How to Travel Switzerland on a Budget

EXPLORE SWITZERLAND ON A BUDGET

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? Are you one of those who can exist on love and air alone and plan to visit Switzerland?

If so, you should not worry about your budget in Switzerland and consider yourself a very lucky person. This is also not the case?

Well, 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 or stay at the hotel all day.

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, a few 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.

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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 to Lugano but for most other areas.

I do not want to start talking about Valposchiavo. It is one of my all-time favorite travel destinations that is way more affordable than other places in the country.

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).

Valposchiavo - a more affordable gorgeous travel destination in Switzerland
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Food and activities are cheaper in other areas, like some French- and especially Italian-speaking parts. 

For example, I paid around 3.30€ for one scoop of ice cream, 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 it 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. 

Valposchiavo Lago di Val Viola
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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 April to June.  If you want to do winter sports, then visit in January, or February instead of late December.

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.

Mount Rigi with the Swiss Travel Pass
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Mount Rigi – views like this are totally free

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 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).

It might make sense to book an official accommodation in certain areas (sometimes Airbnbs also offer guest cards when it is an official guest house).

Valposchiavo train station highest in Europe
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I have not stayed overnight in St. Moritz but if you book accommodation in one of the participating hotels, you can even use cable cars and more for free. I mean, this is an amazing offer and justifies the high accommodation prices there.

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. 

Pack Smart

Pack wisely and buy everything you need in your own country. I assume it is cheaper there than in 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.

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, 50 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.

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.

Airbnb in Switzerland, Unique Airbnb in Switzerland
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Airbnb in Switzerland, cheaper than hotels and more unique

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.

Saving Money in Switzerland. Tips for your Switzerland vacation
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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 the 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 with one cappuccino a day or every other day. I often pay about 5, 6, or even 7€ for one cappuccino. Even take-away coffee is expensive.

However, I have found cappuccinos for 3€ (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.

Bernina Express in Switzerland in the winter, Valposchiavo
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I had the Swiss Travel Pass with which you can not only have unlimited train and boat rides, but it also gives you 50% 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!

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.

I actually dislike nationalism, and I do not want to encourage the Swiss to be overly proud of themselves. Still, damn, this country is just beautiful! Like really beautiful! It is worth it to make some sacrifices if that means being able to visit it!

Exploring Switzerland on a budget is somehow possible!

Safe Travels, Arzo
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