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10 Essential Tips to Travel Switzerland on a Budget

You can have a great time visiting Switzerland on a budget
Grazing cows in Switzerland

Switzerland is notoriously at the top of every “Most Expensive Country in the World” list, which makes it exceedingly difficult to travel Switzerland on a budget. 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!

Pro Tips

Need airfare? Find cheap flights and more at Travelocity.com.

Want to travel Switzerland car? Find the best car rental service at Traserbas.com.

Green rolling hills of Switzerland
Straight out of a fairytale

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 ten helpful tips to keep more money in your pocket while still being able to travel to the wondrous country of Switzerland.

How to Travel Switzerland on a Budget

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

See also: 3 Terrific Travel Credit Cards for Beginners

Swiss Railway map (credit: Swissrailways.com)
Swiss Railway map

2. Skip Staying in the Major Cities

There are benefits to staying in 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 in Switzerland, so it’s easy to get around even when staying outside of the main cities.

Check out the Swiss Railways website to get an idea of what smaller towns fall on the major train lines.

Sleep on Straw Switzerland
Sleep on Straw (minus the cows)

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 to experience Switzerland on a budget 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 an excellent 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 trendy over the summer months and can start at 6 Swiss Francs ($6) 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.

Related: 11 Reasons to Rent an Airbnb While Traveling

The Swiss Alps
The Swiss Alps

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.

Stock up on white wine, cheese, and bread and use it as an opportunity to make fondue!

Another option is to buy “ugly fruits and vegetables” from Coop.

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, cowbells, ornaments, magnets, etc.

Museum of Art and History - Geneva, Switzerland
Museum of Art and History – Geneva, Switzerland

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

Free Zurich Museums and Sites

Historic Town Gruyères Switzerland
Historic Town of Gruyères, Switzerland

8. Free Outdoor Activities

There are so many enjoyable 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 to 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 provide a couple of tours every day in several languages.

Cheese Making Tours

Depending on the area you choose to visit, there are often small-town cheesemaking 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 Swiss Francs, or $5).

Cheese Making Tours in Switzerland
That's a lot of cheese

9. Avoid High Seasons

There is no wrong 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.

Switzerland Shoulder Season
Switzerland is beautiful any time of year

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

The Swiss Travel 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

The Swiss Half Fare Card 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

Super Saver Tickets are not a type of 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

The Swiss Coupon Book offers 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 more extended 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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We hope this guide to traveling Switzerland on a budget has helped inspire you to plan a trip.

If you'd like to go, but not alone, consider a small-group tour with G Adventures:

Europe by Rail with The Glacier Express is a 12-day trip from Paris to Budapest that includes a train ride through the Swiss Alps, with stops in Lausanne, Zermatt, and Chur before continuing to Germany, Austria, and Hungary. 

Trekking Mont Blanc is a challenging 10-day high-altitude adventure in the Alps. You'll start trekking in Chamonix, France, and pass through Italy and Switzerland as you make your way around Mont Blanc. Trip ends in Chamonix. 

London to Rome: Picnics & Pizza is a quick 7-day rail journey from London to Rome, including a stop in Interlaken, Switzerland. 

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking uses and recommends:

Sadye Reish

Sunday 3rd of September 2017

Nice work you guys!!!

Nisha

Wednesday 30th of August 2017

Switzerland is an amazing place.We can enjoy the nature.Thanks for sharing this post.

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