Follow these simple money-saving tips when planning your trip and you’ll see how it really is possible to travel Switzerland on a budget!
Switzerland, one of my favorite European countries, is revered for everything from magnificent snow peaks to tantalizing chocolatiers and much else in between, hasn’t always exactly been synonymous with the idea of a “budget trip”.
Between ticket prices for some of the most beautiful rail routes in the world and the cost of staying in bustling metropolitan hubs — a poorly planned vacation to Switzerland can leave your travel budget with more holes in it than a wheel of Swiss cheese!
If Switzerland is on your bucket list (it was at the top of mine for many years!), believe it or not, it can be a lot less pricey than you think. With a little planning, budget travelers can experience all that this famous European destination has to offer without breaking the bank.
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How to Travel Switzerland on a Budget
Best Time to Visit Switzerland
For the cheapest rates and comfortable temperatures, the best time of year to visit Switzerland is during spring/early summer (April through June) and fall (September to October.) I have visited in both of these seasons and found the weather to be pleasant, with the occasional thunderstorm. Since Switzerland is known to be an expensive country, it’s best to avoid peak season!
How to Get to Switzerland
The best way to travel to Switzerland from the United States is to fly into one of the major cities such as Geneva or Zurich. From there, you can take connecting flights to Bern, Davos, Zermatt, and Basel.
Zurich is the largest city and you’ll likely find the most flight options into Zurich airport.
Important Things to Know About Switzerland
- Geographical Details: Switzerland, situated in central Europe, is a landlocked nation surrounded by Germany, France, Italy, Austria, and Liechtenstein.
- Capital: The capital of Switzerland is Bern.
- Administrative Divisions: Switzerland is divided into cantons.
- Official Languages: Switzerland recognizes four official languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansch.
- Currency: The Swiss franc serves as the official currency.
- Credit Cards: Credit cards and debit cards are accepted almost everywhere. The most common are Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Maestro.
- Driving: Switzerland follows right-hand driving.
Research is Your Friend
Know where you want to go. It may sound like an obvious tip, but the kindest thing you can do for your budget is plan which cities you want to visit and then figure out the best way to get from one location to another.
Some offer free public transport, others have cheap international flights — so decide which parts of Switzerland you want to visit first and structure your cost-effective itinerary second.
For cheap eats, Lidl and Aldi are two discount grocery stores, and the cheapest places to get your groceries in Switzerland. When planning your trip, look for accommodation that are close enough to these stores — especially if you book an Airbnb where you can cook your own meals.
Budget Transportation in Switzerland
The usual frustrating volatility of international flight prices can actually work in your favor when looking for a cheap deal to Switzerland. Planning your trip for low-season (February to May) will guarantee cheaper flights. Also, when planning your international flight, don’t be afraid to fly into one city and out of another.
A beautiful train journey between two cities and the opportunity to explore both could be the most economical option. With budget airlines like EasyJet and RyanAir, it could even be cheaper to stopover in another European hub on your way in or out of Switzerland.
If you’re traveling between Zermatt and St. Moritz, I recommend checking out the Glacier Express where you can also get a saver day pass. It’s also one of the most scenic train rides in the world!
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Know When to Get a Rail Pass
Home to some of the most famed rail routes in the world, offering cosy and efficient services with unbeatable views, there’s no better way to travel around Switzerland than by train. Even as a solo traveler, I found the train stations in Switzerland extremely easy to navigate.
Purchasing a swiss pass can be a budget-friendly way to avoid budget-unfriendly ticket prices — just make sure its worth your while before you buy. Check out the Swiss Travel Pass here.
If you’re visiting only one or two regions, with a minimal need for train travel, then grab a Supersaver or Half Fare Card. If you’re going to be on the rails every other day, then look into buying a Swiss Travel Pass, Eurail or Interrail Pass.
Remember, booking online is almost always cheaper than buying tickets at the kiosk and it goes without saying that the more in advance you book, the better deals you’ll find — so be sure to set aside time for this early on!
Some passes also include a ton of freebies like discounted ferry and cable car rides, sightseeing experiences and more which gives you even more reason to research ahead of time.
Free Public Transportation in Switzerland
The wonderfully pragmatic Swiss actually offer free public transport in some of their most well-travelled cities including Bern, Basel, Geneva, Lucerne and Lausanne.
To save a veritable fortune on expensive taxi fares or a rental car and still have the freedom to explore a whole city, just pick up your free transport card when you check into your accommodation.
It’s worth noting that Bern, Geneva, Zurich and Neuchâtel offer free bikes too — another great way to save some money on transportation!
Budget Accomodation in Switzerland
While the idea of relaxing by a roaring fireplace in one of the luxury hotels high in the Swiss Alps, may be appealing – it’ll be a serious drain on your budget and you can definitely experience all Switzerland has to offer without having a potentially overpriced roof over your head.
Airbnb is a great way to save money on accommodation in big cities as well as in the country. It also gives you the opportunity to meet locals and have a more authentic experience. I’ve also had good luck finding affordable hotels on Booking.com throughout Switzerland. One of my favorite places in the Jungfrau region was this hotel in the fairytale-like town of Lauterbrunnen which was surprisingly inexpensive!
If you’re keeping things metropolitan, then look to stay somewhere central to save time and money on getting around. Kitchen facilities are a blessing when it comes traveling on a budget, so be sure to pick up something affordable and local, like the delicious rösti, to save some francs on dining out.
For a truly picturesque experience, forget mountain views from a hotel window — stay in one of the many modestly priced campsites situated in and around the gorgeous valleys of the Swiss countryside.
All include basic facilities and many provide cabins and mobile homes if you don’t want to sleep in a tent. With prices as low as 25 – 35 CHF per person, you can wake up amongst mountains and meadows with stunning vistas for a fraction of the cost of staying in a hotel. Geneva and Zermatt are two beautiful, popular outdoor destinations with a range of affordable camping options.
Stray From the Beaten Path
Switzerland is home to world renowned hikes for all endurance levels, so it’s a good idea to skip the pricey tours and connect with the beauty of Switzerland for free. With lakes, waterfalls and picturesque towns in abundance (the Rhine Falls near Schaffhausen is a must see!), there’s no better way to immerse yourself in real, Alpine beauty.
Getting to know some locals is also a sure-fire way to get great recommendations on local entertainment or restaurants. Instead of heading to a tourist office, chat with locals in a cafe or bar to uncover some budget-friendly local secrets.
Freebies in Switzerland
A majority of the museums, churches and historical centres in Switzerland offer free admission. Swiss towns like Interlaken, Bern and Montreux are charming enough to wander around for hours without getting bored.
Planning plenty of free outdoor activities (such as hiking) instead of booking expensive tourist attractions will obviously help dramatically when planning your budget Switzerland trip. Switzerland is one of the most beautiful places in the world and hiking is one of my favorite things to do here.
Looking for some cheap eats? How about free? Farmers markets in Switzerland are renowned for offering unlimited, delicious free samples, so consider foregoing lunch one day and stocking up on mouth-watering local produce instead.
Budget Excursions in Switzerland
Although the mainstream tours and outings around Switzerland have a tendency to be pricey, you can most definitely avoid overpaying. If you’re by yourself, then try to book off-season, well in advance and refer to any benefits and discounts included on your travel passes.
If you’re traveling with companions, then check out the Swiss Coupon Pass. At only 49 CHF, you only need to use a few coupons to start saving.
Spending a few days in Switzerland is undeniably likely to leave your finances looking a little lighter. That’s okay. All the world-famous chocolate, fondue and excursions are too irresistible to not try at least once, so you shouldn’t deny yourself the pleasure of indulging responsibly. These tips, however, will help with saving money where it can be saved, at no cost to experiencing everything about Switzerland that makes it such a beautiful and popular destination.
Best Places to Visit on Your Switzerland Trip
These are popular destinations for a reason, and well worth scheduling a few into your itinerary.
- Lake Lucerne
- Bernese Oberland & Lake Brienz
- Lauterbrunnen Valley
- Lake Geneva
- Lake Lucerne
- St. Moritz
Best Things to Do in Switzerland Under $100
I’ve included a few of the best excursions in Switzerland for under $100 US to help you plan the perfect trip!
- Rhine Falls Half Day Trip from Zurich
- Lake Lucerne Panoramic Sightseeing Cruise
- Annecy Half Day Tour From Geneva
- Geneva City Tour and Boat Ride
- Day at Chamonix and Mont Blanc From Geneva (includes crossing into the French border)