Wondering if it’s possible to travel to Switzerland on a budget? Of course, it is, but it depends on what your budget is. While the country can be explored without ludicrous amounts of money, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s still one of the most expensive countries in the world and is far from cheap.
But there are ways to save money while traveling in Switzerland, and I want to tell you all about them. From finding cheap flights to getting the best exchange rates for Swiss Francs; here’s everything you need to know about traveling to Switzerland on a budget!
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Typical Cost of Traveling in Switzerland
The typical cost of traveling in Switzerland depends on many different factors. The main thing to consider is what you’re going to spend money on – are you fine staying in one place the entire time, or do you want to ride trains to explore more destinations?
Would you prefer to pay more for a hotel and save money on going out, or vice versa? Or are you looking for the most budget experience all around? The average cost of a trip to Switzerland is:
- Budget: 100-200 CHF per day
- Mid-Range: 200-400 CHF per day
- Luxury: 500+ CHF per day
Keep in mind that it depends on so many things. If you can get cheap plane tickets, sleep on someone’s couch for free, eat only home-cooked meals, and pay only for attractions and train tickets, you can get costs under 100 CHF per day.
Finally, I highly recommend you set apart a budget for iconic Swiss landmarks. Schilthorn, Jungfraujoch, Titlis, Pilatus, and other mountains are very expensive to visit, but worth every penny because it’s an experience unlike anything else.
If you have to prioritize what to spend money on in Switzerland, I say eat sandwiches the entire time you’re there but splurge for access to visitor’s centers in the mountains. What’s the point of traveling to a country with such stunning natural landmarks if you’re not going to visit any of them?
Can You Travel to Switzerland on a Budget?
Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries in the world but it is possible to visit it on a budget. Don’t get me wrong – a cheap stay in Switzerland can get you a four-star hotel with restaurant dinners every night in a different European city. But it is absolutely possible to travel the country without spending absurd amounts of money, and I’m going to share all my best tips with you!
Start saving money right off the bat when looking for flights to Switzerland. Flying with a low-cost airline can save you hundreds of Euros, especially if you can manage to pack all your belongings in an underseat bag so you don’t have to pay extra for carry-on luggage.
Low-cost airlines that operate flights to Switzerland are:
It’s important to note that only Basel Airport is serviced by all four airlines. Zurich airport only works with Vueling and Easyjest, while the airport in Geneva works with all airlines except Ryanair.
Low-cost flights are available from other destinations in Europe. If you’re traveling from overseas, look for flights to London, Munich, Paris, or other major destinations in Europe. From there, you can book a cheap flight to Basel for 20-30 Euros in one direction.
Just pay attention to the airports. Budget airlines usually offer flights to airports that are farther outside the city. In practice, this means that you’re more likely to find cheap flights to Switzerland from say Gatwick Airport in London than Heathrow.
I recommend looking for cheap flights to Basel first and then looking for flights from your city to the connecting one. It is a bit of a hassle, but if you use search tools like Skyscanner, Kayak, and even Google Flights, it should be easy enough. And it will save you a lot of money.
Public transportation works very well in Switzerland; all the major cities are connected by trains, and you can travel around the entire country relying only on public transportation. However, trains in Switzerland are also notoriously expensive, so traveling on a tight budget isn’t the easiest thing in the world.
But there are ways to save money and they’re called train passes! Some of the most popular options are:
…and more. Some of these passes are regional and won’t offer discounts outside a specific canton or city. Stay away from taxis and Uber because they’re significantly more expensive than train travel.
If you’re serious about traveling to Switzerland on a budget, start by making a list of all the destinations you want to visit. Then look into the cost of the different passes, and see which one is the best value for the money. It’s often the Half-Fare card, especially if you’re in the country for a short time and don’t intend to travel to a new city every day.
But if you want to ride trains often and get discounts on other attractions, the Interrail/Eurail Pass or the Swiss Travel Pass might offer better value. It’s hard to say without knowing your itinerary. Math doesn’t lie, so take the time to look into the cost of train tickets to towns you want to visit (available on sbb.ch), and attractions you’re willing to pay for, and then just do the math.
Additionally, SBB often offers supersaver passes at a discounted cost. These are usually train tickets you buy a couple of days in advance, and they’re valid only for the connection at a specific timeslot. But they can be up to 70% cheaper than standard tickets, so they are a great way to save money. Relying on supersaver tickets is an option if you don’t want to have a rigid itinerary in Switzerland, and instead prefer to be more spontaneous and flexible.
Transportation Within Cities
Many cities in Switzerland offer multiple public transportation options to get around. Most Swiss cities don’t have a metro, and I’m pretty sure that Lausanne is the only city with a Metro system. Trams, buses, and local trains are public transport options in most other towns.
The reason I’m even mentioning all of this is because public transportation within a city is often entirely free for tourists. In most Swiss cities, when you book a stay at a hotel or an apartment registered with that city’s tourism board, you’ll get a city pass that includes free public transportation in a certain zone and discounts for other attractions. This is the case in Geneva, Lucerne, Interlaken, and other destinations.
I advise against riding any type of public transport without an appropriate ticket. Conductors often come and check, and if you are caught without a valid ticket, you’ll be fined so much money you wish you had rented a limousine to get around because it would have been cheaper.
Finally, just explore on foot. If you don’t want to pay for public transportation, it’s better to walk around. Bike rental is usually cheap and in some places, it’s free, so you can get around faster for very little money.
Food & Drinks
Saving money on food and drinks is the easiest thing in Switzerland if you know where to go. For one, there are many fast-food joints and small restaurants where you can eat good food for little money. Kebabs and pizza are often the cheapest things to eat out in Switzerland, followed by sandwiches.
Look for hole-in-the-wall shops, get recommendations from locals, and visit bakeries often. If you stay at a private apartment or a ho(s)tel with access to a kitchen, you can also prepare your own food. This is by far the best option for saving money because supermarkets in Switzerland are surprisingly affordable.
The restaurants at those supermarkets and department stores are also significantly cheaper than proper restaurants with table service. They usually have a buffet-style menu and charge food by the kilo, and you can often get a generous portion for under 20 CHF. My favorites are:
But cooking your own food is by far the best for eating for cheap in Switzerland. You can get about 500 grams of pasta, tomato sauce, some mozzarella, and olive oil for less than 10 CHF. That amount of food should be enough for at least 4 generous meals. In Zurich, 10 CHF can get you two scoops of ice cream.
Even if you don’t have a full-sized kitchen, you can always make sandwiches. If there’s no fridge at your accommodation, buy foods that don’t need to be refrigerated, and get smaller sizes of the ones that do so they don’t go bad, and make sandwiches. If you can survive off sandwiches while you’re in Switzerland, you can easily save hundreds of Francs.
And you can prepare picnics! This is my go-to for going out and exploring because restaurants in the mountains are even more expensive than those in the city centers. So, whenever I make plans to spend an entire day outdoors, I’ll prepare a picnic we can enjoy out in nature. It’s always a fun experience, not to mention how much money it can save you.
A meal at a restaurant costs 20-30 CHF on average, and that’s for basic meals in mid-range restaurants. High-end and fine-dining restaurants are significantly more expensive. Two meals a day for two people is at least 100 CHF, so avoiding restaurants in Switzerland is by far the best way to save money in the country.
Finally, never buy water while you’re in Switzerland. The tap water is perfectly safe for drinking, so remember to bring a reusable water bottle and fill it up before leaving the accommodation. One thing to note is that many restaurants in Switzerland will charge you for tap water if you don’t order any other drink.
Accommodation is expensive in Switzerland and will likely take up most of your travel budget. The cost of hotel rooms and apartments varies depending on the city, but in general, you can expect hostels to be up to 100 CHF, mid-range hotels are 100-300 CHF, and luxury hotels can be well over 1,000 CHF for a night.
Keep in mind that the bang for the buck depends on the city. In a smaller place like St. Gallen, 300 CHF per night can be enough for a pretty good hotel. But in Geneva, it will likely get you a mid-range hotel room at best.
Hostels and guesthouses are the way to go for a budget stay. Pitches on campsites are also a decent option if you’re no stranger to spending the night under the sky. You can camp outdoors in Switzerland, and this can actually be a great way of saving money while uncovering some of the country’s most spectacular natural landmarks.
I recommend going with a hostel or a budget apartment for city stays. Even rooms at private properties are a good option, provided they come with a private bathroom and a shared kitchen at the very least. Anything that can allow you to prepare food at home is a good option because it can save you a lot of money.
House-sitting and couch surfing are also options to consider, but they’re generally the best solution for friendly and somewhat adventurous travelers. There’s nearly a quarter of a million hosts for couch surfing in Switzerland, and if you’re up for it, you can save a bunch of money on accommodation.
Personally, I prefer house-sitting because I’m somewhat of an introvert. And also because so many people who are looking for house-sitters need someone to take care of their pet while they’re away. I love animals, and I’m always thrilled to save thousands of Francs on accommodation simply because I need to feed a cat during my stay.
Things to Do in Switzerland on a Budget
Switzerland offers surprisingly many free activities for one of the most expensive countries in the world. The country has stunning nature, and exploring its countless hiking trails often costs nothing.
Well, that’s the case for hikes that are accessible from urban areas. Access to hiking trails in the Alps is generally not as easy and often requires you to ride mountain trains and gondolas, which are very pricey.
But there are plenty of hiking trails to be explored without spending any money, as well as a bunch of free attractions. I can’t list everything, but I recommend you check out my detailed posts on free things to do in cities throughout Switzerland. I’ve got ideas for:
Botanical gardens and public parks are often free of charge in Switzerland, as are certain museums. CERN is also entirely free, so if you are traveling in the Lake Geneva region, stop by the famous science center to have your mind blown free of charge.
Additionally, the amount and nature of things you can do for free in Switzerland highly depend on the season. In the summer, you can usually go hiking for free, swim in the lakes and rivers, and even try climbing mountains. But in the winter you can’t do any of these things; you might be able to ice skate on a frozen lake or explore some winter hiking trails, but there are generally fewer cheap things to do in Switzerland once the snow falls.
Also, free walking tours are available in most Swiss cities. They’re not entirely free because you are expected to tip the guide, but it’s still significantly cheaper than organizing something with an official operator.
Finally, museums and other attractions can have discounted or even free access for select holidays and days of the month. Always check whether a place you want to visit grants discounts or free entrance for whatever reason, and you might just save some money in the process.
Cheap Places to Visit in Switzerland
Here’s the thing – there are no cheap places to visit in Switzerland. The prices are similar throughout most of the country with a few exceptions, and it’s expensive everywhere. One thing to keep in mind is that accommodation is often cheaper in bigger cities than in smaller villages, simply because there are more options. So, always choose to stay in a city or a town, as opposed to a village in the mountains.
On top of that, don’t plan a trip to Zurich or Geneva if you’re trying to do Switzerland on a budget. They’re the two most expensive cities in the entire country and by far the worst Swiss destinations for budget trips.
Instead, choose a smaller city. Chur, St. Gallen, Interlaken, and even Basel are all more affordable than Zurich and Geneva, especially in terms of accommodation and restaurants. Basel is a good destination because it’s close to the airport, it’s got many free activities, and you can easily travel to other destinations in Switzerland from the city.
Lucerne is one of my favorite cities and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to experience authentic Swiss charm. It’s not exactly a cheap place, but you can find budget accommodation and visit many of the city’s best landmarks without spending a Franc. The Chapel Bridge, Spreuer Bridge, city walls, and the iconic Lion Monument are all free to visit in Lucerne.
More Switzerland Budget Travel Tips (Do’s and Don’ts)
I’m not done with tips for saving money while traveling in Switzerland, and here are some more ideas.
- Travel in the off-season. The peak season in Switzerland (summer/winter) means higher prices of accommodation, transportation, attractions, and even restaurants. Avoid traveling during peak season for the best deals.
- Always ask for discounts. It never hurts to ask for a discount; the worst that can happen is that you get denied a discount and spend the same amount of money you would if you didn’t ask. So, whether it’s a hotel, museum, or whatever else, ask if they offer any special deals or discounts and see if you’re eligible. You can also haggle at souvenir shops and local boutiques to try and save some money while shopping.
- Look into the city cards. All major cities in Switzerland have city cards (not the same as city passes that you get for free) that offer free access to attractions, discounts, use of public transport, and other deals for a select period. City cards are often hit or miss, and it’s best to once again do the math; see which attractions you’d like to visit and calculate the cost of tickets vs. the cost of the city card. The Geneva city card is a really good deal and I highly recommend getting that one if you’re planning to visit many landmarks in the city.
- Mind the exchange rates. The currency used in Switzerland is the Swiss Franc. When paying by card, you can choose whether you want to pay in Francs or a different currency. It’s generally best to pay in Francs because you’ll get the best exchange rates. I highly recommend a wise.com account and one of their free cards because they’ve got minimal fees even for ATM withdrawals.
Also, you don’t need that much cash in Switzerland, but it’s good to have some on hand, just in case. You’ll get the best rates if you withdraw Francs from your bank account at the bank, otherwise, you can use ATMs, but you’ll pay steep fees.