It is certainly useful to have a car in Chamonix – the valley is 20 km long and the lifts are all along the length of it. However it does also have free public transport, and it’s a greener option. Here’s an overview of the pros and cons.
The short answer is that it is undeniably much easier to have a car, whether you rent one at Geneva Airport or drive here in your own. Public transport can be patchy and taxis are very expensive and difficult to find. A car helps you make the most of your time on a short break, and gives you greater flexibility on a longer break.
If you really want to not use a car, it may be better to stay in central Chamonix to make shopping and eating out easier. You can of course also use public transport to get around the valley, thus helping a lot with congestion and pollution. You don’t have to use it all the time. But my experience is that for some things, especially shopping, you will probably really need it. The other really good environmentally friendly option is to hire or bring bikes. The valley floor is great for getting around on bikes and we use them ourselves all year round.
Getting from the airport to Chamonix is relatively straightforward: Depending on the make-up of your party and timing / length of your visit (better deals on the cars outside peak times), renting a car and driving from the airport can be comparable in price to a transfer.
We are on the outskirts of Les Praz-de-Chamonix, which is 2km from Chamonix centre. More about our location here.
Shopping: There is a small but excellent grocery ten minutes walk away in the village which is very useful for your morning bread and croissants. However, supermarket shopping for the chalet is quite inconvenient without a car. It is possible, but you have to walk from the supermarket to the bus stop (300 – 400 metres depending on which one) and then from the bus stop to the chalet (600m). This is quite a distance when you are carrying heavy shopping with drinks and so on.
Restaurants and bars
Again, it is limiting to not have a car, especially in bad weather.
There are some restaurants and bars within walking distance of the chalet in Les Praz, and plenty of transport from Chamonix centre at apres time. However transport after around 7pm is difficult.
There are some late night buses, generally at 10 pm and midnight, for later nights out and dinner, but these must be be booked in advance the day before. It is fairly easy to walk (almost flat and 2 km, generally about 25 minutes) but this is not advised in bad weather.
Buses are regular in high season but can get terribly crowded at peak times. In low season they don’t go so often and you can have long waits.
There is a bus stop at the end of our lane (100m walk, but not so frequent) and more frequent buses from Flegere (600m walk). There are some late night buses, generally at 10 pm and midnight, but these must be be booked in advance the day before.
Very reliable and punctual, but not that frequent so check sbb.ch for times. Last train is around 8pm. Five minutes to Chamonix, with around a five to ten minute walk to Les Praz station from the chalet. So it’s not much less time than walking, for Chamonix, but useful for other parts of the valley.
Are really disgracefully expensive in Chamonix. There is no Uber / Lyft as yet. You can expect to pay 25-30 euros (yes twenty-five to thirty!) for the 2km (yes two kilometre!) trip into town.
The ski buses are regular and generally efficient. In the last few years they have improved a lot. They can be very crowded at peak times, but then, so can the car parks!
If you have small children, however, it can be useful to have the car to carry their equipment and leave shoes etc. in. There are no ski lockers at most of the lift bases, and anyway, you are likely to be in a different area each day. Smaller kids especially can get cold very quickly waiting for buses in winter. Even the short walk down the lane to the chalet can be a lot for a small tired child in deep snow. And also if you suddenly need something for them such as medicine, a replacement for a lost glove, and so on, it’s very handy to have a car.
It also gives you flexibility in choosing to ski at Verbier or Courmayeur for the day – there are buses to both of these (Verbier once a week, Courmayeur daily) but they need to be booked in advance.
Walks can often start at one lift and finish at another, so you’re likely to be using public transport from time to time anyway.
Bikes and e-bikes can be a very pleasant way to get around and the flat valley floor is ideal for cycling. Bike hire is highly recommended!
However, a car can be very useful to get to some beautiful but harder to access places like Lac Passy and Lac Vert. Also if the weather is bad, you have the option to drive through the tunnel to Italy for the day, which often has different weather.
In general, I feel that a car is very much preferable when staying here. It helps you make the most of your time on a short break, and gives you greater flexibility on a longer break. If you really want to not use a car, it may be better to stay in central Chamonix to make shopping and eating out easier.
You’ll find it much better to have a car if any of these apply:
- You have children or people of limited mobility in your party – especially in case of any emergency or other sudden need.
- or: You want to eat or drink regularly in Chamonix centre.
- or: You want maximum flexibility for your plans.
- or: You are here outside the peak times when not all lifts are open and public transport can be much reduced
You may find that you can manage without a car if all of these apply:
- You enjoy running, walking or cycling around even if the weather is bad
- and: You are happy to use public transport even if it involves some waiting
- and: You are planning to mainly do walks and activities within the valley.
- and: You are all fit and strong and everyone can help with the shopping, carry their own skis etc.