Is Zurich Expensive? (Surprising Answers For Tourists & Expats)

Zurich at night

Zurich is the most expensive city in Switzerland for both tourists and people living here. The high costs of accommodation, food, restaurants and transport mean that it is a challenge for many people to visit or stay here.

As an expat who has lived in the Zurich area of Switzerland for a number of years, I have lots of experience to share.

I too was shocked at the prices in Switzerland when I first arrived, especially in Zurich. But not everything is as expensive as you think. And, there are lots of options for saving money when visiting Zurich that tourists and expats may not be aware of.

Below, I want to highlight all the areas you will want to know about (food, travel, accommodation), what you can expect to pay and some ways to save money.

Public Transport – ZVV Network (Tram, Train, Bus)

Zurich Trains - Main Station Zurich HB
Zurich Trains – Main Station Zurich HB

One of the benefits of visiting Zurich is that most attractions, restaurants and hotels are within walking distance. So, if you are only visiting the main tourist attractions, then you won’t need to spend anything on transport. Aside from getting to Zurich HB (main station) that is. So, in that sense, Zurich is not expensive to travel around.

However, it always pays to know the costs of public transport in case you need it, and for when you arrive from the airport.

Ticket ValidityPrice (CHF)
1 hour (Zone 110)3.10
24 hour (Zone 110)6.20
1 hour from Zurich Airport – Zurich Downtown (2 zones)6.80
24-hour (Zone 110)13.00
Zurich public transport costs

Note: Zone 110 covers the majority of downtown Zurich, but does not include the airport

Monthly or weekly ZVV passes are also an option if you are in Zurich for a longer period. It really only makes sense to buy one if you go to work most days.

Accommodation – Hotels, Airbnb, Apartments

Yes, accommodation in Zurich is expensive. It is actually going to be one of your biggest costs when visiting, living, or staying in Zurich.

Hotels

Baur au Lac at Christmas in Zurich
Baur au Lac at Christmas in Zurich

There are lots of hotels in the center of Zurich. And prices range from crazy expensive luxury to more affordable, and even dirt cheap. Below are some examples to give you an idea of costs per night for hotels.

However, in general, I can tell you that on average you will pay around 250 CHF a night for a nice mid-range hotel, around 150 CHF for a cheaper one that could be further out of town, and a serious amount more for luxury 500 – 1000 CHF.

All of these prices are per night and I took the sample in December 2022. So, prices could be more expensive in summer.

Airbnb

Airbnb rental costs in Zurich
Airbnb rental costs in Zurich

Airbnb has been more difficult in Switzerland than other countries, but there are some decent options around. Most of the more affordable ones are further out of town, but public transport is so good in Switzerland, you will likely only spend 20-30 minutes traveling into downtown (Zurich HB) each day.

From my quick search for July I can find Airbnb rentals from between 100 – 250 CHF per night. Keep in mind that you need to add service fees and cleaning fees, so the longer you stay the cheaper that will be (per night).

Apartments

Apartment rental costs in Zurich
Apartment rental costs in Zurich

Apartment rental in Zurich is the most expensive of anywhere in Switzerland. And, on top of that, there are so few apartments available at any one time. This means it is a huge fight to get the best places, and often many go to friends of friends before they even hit the market.

On average, apartments in Zurich cost anywhere from 1200-5000 CHF per month including costs (electricity, heating, water). It is hard to get anything at the lower end, and if you are a student, the cheapest way to live is in a shared apartment called a WG (wohngemeinschaft). Then you can get a room in a place for under 1000 a month.

Most people I know pay at least 2000 a month for a 2 bedroom apartment. The more rooms you get, or the more upmarket a suburb you stay in, the higher the price.

Also, keep in mind that if you are not a permanent resident or have a valid permit you will not have a chance at all. Switzerland is tightly controlled and rentals are not given to non-residents at all. If this is your situation, your only chance is Airbnb.

Zurich Food Prices

Restaurants in Zurich are definitely expensive, but it also depends on what you eat and which restaurants you choose. The time of day you eat also makes a difference. So, let’s explore the prices a little to give you an idea.

Restaurants In Zurich

The Bite Restaurant  in Zurich
The Bite Restaurant in Zurich

In general, the price of a main meal (entree for my American friends) in Zurich is going to cost you between 20-60 CHF, depending on what you order and which restaurant you are in.

For example, here are some mid-range restaurant food prices in Zurich:

  • Wienerschnitzel in Rosalys costs 42 CHF
  • Beef Fillet is rather expensive anywhere (Lumieres) at over 60 CHF
  • Tuna Steak costs 47.50 at Kaufleuten

Here are some examples of slightly cheaper restaurant food you might eat in Zurich:

  • A burger at The Bite restaurant costs at least 26.5 CHF
  • Fish & Chips costs 28 CHF at the Outback Lodge
  • Pizzas start at 18 CHF at Santa Lucia (but that is just a Margarita Pizza)
  • Cheese Fondue at the Swiss Cuchi starts at 31.50

** And for fondue lovers, here are even more restaurants you can check out

Cheaper Meals – Takeaway, Fast Food

Sternen Grill, Bellevue, Zurich
Sternen Grill, Bellevue, Zurich

The trick to eating cheap in Zurich, where most restaurants are expensive, is to aim more for Asian, Middle Eastern, Italian, or eat takeaway. It still varies a lot, but if you want a main meal for under 30 CHF here are some more options:

  • Sushi at Yogis or Tiny Fish
  • Vegetarian burgers at UnMeat
  • Asian at Lilly’s
  • Greek food at OhMyGreek
  • Sausages/Wurst at Sternen Grill on Bellevue, or Wurst & Moritz
  • Don’t Worry Eat Curry on Langstrasse
  • Kebab stores are cheap eats
  • Lots of takeaways under the main station (Zurich HB)

In general, places like Mcdonald’s and Burger King are cheaper than restaurants, but not as cheap as you expect. A meal at both (burger, fries, drink) costs around 20 CHF.

Eat Cheap At Lunch – Tagesmenu

Another option for saving money on meals in Zurich is to eat the Tagesmenu or Daily Menu at various places around town. Most locals eat big at lunch and not at dinner, so many restaurants offer a full three-course meal and a drink (maybe a coffee too) at lunch. Have a look around your local area and see what is on offer, it varies depending on the type of food and how expensive the area you are in is.

Supermarkets Are Expensive In Zurich

Lidl supermarket
Lidl supermarket

It is no surprise that food, in general, is expensive in Switzerland and Zurich. After all, in such a small country, land is expensive, so local produce is very costly.

The Swiss, as with most countries, like to eat locally and protect their food supply, so farmers are heavily subsidized. So, meat is particularly expensive in comparison to most countries. As is dairy and a lot of fruit and vegetables, to be honest.

Another area visitors find particularly expensive is alcohol, chips, chocolate and cookies. So, processed food and drinks in general. Although a can of Coke is super cheap at about 1 CHF, even from the supermarket fridge.

Saving Money in The Supermarket

But, if you want to avoid high prices, don’t eat meat, particularly beef. And stick to locally produced vegetables and fruit. So, not mangoes or imported avocados. Just apples, mandarins, peaches and berries in season, same with the standard northern European vegetables.

There are also weekly specials in most supermarkets, and they tend to discount products at the end of the day when they are close to expiry. This is a great way to save money on fresh produce like meat, fish, and so on.

Cheaper Supermarkets

If you want to save some money on food shopping, then you can avoid the more expensive supermarkets in Switzerland like Coop and Migros, and head for the cheaper alternatives as well.

The cheapest options are Aldi and Lidl, both German imports, but the range and size of the products might stop you from buying everything you need there. The other option is Denner, which is Migros cheaper brand supermarket.

Why is Zurich so expensive?

Zurich is so expensive because of the abundance of well-paid jobs in the city. With such affluent businesses as banks, insurance companies as well as lots of corporate headquarters and the likes of companies like Google, prices are always pushed higher and higher.

This is the main reason that Zurich is so expensive compared to other Swiss cities. On top of this, Switzerland in general is expensive for many of the same reasons. There is a lot of money in the country.

But, additionally, there are a lot of import controls in place that mean Swiss people shop locally for items which are significantly cheaper just over the border. Farmers are also heavily subsidised to ensure the continuation of local Swiss food production. The only downside is that prices then become very high for local produce.

The only thing I find cheap in Switzerland is electronics which are imported with little additional tax.

Written by Ashley Faulkes
As a twenty-year resident of Switzerland, I am passionate about exploring every nook and cranny of this beautiful country, I spend my days deep in the great Swiss outdoors, and love to share these experiences and insights with fellow travel enthusiasts.

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