FREE THINGS TO DO IN SWITZERLAND & MORE BUDGET TIPS
Switzerland on a budget – is that even impossible? I mean, Switzerland, apart from its jaw-dropping natural beauty that includes the stunning Swiss Alps and the many breathtaking lakes, is like the Rolls-Royce of pricey destinations, am I right?
“I’ve got friends left and right dreaming of Central European escapades, but they’re scared Switzerland might turn their wallets into sad Swiss cheese. So, here’s the million-dollar question: Can you actually discover Switzerland on a shoestring without breaking the piggy bank?
If you’re all about saving those Swiss Francs, you’ve stumbled upon the golden post! Here, I’ve got the ultimate guide to making your Switzerland adventure unforgettable without resorting to a diet of air or becoming a hermit in your hotel room. Get ready to dive into budget-friendly Swiss bliss
I’ve clocked in over 15 rounds of Switzerland, and let me tell you, it’s like the heavyweight champ of pricey destinations. My jaw hit the Alpine floor when I first set foot here back in ’09!
Fast forward 14 years, and guess what? Switzerland’s still breaking bank accounts like it’s an Olympic sport. But hey, I’ve cracked the code on how to not go bankrupt in this Swiss wonderland. Because let’s face it, Switzerland’s too darn awesome to skip. So, I’m spilling the beans on my budget-savvy Swiss secrets for your benefit!
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 SWITZERLAND ON A BUDGET
So, here are the best tips on how to plan a budget trip to Switzerland
PICK YOUR SWISS DESTINATION CAREFULLY
Here’s the scoop, and it’s a good one: Switzerland is a treasure trove of awesomeness, with nearly all of it dazzling your senses. I won’t fib and say every corner’s equally drop-dead gorgeous, but the majority of this place is like a postcard brought to life.
Now, for the wallet-friendly tip: The German-speaking bit of Switzerland, where you’ll find Zurich, Interlaken, and Lucerne, can drain your funds fast! But guess what? Most other Swiss slices are gentler on the wallet. I am not counting fancy Lugano down south, but for the rest, you’re in for a budget-friendly treat!
While it’s true that accommodations in Switzerland can put a dent in your budget, the location within Switzerland where you choose to book your stay can still influence the impact on your wallet (we’ll delve into that shortly). So, check out other areas than focusing mainly on Central Switzerland.
Switzerland off the tourist treadmill might just be your saving grace. Allow me to unveil one of my top picks in the Swiss treasure chest: Valposchiavo. This breathtaking locale won’t have your wallet sobbing like some other Swiss hotspots.
Granted, it’s not exactly a ‘bargain basement’ and doesn’t play in the same price league as many (Eastern) European, let alone Asian, destinations, but guess what? In Valposchiavo, you can soak up Switzerland’s splendor without staging a financial revolution
Food and fun come with a friendlier price tag in certain corners, especially those where French and Italian are the talk of the Swiss town.
Take ice cream, for example. I dropped a cool 3.50€ for a scoop in Zurich (yes, you heard that right!), but just a stone’s throw away near Locarno, I got the same delight for half the dent in my dessert fund. Now, ice cream isn’t exactly the Swiss Federal Statistical Office, but it does give you a sweet hint.
I don’t have a calculator handy, and these aren’t etched-in-stone facts, but I’ve chewed and sampled my way around Switzerland enough times to pick up on these trends. Keep in mind that places like Lugano might still charge you a pretty penny for a pillow, but your food adventures can be kinder on your cash.
In the grand Swiss symphony, almost every note plays its tune, and every corner’s got its charm, so being a little flexible with your destination can be a secret stash of Swiss savings
WHEN TO VISIT SWITZERLAND FOR A BUDGET TRIP
This happens to be one of the top tricks for pocket-friendly Swiss adventures: steer clear of the high season, or rather, the two peak seasons, which are July/August for summer and December/early January for winter.
Now, I get it, as a teacher, you might have your hands tied with school holidays, but if you can somehow swivel your vacation days away from these pricey periods, you’ll find accommodations that are gentler on your wallet.
Plus, a heads-up: July and August don’t always guarantee sunny skies—rainy days (or even weeks) can spring up at any time of the year. Switzerland’s weather has a mischievous sense of humor!
Picture this: Several times I rolled into Switzerland in October, and lo and behold, I hit the weather jackpot. Throughout my few weeks there, rain barely dared to make an appearance. I actually even say, that October is my favorite time to visit Switzerland!
Here’s the golden nugget: October, and also the stretch from April to June, come with lower price tags, so mark your calendar for those months. If you’re itching for some winter sports action, swap late December for a January or February trip. Your wallet and your ski gear will thank you!”
Here is more information on the best time to visit Switzerland.
DISCOVER SWITZERLAND ON FOOT
Saving money in one of the most expensive countries does not sound like fun – but…it can be.
In this country, opting for hiking and walking over public transport or driving is not just a cost-effective choice; it can also be quite rewarding.
Hiking is an excellent way to keep your budget in check while still exploring the beautiful landscapes of Switzerland. By embracing hiking, you can discover some of the country’s most incredible places without the need to splurge on expensive activities.
A personal update: It took me some time, but I’ve come to appreciate the joys of hiking, thanks to Switzerland’s breathtaking scenery. It has become my preferred method of exploring the country.
Best of all, these mesmerizing views come at no cost Check out my tips on hiking in Switzerland.
FIND FREE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION VIA GUEST CARDS
Even though I’m a fan of walking and hiking, it’s a tad unrealistic to suggest ditching train tickets altogether and relying solely on your own two feet to get around. I’m not advocating for that. However, before you commit to splurging on a costly Swiss Travel Pass or Swiss Half Fare Card, here’s another money-saving idea to consider.
In Switzerland, many destinations offer a guest card that grants you free access to public transportation. It’s not available everywhere, and the specific terms of the offer can vary but what is better than free public transport? There are not many things I could name.
In places like Basel and Lucerne, you can hop on regular city transportation, while Valposchiavo boasts one of the most generous guest cards I’ve encountered. It even covers certain regular train routes, and you won’t have to part with an extra Swiss cent (or ‘Rappen,’ as they say in Switzerland). This is precisely why Valposchiavo stands out as a fantastic budget-friendly destination, and also why the train journey there is a visual feast.
St. Moritz, known for its sky-high prices, is a top-tier Swiss destination. However, here’s a summer secret: If you stay a minimum of two nights at one of the participating hotels, you not only get complimentary public transport but also free rides on all 13 cable cars and funiculars. You can have a wonderful day trip and enjoy some of the most beautiful sceneries in the world without spending tons of money.
Considering these cable car journeys typically cost between 40-60 CHF each, this deal can save you a small fortune. It’s precisely this perk that keeps me coming back to St. Moritz—I just can’t resist those free cable car rides. Plus, let’s not forget, St. Moritz is absolutely, without a doubt, breathtaking. Here is more about the guest card and the attractions in St.Moritz.
So, it might make sense to book official accommodation in certain areas to benefit from free public transportation.
FREE THINGS TO DO IN SWITZERLAND
Besides walking and hiking, Switzerland offers a wealth of wonderful activities that won’t cost you a dime. If you’re curious about the best things to do for free, and you’re seeking more than just hiking, there are options such as the free walking tour in Interlaken.
While some may require a bit of exploration, there are plenty of activities that won’t dent your wallet. Whether it’s gazing at the majestic Swiss Alps, enjoying serene moments by the pristine lakes and enjoying outddor activities like water sports (mainly swimming I would say in this case), savoring the talents of artists at Lake Zurich during the summer, or immersing yourself in the enchanting atmosphere of Christmas Markets in December, you can savor these experiences without breaking the bank.
PACK SMART FOR YOUR SWITZERLAND TRIP
Shopping can be an enticing pastime for many, and for some, it’s among the best activities in Switzerland. However, for budget travelers, I strongly recommend exercising restraint.
Pack wisely and procure everything you need in your home country, as most items tend to be more affordable there than in Switzerland.
Even Swiss chocolate, renowned for its quality, comes at a heftier price tag within Switzerland compared to neighboring countries like Germany (as a chocolate addict I definitely know what I am talking about).
Before embarking on your journey, thoroughly assess your need for luggage, electronics, and other essentials if you are on a tight budget. This foresight will allow you to stroll down the Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich, often dubbed the most expensive street in the world, without emptying your pockets.
Of course, you do not need to bring your own food, as I also have tips for grocery shopping later on.
ACCOMMODATION BUDGET TIPS
- Luxury hotels in Switzerland – verrry expensive.
- Mid-range hotels in Switzerland – expensive.
- Budget accommodation in Switzerland – quite expensive
- (Youth) Hostels in Switzerland – still rather expensive
Let’s face it, accommodations in Switzerland can put a serious dent in your budget. It’s not just the luxurious 5-star hotels that’ll make your wallet whimper; even the smaller, budget-friendly ones come with a hefty price tag.
But fret not, there are two savvy ways to dodge those costly hotel bills:
First, consider looking for lodgings slightly off the beaten path from the most crowded tourist hubs and major cities. You don’t need to go all-in by avoiding places within 100 kilometers of popular destinations and major cities (just kidding!). Staying 10-20 kilometers away from the hotspots should suffice.
Switzerland boasts an impressive public transportation network, so if you’re arriving by bus, you can easily explore the country without bedding down in touristy spots like Lucerne. Additionally, the breathtaking region of Graubünden (Grison) offers more wallet-friendly lodging options, so conducting some accommodation research can pay off handsomely.
TIPS: Youth hostels also often allow you to cook your own meal, so you save in several ways.
- Click here for my detailed guide on where to stay in Switzerland – for each budget.
- Check out Prices at B&B in Switzerland.
Airbnb often comes with a more budget-friendly price tag compared to hotels. For those looking to maximize savings, Couchsurfing is an option worth considering, as it’s entirely free. I personally haven’t given it a go, and I don’t foresee myself trying it in the future.
SAVE MONEY ON FOOD – GO VEGGIE AND COOK YOUR OWN MEALS
Another significant expenditure while traveling, particularly in Central Europe, will undoubtedly be your dining expenses. Yes, it’s a bit of a broken record, but it bears repeating that Switzerland’s culinary scene can be rather pricey. However, it’s worth noting that the quality often justifies the cost
Meat comes with an exceptionally high price tag. While I can’t personally vouch for the rumored $20 Big Mac (I’ve heard the whispers), it’s evident that meat in Switzerland consistently ranks among the pricier options, whether you cook your own meals or dine outside.
In this instance, the adage “you get what you pay for” holds true. Swiss meat isn’t churned out en masse (foreign meat must be declared), and even a humble McDonald’s meal can set you back around $20
The most sound advice would be to cut down on your meat and dairy intake during your trip to Switzerland – it is one of the best ways to decrease the food costs.
While lodging with a kitchen might entail a higher upfront cost, it can ultimately lead to savings. It’s a matter of doing the math (hostels sometimes, but not always, offer cooking facilities). When you secure accommodations with self-catering amenities, you have the flexibility to shop in the afternoon, taking advantage of numerous discounts on fresh vegetables and fruits.
Some supermarkets are extremely popular in Switzerland, like Coop. But if you want a real bargain, shop at Aldi, Denner 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 WATER BOTTLE
Here comes the part where I do a happy dance each time I am in Switzerland.
Switzerland excels in providing numerous charming fountains scattered throughout its landscape.
I consider myself fortunate because my beverage of choice is primarily water; I rarely indulge in alcohol, soft drinks, or juices. If you share this preference, all you need is a reusable water bottle, and you can conveniently refill it wherever you go. These water fountains are ubiquitous, found in the mountains, city centers, and quaint villages. Surprisingly, the freshwater they dispense often boasts a taste superior to bottled water.
Can you drink water from every fountain in Switzerland? Generally, yes, but it’s essential to pay attention to signs or notices that explicitly advise against it. And, of course, always check the water’s color; if it’s not clear, refrain from drinking it.
In Switzerland, tap water is entirely safe, so you can confidently put aside concerns about the cost of bottled water, whether it’s pricey or not.
Fun Fact: Legend has it that those charming fountains in the Alps were initially established to provide fresh water for the cows on their journey from the Alps back to the farms. While I can’t guarantee the accuracy of this tale, if it’s true, I’d like to extend a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to the cows, not just for the water!
Now, I’m not much of a coffee enthusiast, but I do treat myself to a cappuccino once a day, or every other day. I often find myself shelling out about 5, 6, or even 7 CHF for a single cappuccino, and even takeout coffee doesn’t come cheap, hovering around 4-5 CHF.
However, I’ve stumbled upon cappuccinos priced at a more modest 3 CHF, primarily in the Italian-speaking regions or in less frequented tourist spots. For those who savor multiple cups daily, instant coffee might be a viable (although not the very best) solution.
EXCHANGE SOME MONEY AND GET SOME SWISS FRANCS
Euros are widely accepted in most areas, including many shops, making it convenient to skip currency exchange in some cases. However, it’s important to note that when you pay with euros, the exchange rate is not favorable. Therefore, it’s advisable to acquire some Swiss Francs for better value.
CHECK OUT COUPON CODES
Spend to Save—yes, sometimes a small upfront investment can lead to substantial savings. This holds true in Switzerland as well. Personally, I usually embark on solo adventures in Switzerland, so I haven’t needed these, but there are some fantastic 2-for-1 coupon books available that can potentially help you save a considerable amount.
Additionally, you’ll find regional coupon books tailored for specific locations like Interlaken, Zurich, and various other places. Be sure to explore whether these can assist you in cutting costs.
READ MORE: Best places to visit in Switzerland
GET A TRAVEL PASS
Spending a substantial sum on travel passes can lead to significant savings. While I may not always qualify as a hardcore budget traveler these days, I still want to get good value for my money. That’s why I typically invest in a Swiss Travel Pass 2-3 times a year—it’s just downright AMAZING.
This pass isn’t just about unlimited train and boat rides; it also grants you a 50% discount on many mountain cable cars and funiculars. Plus, with the Swiss Travel Pass, you can even enjoy complimentary rides on certain mountain funiculars.
When you first glance at the price, you might be taken aback by my suggestion as a “money-saving tip.” However, if your Switzerland itinerary involves ascending Mount Rigi and frequent train use, you could end up saving a small fortune! Allow me to provide you with a comprehensive review of the Swiss Travel Pass.
Regional travel passes, such as the Jungfrau Travel Pass, offer an opportunity to save significant amounts of money (after a modest initial expenditure).
FINAL THOUGHTS ON A BUDGET TRIP TO SWITZERLAND
I hope this post did not scare you away from Switzerland, and that you still want to visit this country.
Despite Switzerland’s pricey image, budget-friendly exploration is entirely achievable. Abundant choices for affordable lodging and economical transportation enable you to savor the full spectrum of Switzerland’s splendor without emptying your wallet.
Whether you’re drawn to charming, postcard-worthy villages or the grandeur of the towering mountains, Switzerland possesses a unique allure that caters to diverse tastes and budgets.
So, seize the opportunity to embark on a memorable escapade and explore Switzerland without financial strain. This stunning country promises unforgettable moments at every turn, and you wouldn’t want to miss out.
Make the decision today to experience Switzerland, where the magnificence of the landscape, the warmth of its culture, and the richness of its history await you—accessible to travelers of all financial means
Exploring Switzerland on a budget is somehow possible!