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Switzerland: The "Big 5" Alpine Passes

Updated: Mar 1, 2020

In south central Switzerland there are 5 iconic alpine mountain passes that any driving enthusiast would love to undertake. You can see from the map that the these routes come together to form a large number "5". I have had these alpine passes on my bucket list for a while. On a previous trip in May it proved too early in the year, as the alpine passes were closed and not yet clear of snow. However, on a subsequent trip in July the conditions were perfect, as all 5 alpine passes were open and the experiences and views were stunning.

The "Big 5" Alpine Passes

The first of these is Susten Pass (46 km), which starts in Wassen and ends in Innertkirchen (traveling east to west). From Innertkirken you travel south over Grimsel Pass (33 km) to Gletsch. From Gletsch you travel east over Furkapass (23 km) to Hospental. From there you travel south over St Gotthard Pass (25 km) to Airolo. And finally from Airolo travel east over Nufenen Pass (38 km) to Ulrichen. I will highlight route details and points of interest for each of these mountain passes in separate travel blogs.

Swiss Roads

As with most Swiss roads, the routes are in impeccable condition, with amazing hairpin turns and spactacular views all along the routes. Swiss alpine roads are not necessarily enjoyed because of the speed you travel, but for the beauty all around and the fact that they can build roads up and over just about any terrain. The joy of the drive is the constant acceleration on the short straight aways and hard braking going into the hairpin turns. While this style of driving may not appeal to everyone, it is possible to tone it down a bit and turn these drives into a more leisurely outing. Weekends and holiday can be particularly busy with hundreds of motorcycles and sports cars traveling the routes. The roads are lined with stone barriers much of the way to keep you from diverting off course as you take in beauty of another waterfall along the way.

A Swiss motorway vignette is required to use the national motorways. It's a sticker you need to apply on the inside of the windshield of your car. The price is CHF 40 and can be purchased at boarder crossings into Switzeralnd. Not required for driving the alpine roads, but needed if you intend to use the major motorways as part of your journey. Most rental cars will already be equipped with this sticker.

Spectacular scenery

While some visitors may find it intimidating to drive in a country they are not familiar with or don't speak the native language(s), however, Switzerland make it very easy to follow signage and with Google Maps you have little chance of getting lost.

Hairpin Turns

It is amazing to me that the Swiss can build roads over such rugged and difficult terrain. I appreciate the engineering and logistics that were required to make them a reality.

Great modes of transportation

High Alpine Passes

At the summit of these alpine passes is usually a stopping point, with magnificent views of the valleys below. Additionally there is usually a spot to eat and enjoy a time to refresh and take in scenery. Some of the passes even have hotels or hostels available for visitors.

There is so much to take in on a drive over these alpine passes. It is one of the things I love to do. The rewards are all along the way and make this one of the great experiences of a lifetime. Get Traveling™ !!


Links to more information about the "Big 5" Alpine Passes:

Susten Pass

Grimsel Pass

Furka Pass

St Gotthard Pass

Nufenen Pass

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