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Switzerland on a Budget: 10 Tips for Affordable Travel

I’ve been living in Switzerland for almost 20 years. And while I do love traveling here, I know it can be expensive. If you’re eager to visit Switzerland but want to save money, here are some of my tips to make your trip more affordable.

Image of Grindelwald First by TouringSwitzerland.com

I think you can enjoy all of the main sights of Switzerland such as Bernese Oberland, Zermatt, and Lucerne on a budget. You don’t have to venture into lesser-known places, as some travel guides suggest, solely to keep costs down. Plan your itinerary early enough to book the cheapest rooms and beds, find ways to cut costs based on my suggestions below, and enjoy the scenery!

1. Find Affordable Accommodation Options

Image of a Hotel in Val Fex by TouringSwitzerland.com

One of the biggest expenses will be finding a place to stay. If you don’t mind sharing your private space with other guests, the cheapest options are hostels, youth hostels, mountain huts, and camping sites (approximately CHF 40 to 60 per person).

If you prefer to stay in hotels (approximately CHF 100 for two), the most affordable ones are the IBIS Hotels and B&B Hotels. Alternatively, you may also choose lesser-known destinations or hotels outside of city centers as these tend to be cheaper.


2. Watch for Free Travel Cards with Overnight Stays

The Ticino Ticket provides 20% Discounts for Zoo Al Maglio as Pictured by TouringSwitzerland.com

In most cities and towns you visit, you get a free travel card when you stay at least one night. I’ve traveled to many places and gotten hold of this card. While this card isn’t available everywhere, I’d say the majority of places have it. They don’t always offer it upfront, so sometimes you might have to ask at the hotel or the tourist office.

Here are some of the cities where I’ve stayed and received these free cards:

The offers vary from city to city or place to place. It can range from free travel with cable cars, like in Saas-Fee, to discounts on travel. You might also get free museum visits or enjoy complimentary activities like tobogganing in Brunni. Additionally, you could receive discounts such as half-price entry to rope parks, bike rentals, or the Basel Zoo.


3. Consider Visiting During The Shoulder Season

Image of Lake Trübsee in Summer by TouringSwitzerland.com

While the best time for hiking might be in summer and skiing in peak winter, you might want to reconsider these two peak seasons to visit Switzerland if you want to save some money. I’ve always found prices to be lower when hotel beds are not in high demand.

If you want to learn more about the shoulder season, I’ve written about it here: Switzerland’s Shoulder Season And How to Take Full Advantage of It.


4. Buy Meals from the Supermarket

Image of Cheese as seen in Coop, Verbier by TouringSwitzerland.com

If you’re short on budget, restaurant dining in Switzerland can truly dent your pocket. It can get quite expensive. To save on costs, check out the nearest Coop or Migros store. They typically sell lots of food to go, like salads, sandwiches, and a variety of drinks. Bakeries and the TooGoodtoGo app are also two alternative options.

You can expect to pay anywhere between CHF 6 to 10 per sandwich or salad.

For us, it’s also a time-saver, especially if we want to fit in many activities in one day. Having lunch at a restaurant can easily take up your time with ordering, waiting, and eating. Just grabbing something from Coop and Migros is quick and easy. Then, you can go on with activities afterward without any delay.

We’ve done this many times while traveling. Sometimes, we take our food with us hiking. That way, we don’t need to worry about finding a mountain restaurant along the trail and can stop at any bench or appropriate spot to eat. If you have an apartment with a kitchen, you might also want to cook a simple dinner at the end of the day instead of visiting a restaurant.


5. Bike or Walk to Your Destination

Image of the Cherry Trail in Frick by TouringSwitzerland.com

This tip might not be your cup of tea but if you’re keen on saving money, here goes: bike or walk to your destination. Switzerland has many bike trails and hiking paths waiting for you to explore. You may use the cable car or funicular to a higher spot, then hike your way down. Not only does it cut your fare in half, but you will also enjoy nature on the way down. Plus, you can get in a good workout too.

For ideas on where to hike, simply have a look at Switzerland Mobility Hiking Trails. And if you prefer the bike, Switzerland Mobility Cycling Trails has you covered too.

Rent a Bike has around 4,500 bikes available across 150 locations in Switzerland. You can check this rental service here: Rent a Bike.


6. Explore Free Sights

Image of Val Müstair by TouringSwitzerland.com

Thankfully, much of Switzerland can be seen for free. Most of the lakes and botanical parks can be visited for free. Mountains are always accessible on foot if you do not wish to pay for a funicular or cable car ticket. Watching the country’s most beautiful waterfalls, such as Rhine Falls or Seerenbach Falls, also won’t cost you a dime.

If you’re craving for serene nature, Switzerland has many natural parks and one national park. The Swiss National Park in Engadine/Val Müstair is wide open and free to wander into.

Here are more free sites that you can visit:


7. Make Use of Free Walking Guides

Image of the Free Walking Guide on Smart Guide

Walking around beautiful neighborhoods around Switzerland is free. We like doing this, especially in many beautiful towns such as Stein am Rhein, Murten, Lucerne, and more. I find that walking around, especially on a walking tour, is a great way to explore the place and learn about the town’s history and culture.

There are some tourist spots where you can use free walking guides from Smart Guide. Among the places in Switzerland where they have guides are the following:

Andermatt-Hospental-Realp
Ascona
Basel
Bellinzona
Bern
Biel
Chur
Fribourg
Rhine Falls
Zurich
Geneva
Jungfraujoch
La Chaux-de-Fonds
Lausanne
Locarno
Lucerne
Lugano
Montreux
Neuchâtel
Olten
Rheinfelden
St. Gallen
Schaffhausen
Solothurn
Stein am Rhein
Thun
Weinfelden
Wilchingen
Winterthur
Zug

8. Buy a Saver Day Pass

Image of the Zurich to Lucerne Train, Zurich Airport by TouringSwitzerland.com

If you have your itinerary completely fixed, you can choose to grab a Saver Day Pass. With the Saver Day Pass, you can pay as little as CHF 29 with a Half Fare Travelcard or CHF 52 without a Half Fare Travelcard. This will allow you to explore the country for an entire day without having to worry about the costs. So you can go from St. Gallen to Geneva or from Basel to Lugano, and back, and not worry about paying more.

If you know that you will have to take a specific route or train anyway, you can check out the Saver Offer that might allow you to get a 50% discount. Remember that these are tickets that are valid for a specific connection, on a specific day, at a specific time. So make sure you get your ticket and schedule correctly. The earlier you book it, the more you can save.


9. Examine Discounted Admissions

Image of Zoo Zurich by TouringSwitzerland.com

This tip does not have a one-size-fits-all approach so you will just have to wing it. Before you set off to your destination, you might want to read the fine print of the destination or do a quick search if there are discounts available for you.

Think travel cards, KulturLegi, Museum Pass, group discounts, special deals, and more. There are also oftentimes price cuts for specific age brackets such as seniors, students, and younger children.

You might also want to keep an eye out at Coop. Sometimes, they provide vouchers for free or after spending a minimum amount (around CHF 100) at the supermarket.


10. Experience Traditional Swiss Festivals

Image of Sheep Shearing Festival in Savognin by TouringSwitzerland.com

Switzerland has thousands of events, experiences, and farmers’ markets for you to check out. You can visit MySwitzerland.com and check out their events page. If you filter by date, you can have a look at all the events that are going to take place during your visit. Or you might want to first find certain events that you are interested in, and then book your trip based on that event.

Popular events that you can visit for free are the carnivals called Fasnacht. Basel and Lucerne are popular destinations for this one. Light Festivals also typically take place in winter. In autumn, lots of animals from the Swiss Alps come down to the valley in a parade. Pictured above is the Sheep Shearing Festival in Savognin but there are also many nice Cow Descent Festivals all over the country.


Final Thoughts

After nearly two decades of calling Switzerland home, I’ve picked up some tricks for keeping costs down while exploring the country. When it comes to finding a place to sleep in, you can get cheaper rooms by considering options such as hostels, mountain huts, or camping sites But if you prefer the comforts of a hotel, look into budget-friendly chains like IBIS or B&B Hotels.

Now, here’s a golden nugget: most tourist areas provide free travel cards as long as you stay one night in that area. These fantastic cards can score you discounts or free entry to attractions and transportation. And when you’re out and about, always scout for discounted admissions and group deals to stretch your sightseeing budget further. Also don’t overlook the grocery stores like Coop or Migros for grabbing affordable food – a quick and inexpensive meal can keep your adventures fueled up without draining your wallet.

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Darla is the owner of TouringSwitzerland.com. Her home is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Having lived almost 20 years in Switzerland, she's traveled extensively all over the country. Darla's favorite regions to visit in Switzerland include Engadin, Lake Geneva, Bernese Oberland, Ticino, and Valais. She loves spending time with her family, hiking, visiting museums, and reading books.

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