Campervan in Switzerland
Are you considering a RV or CamperVan trip in Switzerland? I have assembled a complete guide to motorhome travel in Switzerland, complete with driving rules and parking tips.
Switzerland is a winter wonderland with dramatic mountains, spearmint lakes and charming and quaint Alpine towns covered in sparkling white snow. Switzerland is small, but its landscapes are of legendary proportions.
We have visited Switzerland several times and traveled the country by bus, train, and most recently, camper van. It would be safe to say that a road trip is the best way to explore Switzerland. With your own vehicle, you can weave through the jagged mountain ranges and explore the highest points of Europe while passing by crystal clear blue lakes. Almost every turn in the road will reveal a new landscape, keeping the trip exciting throughout.
Driving in the Swiss Alps
What are the requirements for driving in Switzerland?
If your driver’s license is not in one of their official languages – French, German, or Italian – or in English, you need an international driver’s license. It can be obtained at an automobile association in your home country. If you are from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, The E.U. or Australia, you can drive in Switzerland with your driver’s license.
Like most countries, drivers in Switzerland must be over the age of 18. In many cases, car rental companies will only rent a vehicle to an individual over the age of 23, or even 25.
How do you rent a vehicle in Switzerland?
Renting a vehicle
Car rental is quite affordable in Switzerland. A one-week rental car costs approximately US$365 or €300 in Switzerland. We recommend that you book a car rental online with Auto Europe before your trip. They have consistently provided the best prices and customer service. Plus, there is no cancellation fee.
In Switzerland, the majority of cars still have manual transmissions. Be sure to choose an automatic car if you prefer that.
Campervan or RV rental
We traveled from Germany to Switzerland in our camper van, enjoying exploring the lakes and high mountains during the day while sleeping warmly in our van at night. As Switzerland is such an expensive country, a camper van can be an excellent way to save money on lodging and eating out.
You can rent a campervan in Switzerland through Indie Campers or Goboony for €50/day and it comes with everything you need, including camping chairs, bedding, cooking equipment, etc. If you will be traveling in the winter, make sure you select a van with heating. Our van was comfortable, as it is heated by a boiler that runs on batteries.
When to take a road trip in Switzerland
It depends on what sort of experience you’re looking for in Switzerland. Visit during the summer months (June – August) if you are into hiking and enjoying the warm weather. The countryside turns green, and there’s no better time to take in the scenery of Switzerland.
We visited Switzerland twice over the winter months (November – February) and found the time to be perfect for exploring the charming alpine villages and snow-covered mountains, to ski or to go to a curling bonspiel.
You should however be familiar with driving in snowy conditions. Read the next section about driving in winter.
Driving in the winter in Switzerland
If you plan to drive in Switzerland during the winter, you should be prepared for icy and snow conditions. I recommend that you use winter tires on your vehicle even though it is not required by law. Be sure to inquire with your rental car company whether the vehicle has them, most will.
If your van does not have a heater, you might want to purchase blankets, hot water heaters, and even a small heater in advance of your road trip.
Also, prepare snow chains beforehand. In some parts (like the road to Grindelwald), we used our snow chains, and it made a big difference. In Switzerland, snow chains range in cost from 80 to 100 Euros and are available at most Coop supermarkets.
Is it easy to drive in Switzerland?
It is very easy to drive in Switzerland since the country is well-designed for road trips: the roads are well-paved, there are regular rest stops and gas stations for refueling. Furthermore, the country is relatively small and driving distance is no greater than a couple of hours.
Mountain passes are more challenging, but they are not too steep and can be handled by campervans. There are some mountain passes like the San Bernadino pass that are closed because of heavy snowfall during winter. (More about this below)
As there are four official languages in Switzerland, you will observe that road signs, place names, and information will change as you travel across the country. The French-speaking region of Switzerland, for example, uses the word “Sortie” to refer to “exit,” the German Part uses “Ausfarht” and the Italian Part uses “Uscita.”
Driving costs in Switzerland
Switzerland is well-known for its high costs. Hotel and food prices can be exorbitant. Thankfully, it isn’t that expensive to drive in Switzerland compared to other European countries. In fact, it is cheaper to hire a car or drive a camper in Switzerland than to take the trains everywhere.
The cost of car rental in Switzerland is reasonable — around US$365 or €300 for a one-week rental. Currently, gasoline costs around €1.3-1.5 per liter.
Swiss Toll Fees
To drive around Switzerland, you will require a vignette, which costs 40 CHF or 40 EUR. It is a sticker that must be placed on the inside of your windshield.
When we drove into Switzerland from Germany, there were officials at the checkpoint who required everyone to have one. You can purchase one from them if you don’t already have one. Alternatively, you can save time by purchasing one online.
The vignette covers all toll roads in Switzerland for a period of one year. If you venture into neighboring Austria you will need a different vignette for it.
Prices of gasoline in Switzerland
Switzerland has low gas prices compared to neighboring nations. The price fluctuates according to the season and where you fill your tank. We spent less on gasoline here than we did back home in Germany.
The average price per liter is between €1.3 and €1.5 for unleaded gasoline and 1.4 and 1.7 for diesel.
Switzerland’s best driving route
If you’re considering a two-week trip to Switzerland, I recommend you focus on the Basel, Interlaken and Montreux areas. Switzerland is a country known for its majestic mountains, alpine villages, and beautiful countryside. Since I prefer nature to big cities, I have designed this Switzerland itinerary with a focus on nature, and left out places like Geneva and Zurich.
- 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
Tips for Driving in Switzerland
Switzerland Mountain Roads
Since Switzerland has some of the highest mountains in Europe, the mountain passes are some of the most scenic, but also most dangerous, routes in Switzerland. Expect a series of twisting turns, mixed with flat and steep sections. But do not worry, the roads are well-maintained and they are regularly plowed. Be prepared and alert and you will be fine.
As previously mentioned, mountain passes may be closed in the winter due to heavy snowfall.
Take a look at some of the most beautiful mountain passes to drive in Switzerland:
- Bernina Pass — near Switzerland’s only national park
- Furka Pass — James Bond’s Goldfinger movie was filmed here
- 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 border into/from Switzerland
Switzerland shares borders with France, Germany, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein. Driving across the borders is a very straightforward and easy process. Switzerland does not have border crossings or customs checks.
When we entered the country in December of 2020, there were officials to verify if we had a vignette.
Gas stations located in Switzerland
There are plenty of gas stations throughout Switzerland, no matter where you are traveling. In Switzerland, most gas stations are now self-service, which means you must pump your own fuel.
All of the stations we visited accepted foreign credit cards, and you could usually pay at the pump without going into the station. If your debit card is accepted by bank machines in Switzerland, the card will also operate on automatic gas pumps.
Gas Stations are a great place to get snacks and refreshments as well. At one stop I ended up spending over 50 euros on Ovomaltine snacks that I can’t buy in Germany.
If you are driving a rental vehicle, it must be returned with a full tank of gas. Our car rental dealer requested that we pump gas at a particular gas station prior to returning the vehicle, and then to bring the receipt of the fuel purchase when returning the vehicle.
Parking in the Swiss Alps
There are few free parking spaces available in Switzerland — almost all carparks charge. Most parking lots have parking meters or machines, and most of these machines only accept Swiss Franc coins. Make sure to withdraw some cash in order to pay for parking. Some parking lots offer a payment option via an app.
Parking spaces can be difficult to find in many cities, especially in the old towns. There are many parking lots that are reserved for long-term parking and require a permit.
Parking areas are distinguished by color. Listed below is a chart explaining each color’s meaning:
- Parking in the white zones is free of charge for an unlimited time;
- White zones are ‘pay and display’, which allows visitors to park for a limited time after entering a car license plate at a parking machine.
- blue zones – get a blue parking disc from a gas station and set the dial for 90 minutes of free parking;
- parking is free in red zones if you have a red parking disc, which is available at police stations, tourist offices and banks.
- Yellow zones – parking is prohibited.
Service Stations and Pitstops
On the highways of Switzerland, you will find several rest stops that are merely parking areas for a brief break. If you are lucky, there are rest stops with toilets, cafeterias, and hotels. But there are very few of them (the French have many more).
Among the most popular gas companies are Coop Pronto, BP, and Avia. Coop had the lowest prices. Highway convenience stores usually charge higher rates than smaller gas stations.
Roadside camping is not legal in Switzerland. In Switzerland, the motorhome cannot be parked at any beautiful location along the road and left overnight. You are only permitted to camp at designated campsites.
In spite of this, you can still find remote camping spots in the mountains or valleys using the Park4night app. We found parking spots in remote areas this way.
I would not recommend roadside camping unless you have a heating system in your vehicle. Our heating system was powered by an external battery that is recharged by plugging it into a power source. Every two to three nights, we are required to park at a campsite and get the batteries charged.
Campsites in Switzerland with full-service
There are many campgrounds all over the country, which are open all 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 facilities such as electricity, water, toilets, and dumping stations. The cost to park a vehicle overnight in a campsite is approximately 25 CHF for a vehicle and two adults.
For a list of camping sites in Switzerland, click here.
Insurance of vehicles in Switzerland
Third Party Liability Insurance (TPL) is mandatory in Switzerland. This policy covers third party damage or injury, which means that if you cause any injuries to others after an accident, the treatment is covered under your insurance policy.
I recommend getting travel insurance, which covers losses, thefts, and medical expenses as well as damage to your camper van or vehicle. You can easily suffer damage to your camper due to harsh winter conditions and extreme weather.
Speed limits for Switzerland
In Switzerland, traffic rules are more strictly enforced than in other countries. For example, if the speed limit is exceeded by more than 20 km/h, a driving license can be withdrawn for one to three months. In the same way, severe penalties apply to those who exceed the blood-alcohol limit of 0.5. A criminal complaint is then made.
The following are the general speed limits for various 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 tons should never exceed 100 km/h.
There are speed cameras on police cars and on the roadway and in many towns. Fines are contingent on how much over the limit you are within a given area, for example, a 1–5 km/h speed violation within a built up area is a CHF 40 fine, while on the motorway it would be a CHF 20 fine. In one week I somehow accumulated almost 200 Euros worth of fines.
If you rack up a bunch of fines and think you can skimp out on them because you have a rental car, think again. The Swiss will bill your rental firm who will then charge your credit card on file with them. (One way to avoid this is to cancel your credit card after the trip if you know you were caught breaking the speed limit.)
Basic Driving Rules in Switzerland
- The driver drives on the right side, then passs on the left side, and then reverts to the right lane. It is not permitted to overtake on the right lane, even if the left lane is blocked by a slower driver. It is this way throughout Europe.
- Lights are mandatory at all times, even during the day.
- Public transportation (post buses, city buses, trams, trains, ambulances, police and fire engines) has priority.
- Take care when passing cyclists – you must maintain at least one meter of distance from them.
- On narrow mountain roads, the driver going uphill has priority.
- A driver whose vehicle has already entered the roundabout has right of way at a roundabout.
- Children under 12 years old and under 150cm (59 inches) tall must be safely restrained on all seats
I hope you’ve found this Switzerland driving guide to be useful! Happy Trails.
You may be interested in https://europeantravel.blog/seeing-zurich-from-the-top/
If you enjoyed our content, we'd really appreciate some "love" with a share or two.
And ... Don't forget to have fun!