Rent Car or Swiss Rail Pass?

Jun 11th, 2009, 08:24 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 6
Rent Car or Swiss Rail Pass?


Thanks to some advice that I liked here on the forum, I have decided that my mom and I will get a hotel somewhere in/around Zurich as a base camp and take day trips for the little bit of time that we have in Switzerland (arr Aug 22 from Salzburg - leave Aug 26 from Zurich). This way we don't have to lug our stuff around and check in and out of hotels. Do you agree this is a good idea?

I am wanting some guidance as to train vs. car. I think we can rent a car for the 5 days for around $300 incl tax and insurance. But I just don't get a good feel for how do-able day trips are. How far South can we get in a day and get back before night fall? What might you recommend?

OR, instead, should we just train it? It seems to be more expensive but maybe more efficient?

We seriously don't have much of an agenda and this will be the end of our two weeks--I am sure my 72 yr old mom will be exhausted. We'd like to do some cable cars up the mountain, shop a little, drink some coffee and watch the people go by, good dinners. Maybe catch a symphony or opera (advice on this?). We will have had our fill of castles and cathedrals by then. Or at least my mom will have!!

Thank you Thank you.

Rachel Escoto
rwescoto is offline  
Jun 11th, 2009, 09:36 PM
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 6,512
You might considering staying in Luzern instead of Zürich. It is a smaller city with lots of charm, on a lake like Zürich. It is only 45 minutes away by train. From there, you can ride boats on the lake, ride a cablecar or cogwheel train up Rigi, thelovely green mountain nearby, or up Pilatus, a rockier, higher one.

The Luzern music festival will be on, from 12 August to 19 September; lots of concerts to choose from:

Day trips by train are very doable. You can view the train schedules at

Depending on where you wish to go, a pass may or may not be useful. You have to travel quite far in one day to make a pass cost-effective (i.e., a journey that costs over $40 or $50, depending on your pass).

We have traveled extensively in Switzerland and never even considered renting a car. The trains go almost everywhere, and where they don't, you can take a boat, bus, or cablecar. With a car, you have not only the cost of rental, but the cost of gas, possible road tolls, and the cost and hassle of parking.
enzian is offline  
Jun 11th, 2009, 09:51 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 7,865
Hi rwescoto,

I agree with enzian on both counts -- no car needed, and Zürich may not be the best place for a base.

Yes, it is a great idea to settle into one base destination and then do day-trips from there. You save some time not having to checkin in & out or pack up and unpack every few days, you get to know a neighborhood pretty well over time, and you may even get a discount on a longer stay at a hotel.

But Zürich sits in northern Switzerland a few hours from any high Alpine destination, and though it is a charming city, it is a city that is geared for business and for banking. Plus, hotels are very expensive there.

Luzern is an excellent base -- it may be considered to have all of Switzerland in one spot because it has a few nearby peaks, it has a lake system, it has interesting history, and it has a medieval old town. Here are a few more sites to get you interested in it:

And yes, a car is not a great idea. I also never use a car there. I'm not sure where you live, but much of the world doesn't have a wonderful, well-developed, convenient, easy, and FUN transport system like Switzerland's. When you have the chance to experience it, you really ought to grab it. It's SO much more relaxing to just sit back, relax, maybe chat with your mother or someone nearby, and enjoy the trip. Remember that you can bring food and wine on board, so even the transport becomes part of the holiday.

Anyway, have a great trip!

swandav2000 is online now  
Jun 11th, 2009, 10:23 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 7,689
Other than the cable car, the activities you have mentioned do not require a car, and would not require train trips either, you can do all of these right in Zurich. Summer days are great in Zurich for sitting at outdoor cafes and watching the world go by. You can also take some ferry trips on the lake, which means less walking for your mother and are a perfect way to take in the scenery (you can have a coffee then as well).

As you only have appear to be 3 full days and perhaps a bit of a time on your arrival and departure days, I don’t know that I would bother to rent the car, as with your limited time and from your list of preferred activities, I don’t think you need a car to be honest. You will have to pay for overnight parking, as your hotel will not give you free parking, so that is another cost (figure about US$25 a day). If your hotel does not have parking, which is likely if you pick a small hotel in the old town, you will have to hunt out the parking garages, and who needs that hassle (same cost roughly).

The one minor advantage to a car is that you can get to a place like the Bernese Oberland more rapidly by car, about 2 hours versus 3.5 by train. In August it will be light early and stay light until the early evening, so you won’t have to drive in the dark too much. (I have driven to Zermatt and back in a day in the summer very easily, not that I would recommend it.) Traffic can be hectic on Friday afternoons around Zurich and other towns. Roads are in very good condition, IMO signage could be better but you can usually figure it out. Gas is also about US$7 a gallon so bear that in mind. But overall from what I see of your interests, I don’t know that you will really need the car for what you want to do. You can do a day trip to mountain areas if you want, and you can do that by train. But from your other posts, I know you will have been in Salzburg, and perhaps you will have done some day trips there and won’t feel the need to do more.

The summer is not opera season, but you should be able to find concerts and other musical offerings, see the website for Zurich tourism at You can also search for concerts and other events, also look at for listings. There are often concerts in local churches, esp the Grossmunster and Fraumunster. You might also see if the Conelli Circus will be in town during your visit. The Swiss are circus crazy, never mind that it is in German you don't need to understand the language to enjoy it. See . This is German only but maybe try Babel Fish to translate it.

Zurich is not close to mountains and does not have any nearby cable cars, although you can take the little red train up the small hill about 15 minutes from the main train station to Utlieberg and get some lovely views. You can do this as about a half day trip. A tram trip on the #6 tram up the hill to get some lake views and a short walk to the Dolder Grand is also quite scenic and then you can have lunch, tea or dinner at the hotel. See

I used to live in Zurich and there is quite a bit to see and do there. I have posted pretty often with suggestions, two to look for would be “One Day in Zurich” at and “2 Days in Zurich” at For restaurant suggestions see “Dining in Zurich” at (Note that the Zimmerleuten guild hall had a fire last year and I believe it is still closed, along with the Kuferstbuli below it. Check with your hotel.) And for souvenir shopping see “Quick Souvenir Spots for Zurich” at

You could also consider doing the Bernina Express train trip from Zurich, that will be a very full day trip, out early in the morning and back in the early evening. Excellent mountain scenery for virtually the whole trip. Or just consider doing part of it, like to the St Moritz area, a lovely ride out and back. This would exclude the high glacier portions, but would make for a shorter day. See for information on the Bernina Express.

While I am not a huge fan of Lucerne, it makes an easy day trip (go on a weekday to avoid larger crowds) and it has a very compact old town near the train station so not a lot of walking would be necessary to see it. You can also take ferry rides on the lake. You may be able to work in a trip to Mt Pilatus as well as part of a day trip, although I think this would make for a fairly long day.

You might also consider a day trip to Zug, which has a charming old town area and is much smaller and virtually untouristed. Also has a lovely spot on a lake.

The Bernese Oberland area is actually quite an excursion for a day trip (even if you drive), its 3.5 hours by train each way, so IMO it’s not really ideal, although if you can do an overnight it would be quite nice. Not sure how much moving around you want to do.

I have also responded to your other post on an itin from Salzburg.
Cicerone is offline  
Jun 12th, 2009, 08:02 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 6
You travelers are the BOMB. Thank you for so much information! Car is out, train is IN.

I had not even thought of going to the circus but I bet that would be fantastic. And the music festival--excellent! I am very interested in the Bernina Express (and the Chocolate Train that I read about somewhere) but we are looking at a lot of train travel in a very short period of time!

IF we were to stay in Luzern, could we also stay there our last night and leave VERY early in the am to get a train to the airport in Zurich (8:30am flight) or what would you recommend? We are looking at hotels in Switzerland on Aug 22/23/24/25 and leaving very early the morning of the 26th.

rwescoto is offline  
Jun 12th, 2009, 12:17 PM
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 6,512
The first train departs Luzern at 4:55 am and arrives at the airport at 6:13; the next departs at 5:28 am and gets you to the aiproart at 6:46 (this one requires a change at the main station, but you have 12 minutes to do it). So yes, you "could" stay in Luzern that last night. . . but I would find that a bit stressful. I would rather stay right in Zürich, close to the station (perhaps in the Altstadt) for a early flight like that.

With all the great suggestions Cicerone gave you for Zürich, you might consider dividing your time between the two.

I can recommend a lovely restaurant in Zürich for your dinner on the night before departure. It is called La Mer Catherine, and it is located on a pedestrian alley in the Altstadt. They have a delightful patio and serve Mediterranean specialties with a Swiss touch, very fresh and tasty. They throw in a bit of Asian/fusion too---our daughter had a Thai-inspired seared tuna salad that she still talks about.
enzian is offline  
Jun 12th, 2009, 12:33 PM
Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 9,023
Switzerland IMO is the country where trains and public transit almost always trump cars - first the rail/bus/boat is so great, frequent, comfy, etc. that you need no car to get anywhere - and nearly every train, etc. ride is scenic - if driving the driver rarely can take in these scenes, of course. I ditto recommending Lucerne over Zurich as a base - great boat trips on the lake, Mt Pilatus - Mt Rigi, etc. and one of europe's prettiest cities and not a huge city, etc. For lots on Swiss trains i always recommend these fine sites:;; and
Palenque is offline  
Jun 12th, 2009, 05:23 PM
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 57,890
Agree to stay in Lucerne - immediate access to beautiful lake and several mountain ascents. Zurich is much more a business city and you would be adding time to all of your day trips staying there.

We always rent a car, since there are a lot of small towns you may want to visit - and weather is also a big factor. If you want to be able to adjust plans as you go driving makes it much easier. And you're not sitting in stations waiting for trains to turn up - or watching a cute town you would like to see pass by in the train window - with a car you can simply turn off to explore it.
nytraveler is offline  
Jun 12th, 2009, 10:26 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 7,865
Hi again,

Must make a few comments on mytraveler's post.

Because the trains in Switzerland are SO frequent and so pervasive, you can very easily alter your plans as you wish. I do it all the time.

If you have your train schedule ahead of time (I always print out my excursion schedules), you won't spend a lot of time in train stations. However, if you find that you do, holy cow, it's a great way to explore the area more. TALK to a LOCAL, for goodness' sake. They're standing right next to you, waiting as well. Or get an ice cream cone. Or use that time to explore that winding alley you passed ten minutes ago. Yes, just "sitting around" actually gives you that in-depth experience that you don't get if you fly around inside a sealed vehicle.

If you pass a town that piques your interest, go back and see it. I've done this dozens of times -- either on foot, by bike, or by return trains. Again, trains run frquently, and I usually have the schedule in my pocket so I know the next connections I can catch.

Finally, something we haven't mentioned yet -- trains are of course the ***green*** choice. I'm not sure where you're from, but many people around the world don't have access to a great rail system in their daily lives -- so if you do have access to a great one, it makes sense to use it!

Please, stick to your decision to use the trains, and help the Swiss air stay pristine for another generation.


swandav2000 is online now  
Jun 13th, 2009, 07:33 AM
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 7,157
Just want to echo others that public transportation is great in Switzerland. The trains, buses, and boats all connect, schedule-wise as well as location-wise. Don't ignore the buses. They're very modern and comfortable and penetrate deep into the mountains, where trains don't go.

Lucerne is a good place to get a snapshot view of Switzerland: lake, mountains, excursions to both.
Mimar is offline  
Jun 15th, 2009, 09:13 AM
Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 9,023
I've heard some ridiculously amazing stat about no town in Switzerland being at most several miles from a train station - and then like Mimar says buses fan out to every hamlet or village without rail service from train stations.
Palenque is offline  
Related Topics
Original Poster
Last Post
Aug 3rd, 2010 12:37 PM
Jun 10th, 2009 08:29 PM
Nov 1st, 2008 05:15 PM
Mar 21st, 2007 09:54 PM
Jan 18th, 2004 03:00 PM

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 11:45 PM.