About this 6-day driving tour in northern Switzerland
This relaxed driving tour is a must for lovers of charming towns, green hills, farmlands, small lakes and views of the Alps in the distance.
In 6 days you’ll drive from Basel to Zurich without highway stress: you’ll use regional roads only. During the tour you'll get to know the scenery of northern Switzerland and Liechtenstein. No mountain passes are involved, so this is a perfect option for any season.
- In spring and fall, there's a beautiful combination of lovely colors in the lower farmlands and the snow-capped Alps in the distance.
- In summer, you can take many breaks along lakes and in picturesque towns..
- In winter, snow in these lower regions isn’t guaranteed. In clear weather you’ll see the snowy mountain ranges at the horizon. In November and December, this driving holiday can 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 a suggestion. You can change the order of the sections, use alternative routes, shorten your tour or lengthen it. We recommend to add nights in the towns you’re most interested in.
The travel times per day aren’t too long. This allows you to take breaks and to make excursions to towns, lakes and mountains. We’ve suggested sightseeing tips for each day.
You’ll probably be using public transportation when exploring the surroundings. It’s worth calculating if a Swiss Half Fare Card saves you money.
Hotel and base town suggestions
We’ve selected small and charming base towns for this tour, plus 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, so you can switch to public transportation for side excursions. Hotels close to Switzerland's highways are listed here.
Planning and preparation tips
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 works. When planning, assume you’ll be driving longer than the indicated times. You can plan your route with these tools:
- Check the entire route on the map below.
- 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 extreme weather conditions like heavy rain, thunderstorms or 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:
your own car or a rental car
in case of your own car: a motorway vignette
a Swiss Half Fare Card if you plan to make trips by boat, train, cable car, etc. Here’s how to calculate if it saves you money.
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 Tavannes and Biel: 125 km, 2h35
Your tour starts in the north-western city of Basel, with a mixture of modern architecture and an old town center. Head south over the regional road to Delémont, in the French-speaking canton of Jura. A road surrounded by forests and rocks takes you along the villages Moutier, Valbirse and Tavannes.
After Tavannes, head for Biel ('Bienne' in French). 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. Today's destination is Murten ('Morat' in French) along the lake.
- 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 start in 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 Neuenburg/Neuchâtel or Biel/Bienne as your destination.
Side trip suggestions
- The beautiful old town center of Basel is worth your time. This city hike is recommended. Please find more tips here.
- You’ll pass several villages that are worth a visit. An example is Laufen, south of Basel, with its historical alleys and clock tower. Delémont, the medieval capital of the canton of Jura, is beautiful too.
- Biel is a gem. It has an old town center. 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 harbor and 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.
- We recommend the 3-star hotel Murtenhof & Krone. It's 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 are the hotel’s own parking garage and the public parking garage close to the hotel.
- Find other options in Murten here.
The route – day 2: Murten-Aarau via Langnau and Olten: 151 km, 3h10
Murten is at the border of Switzerland’s French and German speaking regions. Today you'll enter German areas.
You’ll first pass the federal capital city of Bern. Then enter the romantic Emmen valley with its green hills and views of the Bernese Alps in the south. Drive north to the small town of Olten via Trubschachen and Entlebuch. Head a bit further east until your reach Aarau.
- If you want to shorten the 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 beautiful. You can get out for a break or for a hike.
- Are you a fan of sweets and cookies? Make sure to get out in Trubschachen and visit 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. It’s located along the blue Aare river. In the old town, you can enjoy 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.
- Hotel-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. It's located in the tourism and shopping district, at 15-minute walk from the rail station. Paid parking is possible at the nearby parking lot and in the parking garage.
- Find more options in Aarau here, and find hotels in the smaller town of Olten 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 are the Hallwilersee, south of Aarau, and the Baldeggersee. You’ll pass them along their eastern shores. In the early morning, you’ll have the sun in your back when taking pictures along the lakes towards the west. Light will come from the side if you look south towards the Bernese Alps.
Via Hochdorf you’ll drive to Cham and Zug. Lake Zug is an ideal starting point for boat rides or a trip up to Rigi. Along the Ägeri valley with yet another 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.
- If you skip the detour along the Ägeri lake, Einsiedeln and the Sihl lake, you can shorten your route to 97 km, 2h00.
- 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. It houses a regional culture and history center and a rose garden.
- A boat trip over Lake Zug is recommended. You’ll watch the slopes of the famous mountain Rigi. From Arth-Goldau on the southern end of the lake you can board the cog train for a ride to Rigi Kulm.
- The Ägeri lake is inviting for a stroll along the shores.
- In Einsiedeln you can visit the beautiful 18th-century monastery.
- The Sihl lake is a big reservoir lake. The car road bridging it is narrow. It 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’. It has a romantic lake boulevard 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. Boat trips over the lake are a nice way to spend your afternoon.
- A special location to spend your night is the 3-star hotel Rössli, located not in Rapperswil but in nearby Hurden along the dam in Lake Zurich. A restaurant, rooms with lake view and free 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. It's 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 capital town of the canton that's also named Glarus. It’s a relatively unknown but beautiful region with many hiking trails, biking routes and the Klöntaler lake.
After your visit to Glarus, head back north. You'll pass one of the prettiest lakes of this tour: Lake Walen, dominated by the imposing mountain ridges of the Churfirsten. After the lake, drive to the wellness resort Bad Ragaz. Then turn 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, you can take a postbus ride from Glarus, meaning you don’t have to drive the winding 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 (along the road at the southern shore of the Walensee).
- When passing Sargans, you can visit the Sargans castle and regional museum.
- The wellness resort Bad Ragaz profits from the hot water that wells up in the Tamina gorge. This gorge can be visited on foot. Or consider a visit to the power plants of the ‘Kraftwerke Sargans’, to be reached by car in 15-20 minutes. You can also visit 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. In this historic town you’ll also find nice dining options, a national museum and a clock museum.
- Located just south of Vaduz you’ll find the 2-star Landhaus am Giessen with free parking, rooms with beautiful views 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. Keep following the shore until you reach Kreuzlingen at the Swiss-German border. Kreuzlingen practically forms one city along with its German counterpart Constance ('Konstanz' in German).
- Appenzell has a car-free town center. You can park at one of the designated parking lots and get out for a stroll. There are facades with colorful frescoes, pretty alleys and many boutiques. You can visit the Appenzell museum in the town house, or the town square where democratic assembly voting still takes place.
- From Appenzell, you can drive south to Wasserauen in about 10 minutes. Board the cable car to Ebenalp there. Within a 1-hour circular hike, you can reach the small Aescher mountain restaurant. It's located on a spectacular spot and leans against a steep rock wall.
- In St. Gallen, consider visiting the UNESCO World Heritage site. It consists of a baroque cathedral and an impressive abbey library. The old town center, the art museum and the ‘Peter and Paul’ wildlife park are options too. 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. Visit the car museum Autobau, 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.
- 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 Seeburg park.
- Find more hotels in Kreuzlingen here.
- If you prefer to 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 is a worthy end to this driving tour.
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, so you'll have time for one of the many excursions along the way.
- You can make a boat cruise over Lake Constance and the river Rhine, all the way to Schaffhausen. You can leave your car parked in either Kreuzlingen or Schaffhausen, make the entire trip by boat and then return to your 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.
- Admire the Rhine Falls in Schaffhausen. 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.
- 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 comfortable and modern rooms. It also has 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? Then look into these airport hotels.
Suggested hotels in and around Zurich.