About this 8-day summer itinerary
This suggestion for an 8-day driving holiday is packed with the country’s most spectacular pass roads, leading you through varied regions, cultures and landscapes throughout Switzerland. It’s designed for a summer trip, with the best chances of pass roads being open in July to September.
A flexible tour: many adjustments and side trips possible
You can adjust this itinerary in every respect, by changing the order of routes, by shortening it (refer to the shortcut presented on day 3), or by extending it. It’s recommended to add nights in the towns you’re most interested in, in order to explore the surroundings. The travel times per day are short, allowing you to take plenty of breaks along the way and to make excursions to towns, lakes and mountains. We’ve listed side trip suggestions for each day. You’ll probably be using public transportation when making side trips, and it’s worth calculating whether a Swiss Half Fare Card will save you money.
We’ve carefully selected hotels for all base towns. Each hotel is well rated, is easy to reach by car and offers parking options. Many are also located close to rail stations, allowing you to easily switch to public transportation for excursions. More hotels close to Switzerland's highways can be found here.
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 prepare for your driving tour with these tools:
- the entire route can be found on the map;
- find up-to-date information on traffic, roads and mountain pass opening dates here;
- check weather forecasts each day before hitting the road. In case of weather conditions like heavy rain, thunderstorms or summer snow, driving in the mountains can be dangerous, especially if you're not skilled. Adjust your route to avoid mountain passes if necessary;
- make sure you’ve studied Swiss traffic rules before you leave and that you know how to drive in the mountains.
Shopping list for this tour
This is what you need to arrange for in advance:
your own car or a rental car;
a motorway vignette if you use your own car. Most rental cars come with a valid vignette;
a Swiss Half Fare Card if you plan to do activities by boat, 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 transportation excursions usually aren’t required.
Download the coordinates here (KML file)
The route - day 1: Zurich-Lucerne-Meiringen via the Brünig pass: 100 km, 1h20
Your driving adventure starts off in Zurich, although you can pick other starting points such as Basel too. You’ll head south for Lucerne, where you’ll meet the majestic mountains surrounding Lake Lucerne. Head further south to enter the first pass road. It’s the much-used Brünig pass, providing access to the areas of Lake Brienz and of Switzerland’s central road passes, which are on tomorrow’s menu. You’ll end this day in the town of Meiringen, surrounded by steep rock walls.
There are plenty of side trips to be made
- explore Zurich before heading off;
- explore Lucerne, make a boat ride over the lake or visit a mountain top such as Pilatus or Rigi. Find all suggestions here;
- after arrival in Brienz at the southern end of the Brünig pass, enjoy the steam train ride up to the Brienzer Rothorn or relax during a boat trip on Lake Brienz;
- explore the Ballenberg Open Air museum between Brienz and Meiringen;
- visit the Aare gorge or the Reichenbach falls near Meiringen.
Hotels in Meiringen
- the 4-star Parkhotel du Sauavage is only short walk away from the Meiringen rail station and offers free parking. After arrival, you can sit back in the garden with views of the mountains, or dine in the hotel’s restaurant;
- the modern 3-star Hotel Victoria is right across the rail station and allows you to relax at the terrace or in the restaurant. Paid parking lots are available;
- find more hotels in Meiringen here.
The route – day 2: Meiringen-Andermatt crossing the Grimsel and Furka pass: 69 km, 1h40
Meiringen is starting point for some of Switzerland’s most popular and spectacular pass roads. If you plan for an extra day in Meiringen, you can make a round trip combining the Grimsel, Furka and Susten pass all in one, before heading to Andermatt. This route suggests you get to Andermatt using the Grimsel and Furka pass roads though:
- the Grimsel pass starts in Meiringen, and then leads to Guttannen and Gletsch. Already in Roman times it was an important alpine traverse, connecting the northern regions to the southern Valais area. Nowadays, the Grimsel pass makes for a spectacular driving trip, which especially goes for hairpin curves between Grimsel Hospiz and Gletsch;
- from Gletsch, you’ll enter the Furka pass connecting the eastern Valais to the Gotthard Pass and to Andermatt in the canton of Uri. Don’t forget to get out at the parking lot near Hotel Belvédère for a spectacular view of the Rhone glacier, before heading for Realp, Hospental and Andermatt.
- you can use the Susten pass towards Andermatt, which takes off in Meiringen as well (62 km, 1h15). This is a beautiful route too, passing the villages of Gadmen, Wassen and Göschenen. Wassen’s catholic church has become famous, as the Gotthard Panorama Express trains pass it no less than three times as they spiral next to it through tunnels and loops.
Side trip tips
- if you pick the Susten pass route, you can board the Gelmerbahn for a ride on Europe’s steepest funicular from Handegg to the Gelmer lake. Don’t forget the suspension bridge near Handegg either;
- have lunch at Grimsel Hospiz along the Grimsel lake;
- when in Andermatt, you can take an easy 30-minute hike to the Devil’s bridge in the Schöllenen gorge over the wild river Reuss, or visit the Gemsstock mountain by cable car.
- very close to the Gemsstock cable car station and at a 7-minute walk to Andermatt’s rail station you’ll find the charming 3-star Hotel Sonne. Free on-site parking, a restaurant and a bar are available;
- more hotels in Andermatt can be found here.
The route - day 3: Andermatt-St. Moritz over the Oberalp and Albula Pass: 164 km, 3h40
Today’s driving distance is a bit longer, and you’ll be rewarded with stunning views at two mountain passes. You’ll largely follow the route of sections 3 and 4 of the famous Glacier Express. The first pass is the Oberalp pass between Andermatt and Disentis. After a steep ascent from Andermatt, the rest of the mountain road is pretty straightforward. You can skip the Oberalp pass by getting on the car train between Andermatt and Sedrun. In Disentis, you’ve entered northern Graubünden, the canton in which the Rhaeto-Romanic language is still spoken. Follow the valley further east as far as Domat-Ems. There you’ll bend south to Albula region where the most spectacular pass of this entire trip awaits you: the Albula pass. Steep rock walls are above and below you as you drive up to the highest point of the pass, in an amazing landscape of grass, tiny lakes and rocks. Then you’ll descend to La Punt in the Engadine valley to head for today’s destination: St. Moritz.
- you can take the less challenging Julier pass from Albula to Silvaplana in the Engadine, instead of the Albula pass to La Punt (158 km, 3h10).
Shortcut options for this itinerary:
- Andermatt provides an option to skip some days of this itinerary. You can cross over to Brig (the destination of day 5) using the Gotthard pass between Andermatt and Airolo. There’s the option of either the pass road (99 km, 2h10), or the car tunnel (113 km, 2h40);
- another shortening option is to drive from Andermatt back to Gletsch, and to then descend towards Oberwald and Brig in the Upper Rhone valley (80 km, 2h00).
- find a good spot to get out along the Rhine between Ilanz and Reichenau, referred to as the ‘Swiss Grand Canyon’;
- explore Chur;
- explore St. Moritz or one of its nearby mountain tops such as Corvatsch, Piz Nair, Muottas Muragl or the Signalbahn. Find more tips here.
- we recommend that you spend this night in a nearby village, as there are charming towns close to St. Moritz with hotels at lower prices. How about the Laagers Hotel Garni in Samedan, with free parking and a delicious breakfast with products from the hotel’s own confectionery?
- if you want to stay in St. Moritz, mind that most hotels offer paid parking only. If that’s not a problem to you, we highly recommend the 3-star Hauser Swiss Quality Hotel: an environmentally friendly hotel in St. Moritz’s lively town center with a restaurant and a confectionery;
- a cheaper option is the 2-star hotel Casa Franco in the outskirts of St. Moritz, near the lake, offering parking options and in-house restaurant;
- we’ve listed more suggestions for hotels in and near St. Moritz here.
Hotel options in and around St. Moritz.
The route – day 4: St. Moritz-Locarno via the Maloja, Splügen and San Bernardino passes: 178 km, 3h20
Today you’ll leave Switzerland’s German speaking regions and enter its Italian areas on a varied ride including three passes. First, drive along the lakes of the Upper Engadine to Maloja, where the road makes a steep descent into the romantic Bregaglia valley. Cross the Swiss-Italian border and drive to Chiavenna; then head north to enter Switzerland again over the Splügen pass. In Splügen, turn southwest to follow part of the San Bernardino pass. Reach your destination Locarno via the towns of Mesocco and Bellinzona.
There are many alternatives to the suggested route:
- drive the Maloja pass to Chiavenna. Instead of heading north for the San Bernardino pass, turn southwest and drive to Locarno via Menaggio along Lake Como and Lugano (164 km, 03h20);
- skip the Maloja pass, and instead drive to Tiefencastel and Thusis in the north to enjoy the entire San Bernardino pass (175 km, 2h40);
- drive over the Bernina pass, famous for the Bernina Express train ride, to Tirano on the Swiss-Italian border. Then head west for Locarno through Italy, along Sondrio and Lugano. This is the same route as the bus section of the Bernina Express ride (219 km, 4h00).
Tips for breaks and side trips
- it pays off to get out in one of the lovely villages of the Bregaglia valley. You may want to take a hike there;
- there are several spots at the Bernina pass for a stop to enjoy the views over the Lago Bianco. A circular hike, based on routes such as Ospizio Bernina-Alp Grüm or Le Prese-Miralago, is recommended too;
- if you take a route along Lugano, definitely take some time to explore this vibrant city. The same goes for Bellinzona with its impressive castles;
- explore Locarno after arrival, and maybe take the short ride to the Madonna del Sasso church overlooking the town and the lake. Find more suggestions for nearby activities here.
- the 3-star Hotel Piccolo, at a 6-minute walk from the lake and Locarno’s railway station, is a good choice for this trip, as it’s one of the few hotels with free parking options. There are plenty of lunch and dining options in Locarno’s nearby center;
- more options for hotels in Locarno are listed here.
Our hotel suggestions for the Locarno area.
THINGS TO DO
Our sightseeing suggestions in and around Locarno and Lake Maggiore.
The route - day 5: Locarno-Brig along the Centovalli route and over the Simplon pass: 106 km, 2h00
Today’s destination is Brig, located in the Upper Rhone valley which is home to the Matterhorn and other spectacular mountains. You’ll get there by again crossing part of Italy. From Locarno, drive west towards the Italian town of Domodossola, roughly following the route of the romantic Centovalli train line. Then enter the Simplon pass, which gets you back to Switzerland and ulimately to the Rhone valley and Brig. If you’d rather skip the Simplon pass, board the car train in Iselle instead.
- drive from Locarno to Airolo and cross the Nufenen pass there. You’ll enter the Upper Rhone valley in the village of Ulrichen, which is a short drive away from Brig (155 km, 2h40).
- Brig is definitely worth your time. It has a nice town center with a beautiful castle. Please find tips here;
- if you arrive in Brig early, you shouldn’t miss a side trip to Saas-Fee in the Saas valley or to Zermatt in the Matter valley. Park in Täsch if you want to visit Zermatt;
- pay a visit to Bettmerhorn or Eggishorn for a view of the Aletsch glacier.
- the comfortable 3-star Hotel Ambassador, just outside the town center of Brig, offers free parking for guests and a lovely restaurant;
- Hotel Europe, a 3-star hotel right across the rail station, is located very centrally and still offers free parking;
- more tips for hotels in Brig are listed here.
The hotels we suggest in Brig and the surrounding area.
The route – day 6: Brig-Montreux via the Lötschberg car train and the Simmen valley: 182 km, 3h40
There’s a pretty straightforward route from Brig to Montreux through the Rhone valley (refer to ‘Alternatives’ below), but the route we suggest offers much more diversity. You’ll first drive to Hohtenn in the Rhone valley, and then drive up to the entry of the Lötschberg car train in Goppenstein. After a 20-minute ride through the Lötschberg tunnel, you’ll get out in Kandersteg in the lovely Kander valley. Drive north towards Spiez along Lake Thun, and then bend west to Zweisimmen between the hills and mountains of the Simmen valley. You’re now following part of the Golden Pass train route. Move on towards Gstaad. Whereas the Golden Pass trains head for Montbovon and start their spectacular descent towards Lake Geneva here, you’ll drive south to Gsteig and Ormont-Dessus. You’ll be back at the bottom of the Rhone valley in Aigle, and then there’s only a short stretch left to Montreux along Lake Geneva.
- a much shorter ride from Brig to Montreux can be made through the Rhone valley (121 km, 1h35). This is recommended if you prefer to arrive in Montreux earlier to enjoy this lively town and its beautiful surroundings.
Options for side excursions
- take trips to the Saas valley or the Matter valley before heading off;
- visit the Niesen from Mülenen before arriving in Spiez;
- Spiez is a lovely town for a break. If you drive down to the little harbour, you can enjoy lunch or a coffee in one of the restaurants with views over the lake and the castle of Spiez;
- pay a visit to the Stockhorn from Erlenbach in the Simmen valley;
- get out in Gstaad and explore this classy resort;
- between Gsteig and Ormont-Dessus, you can get out at Col-du-Pillon and board the cable car to Glacier 3000;
- explore Montreux, take a boat trip over the lake or get up to Rochers-de-Naye. More tips can be found here.
- you can spend the night on a beautiful spot along Lake Geneva in the wonderful 3-star Swiss Historic Hotel Masson. It’s located in Veytaux, close to Montreux and the Chillon Castle. Free parking is available;
- would you rather stay in Montreux? Mind that most hotels offer paid parking only. Please find our selection here.
The hotels we suggest in Montreux and on Lake Geneva.
The route - day 7: Montreux-Neuchâtel via Bulle and Fribourg: 102 km, 1h30
You have already crossed the German, Rhaeto-Romanic and Italian parts of Switzerland. Now it’s time to explore its French areas. This easy ride takes you from Montreux to the picturesque town of Neuchâtel in the Three Lakes region, via the towns of Bulle and Fribourg. Again, you can make lots of of side trips to explore this area.
- enjoy longer rides along the shores of Lake Geneva and Lake Neuchâtel by first heading west towards Lausanne, then north to Yverdon-les-Bains, and then to Neuchâtel (99 km, 1h10).
Side trip ideas
- visit the wonderful medieval town of Gruyères. You may want to include a visit to the nearby show dairy and the chocolate factory in Broc as well;
- explore the town of Fribourg;
- explore the old town center of Neuchâtel and its surroundings. If you arrive in time, you can enjoy a boat trip over the three lakes of Murten, Neuchâtel and Biel.
- we think that the 3-star Hotel Alpes et Lac has all you need for this trip: it’s centrally located, right next to the Neuchâtel railway station and at a 12-minute walk from the lake and the boat dock. An on-site restaurant and free parking are available;
- if you want to explore more hotels in Neuchâtel, please browse this selection.
The route - day 8: Neuchatel-Zurich over the Glaubenbielen panoramic road: 225 km, 3h40
This is the last day of your tour, and today you’ll get back to Zurich. There’s one last pass ride to make. This pretty routes winds its way through Switzerland’s northern hills and farmlands. From Neuchâtel, head for the federal capital city of Bern and move on to Langnau and Schüfpheim. There you’ll enter the panoramic road of the Glaubenbielen pass, which ends in Giswil. You’ll travel back to Zurich via Sarnen and Lucerne, just as you started your trip.
- if you want to see some other interesting cities along the way, you can also travel from Neuchâtel to Zurich via Biel, Solothurn and Aarau (151 km, 1h55).
- get out in Bern and explore this attractive city;
- get out in Trubschachen and pay a visit to the Kambly cookie factory and outlet store, or make a hike in the Emmen valley;
- if you didn’t have time for visits to Lucerne or Zurich on day 1, you can do so now.
- 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;
- if you prefer another hotel in Zurich, please find our recommendations here;
- will you be flying out from Zurich after this tour? In that case you can look into our selection of hotels near the airport.
The hotels we suggest in the Zurich area.