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 good, 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 easier to have a car, whether you rent one at Geneva Airport or drive here in your own. But it’s also perfectly possible to do without if you prefer not to drive. Whether you need a car or not depends very much on the make-up of your party and what you want to do – some things are very easily done by public transport, and others less so.
Getting from the airport to Chamonix: Depending on the make-up of your party (numbers of children etc) and timing 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 for ten people.
Shopping: There is a delivery service for shopping which is very useful, but it’s certainly easier to have a car. However there is a grocery ten minutes walk away in the village which is very useful for essentials.
Restaurants and bars in Chamonix: 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. There are some late night buses, generally at 10 pm and midnight, for later nights out and dinner. It is fairly easy to walk (almost flat and 2 km, generally about 25 minutes) but this is not advised in bad weather.
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.
Bike hire can be a very pleasant way to get around and the flat valley floor is ideal for cycling.
A car can be very useful to get to some 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, however, I think a car is even less necessary in summer.
You may find it preferable to have a car if:
- You have small children or people of limited mobility in your party.
- You want to eat out regularly in Chamonix centre.
- You want maximum flexibility for your plans.
You may find that you can manage happily without a car if:
- You enjoy walking or cycling around.
- You are happy to use public transport
- You are planning to mainly do walks within the valley.
- You are all able bodied and everyone can help with the shopping, carry their own skis etc.