UK to Switzerland Travel Diary | Van Life

Stan is back on the road and this time he’s off to Switzerland. My sister lives in Bern and is getting married so we thought it was the perfect time to pack up and take ourselves (me, my husband, our daughter Jax and French bulldog Steven) overseas in our MWB Sprinter Van, Stan.

I saved a highlight of the trip to my Instagram and so many of you asked me to share the full itinerary as a post so that you could take parts of our route to use for your own planning so here it is, if you’re looking to drive from the UK to Switzerland this is for you.

Before you leave:

If you’re taking a dog you need to check vaccinations and get a passport sorted. You will also need a ringworm tablet to travel which must be done no less than 24 hours and no more than 5 days before you leave. This also has to be done before you return back into the UK.

UK to Calais: 3 hours 35 mins

It’s a 3 hour drive from our home to Eurotunnel Le Shuttle so we decided to book the earliest one and leave at 2am so avoid traffic and roadworks. It was a super easy drive and there’s a full service station, so you can grab breakfast or anything you might need before driving onto the train. First, we checked in Steven at the Pet check-in, grabbed a coffee and then drove onto the train where we had planned to have a sleep but didn’t realise that it only takes 35 minutes to get to France, we were so impressed with how seamless everything was.

Calais to Nancy: 4 hours 30 mins

You can drive to Switzerland in a day but with a toddler and a dog, we decided to break things up so booked a stop in Nancy, a beautiful town in North-East France, East of Strasbourg and South of Metz and Luxembourg, hence close to the French border with Germany.

What to do: Explore the city, Place Stanislas, and its connecting squares is a World Heritage Site, we weren’t expecting to turn a corner and find it, it left us lost for words. Make sure you wander the shops and delicious restaurants and make sure you visit Amorino for the most delicious and beautiful macaron flower ice-creams.

Where to stay: We were going to wild camp but Jax spotted a park and we came across this super cute campsite with a pool that was begging to be jumped in so we decided to stay the night. The campsite was very basic but cheap, quiet, with good amenities, and close to a lovely green space and park.

Nancy to Lucerne: 3 hours 40 mins

Lucerne, the gateway to central Switzerland, sited on Lake Lucerne, is embedded within an impressive mountainous panorama and is simply stunning and the perfect place to start your adventure in Switzerland.

What to do: We parked in town, had an ice cream and then walked to see the Lion of Lucerne, a touching tribute to Swiss soldiers who tried to protect the royal family during the French Revolution. The memorial features a dying lion carved into sandstone with a beautiful pond which Steven tried to dive into!  Then we took a walk across the famous Chapel Bridge which was built in the 14th century and until it burned in 1993, was considered the oldest wooden bridge in Europe, it’s absolutely beautiful and Jax had a wonderful time looking at all the flowers and paintings as she wandered along.

The following day we drove 5 minutes from camp to Kriens and took the cable car up to the top of Mt Pilatus, which at 2128m is breathtaking! Switzerland is extremely accommodating for dogs and so Steven came with us. We took the gondola all the way to the top, where we had food and explored, and then we slowly made our way back. There are three stops, the observation at the top, a rope adventure park and a 1350 summer toboggan run at the second and a brilliant kids park at the first stop. Jax is addicted to parks so we knew that saving it till last would mean we would be able to try a little of everything with her excited for the park at the end.

Where to stay: That night we were a little late so found that most of the Park4night sites were full so we stayed at this TCS Campsite*. It was a little noisy the day we got there as the local sports area was having a celebration but it came with free access to a lakeside Lido with food, games, a jetty and diving platform which Leon swam straight to. *Dogs were not allowed.

Lucerne to Bern: 1 hour 20 mins

One of my favourite places on the planet, Bern is the capital of Switzerland and one of the most beautiful. My sister lives in Bern and was our main reason for visiting, we stayed here for 7 days having family time and taking in the sites.

What to do: We visited during the Summer and spent our days walking alongside the Aare which is the river that runs around Bern, it’s like nothing you’ve seen and is a fun activity in itself. Pack a dry bag and join the locals in putting your belongings in the bag and jumping in, the river is fast and you simply float your way down. My favourite way to exercise in Bern is to run in the opposite direction to the water flow and then when I’ve had enough put my clothes in the bag and jump in, letting it take me back to camp. We spent 7 very relaxed days in Bern, waking up late, one of us going for a run and swim and then swapping.

For children: There is a zoo opposite the campsite with much of it being free and only a small charge if you want to see the wolfs, bears and big cats. There are fantastic parks everywhere and it’s a great place for them to practice bike or scooter skills. There is a large area with free outdoor pools, as well as an area where you can see the famous Bern Bears. For a fun day out in the city visit The Gurten, Bern’s local mountain. Hiking to the top takes about 1hr 30mins but if you have little ones use The “Gurtenbähnli”, the Gurten funicular, which leaves every 15 minutes and is super fun for kids. At the top, there’s a splash zone, a dragon, a toboggan run, a playground, miniature ride-on cars and train – we had the best time! We also drove to the Sense to spend the day away from the crowds, have a bbq and swim, you can easily get a train here.

Where to stay: We had pre-booked to stay at Camping Eichholz as we knew we were here for at least a week and wild camping is not permitted beneath the tree line and so this was the best spot for us. The campsite had a cute park, great facilities and a delicious restaurant, not to mention it was so close to everything we wanted to do.

Bern to Thun: 30 minutes

A short drive away is Thun, embedded within an imposing backdrop of mountains, the deep-blue Lake Thun lies on the northern periphery of the Alps and is the main reason we packed our paddle boards.

What to do: We spent the day on our boards and paddled to a large area with outdoor pools, a park and restaurants where Jax spend hours making friends while we relaxed on the grass under the sun. We also took a drive to the Aare Gorge, formed by Ice age Glaciation, the mile-long hike ranges in width from 3ft to 100ft in a series of suspended walkways and cave tunnels. It is the perfect adventure for little ones, especially as there is a cafe at each end and even a train should you not want to walk the 30-40 minutes back.

Where to stay: Annoyingly the wild camping spot we found was too busy but literally on the next street was another TCS campsite so we drove in and they luckily had a space. This campsite was redesigned in 2020 and you could really tell. It was such a beautiful place to stay with great food and access to the lake – it was the priciest stay so far and because they were very busy we were put by the road but we were grateful for a safe place to park up and let Steven roam.

Thun to Visp: 1 hour 35 mins

The f*ck up of our trip. We really wanted to visit Zermatt but you can’t drive there so we decided to stay in Visp. However, we arrived during a heatwave and quickly found out that Visp is nicknamed the sun terrace, needless to say, it wasn’t the best place to be with a toddler or dog.

What to do: Visp is really only a place to stay for easy access to Zermatt, so the next day we walked the 5 minutes to the train station, took the train to Zermatt which had truly stunning views and was super comfortable as everyone fell asleep and walked through the town to see The Matterhorn.  Zermatt lies at the foot of one of the world’s most famous mountains The Matterhorn (the Toblerone mountain) and is a car-free zone. If you love to hike then this is your place, there is also a gorge and lots of history to be found walking the streets.

Where to stay: We stayed at Camping Mühleye Visp for two nights which had a pool for Jax but unfortunately dogs weren’t allowed near the pool so it was a stressful day of finding shade to keep him out of the 41*c heat.

Visp to Lauterbrunnen: 1 hour 45 mins

I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere more beautiful than Lauterbrunnen! There are 72 waterfalls in the Lauterbrunnen Valley, the most famous being the Staubbach Falls. Plunging almost 300 metres from an overhanging rock face, they are one of the highest free-falling waterfalls in Europe and you will be forgiven for simply saying “wow” over and over again during your visit.

What to do: Walk, hike and bike! There is so much to do here, beautiful walks, parks for little ones, cable cars to the tops of mountains, especially if you like movies, as Lauterbrunnen is famous for being the setting where the 007 classic, ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ was filmed.

Paragliding: If there was ever a place to fly, this is it. I booked myself and Leon a glide trip the day we got there for the following day, each of us taking a turn while the other played with Jax in the park opposite the landing field. We did our glide with Airtime Paragliding and it was beyond magical, we ran off the mountain at 1700m to glide alongside eagles and see all of the beautiful waterfalls in the valley, was I scared? A little but as soon as you’re in the air you can’t stop smiling at how stunning the world is.

Trümmelbach Falls, we really wanted to visit but children need to be over 4 and dogs are not allowed.

Where to stay: Hands down the best campsite we have ever stayed at. There is almost no wild camping in this area and on calling all the campsites everyone was full, so we did a whistle-stop tour of the sites and before leaving I decided to walk in and ask and I’m so happy I did because they had one space left! Camping Junfrau was one of the cheaper campsites yet had the best location, views and services (park with bouncy castle) plus the on-site shop was our cheapest food shop of the entire trip! If you want to go here book in advance!

Lauterbrunnen to Nancy: 4hrs 5mins

What to do: We purely drove here as this was where we had booked Steven (our dog) for his ringworm tablet but as mentioned on the route out, it’s a beautiful place to stop on your route back.

Nancy to Calais: 4hrs 30mins

We weren’t planning on staying in Calais but didn’t realise Steven needed his ringworm to be no less than 24 hours, so we were denied our 5am shuttle back and had to quickly find somewhere to park and sleep at 1am in the morning; not so fun with a very tired 3-year-old and overheating dog.

Where to stay: Calais felt a little intimidating and we were worried about people wanting to hide in our van, so I searched the reviews while Leon drove and found the best free spot using the Park4night App. It was 5 minutes from the beach, had free toilets and even an outdoor shower, click here to find it. We then spent the following day at the beach and eating from the nearby bakery, until our new Le Shuttle time of 5pm.

Extra Bits: 

Transport is amazing and incredibly reliable in Switzerland, I really recommend using it to experience it for yourself but look for discounts such as the Bern App.

Download Park4Night if you’re looking to wild camp, we didn’t find it as easy as we thought but in total honesty, I think that is more to do with us being a family. If it was only us as a couple we would be happy to try anywhere and risk being moved on but it’s just not as fun with a tired toddler.

Switzerland is expensive, it’s relative to the people living there but can be quite a shock if you’re not expecting it. Use local food shops such as Migros to keep costs down.

Dogs are allowed almost everywhere, shops. restaurants, transport and parks. We have never found a place so accommodating, with water, dog bins and even free poo bags. You’ll definitely want to take your dog if you have one, just be mindful that they are not allowed near outdoor pools.

Pack or buy a dry bag, you’ll spend lots of time by the water and everyone has one!

Practice your Swiss or have Google Translate ready, most menus and information was only in Swiss (which we liked as it encouraged us to learn) however if you struggle the Swiss are very friendly and always try to help.

Dogs and Altitude Sickness: perhaps we’re total idiots but on the evening of our return from Mt Pilatus our dog Steven became unwell, he was struggling to breathe and panting heavily which we Googled and found out was altitude sickness. We think it was because we went up and came down very fast, so if you are taking your dog make sure to take this into consideration.

If you stay at a campsite or use an Airbnb or hotel you will get a code for the Bern App which makes all transport within Bern free, it’s super useful and will save a lot of money.