Motorcycling in Switzerland- the Ultimate Guide

Motorcycling in Switzerland- the Ultimate Guide

Planning a motorbike trip to Switzerland? Want to tour some of the most beautiful roads and mountains in Europe? Here’s everything you need to know to go motorcycling in Switzerland, step-by-step.

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Motorcycling in Switzerland – why you should go!

When you think of Switzerland, what comes to mind? Mountains? Lakes? Chocolate? Switzerland is all that- and so much more. The nature, the wildlife and the friendliness of the people are all wonderful reasons to visit.

You can explore Switzerland using public transport, but it’s so much better if you have your own vehicle- whether that’s a motorhome or campervan, a car, caravan or of course a motorbike.

One of the best things about being able to explore Switzerland by motorcycle touring is that you can see the differences between the regions and really get a feel for the country in a short space of time.

In this guide, we’re going to share with you everything you need to know to for motorbike trips to Switzerland, including getting to Switzerland from the UK or abroad and planning your route, where to stay, some road trip ideas and places to visit, driving tips and other practical advice to help you have an amazing Swiss road trip.


Motorcycle touring in Switzerland- Where to go

When planning a motorcycle trip to Switzerland, the first thing you need to do is decide where you’re going (and how long you want to go for!)

There are some incredible roads in Switzerland. INCREDIBLE. Some of the highlights include:

  • Gotthard Pass
  • Furka Pass
  • St Bernard Pass
  • Albula Pass

but there are literally hundreds of other roads and routes too. Basically, pick a road in the Swiss Alps and you’ll be in riding heaven. Make sure you bring a motorcycle camera or helmet cam– the scenery is spectacular.

How long to go for?

If you’re riding from the UK to Switzerland (we’ll cover that shortly), you need to allow at least a day to get from arriving in France (by either ferry or Eurotunnel) to the Swiss border. And that’s a long day of solid riding (it’s about 7 and a quarter hours (685km) from Calais to Basel, on the north-west border of Switzerland with France.

You can easily visit and explore Switzerland for just a few days or a week and it’s quite easy to drive around. Of course, if you have 10-14 days, you can see a lot more of the country.

How long does it take to drive across Switzerland?

Switzerland isn’t a huge country and you can drive across it quite quickly if you use the main roads.

As a guide, if you wanted to drive from Basel to Como (on the Italian border near Milan), it will take about 4 hours (300km)

If you want to travel across Switzerland from West to East, Geneva (on the western border with France) to St Moritz (in the East) will take about 5 and a half hours (480km)

However, much of the country is made up of the Alps (BIG mountains), so riding those take a lot longer as the roads are full of hairpin bends and steep inclines! Don’t underestimate how long a journey will take you, especially if you’re towing bikes on a trailer in a larger vehicle.

TOP TIP: If you want to drive into northern Italy and the Dolomites, you might find it faster to go through France and then through Italy, rather than negotiating the Swiss Mountains. Get more Italy motorcycling tips.


Best time to go touring in Switzerland

Switzerland is worth visiting at any time of the year, but for different reasons.

If you want to be able to drive freely and have all attractions open, go between April and October. Summer is very busy in the cities and major attractions, but the mountains are fairly empty.

Spring in Switzerland

Spring is lovely- as long as it’s after April. Although technically Spring starts on 21 February, the snows don’t fade until around the end of March, so April, May and June are a great time to visit. Avoid the Easter holidays if you can- prices get hiked up then.

But the flowers are beautiful- be sure to check out the Morges Tulip Festival at Lake Geneva in April. You can also visit Gruyeres on the first Sunday of May for the annual Cheese Festival- expect to try lots of yummy samples.

Summer road trips in Switzerland

Summer is perfect. Highs hit mid-20s, although it can always feel cool up in the mountains, but the skies are often clear and you can see the Milky Way at night. Of course, these means more people and more traffic, so if you are driving any of the crazy mountain passes, be sure to do it as early as possible to avoid oncoming tour buses!

A great day to be in Switzerland is Swiss National Day on 01 August. The entire country will celebrate with fireworks and parties – and they’re happy for tourists to join in.

Autumn in Switzerland

Autumn is one of my favourite times to be motorcycling in Switzerland. The days are still long and mostly warm, the leaves look amazing as they change colours, and the crowds from summer have gone.

The weather can be chilly at end of October into November and many places close at end of October, so do your research if there’s something specific you want to do or see. If you enjoy wine, don’t miss the Basel Wine Fair which happens at the end of October each year (though obviously don’t drink & ride!)

Winter motorcycling in Switzerland

I’ll be honest, winter in Switzerland starts around the end of November and runs until April. It gets COLD, there will be lots of snow and most of the roads will be closed. The days are also shorter, so you’ll have less time to explore.

Personally, I don’t advice motorcycle touring in Switzerland during winter unless you’re very very used to riding in adverse conditions and have all the appropriate safety and heated gear!


Planning a route from the UK to Switzerland

There are a couple of routes for you to get from the UK to Switzerland.

The most obvious is the Eurotunnel, which is generally cheaper and faster than a ferry. If you use the ‘Chunnel’, you’ll end up in Calais.

 Motorhome Routes- UK to Switzerland
Routes- UK to Switzerland

The quickest route from Calais to Basel (closest major point in Switzerland) is to the NE of Paris, via the A26 and then the N4. This route is around 685km, should take around 7h 25m and will cost about 33€ in tolls for a small camper or a car (if you’re towing your bikes). A motorhome will cost more.

Route 2 is via A26, then N5 and is 725km long. This will cost a car or small camper around 48€ and is estimated to take 7h 39m

Route 3 is via Belgium on the E411 and then the A4. It’s longer, at 736km, will take 7h 42 but will only cost 9€ on the tolls. So it’s up to you which you choose.

Some top tips for route planning:

  • Avoid peak days and times on the Eurotunnel
  • Try to avoid driving on the weekends or on bank holidays- LOTS of traffic
  • Alternatively, get up early and do as much driving as possible before the traffic hits, then stop and have a nap somewhere safe- a huge advantage of having a motorhome or campervan with a bed with you!!

Motorcycle Hire in Switzerland

If you don’t have your own bike, or don’t want to take it, you can easily fly into Switzerland and hire one. Just make sure to ask how to get from the airport to the rental agency- not all of them are at the airport itself and you might need to book a taxi.

To rent a motorcycle in Switzerland most places will expect you to be:

  • 25 years or over, depending on the company’s rental policy; (18 years old for scooters and some very small bikes)
  • Have a valid driving licence with at least 2 years experience
  • show identification (identity card for EU citizens or a valid passport for other nationalities) 

Make sure you have proof that you can take the vehicle across a border if that’s what you’re planning to do.

Don’t forget, it is YOUR responsibility to make sure the vehicle has the required safety equipment. The on-the-spot fines apply to you as the rider, not the company. Check in advance with the company what kit they will provide with the vehicle and what you will need to bring. If you are solo motorcycle touring, remember you’ll need to carry everything yourself, including any motorcycle camping kit.

Take a list of what is legally required with you and check it off one by one as you are given the handover. Do not drive until you are happy you comply with the local laws.

You can expect to pay anywhere from 80€-180€/ day- based on model. Make sure you ask the right questions to know what’s included in your rental, such as:

  • Mileage limits/ surcharge
  • Kit included
  • Luggage included
  • Helmet rental available
  • Pillion allowed
  • Breakdown/ insurance cover
  • Times & location of pick up/ drop off
  • Documents needed

Borders / Customs in Switzerland

Ok, let’s get the technical bit out of the way.

Switzerland is in Europe, but it is NOT in the EU. Therefore, there are border restrictions on what you can/ cannot take into the country (and out.) It also does NOT use the Euro- it uses Swiss Francs. (CHF)

Also, Switzerland IS in the Schengen Area, which means that if you are subject to a 90 day limit on your time in the Schengen Area (like UK passport holders are now after BREXIT), then your time in Switzerland DOES count towards those 90 days.

Tobaccos and spirit limits

If you are entering Switzerland, this is what you can carry with you (for persons older than 17 years)

  • 250 units/g cigarettes / cigars / other tobacco products
  • 5 litres of alcohol (up to 18% vol.) and 1 litre of alcohol (over 18% vol.)

Border Crossings into Switzerland by road

There are many places where you can drive across the border into Switzerland. Some have a proper, official border where you will be stopped and asked to show your passport and other documentation. Other crossings are literally marked with a flag which you look at as you drive past. There are no guards, no customs control and no barrier.

Don’t forget you will need a vignette (more on that later), so you might need to stop at/ near the border to get one.

Motorcycle touring in Switzerland- Furka Pass
Motorcycle touring in Switzerland- Furka Pass

Motorcycle rules in Switzerland- what gear do you need to carry?

Just like motorcycling in France, there are certain things you MUST carry with you whilst touring in Switzerland.

Don’t forget, if you are driving through France or another country to get to Switzerland, you need all the kit required by that countries, as well as the kit needed in Switzerland.

Things you need to ride in Switzerland- safety gear

These are the things you MUST have with you when you’re motorcycle touring in Switzerland.

  • Wearing a helmet is mandatory for riders and pillions and you will be fined for breaking this. .
  • CE certified gloves are also mandatory for rider and pillion
  • Hi-vis reflective jackets – these are not legally required in Switzerland but they are in both France and Germany, so you’ll need them if you’re riding there.
  • You do not need headlight beam converters on a motorcycle in Europe unless your headlight points dramatically to the left.
  • Country (UK) sticker attached to the back of bike on reg plates. (NOT the EU or GB sticker anymore!)
  • If you wear glasses you MUST carry a spare pair

TOP TIP: Buy these essentials for riding in Switzerland in advance. If you wait until you’re at the ferry/ tunnel, you could spend THREE times as much!

Recommended bike accessories you MIGHT need when motorcycling in Switzerland

The following kit are things you might need to carry in your kit.

Don’t forget to do your motorcycle maintenance checks before you leave- grab your FREE motorcycle maintenance checklist here


What documents do you need to road trip in Switzerland?

If you’re riding in Switzerland, you need to carry the following documents:

  • Passport (or identity card)
  • Driving licence (check it is in date!)
  • Motorcycle Insurance documents- check you are covered for riding in Europe
  • Breakdown cover
  • Vehicle V5 logbook (which must show your correct address)
  • Vehicle must be legally taxed and MOT’d
  • International Driving Permit if required
  • Personal travel insurance

Do I need an international driving permit to drive/ ride in Switzerland?

Most UK citizens do not need an IDP to drive in Switzerland, as long as you have a card driving licence issued in the UK (in date, of course!)

You might need one if you have:

  • a paper driving licence only
  • a licence issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man

Vignettes in Switzerland

Most countries in Europe have some sort of charge for using their motorways/ major roads. They either use tolls, like France, or they use a vignette, like Switzerland. (Unless you’re used to motorcycing in Holland, where they don’t have anything!)

A vignette is literally a sticker which you must buy from an approved location and stick on your windscreen (in a specific place so the cameras can see it). Once it’s in place, you can then drive on any of the motorways or major roads (Classes 1 and 2) without worry- there are no tolls to pay.

Now, some people make the process of getting a Swiss vignette sound horrendously difficult. It’s really not, especially if your motorhome or campervan is under 3.5 tonnes. You can even order it online in advance and get it sent to your home before you leave from the website here.

How much does a Swiss Vignette cost?

A vignette currently costs 38.50€ per vehicle. However, if you are towing a caravan OR a trailer (and the total train weight is less than 3.5t), you will need to purchase a second vignette. Also if, like us, you tow a motorbike or a second vehicle, you will need to buy another vignette for that too.

So we, with a motorhome, a trailer and TWO motorbikes, would have needed to buy 4 vignettes if we wanted to ride the bikes in Switzerland. Although, in reality, we only needed to buy two (for our bikes) because our train weight with the motorhome and trailer was greater than 3.5t, so we needed the next level up.

Affixing the vignette to a trailer or bike isn’t as easy as on a car- it must be fixed “on an easily accessible part which cannot be dismantled and replaced.”

How long is a vignette in Switzerland valid for?

A vignette is valid up until the end of January the year after you bought it. (So the 2021 sticker is valid until 31 January 2022.)

And yes, you still need to buy one even if you’re only visiting Switzerland for one day, or even one hour, out of the year, assuming you want to use the motorways.

NOTE: the Vignette is invalid if you remove it. So be sure you won’t be returning within the time limit before you take it off.

Do you HAVE to have a vignette in Switzerland?

If you want to use the motorway network, yes- it’s compulsory. However, you can choose to drive just on the backroads and never buy a vignette- as long as your vehicle/ train weight is less than 3.5t.

What does a vignette NOT cover you for?

You will still need to pay for using any car trains, some of the bigger tunnels and any car ferries. There are also a few private roads which you will need to pay for if you choose to use them, like the Oberaar panorama road at the Grimsel pass.

Vignettes for vehicles UNDER 3.5 tonnes

If you have a vehicle with a train weight of less than 3.5t, and you haven’t bought a vignette in advance, you can buy one from the border or just stop at the first garage/ service station after crossing the border. Simples.

Vignettes for vehicles OVER 3.5 tonnes – Via App

If you have a motorhome which weighs over 3.5t, OR the total weight of your motorhome and trailer exceeds 3.5t, you can’t buy the ‘normal’ vignette. You must pay the HVF (Heavy Vehicle Fee).

To do this, you need to download the VIA app (from your App store or Android store). This App is actually REALLY good. It allows you to select your vehicle type, enter details, select dates and pay- all from within the app. You get a scannable QR code for border crossings if needed to show proof of payment. Find out more about the App and watch a video here

NOTE: If you are over 3.5t, you need to pay to use any public roads in Switzerland, not just the motorways,

Motorcycling in Switzerland
Motorcycling in Switzerland

Motorcycling in Switzerland- where to stay overnight

In Switzerland, there are several types of stopovers you can use.

  • Campsites
  • B & Bs
  • Hotels
  • Hostels

Switzerland Camping sites for motorcycles

It’s easy to find motorcycle campsites in Switzerland and they’re much like campsites anywhere else in Europe. Some are rustic and have very basic facilities, while others are designed for long-term visitors and have entertainment, clubs, pools and bars! If you’re campervanning in Switzerland  and taking your bikes on a trailer, you’ll have no problem.

Many campsites have large pitches, excellent (and clean) facilities and stunning views. And most have staff who speak excellent English.


Motorcycle Travel in Switzerland- where to stay

Once you’ve got a vehicle to tour around Switzerland in, the next thing to consider is what sort of motorbiking holiday you want to have and where are you going to camp/ park up overnight?

Deciding the type of holiday you want to have will make planning your motorcycle trip a lot easier.

Motorcycle campsites in Switzerland

Like in the UK, campsites in Switzerland vary in quality and price. Some campsites have great facilities, like swimming pools or a beach on a lake, watersports, play area, restaurants, fresh bread delivery, shop etc.

Others are more rustic and aren’t much more than an aire with an attendant. Expect the facilities at cheaper campsites to be much lower in hygiene standards than you might be used to!

There are some gorgeous campsites in Switzerland, right by beaches and lakes, with swimming pools, evening entertainment and kids clubs. If you want a relaxing holiday whilst staying in your own van and enjoying the sunshine, this might be the best option for you.

They work much like in the UK- you arrive, check in (and will usually need to show a passport), are given or can select a pitch with or without electric (depending on what you booked) and that’s it.

Expect some campsites to keep your passport for the duration of your stay with them. This is often at the places where you haven’t paid in advance- I always try to pay in advance and keep my passport where I know it’s safe!

Dogs are normally always welcome on campsites, but there isn’t always a dog walk/ run where they are allowed off lead.

Because we rarely plan a route through Switzerland, and therefore we never know where we’re going to be, we book campsites at the last minute- or just turn up. This doesn’t always work, (especially in  August or between October-March when many campsites shut) but there always seems to be something around which works out.


Swiss motorcycle travel in the school holidays- or not?

If you’re travelling in the school holidays, you’ll want to book up the campsite (if you’re using one) asap- the best ones get booked up months in advance.

If you’re NOT travelling during the school holidays, you might want to consider getting an ACSI camping card– you’ll save a lot of money on campsite charges.


Driving tips for Swiss motorcycle travels

Switzerland is generally not too bad for drivers (at least, not compared to motorcycling in Portugal or Italy!)

Some quick tips for driving in Switzerland:

  • Switzerland drives on the right, like much of Europe
  • Overtake on the left (NEVER undertake)
  • Dipped headlights are compulsory during the day
  • Helmets and gloves are compulsory
  • Traffic from the right (including cyclists) has priority.
  • Traffic on roundabouts has priority unless the signs indicate otherwise.
  • Police cars, ambulances, fire trucks and trams always have priority.
  • You’re legally required to stop for pedestrians at a zebra crossing. NOTE: Trams do NOT have to stop, so don’t walk in front of one thinking it must give way to you- it won’t!
  • Wearing earphones or buds is illegal, but intercoms/ bluetooth systems are not.
  • In-car speed camera detectors and motorcycle sat-nav systems warning of the presence of radars are illegal (whether they’re in use or not!)
  • Using a mobile phone while driving is illegal, but you can use a hands-free unit without earbuds.
  • Minor traffic offences can result in on-the-spot fines.
  • UK driving licences are perfectly acceptable to use and you probably won’t need an IDP
  • Hands-free calling is allowed, but it is strongly discouraged. Handheld calling will attract a hefty fine.
  • In some places, it is mandatory to turn off your engine when waiting for traffic lights, railroad crossings etc.

Speed limits in Switzerland

Speed Limits are determined by location, vehicle and weather and are as follows for motorcycles (unless otherwise signed!)

  • 120km/h (74mph)
  • Major roads/ expressways- 100 km/h (62 mph)
  • Outside built-up areas 80km/h (50mph)
  • Built up areas- 50 km/h (31 mph)

Speed cameras in Switzerland

There are an estimated 1,000 speed cameras in Switzerland, which is a huge number for a small country. Again, pay attention to your speed.

Drink driving laws

Switzerland has stricter drink driving laws than the UK, only allowing 0.25 milligrams of alcohol per millilitre of blood (the UK is 0.8). As always, don’t drink and drive. If you are a new or a professional driver, there is zero-tolerance, so be careful what medication you take.


Filtering in Switzerland- is lane splitting legal?

Filtering is illegal in Switzerland, although you will see bikes doing it.


Riding in Switzerland- what to do in the event of a road traffic accident

You should have a European Claim Form provided by your insurer before you leave. In the event of an accident, all parties complete and sign the form at the scene and then send a copy to your insurer for assessment. Don’t sign anything unless you are happy with what it says.

What to do at the scene:

  • Stop your vehicle immediately but safely- out of the flow of traffic if possible.
  • If a vehicle is blocking the road, use hazard lights and put the red warning triangle 30 metres from the scene to warn approaching traffic
  • Exchange your details with the other involved parties. Be sure to get:
    • Name and address of all the people involved in the accident
    • Vehicle registration numbers of all parties
    • Insurance company details of all parties
    • Take photos of damage using a camera, GoPro or phone

Petrol

There are plenty of fuel stations across Switzerland. As with everywhere, you’ll find the prices slightly higher on the motorways.

Petrol is Bleifrei (95 / 98), Sans plomb (95 / 98), Senza piombo (95 / 98) – Green handles on pump

Some places are 24h pay at the pump, but may require you to go into the shop and pay the cashier either in advance or after you’ve filled up- there will be a sign to tell you what to do. (Leave your bike in front of the pump and make a note of the pump number.)

You can pay using cash or a credit card. Many places do NOT take American Express. You can usually use your UK cards without a problem.


Motorcycling in Switzerland- security

We highly recommend paying extra attention to your motorbike security when travelling in Switzerland, as motorcycle thefts do happen, as does petty theft and pickpocketing. I know it’s not always possible, but try not to leave your bike unattended in an unsecured area.


More useful things to know when motorcycling in Switzerland


Emergency Numbers:
 112 will get you everything you need.

Language– Swiss but English widely spoken. They also often speak French, German and probably many many others. The 4 official languages are French, German, Italian and Romansh. Different regions have different ‘main’ languages.

Currency– Swiss Francs (CHF- NOT EUROS!)

Cards– most major credit and debit cards are accepted. American Express is only taken in large stores (not at tolls and often not at fuel stations)

Timezone– GMT+1 (or one hour ahead in BST)

Tipping– Tipping is not expected but appreciated. 5% – 10% in restaurants is standard if you are happy with the service.

Shops– Food prices are pretty expensive. Many shops close at 6.30pm and do not open on Sundays at all. Bigger supermarkets and garages may be open.

DISCLAIMER: This post was last updated in April 2022. We try to keep it as up to date as possible, but cannot be held responsible for any changes made to the law since the last update. If you do find any discrepancies, please do let us know. Thanks.

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