Switzerland is notoriously at the top of every “Most Expensive Country in the World” list, which makes it exceedingly difficult for budget travelers to visit. But that doesn’t have to be the case.
Even the most budget-conscious traveler should have Switzerland on his or her bucket list.
Switzerland is full of dramatic landscapes that can take your breath away.
It’s where you find lush green rolling hills that have quaint little chalets with cows roaming freely around them.
It’s where mountains meet lakes; where you can eat endless amounts of delicious chocolate and of course…cheese.
It almost seems that it’s too beautiful to be a real place. If these aren't reason enough to want to pack your bags right now than we don’t know what is!
So how do you visit one of the most expensive countries in the world without breaking the bank?
It’s easier than you might think.
Here are 10 helpful tips to keep more money in your pocket while still being able to travel the wondrous country of Switzerland.
1. Spend More Time in One Place
Switzerland is a tiny country. Consider setting up a home base for yourself and explore the rest of the country from there.
Usually, the longer you spend in one place, the better the nightly rates for accommodations. This typically holds true whether you’re staying at a hotel, hostel, Airbnb, etc.
Some hotels or hostels will even give you a free local transit pass, so check when booking.
Switzerland is a small, steep country, much more up and down than sideways, and is all stuck over with large brown hotels built on the cuckoo style of architecture. – Ernest Hemingway
2. Skip Staying in the Major Cities
There are benefits to staying in the major cities. Proximity to everything allows easy access to museums, shopping, and restaurants; but people come to Switzerland for the views.
Switzerland has some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, so visit and stay in a town with views.
Not only will it be less expensive, but you're more likely to get the postcard Switzerland that you’re looking for.
You also don’t need to go very far outside the cities to get some pretty spectacular views.
Trains are a very prominent way to travel Switzerland, so it’s easy to get around even when staying outside of the main cities.
Check out the Swiss Railway Map to get an idea of what smaller towns fall on the major train lines.
3. Cheap or Free Accommodations
Nowadays, there are so many options for budget travelers when it comes to finding a place to stay.
You’re no longer limited to choosing between a hotel and a hostel. You can now rent peoples’ apartments or rooms or even stay on someone’s couch.
However, our two recommendations in Switzerland are Workaway and Sleep on Straw.
- Workaway – Workaway is an exchange program that, in return for a few hours of work a day, you have your housing covered (and in some cases, a few meals). You can do a variety of tasks from working with schools, animals, or even farming. This is a great program because it gives you a real local experience and you are giving back to the community in which you are visiting! Plus your accommodation is free.
- Sleep on Straw – Farms in Switzerland started opening up their doors and letting travelers experience a night sleeping on fresh straw. It has become very popular over the summer months and can start at 6 CHF a night. What better way to experience Switzerland than waking up on a farm and walking outside to enjoy the mountains.
As with anywhere you stay, do your research. It doesn’t matter if it’s a hotel, Airbnb, Workaway, or Sleeping on Straw, read traveler reviews.
You might save a buck in the end, but if you end up being miserable because you didn’t read reviews, it won’t be worth it.
4. Buy Food at a Grocery Store
Dining out is expensive; it’s cheaper to buy your meals at grocery stores. This is not news to budget travelers. However, there are cheaper grocery stores where you get more for your money.
The two major grocery stores in Switzerland are Migros and Coop. The cheaper budget grocery stores are Aldi, Denner, and Lidl.
Another option is to buy “ugly fruits and vegetables” from Coop.
In an effort to prevent food waste, Coop began selling “wonky” produce at reduced prices. The produce is naturally deformed, but does not have any defects when it comes to taste.
Just because they aren’t pretty, doesn’t mean they don’t taste good.
5. Buy Souvenirs at Grocery Stores
While you’re buying your lunch at a grocery store, why not buy your souvenirs too. That chocolate may end up being half the price in a grocery store for the same one in a tourist spot.
Many grocery stores in the larger towns often even have a Switzerland souvenir section where you can buy chocolate, cheese, cow bells, ornaments, magnets, etc.
6. Drink Tap Water
Not only is food expensive in Switzerland, but drinks are too (including bottled water).
Luckily, Switzerland has some of the cleanest water available. There are fountains everywhere that you can use to fill up your water bottles.
7. Visit Free Museums
Whatever city you end up visiting, check and see what local museums they have and if they are either free, have free days to visit, or offer other discounts.
There are so many free museums in Switzerland. Below is a list of some of the more popular ones in Geneva and Zurich.
Free Geneva Museums and Sites
- Natural History Museum
- Art and History Museum
- ICT Discovery
- Tavel House
- Botanical Gardens and Conservatory
- Ariana Museum
- Museum of the History of Science
- Carouge Museum
- The Museum of Ethnography
Free Zurich Museums and Sites
- Zoological Museum
- Augusto Giacometti Entrance Hall
- Museum of Modern Art (Free on Wednesdays)
- Museum of Anthropology
- Botanical Gardens
- Fluntern Cemetery (Visit James Joyce’s grave)
8. Free Outdoor Activities
There are so many wonderful outdoor activities in Switzerland that don’t cost a dime.
- Hiking – Hiking is one of the major activities (the other being skiing) that Switzerland is known for. You could easily spend your whole visit hiking and be perfectly happy.
- Swimming – there are quite a few lakes in Switzerland and plenty of places where you can enjoy a swim in them too. They can be a little chilly sometimes!
- Explore Historic Towns – Switzerland, like many European countries, is full of ancient and historic towns that you can explore. Pop into the town’s cathedral for a chance to see some beautiful art. A couple of must-visit towns are Gruyères and Altstadt.
- Festivals – One of the best things to do in any country is take part in a festival. You can see the local culture at its best and usually get fireworks, music, and more.
- Free Walking Tours – There are quite a few cities that offer free walking tours. They are run by volunteers and usually offer a couple of tours everyday in several languages.
- Cheese Making Tours – Depending on the area you choose to visit, there are often small town cheese making farms that will happily show you around and let you see how they make their cheese. There are also larger factories that give public tours for usually a small price (around 5 CHF).
9. Avoid High Seasons
There is really no bad time to visit Switzerland, but the high seasons for visitors are summer and winter.
The best time to visit, and get the most for your money, is during the shoulder months of spring and fall.
Accommodations will be cheaper and there will be fewer travelers visiting.
If you choose to travel during spring or fall, and hiking is on your list of activities, check and see if trails are open while you are there.
10. Invest in a Travel Pass
Travel passes can save you a lot of money, but you must first determine if it's the right pass for you.
If you don’t use passes to their full potential, they can end up being more expensive for you in the long run.
- Swiss Travel Pass – This pass gives you almost full access to the country; entry to about 500 museums, train, bus, and boat tickets, and more. Again, this can save you money, but it can cost you too. If you don’t have a plan or itinerary in place of when and what you want to see, it may end up being more expensive for you.
- Swiss Half Fare Card – This pass allows visitors to buy train, bus, or boat tickets for half price for up to a month. If you choose this option there is very little difference between 1st and 2nd class and it’s recommended to buy the 2nd class ticket.
- Super Saver Tickets – This is not a pass per se, but when you go to buy a train ticket online, you can sometimes buy a super saver ticket instead. These tickets are the cheapest available because they are offered at times when fewer people travel.
- Swiss Coupon Book – This is a coupon book you can buy that gives discounts and a lot of 2-for-1 deals. You can view the deals before purchasing the book. This is not as popular as the other passes since you probably won’t be able to use all the coupons to make it worthwhile. However, if you are in the country for a longer period, it may make sense to buy the coupon book.
- Student Passes – If you're a student or are under the age of 18 (and sometimes under 26) you may be able to get student discounts while traveling.
There are so many ways to make a trip to Switzerland come to life without going broke.
No matter if you’re an outdoor adventurer or a history buff, there is plenty in Switzerland that you can do and still have extra money in your pocket after your trip.
Now all you need to do is grab your passport and travel!
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