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Small but mighty at just 16,000 square miles, Switzerland has some of the most diverse landscapes in the world—from lush meadows and shimmering lakes to snowy peaks and palm trees. With round-trip flights from most major U.S. cities to Zurich, SWISS International Airlines makes traveling to its cosmopolitan cities and petite Alpine villages a cinch.
Once you arrive, the easiest and most efficient way to hit every highlight is via the scenic route: the Grand Tour of Switzerland. This picturesque drive takes you 1,020 miles around the country, through four linguistic regions, five Alpine passes, 13 UNESCO World Heritage sites, and two biospheres, as well as by the banks of 22 lakes. Hop in an electric car (Europcars can be rented all over Switzerland), and power up at charging stations installed at points along the entire drive. When you work up an appetite between cities, there are 50 stands en route where you can pick up a sampling of Swiss treats in every region (best enjoyed picnic-style amid all that staggering scenery, of course).
Before you hit the open road, download the Grand Tour of Switzerland App to help you plan and navigate like a local. Then get your motor running, gather your cutest and comfiest fits, and grab your sense of adventure. Here’s a look at some of the ground you’ll cover.
Zürich – Appenzell
Start your stay in Zürich, Switzerland’s liveliest city, where nature and culture collide. Near Schaffhausen you’ll find the Rhine Falls, Europe’s largest waterfall, which you can admire from one of the platforms that hover over the river. Head northward to Hallau, a quaint hamlet tucked amid the vineyards of Klettgau, for a taste of regional wine and village life. With its verdant vines and half-timbered homes, the area makes for social-media gold. Next, wend your way over the rolling hills to Appenzell, a car-free village with storybook charm. (Public parking is available right outside of town.) Here, streets are lined with small boutiques and frescoed facades. Stop for a meal at Michelin-starred Truube, known for its creative Swiss dishes and stellar Swiss wine.
Appenzell – St. Moritz
For a restorative pit stop on the way to St. Moritz, head to the five-star Grand Resort Bad Ragaz at the beginning of the St. Gallen Rhine Valley, an area long hailed for its healing thermal hot springs. Maximize your stay with time at the spa, followed by a meal at the resort’s Michelin-starred resto IGNIV, which specializes in shared courses. Once your mind and body are fully satiated, chart your course toward Chur, Switzerland’s oldest city. Here, pastoral perfection, majestic mountains, and historic buildings set an idyllic scene. Stroll among the boutiques, restaurants, bars, museums, and galleries lining Old Town. From Chur to St. Moritz, you’ll cruise through the Julier Pass Route and its must-snap Alpine valleys.
St. Moritz – Bellinzona
Take your travels to Guarda, a 17th-century village in the Lower Engadine valley renowned for its enchanting architecture and unique murals. From there, head to the tiny mountain town of St. Moritz, tucked amid towering peaks and a shimmering lake. It’s famed for its glamorous hotels, state-of-the-art spas, and gourmet restos. Next, drive the Splügen Pass to see its eponymous village’s wooden Walser houses, or take to the trails for a scenic hike.
Bellinzona – Zermatt
After all that mountain trekking, you’ve likely worked up a sweat. Cool down at the Rhone Glacier Ice Grotto, a natural-wonder glowing ice chamber that’s enticed tourists for more than 150 years. Park just outside the town of car-free Zermatt, where you’ll be greeted by the Matterhorn, Switzerland’s most picturesque peak. The best way to fill your feed here is by aerial cable car, which offers some of the most stellar views of the mountain. For a little retail therapy, stroll along Bahnhofstrasse, where you’ll find high-end shops selling Swiss watches, mountain wear, and local chocolate.
Zermatt – Lausanne
From Zermatt, continue toward Grimentz, a tiny hamlet with big charm, in the way of sun-blackened homes decked with red geraniums. Hit the Burgher House in the center of the village to taste the unique white glacier wine, which is matured in larchwood barrels right in the cellar. Then it’s off to Lake Geneva; on a rock island along the banks you’ll discover Chillon Castle, which dates back to the 12th century. Highlights include wall paintings from the 14th century, subterranean vaults, parade halls, and an original bedroom. Follow the road up from the lake to the village of Saint-Saphorin, where pintes (aka mini restaurants) line the narrow alleyways.
Lausanne – Neuchâtel
Resort meets commercial town on Lake Geneva: Lausanne is home to the International Olympic Committee and the Olympic Museum. You’ll find fun shops in the Quartier du Flon, a storage-shipment facility turned avant-garde district. Then it’s on to Creux du Van, dubbed the Grand Canyon of Switzerland, where 200-million-year-old lime deposits have shaped one serious rock formation. It’s located in Val-de-Travers, an area known for its absinthe. When it’s time to turn in, spend the night at the elegant Beau-Rivage Hotel in the university town of Neuchâtel, which overlooks the lake of the same name as well as the Alps.
Neuchâtel – Bern
On your way to the capital city of Bern, spend the day in Gruyères, a pretty, pastoral little town with a fortified 13th-century castle. Once you’ve had your fill, visit the Fondue Academy to learn and sample from master cheesemakers. If you want to leave the confines of the car for the open air, trade your mode of transportation for a boat ride on Lake Brienz. The circa-1914 steamer Lötschberg offers themed excursions, like an Alpine-style brunch. Perched over the lake is the storybook Grandhotel Giessbach, an historic edifice set against a panorama of mountains, lakes, and a waterfall. Have a nightcap at the hotel bar in all of its baroque grandeur before hitting the hay.
Bern – Zürich
The next must-see is the Old City of Bern, a medieval town and capital city of Switzerland with a UNESCO heritage designation. Duck into a café amid limestone buildings, medieval arcades, and fanciful Renaissance fountains. And if you’re not all castled out, it’s worth a drive to Schloss Hallwyl, which is both 900 years old and has a moat. Finally, it’s time to come full circle in Zürich, where Bahnhofstrasse, one of the most famous shopping streets in the world, awaits with department stores, boutiques, and jewelry stores. For your last supper, dine at Kronenhalle, a local staple since 1924. Have your fill of the regional specialty, Zürcher Geschnetzeltes (sliced veal in gravy), amid rooms full of works by masters like Chagall, Picasso, and Miró—and leave thoroughly inspired.