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Switzerland is a beautiful country but many people do not consider visiting due to the high prices. Switzerland is not known to be a budget travel friendly destination. And with reason!
A lot of people are too scared to come visit because they think it will cost them an arm and a leg. I have to tell you, the rumours are indeed true. Switzerland is ranked among the world’s most expensive country to visit.
However, if you follow some of my tips (as a foreigner whose lived here for over two years), you may find that Switzerland isn’t really as expensive as you may have thought it to be. Budget travel in Switzerland is definitely possible!
Fun fact: The first time I travelled to Switzerland in 2014, I actually spent only $2 over 5 days! 😉
1. Use Airbnb or Couchsurfing
I would say the most expensive cost is going to be your lodging. Even staying in a dorm in a hostel could cost $70-100 dollars. I’m not kidding.
I would advise going on Airbnb to find cheaper accommodations. You can find very comfortable and cute accommodations that are a lot cheaper than hotel or hostel prices. Especially if you’re pretty open-minded and don’t mind sharing an apartment, you could find accommodations at a very decent price. I have a few friends who rent out extra rooms at around $20-30 a night which is much cheaper than what you see in the hostels!
For those who are even more open-minded, consider Couchsurfing. Couchsurfing is my favourite way to travel on a dime and to meet people. I’ve couchsurfed in over 20+ countries and have always had a pleasant time (minus one horrible occasion – you can read about it in this article about crazy things I did to save money).
2. Use Blablacar
Blablacar is a ride share app which allows you to book a seat in someone’s car. Overall, I’ve had a pleasant experience with this app. You can book rides for a fraction of the cost of using the train.
The down side though, is that sometimes the driver is late. You also have to spend time chatting with the driver and that might not be your thing. Blablacar does have a review system so make sure to check the reviews before booking!
My friend once had a Blablacar cancel on her and she ended up stranded and having to get a hotel for the night. So use at your own risk!
3. Get the SBB app
SBB is the rail company in Switzerland which operates all the trains and public transportation.
If you’re planning to use trains as your main mode of transportation, I’d highly recommend downloading the SBB app. It’s completely free!
I can’t live without the SBB app. I always use it to check when the next train or bus is coming. I also use it to check which is the fastest route to reach my destination of choice.
Also, if you book tickets directly with the app, you have access to “supersaver tickets.” These are discounted tickets that are available up to one hour before the train departure time. I started only booking supersaver tickets and it’s helped me to save more than 50% off train tickets. The only downside is that you MUST use the ticket on the chosen train, so if you miss that train, you’ll have to pay for a new ticket.
Lastly, if you’re planning to travel by train in Switzerland for a prolonged period of time, do consider getting their half-fare card which allows you to buy all train tickets at half the price. It costs $185/year so only get it if you plan on travelling A LOT in Switzerland.
Fun fact: Swiss people are extremely timely and they like to quote their arrival time to the minute (i.e. I will arrive at 8:54AM). So… this app helps me to become more Swiss sometimes :P. Read more about weird Swiss qualities here.
4. Cook your own meals
I have to be honest that Swiss food isn’t that special. It’s a bunch of cheese and meat. Eating in restaurants, in my opinion, is not worth it.
The Swiss dishes I highly recommend you try are: fondue and raclette.
Aside from that, you will probably get tired of eating out in Swiss restaurants very quickly. Because it’s expensive. And no one wants to pay $40-50 per meal right?!
I’d recommend cooking your own meals so you can save big!!! As for grocery chains, avoid Manor and Globus (these are the super luxury stores for the elite rich in Switzerland). Coop and Migros are average priced. Denner is on the cheaper end and the super discount grocery stores are Aldi and Lidl.
5. Avoid drinking outside
Drinking outside is going to cost you A LOT! One coffee is about $5. And a beer is around $10-15. Probably more if you’re going out to bars and night clubs.
Most restaurants will also try to serve you bottled water at insane prices. Once we ordered a 1-litre bottle of water and it costed us $10. Never again!
I only ever ask for tap water. Don’t be ashamed. Even if everyone else is buying bottles of water, you can ask for tap water. The Swiss waiters/waitresses will gladly bring it to you.
For more tips on saving money, check out my post on ways to save more money!
6. Drink tap water
Tap water is extremely safe to drink in Switzerland. So there’s no need to buy bottled water.
You might see a lot of Swiss people drinking bottled water and that’s because we have Nestlé’s headquarters here. Don’t get sucked into the trap!
A bottle of water will cost $2 or so but you can easily refill your bottle for free at the fountains or in your hotel/hostel/Airbnb.
7. Find “free” activities to do
Personally, I don’t feel like there’s a point of travelling to Switzerland just to see the cities. The cities here are small and incomparable to larger cosmopolitan cities. Also, everything is overpriced and just not that fun to visit.
In Switzerland, you should really be doing things in nature because you’ll never get a view quite like this anywhere else. I’d recommend spending days in the mountains hiking (it’s FREE!!). You don’t have to pay to go hiking, minus the transportation costs.
Also, in the summer, it’s very big to swim in the lakes and rivers. Swiss love doing that to cool down.
I also love window shopping and strolling around the Swiss villages. They’re super cute.
If you’re a big ski/snowboarding bum like me, I haven’t quite found a cheap way to do this sport yet. However, I did find a cheap season’s pass which helps with the cost. Or go to smaller stations, they are much cheaper than the big stations like Zermatt and St-Moritz.
Check out my article on things that are cheaper in Switzerland for more ideas 😉
8. Avoid the big tourist spots
The most expensive excursions in Switzerland are always overcrowded by rich (Asian) tourists. Such as visiting Zermatt, Jungfraujoch, etc. I have to tell you, I’ve never visited Jungfraujoch because it costs something like $250 just to take the train up. No thank you.
You can get equally or even better experiences at a fraction of the cost. Try to find more local spots. The advantage to this is that it’s not crowded with tourists and you won’t have to spend hundreds of Swiss francs for a view spoiled by tourists.
Can you tell I don’t like tourists very much?? I kid.
9. Border shop
Last tip is to take advantage of Switzerland’s central local and border shop. Switzerland shares borders with five countries: Germany, Liechtenstein, Austria, France, and Italy. So, if you’re close to one of the borders, go across the border and stock up!
My boyfriend works in Geneva and lives in France and we do all of our grocery shopping in France because it’s much cheaper.
A lot of my Swiss friends also take trips to France or Germany on the weekends just to do groceries because it is that much cheaper.
Switzerland is expensive but you definitely have to visit it once in a lifetime! The views are spectacular. Follow my tips and you can save a few bucks and make Switzerland a budget friendly destination!
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