Switzerland on a budget – is that impossible? Do you want to visit Switzerland on a shoestring and hope to do a lot of free things?
Are you dreaming about a trip to Switzerland but are worried about the budget? Because you have probably heard that Switzerland is an expensive country and now you might be wondering, how expensive Switzerland actually is.
TRAVEL ON A BUDGET TO SWITZERLAND
Well, if so, then this post is perfect for you. This post will help you to have an amazing trip to Switzerland. And the best: you neither have to starve nor stay at the hotel all day. You can explore Switzerland on a budget and still have an amazing time!
I have visited Switzerland more than 15 times so far, and I have slowly accepted the fact that it is one of the, if not the, most expensive countries in the world. I remember how shocked I was when I visited Switzerland for the first time in 2009.
Now, 14 years later, the situation has not changed. Switzerland is still expensive as heck. However, I actually found a few ways to save money on my annual trips. After all, Switzerland is pretty amazing and I would not want to miss out on it. And I want to share my insights with you.
So buckle up and find out about free things to do in Switzerland and other ways to save money.
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HOW TO EXPLORE AND ENJOY SWITZERLAND ON A BUDGET
So, here are the best tips on how to plan a budget trip to Switzerland
Pick Your Destination Carefully
I have noticed that the German-speaking part is by far the most expensive area in Switzerland. This includes places like Zurich, Interlaken, and Lucerne, while most other parts of Switzerland are cheaper. This might not apply necessarily to expensive Lugano in the south but to most other areas.
Let me introduce you to one of my all-time favorite destinations in Switzerland: Valposchiavo. This stunning area is way more affordable than other places in the country. No, it still is not a bargain destination and cannot compete with most other European – let alone Asian – destinations, but still… In Valposchiavo, you get to experience the beauty of Switzerland without going broke.
While accommodations are expensive throughout Switzerland, it still makes a difference in which part of Switzerland you book your accommodation (more on that a bit later).
Food and activities are cheaper in other areas, like some French- and especially Italian-speaking parts.
For example, I paid around 3.50€ for one scoop of ice cream (!) in Zurich, and I paid about half that price in a small place near Locarno. Well, apparently, ice cream is not the only and most reliable indicator for the price level of a country, but it can give you an idea.
I do not have numbers and cannot state them as facts but I made these experiences after visiting all parts several times. Also note that accommodation in Lugano, e.g., is still expensive but food, etc. is often cheaper.
In the end, almost any corner of Switzerland is pretty amazing, and worth a visit, so you can save a little fortune if you are more flexible with the destination.
Decide When to Visit Switzerland
July/August and the winter months (December, the beginning of January) are the most expensive months to visit. So try to avoid visiting during those months.
As a teacher, I am not very flexible when booking holidays because I have to stick to school holidays. However, if you can somehow book your holidays around that time, you might get much better prices for accommodations.
July/August not necessarily promises good weather – bad and rainy days (or weeks) can happen, basically, at any time of the year.
I once visited in October and had the best weather ever. In the few weeks, I stayed there, it hardly rained.
Prices are much lower in October, so plan your visit in September/October and from April to June. If you want to do winter sports, then visit in January, or February instead of late December.
Here is more information on the best time to visit Switzerland.
Discover Switzerland by Foot
Saving money can also be fun. Especially in Switzerland, where hiking and walking, instead of using public transport or your car, is more than a necessary evil.
Hiking is a super good option to save tons of money. If you hike a lot, you will see great places in the country – no need to spend tons of money on other activities.
Update: It took me a while, but I learned to love hiking! Thanks to Switzerland´s amazing scenery, hiking is a great way to explore the country!
These views can be totally free. Check out my tips on hiking in Switzerland.
Check if You Can Use Free Public Transportation
Several destinations in Switzerland will give you a guest card – so you can use public transportation for free. It is not in all places, and the offer differs.
In Basel or Lucerne, you can use the regular city transportation – and Valposchiavo has one the best guest card I have come across. You can even use some regular train connections. And you do not have to pay one extra cent (or as they say in Switzerland, “Rappen”). Here is why Valposchiavo is a great budget area (and why the train ride is so scenic).
Expensive, very expensive, St.Moritz is a premium destination in Switzerland – however, if you visit in the summer months and stay for two nights minimum in one of the participating hotels, you not only benefit from free public transport, but also from free rides of the 13 cable cars/funiculars. Most cable car rides are between 40-60 CHF – so, it will save you tons of money. This is also why I do go back to St.Moritz – I just love the free cable car rides. And also, St.Moritz is absolutely, absolutely stunning. Here is more about the guest card and the attractions.
So, it might make sense to book official accommodation in certain areas to benefit from free public transportation.
Look For Free Activities
If you want to do more than just hiking, there are some free activities, like the free walking tour in Interlaken.
Sometimes, you need to dig a bit deeper, but there are enough activities that don´t cost a dime. And looking at the Swiss Alps, spending time at the beautiful lakes, watching artists at Lake Zurich in the summer, visiting Christmas Markets in December…That all can be done on a budget.
Pack wisely and buy everything you need in your own country. I assume, most countries are heaper here than Switzerland. Even Swiss chocolate is more expensive in Switzerland than in Germany.
Double-check if you have your luggage, electronics, etc. So, you can enjoy the most expensive street in the world (which is the Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich) without going broke yourself. So buy all your important items before. Here is my Switzerland packing guide and here is my carry-on packing list.
Save Money on Accommodations
Hotels: Seriously, accommodations are costly in Switzerland and might be one of your highest costs – the truth is that not only are the great 5-star hotels expensive, but so are the smaller, budget hotels.
There are two options to avoid costly hotel rooms:
Look for accommodations a bit offsite of the most popular tourist places and avoid accommodations within 100 kilometers of popular places 🙂 Just kidding, 10-20 kilometers should be enough.
Switzerland has a great public transport system, and if you travel to Switzerland by bus, you should not be booking a room in touristy places (like Lucerne). Graubünden, a gorgeous area, also has cheaper places to stay, so doing some research on your accommodation is worth it.
- Click here for my detailed guide on where to stay in Switzerland – for each budget.
- Check out Prices at B&B in Switzerland.
Airbnb can be much cheaper than hotels. If you really want to save money, you could try Couchsurfing, which is free for people to use. I have not actually tried it yet and probably will not.
Save Money on Food = Go Veggie and Cook Yourself
Food in Switzerland is quite expensive (I know, it is getting quite repetitive), but sometimes the price is justified by the quality.
Meat is extremely pricey, and though I have not actually seen a single Big Mac, which supposedly costs $20 (as I have heard), meat is always expensive.
But in this case, you get what you pay for. Meat from Switzerland is not mass-produced (if it is foreign meat, it has to be declared), and a McDonald´s menu is around $20.
However, the best advice would be to reduce your meat and dairy consumption during your Switzerland trip.
If you book accommodation with self-catering, you can go shopping in the afternoon, as there are many discount prices on fresh vegetables and fruits.
Some supermarkets are extremely popular in Switzerland, like Coop. But if you want a real bargain, shop at Aldi or Lidl. Swiss people seem to have a big aversion, and it is more popular among non-Swiss, but seriously, those prices are hard to compete with.
Bring Your Own Bottle and Drink…Water
Here comes the part where I do a happy dance each time I am in Switzerland.
Switzerland does a pretty amazing job with its little fountains everywhere.
I am a lucky person since I mostly drink water and no alcohol and rarely soft drinks or juices. Are you the same? Just get a refillable water bottle and refill it wherever you are. Water fountains are everywhere (even in the mountains, in the city center, in small villages), and often, the freshwater tastes better than the water you buy in bottles.
Fun Fact: I heard that those fountains in the Alps were originally set up for the cows moving from the Alps back to the farms so that they would have fresh water along the way. However, I am not sure if that is actually the case. If so, I would like to thank the cows, not only for this.
I do not drink much coffee but treat myself to one cappuccino a day or every other day. I often pay about 5, 6, or even 7 CHF for one cappuccino. Even takeaway coffee is expensive and is about 4-5 CHF.
However, I have found cappuccinos for 3 CHF (mostly in the Italian-speaking part or in less popular tourist spots).
For people who drink several cups a day, instant coffee might be a solution (I admit, it is not the very best).
Get Some Swiss France
Euros are excepted in most parts and many shops etc. so it might be convenient not to exchange some money. However, if you pay by €, the exchange rate is not good, so get yourself some Swiss Francs.
Check out Coupon Books
I mostly travel solo, so I never needed that, but there are some cool 2 for 1 coupon books, which might help you save a lot of money.
There are also regional coupon books (e.g., for Interlaken, Zurich, and several other places), so check out if they will help you saving money.-
Check out Travel Passes
Spending a lot of money on travel passes can help you save even more money.
I had the Swiss Travel Pass with which you can not only have unlimited train and boat rides, but also gives 50% off on many mountain cable cars/funiculars, and with the Swiss Travel Pass, you can even use some mountain funiculars for free.
When you see the price first, you might be surprised that I suggest it as a “saving money tip” – but if you plan to get up Mount Rigi and use the train several times, you might save a fortune! Here is a detailed review of a Swiss Travel Pass.
There are also regional travel passes like the Jungfrau Travel Pass, which gives you the option to save tons of $$$ (after spending a bit).
FINAL THOUGHTS ON A BUDGET TRIP TO SWITZERLAND
I hope this post did not scare you away from Switzerland and you still want to visit this country.
Despite its reputation for being expensive, it is possible to explore Switzerland on a budget. With plenty of options for cheap accommodation and transportation, you can enjoy all that this beautiful country has to offer without breaking the bank. From picturesque villages to magnificent mountains, Switzerland has something special waiting for everyone – so don’t miss out on an unforgettable experience and visit Switzerland today!
Exploring Switzerland on a budget is somehow possible!