Everything You Need to Know About Driving in the Swiss Alps

Are you planning on renting a car for your upcoming trip to Switzerland? You might be wondering what it is like driving through the Swiss Alps. Before you embark on your epic Swiss road trip there are a few practical things you should know to make the experience stress-free.

I traded in my Canadian license for a Swiss license years ago when I moved to Switzerland. As much as we love the public transportation system in Switzerland, we still explore a lot of the country by car. 

This guide on driving in the Swiss Alps you’ll learn:

  • Tips for renting a car in Switzerland that will save you time and money
  • How to manage the road conditions of the Swiss Alps safely
  • The most famous mountain passes in Switzerland
  • Everything you need to know about tolls, fuel, and parking

Driving in the Swiss Alps – What You Need to Know


Driving in Switzerland can be a daunting task. Especially if you’re unfamiliar with the language or the roads. But don’t worry; this guide covers it all! By following these tips, you will be prepared for any journey that awaits you while driving through the Swiss Alps. So let’s get started with a few insider tips and tricks. 

Tips for renting a car in Switzerland

When it comes to exploring the Swiss Alps, renting a car opens up a world of convenience and flexibility. Having your own wheels is the best way to explore at your own pace. 

If you plan on renting a car Switzerland, a few handy tips can go a long way. It’s a good idea to book your rental car in advance. This is essential during peak travel seasons, to secure the vehicle of your choice.

Research and compare prices from different rental companies. This will help you find the best deal for you budget. It’s also worth considering renting a car with GPS navigation. This will  help you navigate the winding mountain roads with ease. 

Switzerland has several rental car companies with excellent reviews and top ratings. Among them are AVIS Rent a CarEuropCar, and Sixt. These companies have built a reputation for their quality service and reliable vehicles. This makes them popular choices for travelers exploring Switzerland.

When you choose a rental car company in Switzerland, it’s important to consider a things. First, check the company’s border crossing policy. Some rental car companies have restrictions or fees for crossing certain borders.

Additionally, it’s essential to review the fuel policy of the rental car company. Some companies provide a full tank of fuel at the beginning of the rental and need you to return the car with a full tank. Others may operate on a “pick up full, return empty” policy or have variations thereof. Understanding the fuel policy will help you plan your refueling stops.

Be mindful of any mileage limits imposed by the rental car company. Some companies may have a daily mileage limit. If you exceed these limits you might be charged extra. Familiarizing yourself with these details will ensure a smoother rental experience. It also helps you avoid any unexpected costs.

Road Conditions and Safety for Driving in the Alps


When driving in Switzerland, it’s important to consider the road conditions. The alpine roads are generally well-maintained. But, it’s essential to keep in mind that driving in mountainous terrain can tricky.

The roads often wind through steep inclines, narrow roads, and hairpin bends. These conditions require careful attention. You’ll also have to pay attention to speed limits. Additionally, weather conditions can change rapidly in the mountains. It’s advisable to check weather forecasts and road reports before setting off. 

Stay up to date with weather conditions and road reports and adjust your plans if necessary. Driving conditions are more ideal during the summer months. During the winter months, snow and ice can make the roads slippery. You may have to use snow chains in certain areas. Winter tires are not required by law in Switzerland but Swiss drivers are encouraged to use them. 

Ensure your vehicle is in good condition before embarking on your journey. Check the brakes, tires, and lights to guarantee optimal performance. Know your route ahead of time. Make sure to plan your itinerary ahead of time. It’s best not to rush so give yourself lots of time to reach your destination.

When you’re in the mountains, keep a safe distance from other vehicles. This is important when driving uphill or on winding roads. Pay close attention to road signs. Especially those that indicate sharp turns or steep descents. Be mindful of cyclists and hikers sharing the road.

It’s also important to be on the lookout for wildlife. Be respectful of their habitat and drive cautiously.

Switzerland has a well-regulated traffic system. Get to know the rules of the road the key road signs. Keep an eye out for signs indicating the speed limit. These will vary depending on the location and type of road. Don’t forget, you cannot make a right-hand turn at a red traffic lights in Switzerland. 

In all areas of Switzerand, you must drive on the right side of the road. There are also some warning signs you might not recognize. Signs with a red triangle warn of potential dangers ahead, such as sharp turns or steep inclines. Blue signs with white symbols give mandatory instructions. These could be giving way or parking restrictions. 

When you drive in Switzerland you have to buckle up. This is the law. Always carry a valid driver’s license, vehicle registration documents, and proof of insurance. 

Looking for More Swiss Inspiration

Check out our other posts on the Bernese Oberland

Famous Passes in the Swiss Alps

Ready to take the scenic route? You’ll have the opportunity to traverse some of the most famous mountain passes in the world. These iconic Swiss passes boast breathtaking beauty and snow capped mountains.

As you wind your way through the alpine landscapes, enjoy the scenery that surrounds. The summer is the best time to explore these passes as in the winter many of them are closed. 

Furka Pass and its Breathtaking Beauty


The Furka Pass is a legendary mountain pass complete with trilling hairpin turns and steep slopes. It’s a truly unforgettable driving experience. It’s located in the cantons of Uri and Valais, the pass connects the Urseren Valley with the Obergoms region.

What makes the Furka Pass particularly special is it rich cinematic history. It gained worldwide fame when it was featured in the iconic James Bond movie “Goldfinger,”.  Remember when Agent 007 raced his Aston Martin across its hairpin bends? As you drive along the pass you may even see trains in the Furka pass chugging along the mountains. 

As you wind your way to the top of the pass, enjoy the scenery that surrounds. The summer is the best time to explore these passes as in the winter many of them are closed.  It’

Gotthard Pass and its Historical Significance


In Central Switzerland, you’ll encounter the Gotthard Pass. It’s a legendary mountain pass that holds immense historical significance. It connects the German-speaking region with the Italian-speaking region of Ticino. This pass has been a vital route for centuries.

It was as a trade and transit route that attracted merchants, pilgrims, and explorers. Today, modern engineering marvels like the Gotthard Base Tunnel have made the pass more accessible and efficient. 

Simplon Pass and its Alpine Charm

The Simplon Pass is a captivating mountain pass the Valais region of Switzerland.

As you make your way through the pass, you’ll see majestic peaks, lush meadows, and even waterfalls.

The Simplon Pass has a rich history dating back to Roman times when it served as a vital trade route. Today, it remains a favorite among road trip enthusiasts.

St. Bernard Pass and its Scenic vistas


Bernard Pass is a true gem for those seeking awe-inspiring scenic views. It lies on the Italian-Swiss border at an elevation of 2,469 m (one of highest mountain passes in Switzerland).

Towering peaks, rolling green meadows, and pristine alpine lakes will greet you at every turn. The Great St. Bernard Pass holds a special place in history as a significant trade and pilgrimage route.

The Col De La Bonette In The French Alps


The Col de la Bonette is a famous mountain pass located in the French Alps including. It is known for its breathtaking views and challenging driving experience. The pass reaches an elevation of 2,715 meters, making it one of the highest paved roads in Europe.

Driving through the Col de la Bonette allows you to witness stunning alpine landscapes, including snow-capped peaks and winding mountain roads. It’s a thrilling and memorable journey for anyone seeking adventure and natural beauty in the French Alps.

Susten Pass and Grimsel Pass – Hidden Gems of the Swiss Alps

The Susten Pass and Grimsel Pass are two spectacular mountain passes that showcase the majestic beauty of the Swiss Alps. As you navigate the winding roads of the Susten Pass, be prepared to be mesmerized by its dramatic landscapes, including towering peaks, cascading waterfalls, and emerald-green valleys.


Pass Closures

PassLocationWinter Closure Period
Albula PassGraubündenMay to October/November
Flüela PassGraubündenMay to December
Furka PassValaisJune to October
Gotthard PassCentral SwitzerlandJune to November
Grand-Saint-Bernard PassValaisMay to October
Grimsel PassBernese OberlandMay to October
Julier PassGraubündenYear-round
Klausen PassCentral SwitzerlandMay to October
Nufenen PassValaisJune to October
Oberalp PassGraubündenMay to November
Ofen PassGraubündenYear-round
San Bernardino PassGraubündenMay to October
Simplon PassValaisYear-round
Susten PassBernese OberlandJune to October

Please note that these closure periods are subject to weather conditions and may vary slightly from year to year. It’s always advisable to check for the most up-to-date information before planning your journey through these passes.

Planning on Visiting the Bern Region?

Check out our One Day In Bern Itinerary

Tolls and the Motorway Vignette

Are there toll roads in Switzerland? There are, but they don’t look how you’d normally imagine them. You might notice that cars in Switzerland have a sticker with the calendar year on the windshield. This is a motorway vignette. It’s like a ticket that allows you to use the Swiss motorways without having to pay tolls at the gates. You need to have this vignette to drive on the motorways, and it lasts for a whole year.

The money from the vignette helps keep the roads in excellent condition. The good news is that when you rent a car in Switzerland, the vignette is usually already included. So you don’t have to worry about buying it separately. It makes exploring the beautiful Swiss Alps by car easy and convenient. Just make sure to ask the car rental company if the vignette is included before you start your Alpine adventure.

Cross Boarder Tolls

Local tip: If you plan on driving into Austria during your road trip you need a pickerl. This is a sticker that you need to have to drive on roads in Austria. As you approach the boarder you can buy a pickerl at any gas station. They’re only 5.80 Euros for 10 days and are well worth it as fines can be up to 100 Euros if you’re stopped and don’t have one. 

You might notice a CH sticker on your rental car. This is required to drive into other European countries. They require country identification, and the red cross on Swiss number plates doesn’t meet their requirements 

Driving Through Tunnels


In Swiss Alps, you’ll in doubt encounter several tunnels along your route. You might not have experience unique driving experience. Here are a few tips for navigating Swiss tunnels with ease.

Firstly, always ensure your headlights are turned on, this is mandatory in Swiss tunnels. Secondly, maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you and adhere to the posted speed limits.

Swiss tunnels are well-maintained with ventilation systems. But it’s still a good idea to keep your windows closed to reduce exposure to exhaust fumes. 

Availability and Locations of Gas Stations

Gas stations are pretty easy to find in Switzerland. So you can fuel up your vehicle without any worries. You can rest assured that you’ll find gas stations in towns, villages, and along major highways.

It’s still a good idea refueling stops in advance. Especially if you’re venturing into remote areas or embarking on a long journey. This way you can enjoy your drive through the Swiss Alps without any fuel-related issues. Usually you have to pay for fuel in advance inside the gas station using cash or a credit card. 

Like most things in Switzerland, gas is expensive. Let’s look at gas prices so you can budget accordingly. American travelers, you’ll find that gas prices in Switzerland are much higher compared to the United States.

Additionally, gas is sold in liters rather than gallons, so keep this conversion in mind while calculating costs.

To estimate your fuel expenses, research the current gas prices in Switzerland. Then calculate the average fuel consumption of your vehicle.

This will help you create a realistic budget for your trip. Remember that exploring the Swiss Alps might require more fuel than anticipated. This is due to winding mountain roads and scenic detours. 

Parking Options


In popular alpine towns and cities, you’ll find designated parking areas and garages. Here you can safely leave your vehicle while exploring on foot.

Parking fees usually apply, so it’s a good idea to carry some Swiss francs for payment. You will usually find a parking meter in the center of a parking lot. To make your parking experience even more convenient, consider using helpful apps like “ParkNow” or “EasyPark.” These apps allow you to locate parking spots, check availability, and then pay for parking directly from your smartphone.

Driving in the Swiss Alps is an experience like no other. From the breathtaking mountain landscapes to the winding and challenging roads, the Swiss Alps offer a unique adventure for drivers seeking a thrilling and unforgettable journey. While it may seem daunting at first, with the right preparation, patience, and attention to safety, driving in the Swiss Alps can be a safe and rewarding experience. Whether you’re traveling with family or friends, or embarking on a solo road trip, exploring the Swiss Alps by car is a trip you’ll cherish for years to come. So, pack your bags, buckle up, and get ready to hit the road!

Frequently Asked Questions About Driving in the Swiss Alps

Can you drive through the Swiss Alps?

Yes, you can drive through the Swiss Alps! The Swiss Alps are a beautiful mountain range in Switzerland, and there are many roads and passes that allow you to drive through them. It's a great way to explore the breathtaking scenery and enjoy the picturesque views. However, it's important to drive safely and follow the traffic rules. Some roads may be narrow and winding, so it's important to take your time and be cautious. Make sure to check the road conditions and weather before your trip and be prepared for steep climbs and descents. So, buckle up and get ready for an exciting adventure through the Swiss Alps!

Can I drive in Switzerland as a tourist?

As a tourist, you can drive in Switzerland. Switzerland allows tourists to drive with a valid driver's license from their home country. But your license must translated into German, French, Italian, or English). If it's not, make sure to get an international driving permit (IDP) along with your driver's license. The minimum driving age in Switzerland is 18 years old.

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