ZRH is the only intercontinental hub in Switzerland, and it's also close to "the sights".
GVA (Geneva) is also an intercontinental airport with direct flights, among others, from Chicago, NYC, EWR but also from Africa, Asia, Middle East etc.
For a short stop in Switzerland, GVA is best as the mountains are litterally right at GVA's doors. The lake and the short trip to the region of Wallis with the Matterhorn are all within 2 hours of the airport. Purely on sights, GVA beats ZRH hands down.
I agree with Analise - why not let the trains do the driving? I spent six months there in 1982, working on a farm south of Bern. Every weekend I'd hop a train somewhere, it's easy, convenient and they go everywhere.
It's a beautiful country, you'll have a great time!
I'd choose between Zurich or Geneva based entirely on which route is cheaper.
Geneva does have some Alps nearer than Zurich, but a tourist itinerary in the Swiss Alps really should include the Bernese Oberland. And if you're going there, the travel time seems to me to be about the same, perhaps a bit shorter from Zurich. Also, from the U.S., flights in and out of Zurich often give you a good view of the Alps from the air in clear weather (sit on the right side going into Zurich and the left side leaving Zurich), whereas you're unlikely to see much of the Alps from the air flying into Geneva, unless you circle (in which case you'd get a nice, up-close view of the Mt. Blanc massif).
Sometimes I prefer Zurich because my German is better than my French, but that's really only an issue after you leave the airport.
I don't recall either airport being particularly better or worse than the other in terms of getting in/out.
Last edited by Helena Handbaskets; Apr 8, 05 at 8:47 am.
Thinking about it a bit more, and since you have only 4-5 days, why not consider this: Fly into Geneva and plan a "C" shaped itinerary that returns to the U.S. from Zurich, or vice versa. That way you don't waste time by retracing any of your route.
I'll also offer my own observation that Zermatt and the Matterhorn cost a good deal more time to drive to than, in my opinion, they're worth. Despite the very impressive posters you've seen, from Zermatt itself, the Matterhorn is unimpressively distant, if you're lucky enough to be there on a day when it can be seen at all (even in clear weather, it often creates its own cloud that envelops the famous peak). To get the poster views, you have to invest even more money (ca. 100 euros or so?) and hours to take a train ride out to the mountain. Conversely, the Lauterbrunnen valley and especially Murren are more spectacularly "Alpine" than any other place in the Alps that I know of. One place that might not be on your radar screen, but is, again, in my opinion, worth the visit, is the town of Gruyeres. It's a beautiful little medieval village with a castle on a hill surrounded by pastures surrounded by Alps, and it's where fondue was supposedly invented (Gruyeres cheese is a major component).
Also, contrary to the advice of some others, I'd stick with driving in Switzerland. If I'm visiting cities, the trains offer some important advantages over driving, but if I'm out to see the countryside, I want to be able to drive up onto mountains that offer good views, into little towns that seem attractive as we discover them, etc. You do get stunning views from trains in Switerland, but I don't like not being able to stop and take photos or have a picnic, or come back when the clouds have cleared, etc.
Also, contrary to the advice of some others, I'd stick with driving in Switzerland. If I'm visiting cities, the trains offer some important advantages over driving, but if I'm out to see the countryside, I want to be able to drive up onto mountains that offer good views, into little towns that seem attractive as we discover them, etc.
I happen to agree with this. Driving in Switzerland is easy, and when on a short trip, it provides substantially more flexibility.
I would choose the airport to fly in based on the convenience of flights (out of the US, ZRH would most likely have more options). If you plan to spend some time in the city of your arrival, e.g., ZRH (even if it is just half a day), take a train to the city (cheap, convenient and extremely efficient), leave your luggage in a locker at the main railway station, enjoy your sightseeing without worrying about parking, etc., then rent a car from a downtown location. Besides having less hassle, you'll save some money, as downtown rentals are not subject to airport tax, even if you return your car at the airport location.