Whether you are visiting for a short city break, a ski weekend or a rural retreat, discover how best to reach your destination and travel like a pro.
Zürich and Geneva airports are the main hubs for long-haul flights into Switzerland. Transatlantic flights are provided by SWISS, the national airline, as well as American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta and Air Canada. Both airports also offer flights to all major European cities with SWISS and a large number of carriers, including several budget airlines, such as easyJet, which has a hub at Geneva.
A number of smaller airports at Bern, Basel and Lugano also serve destinations within Europe. The airports of Sion, St Gallen and Engadin are used more for private business jets and internal flights than for scheduled international departures.
For information on distances and journey times between airports and cities, see the table opposite.
International Train Travel
Situated at the crossroads of major European routes, Switzerland has excellent international rail links. Regular high-speed trains connect the country to all major cities in the neighbouring countries of France, Germany, Austria and Italy, and beyond. Train journeys into the country can often compete with flights on price, and, for some short-haul routes, are not very much longer than flights door to door. Additionally, the opening of the 57-km- (36-mile-) long Gotthard Base Tunnel – the world’s longest railway tunnel – in 2016 has significantly reduced rail journey times for passengers transiting the Alps.
Making reservations early is strongly recommended, especially on overnight sleeper trains, as tickets get booked up quickly. Eurail and Interrail sell tickets for multiple international journeys and international rail passes for trips lasting from five days up to three months.
Domestic Train Travel
Travelling by train is one of the best ways to see the country. The comprehensive Swiss rail network is operated by Swiss Federal Railways or SBB/CFF/FFS (Schweizerische Bundesbahnen/Chemins de Fer Fédéraux Suisses/Ferrovie Federali Svizzere). Trains are modern, clean and comfortable, service is frequent and dependably punctual and connections tie in well with tram, bus, boat and cable car services.
Tickets must be validated in machines set at platform entrances. There are heavy on- the-spot fines for travellers caught with an unstamped ticket. Swiss Travel System (part of Switzerland Tourism) offer a range of discounted travel passes for use on all modes of transport. One of the most popular is the Swiss Travel Pass, which allows unlimited travel on most train, bus, tram and boat services, discounts on some funiculars and cable cars and entry to over 500 museums. There is also a Junior Travelcard for children aged 6 to 16 years. Most travel passes can be purchased in advance from travel agencies and Swiss tourist offices in your country.
Switzerland is known for its scenic railways, which allow visitors to enjoy the spectacular scenery in special trains with glass-roofed carriages. Among the most popular are the Bernina Express (Chur or Davos to Tirano, Italy), Golden Pass Line (Montreux to Lucerne), Gotthard Panorama Express (Lucerne to Lugano) and Glacier Express (St Moritz to Zermatt). It is essential to book in advance for these.
Golden Pass Line
Gotthard Panorama Express
Swiss Travel System
Eurolines offer several coach routes between Swiss destinations and other European cities. Switzerland has an extensive network of routes covered by local buses and Swiss Post’s distinctive yellow postbuses. The latter vary in size depending on the remoteness of the destination and are useful for reaching alpine locations inaccessible by rail. They also carry unaccompanied luggage, which is handy for hikers.
In some cities, boats form an integral part of the transport system. Yellow mouettes (bus-boats) operated by Mouettes Genevoises Navigation shuttle foot passengers across Lake Geneva, while quirky fähri (cable-ferries) run by Fähri-Verein Basel have been ferrying people across the Rhine in Basel since the mid-19th century.
A cruise on one of Switzerland’s lakes and rivers is a relaxing way to explore the country. Plying the waters of many of the major lakes are old-fashioned paddle steamers and other vessels, including those run by SBS across the Bodensee, CGN on Lake Geneva, SGV on Lake Lucerne and ZSG across the Zürichsee.
Mouettes Genevoises Navigation
S-Bahn and RER
Some cities, including Basel, Bern, Geneva and Zürich, have comprehensive urban rail networks (called S-Bahn in German and RER in French) which radiate out from the city centres to the suburbs and neighbouring towns. Some towns built on steep cliffs or hillsides, such as Lausanne and Fribourg, also have funicular railways.
Lausanne, the world’s smallest city, is the only Swiss city to have a metro. It has two lines and 30 stops. It operates from 5:30am to midnight with trains every five to seven minutes.
Buses and Trams
The quickest and easiest way of getting around towns and cities is by hopping on a bus or tram. These run at frequent intervals from around 5am to midnight. Larger cities also operate a reduced night-bus service at weekends.
Tickets are available from machines at every bus and tram stop, and are usually valid on all modes of transport. In most towns, the transport network is divided into zones; the more zones you traverse the higher the fare. Tickets valid for limited periods, from 30 minutes to a full day or more, are also available. These include ZVV’s ZürichCard and TPG’s GenevaPass; both of these also offer free entry to some city attractions. Tickets must be validated in the machine on the vehicle as you board.
In large cities, buses and trams are ubiquitous and inexpensive, and few people use taxis. These cannot be hailed – they must be booked in advance or engaged at a taxi rank. They are expensive compared with public transport, and metred by distance; charges are higher at night and at weekends. Marginally less expensive Uber cars operate in Basel, Geneva, Lausanne and Zürich, bookable via their app.
One of the best ways to explore Switzerland is by car. Driving here is pleasurable – the Swiss have a high regard for rules of the road and take pride in having the safest roads in Europe. EU driving licences are valid. If visiting from outside the EU, or if your licence is not in English, German, French or Italian, you may need to apply for an International Driving Permit (IDP).
Driving to Switzerland
If you bring your own foreign-registered car into the country, you must carry the vehicle’s registration and insurance documents and a valid driver’s licence.
Fuel is generally less expensive than in neighbouring countries. Bigger petrol stations are usually open from 7am to 8pm; smaller ones until 6pm. Outside these hours, petrol is widely available from automatic pumps. Some motorway service stations are open 24 hours.
To use Swiss motorways, which are indicated by green signs, drivers require a sticker called a vignette, which costs SF 40. It is sold at border crossings, petrol stations, tourist offices and post offices. Driving on a motorway without a valid vignette incurs a fine.
Driving in Switzerland
Well-maintained motorways and major roads link the major towns, and there are some spectacularly scenic routes over mountain passes and down alpine valleys to more remote towns and villages. Most of the high alpine passes are open between June and October; alternative ways of crossing the Alps is to take advantage of the Gotthard and San Bernardino road tunnels, which are open year-round (some have tolls), or to drive your car onto a train to transit via the Lötschberg, Furka, Albula or Vereina tunnels.
To rent a car, you must be over 20 years of age and have held a valid driver’s licence for at least a year. Drivers under 25 may incur a surcharge.
All major international car-hire companies have offices in the main cities and airports, and Swiss Railways also offer a Mobility Click & Drive online rental service with pick up from 400 railway stations.
Mobility Click & Drive
Rules of the Road
The legal car driving age in Switzerland is 18 (20 or 25 in a hire car). The Swiss drive on the right, and seatbelts are compulsory. It is illegal to use mobile phones while driving, or to drive under the influence of alcohol (the blood-alcohol content limit is 0.05 per cent). Children under 12 must travel in the back seat, and under-sevens must use a child seat. All vehicles must carry a warning triangle, a first aid kit and a reflective jacket, and full headlights should be on at all times. In winter, drivers are required by law to use snow tyres and/or chains on mountain roads when indicated by special warning signs.
Environmentally conscious Switzerland encourages pedal power and, with the growing use of e-bikes, cycling has taken on a new popularity. Bike routes crisscross the entire country (marked by red signs with a white bicycle symbol) and include many long-distance paths.
Public bike-sharing schemes are available in most major cities, such as Zürirollt in Zürich and Genèveroule in Geneva. PubliBike is a popular nationwide bike-sharing programmes. Contact local tourist offices for details of schemes in their town. Bicycles can also be hired at main train stations (these need not be returned to the same station), and can be carried on most postbuses and trains for a fee.
Hitchhiking is illegal on motorways or other major roads. Always consider your own safety before entering an unknown vehicle.
Need to know Getting Around
Major cities offer travel passes, better value if you plan to use public transport often.
Need to know Getting Around
Need to know Getting Around
|Airport||Distance to City||Taxi Fare||Public Transport||Journey time|
|Euro Airport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg (MLH)||6 km (4 miles)||SF 50||Bus||18 mins|
|Bern Airport (BRN)||6 km (4 miles)||SF 50||Bus||35 mins|
|Geneva International Airport (GVA)||4 km (2 miles)||SF 35||Train||6 mins|
|Lugano –Agno Airport (LUG)||6 km (4 miles)||SF 35||Bus||15 mins|
|Engadin Airport St Moritz-Samedan (SMV)||7 km (4 miles)||SF 100||Bus||30 mins|
|Sion Airport/Aéroport de Sion (SIR)||2.5 km (2 miles)||SF 46||Bus||4 mins|
|St Gallen-Altenrhein Airport (ACH)||20 km (12 miles)||SF 82||Bus||45 mins|
|Zürich Airport (ZRH)||10 km (6 miles)||SF 70||Train||10 mins|
Need to know Getting Around
This map plots the fastest driving routes to help you plan your car journeys between Provence’s main towns and cities. Tolls apply on most routes.
Need to know Getting Around
|Bern to Basel||1 hr|
|Bern to Geneva||2 hrs|
|Bern to Zürich||1 hr|
|Bern to Lucerne||1.5 hrs|
|Bern to Lugano||3.5 hrs|
|Bern to St Gallen||2 hrs|
|Geneva to Basel||3 hrs|
|Geneva to Zürich||3 hrs|
|Geneva to Lausanne||1 hr|
|Geneva to Lugano||5 hrs|
|Lugano to Basel||3.5 hrs|
|Zürich to Basel||1 hr|
|Zürich to Lucerne||1 hr|
|Zürich to Lugano||2.5 hrs|
|Zürich to St Gallen||1 hr|