Germany is half the size of Texas, Austria is about the same size as Maine, and Switzerland is almost the size of New Hampshire and Vermont combined. To visit every place of interest in three countries in seven days is impossible. However, if you choose just one region, it is doable to see some of the sights on a 7-day self-drive trip.
Trippy user Laura Lengel wrote:
Help with 7-day itinerary in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland
We are seeking advice for a week itinerary in late June/early July.
We have a few days booked for our gig at University of Utrecht, after which time we are looking into renting a car and driving around Germany (and/or Switzerland, Austria, and Belgium), then need to get to London to fly home.
After living in London, we want to avoid cities and, instead, see mountains and rural charm: )
Thanks, in advance, for your expertise!
Considering Laura’s interest in small towns and the quest of possibly visiting three countries, I would suggest driving around Lake Constance. Lake Constance, also known as Bodensee, is a lake that borders Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, covering just 40 miles (64 km) in length and 7.5 miles (12 km) at the widest point.
This itinerary will require Laura to fly from Utrecht to Zurich, pick up and drop off the rental car in Zurich. Here’s the route:
Day 1 Zurich to St. Gallen
Arrive in Zurich and pick up your rental car at the airport. Per Zurich Airport’s website, pre-booked rental cars can be collected at the Airport Center Level One and opening hours are from 6 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. daily. It’s best to reserve your rental car in advance and have all the documents ready for your trip.
Trippy user, Mary Smith from Leicester, suggested using Viamichelin.com for route planning:
For route-planning use www.viamichelin.com, It will give you route, route info, alternative routes and estimated driving times. Always allow more time than even that excellent site suggests. 🙂
The drive from Zurich to St. Gallen is about 53 miles. You can use Trippy’s road planner for a suggested route from Zurich to St. Gallen.
I suggest staying in St. Gallen for two nights.
Day 2 St. Gallen
Saint Gallen is a university town and is home to The Abbey of St. Gall and Abbey Library. The Baroque cathedral, the medieval library, and the thousand-year-old manuscripts are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
St. Gallen makes an excellent starting point for the drive around Lake Constance. Explore the Abbey and the library and if you have time, check out the pedestrian-only Old Town featuring historic burgher houses dating back to the 16th to 18th century and visit the Textile Museum & Library.
After a morning of immersing in the history of St. Gallen, I suggest taking the train (90 minutes) or join a guided tour from St. Gallen to Säntis and taking the cable car from Schwägalp to the mountains station to enjoy the panoramic views of St. Gallen and Lake Constance.
Per Switzerland official website, on a clear day, you may be able to see six countries – Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, Austria, France, and Italy.
Day 3 St. Gallen to Bregenz and Lindau
Drive to Bregenz, a 2,000-year-old city in Austria on the eastern shores of Lake Constance. Bregenz is a small town with its historic quarter and lakeside gardens.
When in Bregenz, either walk up (one-and-a-half-hour walk) or take the Pfaenderbahn (enclosed cable car) to Pfänder, a small mountain in Bregenz for views of the city, Swiss Alps and Lake Constance. There are two restaurants at the top of the mountain, and a few hiking trails in the area.
After visiting Pfaender, depart for the picturesque town of Lindau, Germany, located just seven miles away. Lindau is a 172-acre (70 hectares) island on Lake Constance. Take a walk on the lakeside promenade and visit one of the cafés. Maybe go for the Lindau Marionette Opera at the Stadttheater on Fischergasse at 6 p.m. if there is a show that evening.
I suggest staying in Lindau for one night.
Day 4 Lindau to Friedrichshafen and Meersburg
You can go fishing, swimming, boating, sailing, windsurfing or take a boat trip from Lindau and explore Lake Constance. Besides Lindau, Mainau and Reichenau, there are two other islands at Lake Constance.
Tours are available from Lindau to Mainau – the Island of Flowers and Reichenau – a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site known as the Monastic Island of Reichenau. According to Bodensee.eu, Reichenau’s three Romanesque churches are examples of European art history of the 10th and 11th centuries. The island is also famous for its gardens and herbs.
Also, stroll along Maximilianstrasse where you can find Lindau’s quaint shops and wine bars. Check out the Bavarian lion and white lighthouse at the harbor before leaving town for Friedrichshafen.
Friedrichshafen is only 16 miles from Lindau. While in Friedrichshafen, take a tour of the Zeppelin Museum Friedrichshafen, a museum that documents the history of airships. Note that the last admission to the museum is 4:30 p.m. and you’ll need around one and a half hours to visit.
Relax at Starrschorsch, a beer garden overlooking the lake and enjoy the sunset too before leaving for Meersburg.
Meersburg is about a 25-minute drive from Friedrichshafen.
I suggest staying two nights in Meersburg.
Day 5 Meersburg
The historic Meersburg is another small town to visit museums and castles. The top three places to visit are:
- Fortress and Old Castle (the oldest inhabited German fortress)
- New Palace (built from 1712 to 1760)
- Bible Gallery
Wine and nature lovers may enjoy the wine hiking trails, like the 4-mile hike from Meersburg offering lookout points and vineyards to visit. Or drive 20 miles north to Hegau district to two of the highest vineyards in Germany – Elisabethenberg and Olgaberg. Guided wine tours are also available from Meersburg to wineries around Lake Constance in Germany and Switzerland.
Day 6 Meersburg to Konstanz
We suggest taking the car ferry from Meersburg to Konstanz, the largest town in Lake Constance. If you have not visited Mainau Island, you can either walk, bike or take the boat to the island with a variety of gardens and a butterfly house.
Konstanz’s rich history wasn’t affected by the wars of the last century, giving visitors the opportunity to learn more about the history of Lake Constance from the Roman times till today.
For those who want to find out more about the history, the city’s tourism board recommends the following special guided tour:
- The great sacral heritage
- In the footsteps of the Council
- Walls tell stories
- Guided tours of the Minster
- Guided tours with wine-tasting at the Spitalkellerei
- The Roman excavations
I suggest staying in Konstanz for one night.
Day 7 Konstanz to Zurich Airport
Time to leave Konstanz for Zurich airport. Follow the “Rental Car Return, P3” signs as you approach Zurich Airport to drop off your rental car. If you need to fill up the gas tank, there is a gas station on the airport grounds.
Essential car rental tips (for Europe) given by Trippy users
Mary Smith wrote a note about renting a car:
Although all the countries you mention are in the Schengen Zone, you must tell the hire company if you intend to take the car into a country other than the one where you hire it (Germany I assume?). You may be charged an extra premium for taking the car into other countries and will definitely be charged extra for a one-way hire (which may not necessarily be allowed, depending on the individual company). So, if budget is a concern, do make sure you plan a round-trip, dropping off the car where you picked it up.
You should also double-check the legal driving requirements for each country. For example, some countries require particular equipment to be carried, and that requirement may differ from that of Germany.
Terry Lipford from Sarasota said:
Driving in Europe has some challenges, but it is an adventure that you will never forget. And there are auto rental companies that do not charge extra money for drop-off fees; Hertz is not one of them. Do some online searches, and you will find better rental options.
The Austrian Toll Sticker (much like the Swiss plan) is available at post offices, sundries and gasoline stations as well as the border control stations. They offer it in various time intervals, so get one that will cover the duration of your trip.
Brenda Burns recommended:
Also, if you don’t drive a stick shift reserve your car early. Finally, some people believe you must get an international driver’s license. I’ve done it both ways depending on the country. Driving gives you great freedom to explore the area and stop when you want to. Enjoy.
About toll stickers:
- Austrian Toll stickers are available in 10-day, 2-month or one-year intervals.
- Switzerland vignette or toll stickers are valid until the next January 31, regardless of when you bought yours.
- You don’t need a toll sticker to drive on the Autobahn.
Whether you’re driving around Lake Constance, covering three countries for a week or driving across Europe for months, let Trippy users know if you have a question. Become a Trippy user, post your question and wait for your answers.
Photos and article by Claudia Looi