Wherever you go in Switzerland, you will find breathtaking scenery. The mountains and valleys that make up the landscape of this small country are some of the most beautiful in the world. The list we've compiled of the best drives through the Alps will help you to have the best vacation possible, so you can concentrate on actually enjoying yourself instead of spending time trying to figure out where to go next.
The history and breathtaking beauty of these mountain passes will leave you speechless. Be sure to wear comfortable and warm clothes, because some of these drives have stops along the way where you can get out a walk around, sometimes for long distances. So get out of your Switzerland rental car and smell the fresh Alpine air, because you're about to have the time of your life.
|Best Alpine Drives in Switzerland Driving Distances|
|Scenic Drive||Distance (Miles)||Estimated Time|
|Great St. Bernard Pass||51||1 Hour, 18 Minutes|
|Furka Pass||27||1 Hour, 23 Minutes|
|St. Gotthard Pass||39||51 Minutes|
|Bernina Pass||27||55 Minutes|
|Simplon Pass||41||1 Hour, 4 Minutes|
On some of the roads we have chosen for you, tolls are collected to maintain their construction and repair, so make sure you have cash on hand before heading out on your journey. Some of the routes also cross the border into Italy, so be sure that you have your passport with you. We recommend that you have the travel information that you need for your journey, in case you lose your way. Also remember to pack extra articles of warm clothing, water, and food, in case of emergency. Even during the summer months, the alps are known to be quite cold. Come prepared for your journey and you are sure to have a good time no matter what happens.
Possibly the most well-known of our chosen mountain passes, the Great St. Bernard Pass offers travelers magnificent views and beautiful scenery at 2469 meters high. The E27 runs through this pass to Italy, so you can take that road as far into the mountains as you'd like.
With a history as a trade road that dates back to the peak of the Roman Empire, the Great St. Bernard Pass is a truly wonderful place to feel connected to the crucible of human civilization. Today, you can travel at your own pace and soak up the scenery; most of the travelers along the route are tourists just like you, so traffic tends to be on the slow side. Considering the dramatic, unforgiving landscape, it is amazing to think that Napoleon Bonaparte's army marched along the rocks and snow on its way from Italy in the year 1800.
The Great St. Bernard Hospice is situated quite a long way into the mountains. Founded many centuries prior to Napoleon's time, the hospice has served as a resting point for travelers since the 9th century. In the 17th century, the monks who lived at the hospice began to selectively breed the dogs that were given to them as gifts by travelers. The result was the St. Bernard dog, which was primarily used to rescue pilgrims who had been injured along the route. Today travelers can see these dogs at the hospice during the summer months, as well as their monk caretakers.
In 1964, a tunnel was built by the government to bypass the mountain drive, making travel possible during the cold winter months. This decreased traffic on the mountain pass, which is good for visitors who want to take their time among the snow-tipped peaks. For an event-filled trip, book your car rental in Zurich and drive it to Milan, Italy. The pass itself takes about an hour and a half to cross.
Route 19 takes drivers through the mountainous region of the Furka Pass, giving them a good look at glaciers, forests, and the crooked mountain peaks in the area. You may see the train that winds around the mountains as you make your way along the road, so keep your eyes peeled for a photo opportunity.
The makers of the James Bond movie Goldfinger thought that the area was stunning enough to include in the movie, so you can imagine the drama of the landscape if you prepare for your trip by watching the film. The Furka Pass is 2429 meters above sea level, just below the level of the Great St. Bernard Pass. In many ways, the Furka Pass is even more stunning than its more famous counterpart. The Rhone Glacier can be visited on the Valaisian side. The grotto that is carved out of the glacier draws visitors from around the world. Here you can actually walk inside a glacier. Tours are available, so book in advance of your arrival if you get a chance. The tunnel that travelers walk through is just shy of 100 meters long, but make sure to dress warmly, because temperatures can reach dangerous levels during certain points of the year. The Furka Pass takes an average of one and a half hours to cross.
The St. Gotthard Pass road, alternatively known as Route 2, takes you through a dramatically beautiful landscape, from Andermatt to Biasca. This road has been maintained by tolls that have been collected since the 14th century, supposedly helping to preserve Switzerland's independence during times of invasion. The Gotthard Road Tunnel was built in 1980, making the scenic drive a thing of the past for regular travelers, though for visitors, this is a good thing, clearing up the congestion of traffic that used to be a problem along the route.
One of the landmarks that lines the side of the road is the "Devil's Bridge," which is veiled in a mysterious history. Legend has it that this bridge that spans the Shollenen Gorge was built by the devil himself. The story goes that a local goat farmer, seeing many failed attempts to build a lasting bridge across the gorge, asked the devil if he would build a bridge that could withstand the tests of time. The devil agreed, but with one stipulation: he would own the first soul that happened to cross the bridge. In response, the impish goat farmer herded one of his goats across the bridge in front of him, causing the devil to fly into a rage. Had a woman who was passing by not made the sign of the cross, the devil would have smashed the bridge to pieces with a giant boulder.
If you visit the pass during the summer months, be prepared for traffic from the influx of travelers to the area. It's usually not a problem, seeing as how everyone wants to take in the scenery anyway, though if you are in a hurry, you may want to travel at a different time of year.
The magnificent views of the Bernina pass have impressed travelers since the Middle Ages, during which time it was used by merchants to haul their wares to the markets in the nearby cities. Exercise caution while driving, because even the summer months can see ice and snow accumulation along the road. In fact, the pass is usually closed from autumn to April because of the severity of the weather.
From the Engadine Valley at St. Moritz to Val Poschiavo in the south of Switzerland, the Bernina pass traverses a picturesque landscape that draws people from around the world. The drive is about 2 hours long, even though its distance is only 34 miles. You will see crystalline lakes and wind-ravaged terrain that is both covered in snow and lush with growth. Lago Blanco (White Lake) can be seen from the road and is definitely worth a visit.
The Simplon Pass connects the town of Brig to Domodossola in Italy, so be sure to bring your passport if you decide to make this trip. The road along this pass follows the contours of the mountains, making it a less hazardous drive, though no less beautiful, to be sure. While other roads through mountain passes are engineered to subdue the landscape, the Simplon Pass road uses the topography of the hills to its advantage, at least from an aesthetic point of view. Drivers will see a wide variety of climates on this route, from snow-tipped mountain peaks to lush, green forests that stretch for miles.
The route is full of beautiful scenery, man-made attractions, and breathtaking, panoramic views, so make sure that your camera has a full charge, because you will want to capture some memories for the folks back home. One such attraction is the Ganter Bridge, which spans the valley of its namesake 150 meters above the ground. This is the longest bridge in Switzerland, so you can imagine that the view from its vantage point is pretty amazing. Just like the Great St. Bernard Pass, the Simplon Pass has a hospice, though the Simplon Hospice was founded in the 19th century by Napoleon Bonaparte, who wanted to use the pass for his military campaign. Though his efforts failed before taking advantage of this pass, the hospice still serves the needs of travelers today. Driving through the Simplon Pass takes approximately an hour to complete.