h10

Murten is at the border of Switzerland’s French and German regions, and you’ll now enter German areas. Today’s route is a lovely one. You’ll first pass the federal capital city of Bern, before entering the romantic Emmen valley with its green hills and views of the Bernese Alps in the south. Via Trubschachen and Entlebuch, drive north to the small town of Olten, and finally head a bit further east until your reach Aarau.

Alternatives:

  • if you want to shorten today’s travel duration, you can skip the Emmen valley and drive to Olten via Solothurn (98 km, 2h10).

Ideas for side trips

  • Bern makes for a great break. Please find tips here;
  • the Emmen valley is truly beautiful. If you can, try to get out for some breaks or for a hike;
  • are you a fan of sweets and cookies? Make sure to get out in Trubschachen and pay a visit to the Kambly cookie factory and outlet shop;
  • discover the small town of Olten along the rivier Aare, for example with this hike;
  • explore Aarau after arrival. This is the capital of the canton of Aargau, and just like Olten it’s located along the banks of the blue Aare river. In the old town, you can enjoy beautiful paintings on the buildings’ facades and on the curved eaves. There are several museums, such as the Naturama, and a small fortress;
  • more castles can be found in Aarau’s surroundings, such as the one in Lenzburg;
  • in Buchs, very close to Aarau, you’ll find the visitor center of the Frey chocolate brand.

Hotels

  • the 3-star hotel and restaurant Gasthof zum Schützen is located outside of the town center of Aarau and can be easily reached by car. It’s a 15-minute stroll to the railway station, and there’s a bus stop close to the hotel. You can park your car at the large public parking lot across the hotel. It’s paid, but the first few hours are free for hotel guests and rates are reasonable;
  • dining on a roof terrace with views over the river Aare is possible in the 4-star hotel Kettenbrücke, located in the tourism and shopping district and at 15-minute walk from the rail station. Paid parking at reasonable rates is possible at the nearby parking lot and parking garage;
  • find more options in Aarau here, and find hotels in the smaller town of Olten if that’s what you prefer here.

The route - day 3: Aarau-Rapperswil via lots of lakes and via Einsiedeln: 114 km, 2h30

A wonderful route along no less than six lakes awaits you. First up is the Hallwilersee south of Aarau, followed by the Baldeggersee. You’ll pass them along their eastern shores, meaning that you can profit from the best sun position in the early morning: you’ll have the sun in your back when taking pictures along the lakes towards the west, and light will come from the side if you look south towards the Bernese Alps. Via Hochdorf you’ll drive to Cham and Zug, where the next lake awaits you: Lake Zug, an ideal starting point for boat rides or a trip up to Rigi. Along the Ägeri valley with its lake you’ll head for Einsiedeln, famous for its monastery and the Sihl lake. You’ll cross this lake from from west to east. Another crossing must be made over Lake Zurich: a dam with a car road splits the lake into two parts between Pfäffikon and Rapperswil. Your destination is the charming village of Rapperswil.

Alternatives:

  • skipping the detour along the Ägeri lake, Einsiedeln and the Sihl lake means you can shorten your route to 97 km, 2h00.

Excursion tips

  • don’t miss the Hallwyl castle near Seengen at the north of the Hallwilersee. The castle is located within the river Aabach;
  • near Gelfingen along the Baldeggersee you’ll find the Heidegg castle, housing a regional culture and history center and a lovely rose garden;
  • if you have enough time, a boat trip over Lake Zug is recommended. You’ll watch the slopes of the famous mountain Rigi, and from Arth-Goldau on the southern end of the lake you can board the cog train for a ride up to Rigi Kulm;
  • the Ägeri lake is very inviting for a stroll along the shores;
  • in Einsiedeln, the splendid 18th-century monastery shouldn’t be missed;
  • the Sihl lake is a big reservoir lake. The car road bridging it is narrow and doesn’t allow you to stop and take pictures, so enjoy the views before or after passing the bridge;
  • Rapperswil is known as the ‘town of roses’, offering a romantic boulevard along the lake and a castle on a hill with wonderful views over Lake Zurich and the Alps in the distance. It’s one of the stops along the Voralpen-Express route, and boat trips over the lake are a nice way to spend your afternoon as well.

Hotels

  • a very special location to spend your night is the 3-star hotel Rössli, located not in Rapperswil but in nearby Hurden along the dam connecting the northern and southern shores of Lake Zurich. A restaurant, rooms with lake view and free outside parking are available;
  • the 4-star Sorell Hotel Speer with a bar and and in-house Asian restaurant is located in the center of Rapperswil, only minutes on foot from the lake boulevard and the railway station. Guests can park their car on designated spots in the paid garage at 70m from the hotel;
  • find more hotels in Rapperswil here.

The route – day 4: Rapperswil-Vaduz via Glarus and Lake Walen: 107 km, 2h15

Today, you’ll first head for Glarus, the small capital of the eponymous canton. It’s a fairly unknown but beautiful region, providing access to hiking trails, biking routes and the Klöntaler lake. After your visit to Glarus, head back north to pass one of the prettiest lakes of this entire route: Lake Walen, dominated by the imposing mountain ridges of the Churfirsten. After the lake, drive to the wellness resort Bad Ragaz, before turning north to enter the small principality of Liechtenstein. This is home to today’s destination: Vaduz.

Side trip suggestions

  • make a side trip to the Klöntaler lake from Glarus. In summer season, you can take a postbus ride from Glarus as well, meaning you don’t have to drive the curvy road yourself. A trip up to the lake and back adds about half an hour to today’s route;
  • in late spring to early fall, you can enjoy several mountain visits in the Walensee region. Examples are the Aeugstenbahn from Ennenda (south of Glarus), the small cable car to Morgenholz from Niederurnen (at the western banks of the Walensee) and the chairlift to the Kerenzerberg from Filzbach (right along the road at the southern shore of the Walensee);
  • when passing Sargans, you can visit the Sargans castle that houses a regional museum;
  • the wellness resort Bad Ragaz profits from the hot water that wells up from the Tamina gorge. This gorge can be visited on foot. Other trip suggestions include a visit to the power plants of the ‘Kraftwerke Sargans’, to be reached by car in 15-20 minutes, and a ride up to the Pizol mountain by cable car. The valley station is located just north-west of the village;
  • Vaduz is the capital city of the mini-state Liechtenstein. The castle housing the royal family towers above the city, and is worth a hike up there. In this historic town you’ll also find nice dining options, a national museum and an art museum.

Hotels

  • located just south of Vaduz you’ll find the 2-star Landhaus am Giessen with free parking, rooms with views of the Vaduz castle and a rich breakfast buffet;
  • the 4-star hotel Vaduzerhof offers a perfect location near the town center, free private parking and comfortable modern rooms;
  • find more hotels in Vaduz here.

The route - day 5: Vaduz-Kreuzlingen at Lake Constance via Appenzell and St. Gallen: 99 km, 2h10

This day, you’ll head for the Swiss-German border along Lake Constance, or the 'Bodensee' in German. You’ll drive through a beautiful, friendly landscape with green forested hills. The two main stops along the way are Appenzell and St. Gallen, both icons of northern Swiss culture. You’ll then head for the shores of Lake Constance, that you keep following until you reach Kreuzlingen at the Swiss-German border. Kreuzlingen practically forms one city along with its German counterpart Constance ('Konstanz' in German).

Excursion tips

  • Appenzell has a car-free town center, but make sure to park at one of the designated parking lots and get out for a stroll. You’ll enjoy the facades with colourful frescoes, the pretty alleys and the many boutiques. You can visit the Appenzell museum in the town house, or the town square where democratic assembly voting still takes place;
  • you can drive to Wasserauen south of Appenzell in about 10 minutes, and get on the cable car to Ebenalp. Within a 1-hour circular hike, you can reach the small Aescher mountain restaurant, located on a spectacular spot leaning against a steep rock wall;
  • in St. Gallen, you should definitely visit the stunning UNESCO World Heritage site, consisting of the baroque cathedral and the impressive abbey library. The old town center, the art museum and the ‘Peter and Paul’ wildlife park may interest you too. Furthermore, St. Gallen is starting point for the Voralpen-Express train ride;
  • at a 25-minute ride from St. Gallen you’ll find the Maestrani chocolate factory in Flawil;
  • the town of Romanshorn along the lake makes for a nice stop. You can grab a bite along the lake and visit the Automobile Adventure World, or the locomotive depot and museum Locorama;
  • take some time to explore Kreuzlingen and Constance. You can enjoy a boat trip over Lake Constance, visit the lake museum or watch the underwater world in Sea Life.

Hotels

  • we advise that you spend the night in the modern 3-star hotel Kreuzlingen am Hafen, at a 5-minute walk from the town center of Konstanz. You’ll enjoy free parking and a wonderful location: very close to the railway station, the lake and the beautiful Seeburg park;
  • find more hotels in Kreuzlingen here;
  • if you’d rather stay in the German town Constance, find options here.

The route - day 6: Kreuzlingen-Zurich via Stein am Rhein and the Rhine Falls: 96 km, 1h35

Today’s section makes for a worthy end to this driving tour. First, follow the southern banks of the Lower Lake, or the 'Untersee' in German, to the beautiful town Stein am Rhein. Continue to Schaffhausen, where you can pay a visit to the Rhine Falls. It’s then time to drive south to Winterthur and finally to Zurich. The entire route doesn’t take too long, but that’s a good thing as there are lots of excursions along the way.

Excursion tips

  • you can make a boat cruise over Lake Constance and the river Rhine, all the way to Schaffhausen. In order to enjoy this trip, you can leave your car parked in either Kreuzlingen or Schaffhausen, make the entire trip by boat and then return to you car by train;
  • the medieval town of Stein am Rhein is worth a visit. It has an attractive, colorful old center, plus a monastery and a castle towering above the town;
  • make sure to get out in Schaffhausen to admire the Rhine Falls. Read all about a visit to the falls here;
  • if you have time left after arrival in Zurich, you can enjoy a walking tour, do some shopping in the Bahnhofstrasse, make a boat ride over the lake, and much more. Find all of our tips here.

Hotels

  • we recommend that you avoid the busy town center of Zurich and find accommation in a nearby village along the lake. The Sedartis Swiss Quality Hotel in Thalwil, at about 15 minutes from Zurich, offers very comfortable and modern rooms, as well as a restaurant and terrace with lake views. There’s an underground parking for guests.
  • more hotels near Zurich are listed here;
  • if you prefer a hotel in Zurich, please find our recommendations here;
  • will you be flying out from Zurich? In that case you can look into these airport hotels.

HOTELS

Suggested hotels in and around Zurich.

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THINGS TO DO

Activities and sightseeing in the Zurich area.

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