Switzerland is expensive. That’s old news. But you can visit Switzerland on a Budget.
And be honest. It’s why you haven’t put it on your bucket list yet, right? You’re intimidated by the high prices. You think you’ll never be able to afford a trip to Switzerland without blowing your retirement savings. You’re nervous you’ll be paying off debts for months to come.
But despite all those worries, deep down, you still want to go.
10 Ways to Travel Switzerland on a Budget
There are plenty of reasons to go to Switzerland. You've heard of the breathtaking views. You’re familiar with the taste of Swiss chocolate. You’ve longed for their endless selection of cheese. And you’re just about dying to see the Alps up close.
You've reached the point where you’re already subconsciously packing your bags. Wondering whether your trekking shoes still fit you, how much weight you might gain once you give in to your chocolate cravings or whether you need to bring a German, French or Italian dictionary.
If only it wasn’t for that persistent voice at the back of your head. You know, the one that’s keeping you awake at night with a million questions.
- How are you supposed to make it through a single day in Switzerland without robbing a bank?
- Are you going to crawl up in a cardboard box and sleep in a stranger’s backyard just to save money?
- Are you happy to live off instant noodles like you did during that trip to Australia?
- Do you seriously believe there's anything free to do in Switzerland?
- What if the emptiness in your savings account forces you to come home after a few days?
The list goes on. But before you let this situation get out of hand, do yourself a favour.
Shut that voice up.
Because first of all, nobody’s going to sleep in a cardboard box. And for the record, robbing a bank is out of question, too. Never mind those instant noodles, either.
Believe it or not, but simple and legal ways to save money in Switzerland do exist.
And here are 10 ways to make your money last longer in Switzerland.
1. Use free public transport
If you’re staying in Bern, Lucerne, Basel, Geneva or Lausanne, you get to use local public transport for free. Your accommodation provides you with a ticket that’s valid for the time of your stay.
The Canton of Ticino extended this concept and recently introduced what I refer to as the travel-jackpot. Every visitor spending at least one night in the Canton receives an all-inclusive ticket. We’re talking about a free ticket here that includes buses and trains as well as a discount for cable cars, boats and selected activities.
More and more cities seem to be joining this concept. So wherever you’re parked for the night, make sure you hit up your receptionist for potential freebies.
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2. Don’t buy a travel pass
At least not until you know your options. Travel passes can be amazing value for money if you’re going to use public transport. But they don’t always make sense. To avoid wasting your funds on something you don’t need, set aside some time to do your research.
In order to pick your best match when buying a travel pass, try to answer the following questions as precisely as you can:
- Where exactly do you want to go? What places do you want to see?
- Are you going to cover long distances or mostly stay in the same area?
- How frequently are you going to use public transport? Every day? Every second day? Only once or twice during your whole stay?
- Apart from Switzerland, are you travelling to any other European countries?
Once you have those answers, start digging. Figure out whether buying tickets as you go, getting a Half Fare Card, an Interrail/Eurail Pass, a Swiss Travel Pass or Supersaver tickets work out cheapest for you.
Read about the time Dave got stuck on a Swiss train.
3. Grab a (free) bike
If you’re going to Zurich, Bern, Geneva, Neuchâtel, Zug or the Canton of Valais, you’re in for a treat. Those places offer free bikes. Some for a few hours, some for a whole day and some even longer. Bring along your ID and 20 CHF for the deposit.
Other cities rent out bikes as well but not for free. Depending on your itinerary, it might still work out cheaper than paying for public transport, though.
Take a look through Snapshots From a 10,000-Kilometer Bike Ride.
4. Take matters into your own hands
Unless you desperately want to, you don’t need to book a tour to explore Switzerland. With public transport being as efficient and plentiful as it is, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a place that isn’t accessible by bus, train or boat.
Buses and trains run frequently so don’t worry about getting stuck anywhere. However, if you head out to more isolated places, double-check the timetable just to be on the safe side.
5. Put your connections to use
Nothing eases the pressure on a backpacker’s wallet like staying with a friend does. Saving 30 – 40 CHF on accommodation each night pretty much pays for an all-inclusive Swiss Travel Pass. And with Switzerland being this small, you can take day trips to almost every corner of the country.
If you don’t have anyone you can contact, try Couchsurfing instead. It’s more common than you’d expect and it’s a fantastic way to get in touch with locals.
6. Sleep above the cows
Believe it or not, but this exists. Provided you’re not allergic to hay or straw, sleeping on straw sets you up for a night out of the ordinary. Especially if you’re after an adventure and travelling with a sleeping bag.
Agrotourismus is a good place to look for Swiss holiday farms – Prices range between 25 – 35 CHF per person, which is roughly the same or even less than a hostel. With breakfast being included, this is well worth taking a detour out of the city.
By the way, some places also let you set up your own tent for a small fee.
7. Embrace your inner chef
You’ve guessed it. Eating out is expensive, too. Dinner at a restaurant costs at least 20 – 30 CHF. You might get away with 15 – 20 CHF if you catch a bargain.
Cooking your own food is way more affordable. Depending on how much of a gourmet your are, you can get by with 60 – 80 CHF a week for groceries. Possibly even cheaper if you cut some edges. But I’d budget at least 50 CHF.
Supermarkets like Migros, Coop, Denner, Aldi and Lidl are your best friends here. With Aldi and Lidl being the cheapest.
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8. Buy old bread
This one‘s way better than it sounds. I promise.
A new concept called Ässbar has taken root in Switzerland. In order to fight food waste, these guys collect whatever bakeries couldn't sell during the day and offer it for half the price the next day. As a result you can get pastries, bread rolls, sandwiches and sausage rolls at a massive discount.
You can find Ässbar stores in St. Gallen, Winterthur, Zurich, Bern, Fribourg and Basel. And since their concept is so popular, they’re looking to expand to other cities as we speak.
See some of the best Switzerland Photos on Instagram.
9. Go crazy over free snacks
Everything free is worth its weight in gold. And farmer’s markets are an excellent place to grab free samples every now and then.
While you probably won’t get a whole meal out of this, tasting free crackers, olives, bread, the occasional piece of cheese or cookie is the perfect way to get over those mid-morning or afternoon cravings.
Chocolate factories also hand out samples but since they make you pay entrance, I don’t like to count those. However, the Kambly biscuit factory in Trubschachen lets you dig in until you explode. At no extra cost. Trust me, you won’t make it through their whole selection in one go. Even if you arrive on an empty stomach.
10. Stick with free activities
Nothing in life is free. Or is it?
You’d be surprised. If you pay attention and know where to look, you can find plenty of free things to do. For instance…
- Join a free walking tour in different cities across the country.
- Spend some quality time with the bears in Bern – figuratively speaking.
- Visit a free wildlife park in Zurich, Aarau, Winterthur, St. Gallen, Interlaken and many other places.
- Check out old towns, churches, and free museums.
- Visit the Appenzeller cheese factory in Stein and stuff your face with free samples.
- Join a tour of the Bundeshaus (House of Parliament) in Bern.
- Take a stroll through botanical gardens and parks.
- Head out to Schaffhausen and visit the Rhine Falls, Europe’s largest waterfalls.
- Take a refreshing dip in a lake.
- Hike until your feet fall off. After all, that’s what Switzerland is famous for.
The only thing left
Now that you know how you can stretch your money while you’re in Switzerland, let’s see how that know-it-all at the back of your head is doing.
Is it still leading you on to rob a bank, sleep in a cardboard box or live off instant noodles? Or has it finally decided to shut up?
If it’s still being reluctant, don’t be too upset with it. After all, nothing you do will ever turn your trip to Switzerland into a low-cost holiday. But with these 10 tips, hitting the Alps without blowing your retirement savings has just become a whole lot more realistic.
The only thing left for you to do is this. Go to your drawer, dig out your bucket list and scribble those eleven letters at the very top of it.
You know you want to.
About the author: Seraina Zellweger is a devoted budget traveller who’s been around the world and back. As a native Swiss, she’s made it her mission to give fellow backpackers tips on how to visit Switzerland on a shoestring. Find out how you can stretch your travel cash by downloading her free guide, 10 ways to save money on food in Switzerland.