The mystery and beauty of the Alps has long captivated travelers with its snow-capped peaks, aquamarine lakes and charming hamlets. If there was ever a perfect road trip destination, I think it would be the Alps. The Alps are one of the ultimate European travel experiences! Even now that I live in Germany, it still feels like a dream to be in the Alps. You never get sick of this magical place.
There are several countries that span the Alps, including Austria, France and Germany, but the most famous of the Alpine countries is of course Switzerland. It goes without saying that Switzerland is stunning and one of my favorite destinations in Europe, but, there are plenty of places to explore in the Alps outside of Switzerland that surprised me (and saved me some Euros!) during our 2 week road trip in the Alps.
While you can’t see all of the Alps in just 2 weeks, you’ll be able to see a lot of these beautiful mountains. In this blog post, I help you plan the perfect 14 day roadtrip through the Alps, making sure that you make the most of this incredible part of Europe. You’ll hardly be disappointed by the places you miss because the places you will go to are going to blow your mind. The Alps are truly stunning and you really can’t go wrong with any destinations in these European mountains!
Overview of this Road Trip Itinerary
This 2 week road trip itinerary in the Alps will be a circuit route starting and ending in Munich. This road trip includes stops in 4 different countries — Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Germany. In total, there will be about 19 hours of driving split across 10 days. The longest stretch of driving is approximately 4.5 hours, but an average of 2 hours per day.
By starting and ending at the same point (Munich), you can reduce the cost of your rental car by about 200 euros, and it makes the logistics of the arrival and departure less stressful since you can book a round trip flight. If you preferred to book one-way flights, you could easily modify this itinerary to start in Munich and end in Zurich or Geneva by moving up the last three days to the middle of the itinerary.
Day 1 + 2: Salzburg
For the first day of your Alps road trip, a short two hour drive from Munich to Salzburg is a calming way to warm up your driving skills and get comfortable on the European highways. This drive is straightforward and the terrain is easy, plus you’ll get an impression of the immaculate road conditions on the German autobahn.
Nestled in the foothills of the Alps, Salzburg offers a great blend of history, culture and of course, Sound of Music fame. My mom is obsessed with this movie, so I knew I couldn’t pass up a stop here. Salzburg is compact and easy to explore by foot, so make sure to book a hotel with easy parking options. I recommend staying for at least 1 night, because many visitors only come as a day trip and the city has a completely different vibe at night. We did two nights in Salzburg and felt like it was just right!
The city itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thanks to its famous landmarks like the birthplace of Mozart, the Hohensalzburg Fortress, and the well-preserved baroque architecture. I dive into all the nitty gritty details about planning two days in Salzburg, but needless to say, this is the perfect place to start your road trip through the Alps!
Day 3 + 4: Innsbruck
Famous for its mountain panoramas and alpine adventure activities, Innsbruck is a great place to stay for a few days while traveling in the Alps, thanks to its advantageous location in the center of the Tyrol region of Austria. You can easily use it as a jumping off point for mountain biking, skiing or other mountain adventures, or you could simply enjoy 48 hours exploring all the great things the city of Innsbruck has to offer.
The quaint old town of Innsbruck is easily walkable in an hour or two if you are interested in sightseeing, with options to see the Golden Roof, the Baroque facade of the Heblinghaus or the stunning interior of the Cathedral of St James. The city has a long history with the Olympics, so make sure to take a visit up to the towering Bergisel Ski Jump which overlooks the city. Inside, you can enjoy coffee or lunch with a view! For more stunning views, take your elevation even higher with a ride to the top of Nordkette Mountain. Sometimes called the Jewel of the Alps, you can ride a funicular and cable car up to Hafelekar Station for mind-blowing views of the Alps.
I was on the fence about visiting the Swarovski Kristalwelten Museum (Crystal World) outside of Innsbruck, but it turned out to be such a great museum and I would 100% recommend going. Similar to other experiential museums that have popped up in recent years, the Swarovski Kristalwelten features a series of rooms created by different artists. I had no idea the caliber of artists that would be featured here–Alexander McQueen, Yayoi Kusama, and Manish Arora to name a few!
Each room captures the artist’s interpretation of Swarovski crystal as an artistic medium, and there are some incredible installations! It seems that most people who visit Swarovski Kristalwelten go straight to the gift shop, so when we visited the museum, we had it completely alone! Don’t miss the mind-blowing beautiful crystal clouds out in the garden.
Innsbruck wasn’t my favorite of the culinary destinations we visited on our tour of the Alps, but it is a good place to sample some traditional Austrian food. Stiftskeller has a good local vibe with a nice selection of beer and yummy (and filling) pub food. The stylish Ottoburg is another good option with a charming Alpine interior and friendly staff. One thing you don’t want to miss before leaving Austria is strudel, and Innsbruck has some delicious options! Kröll Strudel Cafe offers a wide assortment of delicious strudel flavors to eat in or take away.
Day 5: Luxury Alp Hotel
While in the Alps, it would be a shame not to splurge on at least one luxury experience — this is basically the region of the world where luxury hotels were invented! There are copious amounts of stunning Alpine hotels offering a range of luxury experiences in Austria, Switzerland and Germany. Spa and wellness resorts are popular in this region of Europe, making for a relaxing and restorative experience on your 2 week itinerary in the Alps.
If you happen to be visiting during a slower season or book a hotel in the middle of the week, you might be surprised by some of the deals you can find. We were traveling in the Alps around my 30th birthday, and I planned for our splurge day on my birthday as a present to myself, using up nearly all of my rewards points to book a room at the picturesque Nidum Casual Luxury Hotel outside of Innsbruck. It was the perfect way to ring in a new decade of life and felt totally luxurious! For more luxury alpine options, Pretty Hotels has a lovely list of mountain getaways many of which are in the Alps as well as Design Hotels round up of the most design-forward hotels in Austria.
Day 6: St Moritz (or Zermatt)
Driving into Switzerland offers some mind blowing scenery. From the tunnels through the mountain to crystalline lakes, this morning’s drive will wow you. I could easily spend one week in Switzerland, but your budget might now allow you to stay too long. With this roadtrip, we’re keeping the time in Switzerland fairly brief. When you picture a luxury Swiss Alps scene, you are basically picturing St. Moritz. This glamorous mountain town has been hosting the winter holidays of European elites for decades, and this place just oozes wealth. In a rich country like Switzerland, that’s saying something.
If hanging out with Europe’s wealthiest isn’t your vibe, I totally understand. You could easily go to Zermatt instead. Zermatt is home to the famous Matterhorn mountain, and it is a quieter more relaxed destination in Switzerland. The city itself doesn’t allow cars, so you’ll need to park outside the city and take the train in. I’ve written several posts about visiting Zermatt, including where to find the best restaurants in Zermatt.
But let’s continue with the St. Mortiz plan. Never one to turn down a good sauna and spa day, the Ovaverva public pool and bathhouse is an ideal way to spend a morning in St. Moritz. This sleek and modern spa has everything — saunas, steam rooms, hot tubs, outdoor heated pool — all with stunning Alpine views. Like many other saunas and spa in this region, no bathing suits are allowed in the mixed-gender saunas so be prepared.
Similar to Innsbruck, St. Moritz has been a host of the Winter Olympics making it a prime snow-sports city with plenty of opportunities to go skiing or snowshoeing in the winter, or hiking and mountain-biking in the summer. The unique thing you can do here in the winter is go for a bobsled ride! This adrenaline pumping activity will set you back about 300 Swiss francs a piece, but it is likely to be an experience you’ll never forget — if you can survive the ride! For a less adventurous take, consider a hike on a glacier.
St. Moritz is also an excellent place for some shopping (if you can afford it!). Don’t miss a peek into the delightfully stylish Faoro which doubles as a shop and a cafe. Cashmere is the name of the game at Lamm, which has both modern and traditional sweater designs for men and women.
To save yourself (a little) cash, make a DIY cheese plate at Pur Alps who also supply amazing jams and crackers. For a more sophisticated snack, pop into the Kulm Country Club which has incredible interior design, mixing vintage and modern aesthetics impeccably. If you want to sample my favorite swiss chocolate brand, sample and buy one of the many barks or truffles at Läderach.
Day 7 + 8: Jungfrau (Interlakken) Region
The Jungfrau region is one of the prettiest in all of the Alps, home to gorgeous alpine lakes, majestic mountains, and high-altitude waterfalls. If you take the slightly longer 4 hour drive (vs 3.25 hrs) from St Moritz to Interlakken via route 13 and route 2, you will be treated to some of the most incredible Swiss Alps scenery imaginable. Through tunnels and small mountain towns, you’ll have vista after mind-blowing vista. It is well worth the extra 45 minutes in the car!
Interlakken, which literally means in between two lakes, is a centrally located stop for exploring central Switzerland for a few days. I would say the city itself leaves a lot to be desired, but it makes for a great jumping off point for exploring the Jungfrau region. There are some tasty restaurants in the town, as well as a nice riverfront, but not much else. If you prefer to have a more quaint Alp stay, you might want to consider nearby Grindelwald or Lauterbrunnen.
There are SO many ways to get amazing views in the Jungfrau region. One of the most famous things to do in this region of Switzerland is to visit one of the high mountain peaks, either Jungfraujoch (the top of Europe) or Schilthorn Observation Deck (James Bond fame). The views from both are of course spectacular, but the high price point means that you’ll probably want to select just one of them. We opted to do the Schilthorn peak. Unfortunately it was completely overcast and cloudy the day we went, so we decided not to ride up because there would be almost no opportunity to view anything.
On our way back from Schilthorn station to Interlakken, we stopped in the charming small town of Lauterbrunnen. Increasingly famous on Instagram, Lauterbrunnen is a quintessential Swiss town with one defining feature — a waterfall shooting off a rock face into a sheer free fall. It’s very beautiful and you can see it from the town center. We also stopped at Trummelbach Falls, a tucked away waterfall gorge that is well worth the hour-long visit. You can get very close to the waterfalls, and the thunderous noise inside the gorge is cool to experience.
Prefer to see the Alps and lakes from the air? Interlakken is THE place to go paragliding in Switzerland, and there are almost daily departures for people looking to paraglide. My parents did this back in 2016 and had a fantastic experience! You might also consider a visit to the Two Lakes Bridge for a great perspective on Interlakken’s unique alpine position. Another option for pristine Alp viewing is the First Cliff Walk, which you can start in Grindelwald. Eat and Travel with Us has a great write up about how to do this!
Day 9 + 10: Lucerne
Given the mountain views that you’ve just come from, I would recommend spending your two days in Lucerne simply enjoying this beautiful city. The views from Mount Pilatus are popular, but not nearly as lovely as the stops in Interlakken and St. Moritz.
I genuinely loved my time in Lucerne because it is a scenic and quaint city that feels perfectly Swiss to me. The most iconic attraction in Lucerne is the Chapel Bridge, a 1300’s wooden bridge with painted interior panels telling the history and lore of Switzerland. The old town has been well-preserved and it is nice to window-shop while taking in the beautiful architecture. Next, walk along the old city walls and climb the watch towers for nice views of the city and lake Lucerne. I really enjoyed walking along the waterfront at night, when all the churches and old buildings are lit up.
Lucerne is also a much more foodie city than some of the other stops on this list, so take advantage! We had a very nice (and moderately priced) lunch at Restaurant Mill’Feuille along the river in Old Town. For sunset drinks, it is hard to beat the rooftop terrace at the Montana Hotel. If there was one meal on this itinerary that I would recommend making a reservation for, it would be at Zur Werkstatt in Lucerne. We were lucky enough to sneak in as the last table that night without a reservation, but normally they are booked days ahead of time. Our dinner at Zur Werkstatt was a fun, creative and DELICIOUS meal during our 2 week trip through the Alps which we still remember fondly!
Day 11: Vaduz, Liechtenstein
As one of the tiny micronations countries in Europe, Liechtenstein isn’t on most people’s “must-see” lists of Europe, but I wanted to add it to my Alps itinerary to cross off country number 54 for me. What Liechtenstein might not have in size, it makes up for in beauty with its stunning location nestled in the Alps between Austria and Switzerland. Plus, the numbers of visitors to Liechtenstein versus its neighbors is minimal, and you’ll feel a nice reprieve from tourist crowds.
You can easily see the major highlights of Vaduz in 24 hours, but there are ski resorts and mountain towns nearby if you wanted to spend an extra night or two. Park your car near the center of Vaduz, as you’ll be spending most of your day walking around. Start with a quick walk through the city center, where you can pop into a few museums such as the Stamp Museum or the Liechtenstein museum. At the end of the main street, keep walking towards the picturesque Red House.
Have you ever wanted to sample wine made by a royal family? In Liechtenstein you can at the Hofkellerei des Fürsten von Liechtenstein (and they are surprisingly good)! A wine tasting will set you back about 15 CHF, but you could also pair it with lunch for a slight discount.
Castles are your final stop for your 24 hours in Liechtenstein. Drive up to the Vaduz Castle, which is still owned and inhabited by members of the royal family. You can’t go inside, but the photo op and view is nice. More picturesque in my opinion is the Gutenberg Castle, about 15 minutes away from Vaduz in Balzers. Perched precariously on top of a rocky outcropping in the middle of the city, Gutenberg Castle dates about to the 1200s!
For dinner, enjoy the rustic ambiance at Adler Restaurant where you can sample a refined Käsknöpfle, the national dish of Liechtenstein. Similar to a cheese spaetzle or macaroni and cheese, this pasta dish mixes cheese and fried onions with a side of applesauce. If you want something fancier, Restaurant Marée is an experimental Michelin-starred restaurant with stunning views from its mountainside dining room.
Day 12 + 13: Neuschwanstein Castle & Mittenwald
As you round out your 2 week road trip in the Alps, you’ll start heading back towards Germany. If you aren’t ready for this roadtrip to end yet, consider adding on a few extra days as you enter back into Germany. Bavaria is one of the most popular places to travel in Germany, thanks to it’s well known culture and beautiful attractions. I live in Germany now, and you can find tons of my Germany-specific travel suggestions on my other blog, Ausländer.
Thankfully you don’t need extra days to enjoy some of Bavaria’s most famous attractions. Such as Neuschwanstein Castle! Famous for its princess-like exterior, Neuschwanstein is rumored to have inspired Walt Disney’s interpretation of the Sleeping Beauty castle. Considered to be one of the most picturesque castles in all of Germany, Neuschwanstein Castle is well-trod by millions of tourists annually. A visit here is an organized experience. You’ll need to book your tickets several days or weeks in advance with a very specific time slot for your visit. Germans have no tolerance for tardiness so you’ll need to plan your arrival time accordingly.
You’ll have the option to book a ticket just for Neuschwanstein or to Hohenschwangau Castle as well. The price difference is marginal, and I actually liked the tour of Hohenschwangau Castle even better, so I would recommend doing the combined tour. In total, the visit between the two castles will take about 4 hours. Neuschwanstein is located at the top of a small mountain which can be accessed on foot via steep paved walking trail, by horse-drawn carriage or by shuttle bus. The bus doesn’t run in adverse weather and the hike takes about 25 minutes.
The absolutely heart-warming and adorable town of Mittenwald is one of my favorite small towns in Germany. I would absolutely recommend booking a hotel here for a night or two as you explore the Alpine region of Bavaria. It literally feels like you have walked onto a fairytale movie set with its painted facade buildings and hobbit-like hovels. There isn’t necessarily anything “to do” in Mittenwald other than simply enjoying the cute streets and appreciating the Alpine scenery. It’s a good home base for exploring this corner of Bavaria on your last few days of this epic 2 week roadtrip through the Alps.
For a small town, Mittenwald has some surprisingly great restaurants. Try some local Bavarian cuisine at Gaststaette am Kurpark restaurant and wash it down with beer from Brauereigaststätte Postkeller. You should also get the pretzel soup there because it is fucking delightful. If you’re looking for something a little fancier, the tiny town of Mittenwald is even home to Michelin star eatery — Das Marktrestaurant.
Day 14: Return to Munich
If you find yourself with a few extra hours before heading back home (or onto other destinations) I would strongly recommend a visit to the Dachau Concentration Camp museum and memorial. It is only about 20 minutes from the MUC airport, and of all the Jewish remembrance sites I’ve been to thus far (I haven’t been to Auschwitz), it is the most informative and powerful. I understand that this isn’t the most cheerful way to end your time in the Alps, but it is a very important part of German history and in my opinion, a must-visit place.
What to Know About Driving in the Alps
When is the Best Time to Go?
The Alps are a year-round destination with lovely things to offer in all four seasons, so you’ll want to determine which time is best for you depending on what type of activities you’re looking to do. If you’re a skier, then winter is obviously the ideal time. If you’re more into hiking, then summer would be better. If you want to enjoy fall colors, then autumn is best. We went in the middle of spring (last week of April and first week of May) and found the weather to be almost perfect with cool temperatures and low crowd numbers.
What Type of Car is Best?
We managed to do the drive in a regular sedan without all-wheel drive. Although we were safe and overall it went fine, I think a four-wheel drive car would have been preferable. We got snow one day on our drive to Neuschwanstein and it was a little dicey. Plus, a little more horsepower would have made some of the mountain passes a bit easier. A few of the hills and highways get steep and our car felt like it was at max capacity. This advice is especially true if you are driving the Alps in the winter. You’ll need something that can handle slick or snowy conditions with ease.
Compared to what you are used to from the United States, the highway conditions in the Alps are spotless and immaculate. We were SO impressed but I guess it makes sense when you have people driving fancy sports cars at 100+ miles per hour. You need your roads to be in tip-top shape to prevent accidents! The signs along the highways here are easy to understand, and we had cell-reception for directions nearly the whole time.
One thing that you need to keep an eye on is your rear view mirror, especially in Germany. The German autobahn infamously does not have a speed limit in Bavaria, and cars will come whizzing by at 120-140 miles per hour. You could look in your mirror one second and see a car several hundred yards away, and a few seconds later, they are flashing their headlights at you on your bumper. Germans are especially fastidious about only using the left lane for passing, so it is best to stick to the right lane unless you are actively passing another car. If you don’t abide this rule, you can expect some honks, nasty looks and flashing headlights.
Toll Roads & Highway Passes
Even though all of the countries on this itinerary are in the Schengen area, there are different laws about tolls and highway passes in each country. If you follow this itinerary, you don’t need to worry about anything in Germany since you’ll have a German car, but you will need to purchase a Vignette (highway toll sticker) for Austria and Switzerland.
This is basically a prepaid toll sticker that gets scanned via RFID at various locations around the country. You need to adhere it to your front windshield in a specific place, which you can find instructions for on the sticker. You can buy these stickers at almost any gas station, especially near the highway, and they range in price and length of validity depending on the country. Some rental car companies will provide the Vignette for an upcharge, so ask about it when you pick up your rental car.
All of the freeways (autobahn), federal highways (Bundesstraße) and expressways (Schnellstraßen) are cashless so this sticker is the only way you’ll be able to clear the toll booths. You can also get a pricey ticket from a police officer for not having one, so it is strongly advised to buy them before crossing any borders.