Grand Tour of Switzerland: Everything You Need to Know

grand tour switzerland

Planning a road trip through Switzerland? Then you’re certainly in the right place because this detailed guide has all the info you need to plan your ideal Switzerland road trip itinerary!

It’s the Switzerland Grand Tour, an epic journey that covers all of Switzerland’s highlights!

We’ll give you a rough overview of the best places to visit on the tour and attractions you shouldn’t skip, but we won’t plan out every little detail for you. After all, it’s your grand tour of Switzerland, and you should be able to do it however you want!

Zurich – Appenzell

Zurich Fraumunster
Zurich Fraumunster

Most tours of Switzerland begin in Zurich because the city has the largest and busiest airport. Travelers who are flying into Switzerland from overseas will most likely land at this airport, which makes it the perfect starting point for any Switzerland tour. 

Zurich is the most populous city in Switzerland and it’s considered the financial capital. The headquarters of all the major Swiss banks are right there in the city, but they’re not what you should be visiting while exploring the city. 

Instead, you’ll want to fill your itinerary with Zurich’s historic landmarks like Grossmunster, Fraumunster, the Opera House, Le Corbusier House, and many others. The bustling metropolis has enough content for a week’s stay, so you should do your best to really make the most of your time in the city. Don’t miss out on Lake Zurich either, especially if you’re traveling in the summer and want to cool down. 

The first leg of the grand tour of Switzerland takes you from Zurich to Appenzell, with optional stops in Schaffhausen and St. Gallen. Visit Schaffhausen to see Rhine Falls, Europe’s largest waterfall, and stop by St. Gallen to discover the Abbey of Saint Gall, one of the many UNESCO World Heritage Sites you will come across on this tour.

Appenzell – St. Moritz

Appenzell
Appenzell

Appenzell is a charming town near the Alpstein mountains. It is most famous for the Appenzell dog collar, which is the best souvenir you can take home from this town if you have a pet. 

The beautiful town of Appenzell is home to many museums, historic landmarks, and a gorgeous old town full of wooden houses. 

It’s also time to get your sturdy hiking boots and head to the mountains. Mountain summits are connected with the town by cable cars and inclined railways, and you can easily reach the tallest peaks in the area. Plan to visit the Wildkirchli caves, some of the area’s most famous attractions.  

There’s also the Aescher Guesthouse that you had to have seen on at least one postcard or book cover by now. The iconic house is built on the side of a mountain, and it’s one of the most famous landmarks in the entire country. You can visit the guesthouse and Wildkirchli during the same outing, for maximum time efficiency!

When you’ve explored enough of this town, get back in your car and head to St. Moritz. Optional stops along the way include Maienfeld, a small municipality in Graunbunden canton that’s famous for being the setting of the Heidi novel, and Zernez, the home of the only Swiss National Park

St. Moritz – Lugano

St. Moritz
St. Moritz

St. Moritz is a fancy resort town in the Alps. By fancy, I mean luxurious. And by luxurious, I mean expensive, glamorous, and catering to the rich and famous. The Alpine resort is a great destination for travelers with deeper pockets, who revel in the idea of relaxing in their hotel room hot tub while admiring panoramic views of the Alps. 

St. Moritz is all about glitz and glamour. The village is tucked away in the mountains, and yet its main pedestrian street is full of luxury shops like Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Dolce & Gabbana, and many others. That should give you a rough idea of who the town caters to the most. 

Nonetheless, it’s a fascinating little resort that’s worth visiting. Skip the high-end five-star hotels if you’re trying to do the grand tour of Switzerland on a tighter budget, and you’ll still be able to enjoy the place. If you happen to visit in the winter, you might catch a glimpse of the White Turf horse races or the winter polo on Lake St. Moritz, which are both pretty amazing to watch!

From the glamorous resort, head towards Lugano, a beautiful lakeshore town close to the border with Italy. Some of the places worth checking out along the way are Bellinzona with its lovely castles, and Locarno, the town that’s almost always sunny. 

Lugano – Zermatt

Lugano
Lugano

Lugano is situated on the shore of Lake Lugano, and it’s one of the prettiest places in southern Switzerland. Boasting beautiful parks, a vast beach complex, and a charming old town, the lovely Lugano is a perfect stop on the grand tour route of Switzerland. 

See the old church, walk the olive grove trail, and take the cable car to Mount San Salvatore for stunning panoramic views. While in the area, you can also visit Gandria, a small village on the border with Italy best known for the Customs Museum. 

The Swissminiatur Park is also very close to Lugano, and it’s a great stop along the Switzerland route. You can see miniature versions of the landmarks you’ve already visited and those you’ll visit soon enough! 

When you feel like you’ve seen everything in Lugano, head towards Zermatt. The village lies at the foot of the Matterhorn, which means scenic views for days. Andermatt is a worthy detour, just before the iconic Furka Pass road.

Zermatt – Lausanne

The Matterhorn in Autumn
The Matterhorn in Autumn

The lovely village of Zermatt is best known for scenic Matterhorn views and easy access to the challenging peak. The village has long been a popular destination among mountaineers who want to attempt to conquer this peak, and you can find plenty of landmarks and attractions dedicated to those brave people. 

The Matterhorn Museum tells the story of the first ascent on the summit, while the Mountaineer’s Cemetery is a reminder that many of those men and women were unsuccessful.

The appeal of Zermatt also lies in the fact that it’s surrounded by breathtaking nature. With many cable cars and lifts to take you to the surrounding mountains and many more hiking trails, you could spend weeks, if not months, just hiking in the area and exploring the surroundings.

Some of the most popular natural attractions in the area are:

Lausanne is the next stop on your grand tour of Switzerland, so unless you’ve decided to just move to Zermatt, it’s time to continue exploring. If you still have plenty of time, Leukerbad and Montreux are detour-worthy stops. 

Lausanne – Neuchâtel

Lausanne old town
Lausanne

Situated on the northern shore of Lake Geneva, Lausanne is one of the biggest cities in Switzerland. It’s home to the Olympic Museum, beautiful parks, a sprawling botanical garden, several historic landmarks, and tall towers offering mesmerizing Lake Geneva views. 

The city is also home to many art museums, so you can have a great time here if you genuinely enjoy touring museums and discovering art. On top of that, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lavaux terraced vineyards is also close to the city, and it’s worth checking out if you’re into the occasional vineyard tour. 

Also, don’t miss out on Morges – the lovely town is just 10 minutes away from Lausanne by train, and it’s worth an afternoon trip. It’s a charming place with a gorgeous old town that will forever hold a special place in your heart. 

Neuchâtel is the next stop on this scenic route along the northern shore of Lake Geneva, but it’s not the first place you should visit Lausanne. The Yverdon-Les-Bains spa resort is a great place to rest and recharge, while the Creux du Van ravine promises to enchant you with its mesmerizing views and scenic hiking trails. 

Neuchâtel – Bern

Neuchatel Old Town
Neuchatel Old Town

Neuchâtel is the largest city on Lake Neuchâtel, the biggest lake that entirely belongs to Switzerland. It’s a charming city with many museums, a beautiful old town, and spectacular lake views. 

The city offers something to everyone, precisely what makes it such a popular destination. If you enjoy exploring the great outdoors, you can head to the Chasseral Regional Park, maybe a 30-minute drive from Neuchatel. The park boasts a vast network of hiking trails, most offering stunning panoramic views. 

Neuchatel is also an excellent destination for the other type of traveler who prefers to stay at a business hotel and tour museums. Neuchatel is known for its many cultural attractions, including theaters, museums, and the fabulous Neuchâtel Castle. 

Bern is the next stop on the Grand Tour of Switzerland, but don’t head there straight from Neuchatel. Make time for Murten first – the medieval town is stunning and well worth the short detour. 

Bern – Zurich

Bern old town arcades
Bern old town arcades

Bern is the de facto capital of the country and one of the most populated cities in Switzerland. It’s worth a visit, especially if you enjoy exploring big cities that are full of content for visitors. It’s also some 45 minutes away from Neuchatel by car. 

Bern is known for many different things, but the city’s many fountains are perhaps the most interesting to all newcomers. There are 100+ fountains throughout the city, and the most famous ones are all situated in the heart of the city. Bern is also known for bears, and you can see the majestic animals going about their day if you visit the Bern Bear Park, which is just outside the old town. 

Museums, historic buildings, botanical gardens, and beautiful parks are all waiting to be explored in Bern. But, don’t limit yourself to the big city – Bern is close to some spectacular destinations, all of which are great for fun day trips.

Take at least one day to make a day trip to Lake Thun. It’s a beautiful lake with lots of things to do and see in the area, including the spectacular Thun Castle. Also, the scenic train ride from Bern to Thun allows you to discover even more enchanting landscapes, and it’s one of the highlights of the visit. 

While traveling from Bern to Zurich, stop by Lucerne if you have enough time. The city is gorgeous with sprawling lake views, countless historical landmarks, and some truly remarkable bridges. 

Grand Tour of Switzerland: Alternative Itineraries

Geneva – Neuchâtel

geneva
Geneva

Instead of visiting Lausanne, head straight to Geneva from Zermatt. The city is certainly worth a visit if you’ve never been there before, and it has enough content to keep you occupied for days, if not weeks. 

Just keep in mind that Geneva and Lausanne are two wildly different cities. Geneva is home to many international organizations, high-end restaurants, and expensive shops. It’s got plenty of tourist attractions, but it’s better suited for travelers who want to experience the luxurious life in Switzerland. 

Lausanne, on the other hand, is much smaller and quieter. It’s not quite as fast-paced as Geneva, and it’s the better destination for travelers who enjoy quainter towns with impeccable natural surroundings. 

Neuchâtel – Basel 

Basel
Basel

Basel is known as Switzerland’s cultural capital and a better destination than Bern for travelers who genuinely enjoy learning about foreign cultures. The city is best known for its many unique museums, which you won’t find anywhere else in the country. 

Basel is situated right on the border with France and Germany; the influence of those countries is evident in the city’s attractions and cuisine. The location also allows for easy day trips to border towns in France and Germany, which makes it ideal for travelers who want to make the most of this road trip through Switzerland.  

Switzerland Road Trip Packing List

Not sure what you should bring on the grand tour of Switzerland? This packing list includes almost all the essentials – I always forget something when I’m packing, so I’m pretty sure I also forgot to add things to this list. But don’t worry – whatever you forget to bring on the trip, you can easily buy at the destination. 

Also, I’ve tried to keep this list universal so you can adapt it to your road trip. Consider when you’re traveling, and pack clothes according to the weather forecast. 

  • Vehicle equipment (warning triangle, spare tire, winter chains in winter, etc.)
  • First aid kit
  • Season-appropriate accessories (sunglasses, hat, scarf, gloves, etc.)
  • 7 (season-appropriate) tops – t-shirts, hoodies, sweaters
  • 2 jackets (one lightweight jacket for warmer weather and one waterproof jacket)
  • 2 pairs of shoes (one for casual walking and another for hiking)
  • Two pairs of pants (jeans or slacks, plus leggings or a tracksuit)
  • 2 pajamas or comfy clothes to wear at home
  • Clean underwear for at least half the days of the road trip (plus a dozen extra pairs in case you soil yourself every other day), two bras, undershirts, socks
  • Devices (laptop, smartphone, tablet, chargers)
  • Bathing suit (even in the winter!)
  • Toiletries – soap, body wash, shampoo, SPF, face creams and serums, razor, shaving foam, makeup, perfume, etc. 

Keep your suitcase light – I’ve learned over the years that overpacking is completely pointless. But what if I need it? Chances are you won’t, especially if you haven’t worn something for months at home. Also, you can buy whatever you need, and you will have access to washing machines and laundromats – a laundry day in the middle of your road trip should ensure you have plenty of clean clothes. 

Essential Tips For A Switzerland Road Trip

Don’t overpack. It’s just not worth it and it will be easier to get around with lighter luggage, especially as the road trip goes on and the souvenirs start to pile up. 

Get some travel pass. The Swiss Travel Pass is great if you want to ride trains, but the half-fare card is the better option if you mostly get around by car. It gets you discounted access to all the most popular city attractions plus many other benefits, so it’s worth it. 

Don’t be afraid to step off the beaten path. Switzerland is known for its spectacular nature, and most of its prettiest attractions are hidden off the beaten path. 

Travel by train on day trips. It’s usually quicker than driving, train tickets are cheaper than parking, and you can enjoy the views without stressing about the drive. 

Grand Tour Photo Spot - Interlaken
Grand Tour Photo Spot – Interlaken

Look for Grand Tour Photo stops. Grand Tour Photo Spots in all destinations are included in the established Grand Tour of Switzerland itinerary. If you want epic photographs to commemorate this fabulous experience, don’t miss out on these photo spots!

Written by Ashley Faulkes
As a twenty-year resident of Switzerland, I am passionate about exploring every nook and cranny of this beautiful country, I spend my days deep in the great Swiss outdoors, and love to share these experiences and insights with fellow travel enthusiasts.

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