Last Updated on May 31, 2022 by Nellie Huang
Planning on driving in Switzerland? Here’s my complete guide to campervan travel in Switzerland, including Switzerland driving rules and parking tips.
Dramatic mountains, spearmint lakes, cute alpine towns blanketed in sparkling white snow — Switzerland is the winter wonderland that many dream of. Switzerland may be a small country, but it sure packs a punch with landscapes of epic proportions.
We have traveled Switzerland several times and experienced the country on bus, train, and most recently, camper van. I can safely say that a road trip is the best way to explore Switzerland. With your own vehicle, you can weave your way up the jagged mountains and into some of the highest points of Europe, and snake alongside sapphire blue lakes. Every turn of the road reveals new landscapes that will keep the entire journey exciting.
Table of Contents
- Driving in Switzerland
- Who can Drive in Switzerland?
- How to Rent a Vehicle in Switzerland
- When to Go on a Switzerland Road Trip
- Winter Driving in Switzerland
- How Easy is it to Drive in Switzerland?
- Cost of Driving in Switzerland
- The Best Driving Route for a Switzerland Road Trip
- Things to Know About Driving in Switzerland
- Basic Rules for Driving in Switzerland
Driving in Switzerland
Who can Drive in Switzerland?
If your license is not in one of their official languages – French, German, Italian – or English, you need an international driver’s license (easy to obtain in your home country’s automobile association). So if you are from the US, UK, Canada or Australia, you can drive in Switzerland with your license.
Like most places, you have to be 18 years of age to be able to drive in Switzerland. Be aware that many rental car companies only allow you to rent a car if you are over 23 or even 25 years of age.
How to Rent a Vehicle in Switzerland
Renting a Car
Car rental in Switzerland is relatively affordable. A 1-week car rental in Switzerland costs around US$365 or €300. We recommend booking a car rental online from Discover Cars before your trip. They consistently offer the best prices and customer service. Plus free cancellation. Check rates here.
Note that most cars in Switzerland still have manual transmissions. Be sure to choose an automatic car from the car hire company if you prefer that.
Renting a Campervan/Motorhome
We drove our camper van from the Netherlands to Switzerland, and loved exploring the lakes and high mountains in the day while sleeping in our warm van by night. As Switzerland is so expensive, driving a camper van can be a great way to save on accommodation and meals.
You can hire a campervan in Switzerland on Indie Campers or Goboony from €50/day and it comes with everything you need including camping chairs, bedding, cooking equipment. Make sure to look for a van that has heating, if you’re traveling in winter. We were comfortable as our van has heating provided by a boiler which is powered by external batteries.
When to Go on a Switzerland Road Trip
It really depends on what sort of experience you’re seeking in Switzerland. If you’re after long hikes and warm weather, then summer (June – August) is the best time to visit. Everything turns green and there’s no better time to immerse in Switzerland’s nature.
We visited Switzerland both times in winter (November – February), and we found it an excellent times to explore the charming alpine villages and snow-covered mountains.
However, you should be experienced in driving during snowy conditions. Read the next section on driving in winter.
Winter Driving in Switzerland
If you’re planning a Switzerland road trip in winter, make sure you are prepared for snow and icy conditions. Although it’s not required by law, I definitely recommend using winter tires on your vehicle. Make sure you check with your car rental company if the car you’re hiring has them on.
If your van doesn’t have a heater, it’s wise to get some blankets, hot water warmers, and even a small heater before starting your road trip.
Also prepare snow chains in advance. We used our snow chains on some stretches (like the road to Grindelwald), and definitely felt the difference. Snow chains cost around €80-100 in Switzerland and can be found at any Coop supermarket.
How Easy is it to Drive in Switzerland?
It’s really easy to drive in Switzerland, as the country is practically designed for road trips: roads are well-paved, and there are regular rest stops and gas stations for refueling. Plus it’s a small country and driving distances are never more than a couple of hours.
Mountain passes are trickier, but they’re not too steep and managable for campervans like ours. Due to heavy snowfall some mountain passes like the San Bernadino pass are closed during winter. (More on that below)
As there are four languages in Switzerland, you’ll notice that road signs, place names, and information change as you travel across the country.For example, you’ll see “Sortie” which means “exit” in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, and “Ausfarht” in the German parts and “Uscita” in the Italian parts.
Cost of Driving in Switzerland
Let’s face it: Switzerland IS notorious for being expensive. Prices of accommodation and food can be exorbitant. Thankfully driving in Switzerland isn’t a lot more expensive than elsewhere in Europe. In fact, renting a car or driving your own camper is cheaper than taking the trains everywhere in Switzerland.
Car rental in Switzerland is relatively affordable — a 1-week car rental in Switzerland costs around US$365 or €300. Currently, petrol costs around €1.3-1.5 per liter.
Toll Fees in Switzerland
To drive around Switzerland, you’ll need to get a vignette that costs 40CHF or €40. It’s a sticker you need to apply on the inside of the windshield of your car.
When we drove into Switzerland from France, there were officials at the checkpoint who would make sure everyone had one. If you don’t have one, you can just buy one from them. Alternatively, save time by buying one online.
The vignette covers tolls on all roads in Switzerland and lasts for a year. In comparison to neighboring France, that is a lot cheaper than paying individual toll prices.
Gas Prices in Switzerland
Gas in Switzerland is surprisingly cheaper than in neighboring countries. The prices fluctuate depending on season and where you fill your tank. We spent less on petrol here than at home in the Netherlands!
The average price is €1.3-1.5 per liter for unleaded petrol and €1.4-1.7 for diesel ( yes diesel costs more than unleaded petrol in Switzerland!).
The Best Driving Route for a Switzerland Road Trip
If you’re looking to do a 2-week Switzerland road trip, I recommend focusing on the Basel, Interlaken and Montreux areas. Switzerland is all about spectacular mountains, countryside, and alpine villages. I prefer nature to big cities, and so I’ve designed this Switzerland itinerary with a focus on nature, and skipped cities like Geneva and Zurich.
Click here to see a detailed breakdown of my Switzerland road trip itinerary.
- Day 1-2: Basel
- Days 3-4: Interlaken & Lake Brienz
- Days 5-7: Lauterbrunnen & Grindelwald
- Day 8: Wengen & Murren
- Day 9: Glacier 3000
- Days 10-12: Montreux, Lausanne, Gruyères
- Day 13: Zermatt
- Day 14: Back to Basel
Things to Know About Driving in Switzerland
Mountain Roads in Switzerland
As Switzerland is one of the most mountainous countries in Europe, the mountain passes are some of the most scenic drives but also most dangerous routes in Switzerland. Expect a series of twists and turns, combined with a mixture of steeper and flatter sections. But don’t worry, they’re well-maintained and regularly cleared of snow. Just be alert and well prepared, and you’ll be fine.
As mentioned, mountains passes can be closed during winter due to heavy snowfall. Click here to check the current alpine pass statuses before driving.
Here are some of the most scenic mountain passes to drive in Switzerland:
- Bernina Pass — near Switzerland’s only national park
- Furka Pass — setting of James Bond’s Goldfinger movie
- Grimsel Pass — crosses steep ridges of Bernese Alps
- Gotthard Pass — connects north to south of Switzerland
- Gotthard Pass — sweeping valley roads and hairpin bends
Driving Across the Borders into/from Switzerland
Switzerland has borders with France, Germany, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein. Driving across borders is very easy and straightforward. There are no border crossings or custom checks, even though Switzerland is not a member of the EU.
When we drove across in December 2020, there were officials to check if we had a vignette upon entry. Upon departure, they were quick checks to make sure we had nothing to declare. But they were fast and there was no custom or immigration.
Gas Stations in Switzerland
There’s no shortage of gas stations in Switzerland, regardless of where you’re driving. Most gas stations in Switzerland are now self-service, which means you’ll need to pump yourself.
All of the stations we went to accepted foreign credit cards, and you usually pay straight at the pump without having to go inside the station. If your debit card works for bank machines in Switzerland, the card will also work on automatic gas pumps.
If you are driving a rental car, you must return the vehicle with a full tank. Our car rental dealer asked us to pump at a particular gas station right before returning the vehicle and to bring the receipt from the gas station when returning it.
Parking in Switzerland
It’s hard to find free parking anywhere in Switzerland — almost all carparks are paid. Most parking areas have parking meters or machines, most of which only accept Swiss Franc coins. Make sure to exchange/withdraw some cash so you can pay for parking. Some areas allow you to pay for parking via an app.
Finding parking space in cities can be a nuisance, especially in the old towns. Many restricted parking areas are reserved for long-term parking and require a permit.
Parking areas are designated with different colors. Here’s a chart to show you what each color means:
- white zones (white lines on the ground) – you can park free of charge for as long as you wish;
- white zones ‘pay and display’ – enter your car license number plate to buy a ticket at a street machine and display on the dashboard to park for a limited time;
- blue zones – get a blue parking disk from a gas station and set the dial on the disk to park for up to 90 minutes free of charge;
- red zones – free parking for up to 15 hours if you have a red parking disk, available from police stations, tourist offices and banks;
- yellow zones – parking is illegal.
Service Stations & Pitstops
Along the highways of Switzerland, you’ll find quite a few rest stops that are simply parking areas for a quick break. If you’re lucky, you can find rest stops with toilets, cafeterias, gas station, and sometimes a hotel. But those are few and far between (France has a lot more).
Coop Pronto, BP and Avia are some of the most popular gas companies. We found Coop to have the best prices. Highway gas stations usually charge higher rates than smaller gas stations.
Wild camping is technically not legal in Switzerland. You can’t just park your motorhome and spend the night on any beautiful spot along the road in Switzerland. You are only allowed to do so at designated campsites.
That said, you can still find remote spots in the mountains or valleys to park for the night through the Park4night app. That’s how we found parking spots in remote areas.
I would only recommend wild camping if you have heating in your vehicle. Our heating is powered by an external battery that is recharged by plugging to a power source. Every 2/3 nights, we need to park in a campsite in order to get the battery charged.
Full-Service Campsites in Switzerland
There are plenty of campsites all over the country, that are open year-round. If you prefer to park somewhere safe and have full services, then a campsite would be your best solution.
Most of them offer all services, including electricity, water, toilets and dumping station. The price for a night’s parking in a campsite is around 25CHF for a vehicle and 2 adults.
Car Insurance in Switzerland
Third Party Liability Insurance (TPL) is obligatory in Switzerland. It covers third party damage or injury, which means that if you cause any injury to others in an accident, the treatment will be covered by your insurance.
I highly recommend getting travel insurance as well as it covers personal loss, theft, and medical on top of damages that may incur on your camper van or vehicle in Iceland. With the harsh conditions and extreme weather, your camper can easily suffer from damages. Refer to this post for details.
Speed Limits in Switzerland
In Switzerland, traffic rules are enforced more strictly than in other countries. For example, a driving license can be withdrawn for one to three months if the speed limit is exceeded by 20 km/h. Similarly, severe penalties are imposed for exceeding the blood-alcohol limit of 0.5. Furthermore, a criminal complaint is filed. You are also required to drive with your lights on during the. If you don’t comply with these rules, you will be fined 40 francs, which corresponds to approximately 36.00 €.
These are the general speed limits for different areas:
- Residential areas: 30km/h
- Towns and cities: 50dm/h or 60km/h
- Country roads: 80km/h
- Dual carriageways/expressways: 100km/h
- Motorways: 120 km/h
*Vehicles over 3,5 tonnes should never exceed 100 km/h.
There are speed cameras in police cars and fixed cameras. Fines are graded according to how much over the limit you are in a certain area, for example, 1–5 km/h over the limit in a built-up area is a CHF 40 fine while on a motorway it would be CHF 20.
Basic Rules for Driving in Switzerland
- They drive on the right and overtake on the left, then return to the right lane (on multiple lane roads). It is not allowed to overtake on the right, even if the left lane is blocked by a slower driver.
- Lights are mandatory to use at all times, even during the day.
- Do not drive barefoot or with flip flops.
- Public transportation (post buses, city buses, trams, trains, ambulances, police and fire engines) has right of way.
- Watch out for cyclists – you need to keep a distance of at least 1 meter when passing them.
- On narrow mountain roads, uphill traffic has the right of way.
- At a roundabout, the driver coming from the left (already in the roundabout) has the right of way.
- Children under the age of 12 and under 150cm (59 inches) height, must be secured on all seats by a device.
I hope you’ve found this Switzerland driving guide to be useful! Leave a comment below if you have any questions regarding driving in Switzerland or campervan travel in Switzerland. I’ll be more than happy to help!
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