Switzerland Essentials & 7 Day Itinerary

Switzerland may appear a rather small country, but it is mighty.  After spending only a week, it became clear that I could easily pass weeks, if not months, being entertained by all this spectacular place has to offer.  Below, I am going to outline the itinerary for my trip and some tips for planning.  A couple of the stops were actually planned around the hotel.  For me, the hotel is more than a place to stay for the night.  The hotel can make the entire experience.  This trip, I stayed at a couple of hotels that really knocked me off my feet.  They were undeniably unique and incredible.  I can’t wait to share more to help you in planning your visit to Switzerland.  

One of the biggest decisions for my trip planning was whether to rent a car.  Switzerland has an incredible train system available to take you just about anywhere.  Ultimately, I decided that having the freedom of a car was worthwhile.  In addition, I struggle to pack light on an international trip.  So, I did not want to lug my baggage on and off the train multiple times.  I rented from Hertz at the Zurich airport.  Getting to the rental car center and leaving the airport with your car is a relatively simple process.  There were really only two times I regretted having the car, and I will talk about those instances below.  

Driving in Switzerland is not difficult if you avoid the major cities.  The two times I felt regret for having a car were in Geneva and Zurich.  Geneva was not as difficult to navigate as Zurich.  However, I evidently forgot to reserve a parking space when booking the hotel in Geneva.  Make sure you look into this!  This resulted in us parking at the train station.  The parking lot itself was great, but it was a bit of a walk back to the hotel.  Also, when you leave the garages, make sure that you pay with your ticket at the pay station prior to attempting to exit.  In Geneva, I did not do this and a line of cars formed behind me in the exit.  I was able to reach an attendant on the call button who seemed so annoyed that he just opened the gate without payment.  Lesson learned.  

In Zurich, many of the hotels are located in areas where location services say that you cannot drive a car.  I had to call our hotel in Zurich after we unsuccessfully tried on one way streets and circling the block to make it to the dot on the map.  It was then that they notified us of the address to input. We were able to drive up to the hotel on a narrow street lined with pedestrians walking around.  In general, there are people everywhere on the streets in Zurich, and they have no qualms walking in front of moving vehicles.  Definitely be on high alert while driving.  If it were not for these two instances, I thoroughly enjoyed having the car.  

I have one final important piece of information about having a rental.  Gas is expensive in Switzerland.  When you arrive at a gas station, go ahead and pump your gas.  The rental typically says above the tank what type of gas to pump.  After filling up, you can then go inside to pay.  This was a puzzling mystery until we figured out how things worked.  There is no pay at the pump.  The first gas station, we asked, and the attendant was not able to understand us in order to provide help.  At the next station, we attempted to go ahead and pump the gas and then went inside to pay without any issues. 

Below is my itinerary for our trip to Switzerland:  

Day One – arrive in Zurich and rent car from airport.  Drive to Gruyeres for a quick stop then on to Montreux for an overnight stay.  

Day Two – visit Castle de Chillon and the Lavaux Vineyards before traveling into Geneva.  

Day Three – explore Geneva and enjoy the shopping and sights.  Leave the city and travel to Bern for dinner and overnight. 

Day Four – spend the morning exploring Bern.  Leave Bern for a drive to Lauterbraunn ending the day at Park Hotel Vitznau. 

Day Five – spend the morning and early afternoon enjoying the hotel before traveling closer to Zurich to Krone Regensburg. 

Day Six – explore Regensburg and then travel to the Dolder Grand Hotel in Zurich for overnight. 

Day Seven – wander around the streets of Zurich and stay near the Bahnhofstrasse at The Storchen.  

Day Eight – fly back to the USA. 

On any given day, we did not spend more than two consecutive hours driving.  The longest drive was between Zurich and Montreux at around two hours.  Some of the stops were as short as 30 minutes.  This itinerary packs a lot into a short period of time.  I like to see as much as possible while visiting a new place.  This may not be everyone’s preference.  

Switzerland utilizes the Swiss franc or CHF for payment.  When asked about credit card payments, always make the payment in the local currency or CHF.  Also, if you make a purchase over 300 CHF be sure and ask for tax free.  There are two companies, Global Blue and Lonely Planet.  The store will provide you with the appropriate paperwork that you will take to an area marked “Zoll Customs” found in Terminal one of the Zurich airport.  It is outside of security, so start here prior to checking in for your flight unless you have packed all of your new goods in a carry on.  After getting paperwork stamped here, you can check in for your flight and go through security.  On the other side of security, there is an abundance of duty free shopping.  There are plenty of luxury stores like Gucci and Bottega Veneta.  You will see signs that point you to Tax Refund.  The signs are directing you to Global Blue.  At Global Blue, she was able to direct me to Lonely Planet, which is less well marked.  It is behind the Information desk in the main shopping drag.  Lonely Planet will ask you for the receipt of the items that were purchased, so make sure you have this available.  Also, they will not provide a refund back to an American Express credit card, so have another card available or be ready to receive local currency.  You do not have to provide the credit card that the purchase was made on for your refund.  In general, the refunds on luxury goods in Switzerland were not as significant as other countries like Italy.  

Passport control is beyond the duty free shopping area.  Therefore, do not get caught up here for too long.  You do have to allow time to make it through passport control.  The line was not terribly long, but it did not move fast.  As with any international flight, each airport is different.  Some are easy to navigate and do not take long.  Other times, it can be incredibly time consuming to make it to your gate.  

At the airport, there are several lounges available if you have status with an American airline.  We went into the premier lounge located in the area of the E30-40 gates.  The inside was well appointed with outdoor seating to watch planes taking off and landing.  The breakfast food was rather lackluster, and I was unimpressed.  They did have wine and soft drinks available.  I always look for a champagne, and the Prosecco available wasn’t great.  Their soft drinks are in large bottles, so you do not have the freedom of taking something for the road.  No matter the circumstances, I always love seeing a new lounge.  With that in mind, I was not impressed with this lounge.

Here are the most important points to keep in mind.  Traveling with a car in Switzerland allows you a lot of freedom to explore the beauty of the country with your own agenda.  The larger cities are the most difficult to navigate with a car.  The tax refund isn’t as significant in Switzerland, and it is time consuming to deal with this in their airport.  There is so much to see in this amazing country!  If possible, stay longer than a week to gain access to more of what Switzerland has to offer.  

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