Switzerland is a beautiful country… and not just because I am bias due to being part Swiss. From beautiful greenery and snow-capped mountains to gorgeous historical townships, there is just so much to do and see in Switzerland. And it is possible to travel through Switzerland on a budget.
It is a pity that many travellers skip over Switzerland when visiting Europe because well…it has a reputation for being expensive. Yes Switzerland can be expensive, but with a little more preparation, there are ways to keep the budget down, because there is so much to do and see in Switzerland.
So here are some of my tips to travelling in Switzerland on a budget.
I personally have used Airbnb and HomeAway to book my accommodation in Switzerland, and each time has been a great experience. I know that if you want to really save money, you could stay in hostels. Apparently beds will set you back about $30-$40 in Switzerland. However I can’t personally recommend any specific places, because I haven’t stayed in hostels in Switzerland before.
You can get up to A$27 credit when you sign up and book your first stay via Airbnb here. Conditions apply.
Set up a ‘base’ for yourself
There are so many fantastic places to visit in Switzerland, so to get the most out of your experience in Switzerland, I would recommend setting yourself a ‘base’ and doing days trip from that base. For the places available to rent on AirBnb and HomeAway, the owners may give a discount the longer you stay. Plus, because Switzerland is a small country, the travel distances are not too long. For instance, it will take you about an hour to travel by train from Zurich to Bern. Pick a central location where you can easily travel to and from – best a place near a train station or if you are driving, not too far from the highway.
One year when my Dad and I went to Switzerland, we stayed in an area called Horgen, a suburb just on the fringe of Zurich. We stayed in a lovely 2-bedroom apartment through AirBnB with an amazing 180-degree view of Lake Zurich. It set us back about USD165 per night, but that was still better than staying in a hotel and paying at least USD200 per night, per room.
The apartment was fully equipped with a modern kitchen, we had fantastic views, and the train station was just around the corner making it easy to get around. From Horgen, we did numerous day trips, which included visiting Bern, Basel, Luzern, St. Moritz and even crossed the borders to Lichtenstein, Austria and Germany.
Another time, we rented a chalet through HomeAway not far from Interlaken for 6 of us. It set us back about USD1,750 for the week (USD250 per night) for a 3 bedroom house. The home was modern, with a fully equipped kitchen and was positioned right with great views of the lake.
A Farm Holiday
When I was growing up, every summer we spent about a week on a farm in Switzerland. It was a great way to meet the locals and get to know a bit more about the local way of life in Switzerland. At times, my sister and I would even go to help the farmer, such as taking the cows out for the day.
You can book a farm stay through MySwitzerland, which offers a wide range of available farm stays around Switzerland. There are different styles and price points for a farm stay, but all in all, we found this to be quite an affordable holiday in Switzerland. Plus there is no obligation to do any work on the farm – it is more for the experience.
Travelling around Switzerland is easy using the public transport network of train, bus and boat, and in many of the cities, there is also the light rail.
The train system in Switzerland is fantastic – it is efficient, always on time (definitely not a cliché), comfortable and clean. The train will reach most towns and even villages in Switzerland, making it an easy way to get around the country. And if you are trying to reach towns or villages up a mountain, hop onto the Postbus (yellow coloured bus). I still am amazing by the way the bus drivers are able to maneuver their way up the windy roads.
Swiss Travel Pass
The thing to note that travelling around Switzerland, whether it is on public transport or by car is not cheap, so it is worth purchasing the “Swiss Travel Pass” if you will be relying on public transport to get around.
The pass allows you unlimited travel on the Swiss travel system for a specific duration you have selected (3, 4, 8 or 15 days). Prices start at USD220 for a 2nd class ticket for 3 consecutive days of travel. Some of the trains will require making a reservation prior to travel, so it is worth taking the time to read up on the pass.
Food & Drinks
The most affordable way to save on food is by preparing food yourself. If you book accommodation that includes a kitchen, then it is worth considering using the kitchen to help budget on food.
Dining out all the time, even if it’s a meal at McDonalds, can be an expensive affair in Switzerland. So I would recommend making a trip to the local supermarket (Migros and Coop being the most popular) and purchasing food items. These supermarkets will also have prepared food options like ready-made sandwiches, which you can buy to save time and money. Take note though that meat in the supermarkets are quite expensive, so you may want to stick to vegetables, fruit and deli meat if you are on a strict budget.
It is also worth considering visiting some of the local food markets. Cities and towns will have their own version of food markets and it will give you a chance to sample the local food. There’ll be a variety of cheese, breads, deli meats and other foods to try.
Finally, most cities and towns will have water fountains where you can fill up your bottles for free.
Things to do
There are a lot of things to do – some free, some costs money. For the purpose of this article, here are a few things to do on a budget that will keep you busy.
Switzerland is a hiking mecca. There are a vast number of hiking trails available and it is a great way to explore this beautiful country. Hiking trails are well marked, and range in distance and fitness levels. It is a good idea to do some research and Switzerland Mobility is an excellent resource to help you plan your hiking trips.
Have a Picnic
The scenery all around Switzerland is breathtaking, so consider bringing some food along with you to set up a picnic. There are plenty areas available for you to picnic and soak in the fantastic weather and view. Of course this is best done during the spring, summer and autumn months, as winter is too cold. This will also help keep your food budget down.
There are many beautiful lakes and rivers all over Switzerland, and you can swim in most of them. Many of the lakes are free to swim in, but there are some that will charge an admission fee.
Historical Sites & Museums
Many of the historical sites, including religious places such as Cathedrals are free of charge to visit, while some places might request only a small donation. The Swiss Travel Pass also offers bonus discounts and free admission to various museums and attractions around the country, which makes it possible to travel in Switzerland on a budget.
Local Festivals & Events
Year round there are local festivals and events that take place in Switzerland. Many are free to visit and you may only have to pay when you purchase things.
My favorite time of the year for festivals is in December, when the Christmas festivities take place. From Christmas markets to Christmas Carols to pop up Fondue bars, there are so many great things to do – some free, some you pay.
My favorite way to explore a place (and free of course) is walking. It’s amazing all the secret nooks and hidden gems you may find just by walking around.