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Visiting Switzerland on a budget and other travel tips

by Roberto
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Pretty much the first question everyone asks me when I mention I had been to Switzerland is, “was it expensive?”. More so than was it beautiful, or what did you do there. So I think its an important question to address is visiting Switzerland on a budget. But expense is not the only question to be asked when visiting Switzerland, there are a few tips that when followed will ensure your trip goes a lot smoother.

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So is Switzerland Expensive?

When asked that question then of course the answer is, you bet its is. Not expensive in the rumoured €8 a coffee kind of way, but expensive nonetheless. Don’t be surprised to see pizzas costing Fr 40 on a menu, or train prices leaving you wondering if you purchased a whole carriage. Or to spend €56 on two cocktails in Zurich as a friend of mine did.

Switzerland has five of the ten most expensive cities in Europe. Zurich and Geneva weigh in as the first two. In terms of areas the Germanic areas in the north of Switzerland are the most expensive, followed by the French to the west, with the southern Italian parts are the cheapest. Don’t think that’s the answer to your problems though, as Lugano ranks 8th in Europe. Bear in mind I’m from Dublin too, not known for being cheap.

The Swiss Franc weighs up against other world currencies as follows:

$1 = Fr 1

€1 = Fr 0.90

£1 = Fr 0.80.

Euro’s are accepted in many locations throughout Switzerland, including tourist sites.However I would have to strongly advise against this, as a one for one exchange rate is used.

Budgetyourtrip.com estimates a daily costs per person of Fr 195 per person. We did it for a lot less and with a few careful decisions and good planning you can too. Here’s my top tips for Switzerland on a budget.

Driving or Trains in Switzerland?


This is one of the big questions everyone asks as they take to Switzerland. Of course a huge thing is if you feel comfortable driving in a foreign country. I found the roads easy to navigate, including those I came across in the Alps. For me roads give me more options to stop and see places off the tourist trail, and fit in with plan to combine Switzerland and France together in a road trip. If you plan to limit your rail journeys, driving can work out cheaper. Most cars in Switzerland are automatic, so if like me you prefer manual make sure to request in advance. It’s best to go with a small compact car if you can, as car rental and fuel prices are on higher than surrounding European countries. Parking was also not cheap, especially in hotels.

Saving Money in Switzerland
A Mazda 2 was perfect for our needs

Don’t speed

The speed limit in Switzerland is also known to be heavily enforced, so I advise not to tempt faith. Motorways have a limit of 110 km/ph and while I didn’t see any police with road side hair dryers, I can tell you a cautionary tale. The Swiss are known for their inventive punishments and it’s definitely not a case of one fine fits all. Fines are handed out on a basis of the criminal not the crime.

A Swiss businessman was caught doing 130 km/ph through a village in his flash new Ferrari in 2010. The authorities took his means and the infringement into account and handed out a fine of Fr 290000. Of course if you are like me and broke after your Swiss trip, this won’t be a factor. But no one wants the indignation of a court day so best to keep within those limits. Plus it hardly falls within a budget.


Switzerland has one of the best rail systems in Europe and it’s rail service reaches to areas beyond that roads can. Towns such as Wengen and Murren in the Alps are only accessible by trains. Trains are very expensive and careful consideration of your needs must be taken when planning for train travel. If you plan to only use a few times then a half fare card or individual tickets might be your answer.

Saving Money in Switzerland
We only took the train to Wengen

However if you plan on taking trains a lot in Switzerland it is advisable to invest in a Rail Pass. You have many options in this area, such as the Swiss Rail Pass, which services the whole country, or for example the Jungfrau Rail Pass which is more localized to the area. The latter is slightly cheaper and more specialized to the Jungfrau. Either way it will cost you a kidney, but when you start amassing rail journeys, its then you will appreciate the savings.

Switzerland on a budget -accomodation

Accommodation is always going to be your biggest expense on any trip, not just in Switzerland. Obviously there are budget options available such as hostels. For those looking to save a little more agritourism may be the answer. However if you are a little more discerning (as we are) then you can still stay in hotels and stay within budget. In Bern we stayed a few kilometres outside the city in a village, and took a train straight in. In Grindelwald we stayed a 15 minute walk out of the town. Both times we saved several hundred euros on our stays.

But there are further advantages to staying in hotels. In Bern, those staying in Bern hotels have free access to public transport. Our hotel in Grindelwald offered us free use of public buses for the duration of our stay.

The discounts didn’t stop there.

  • In Grindelwald we had discounted access to attractions including First Mountain, and Pfinstegg
  • Our Interlaken hotel provided discounts to Harder Klum.

We stayed at Hotel Glitscherblick in Grindelwald. For those looking to save on essentials it’s ideal, with free water, tea, coffee and juices in the kitchen all day. The proprietors also allow you to use the facilities to cook, ala an apartment stay.

Saving Money in Switzerland

The best thing about hotel stays is while you may spend more on the accommodation, you can spend less on food. Unlike other countries where breakfast is often found cheaper in a local cafe or greasy spoon, in Switzerland breakfast is cheaper in hotels. So book B&B and fill up on the most important meal of the day. It’s one of our favourite shortcuts to avoid shelling out on an expensive lunch.

Switzerland on a budget – Food

After transport and accomodation, food is the next factor that will have a big impact on your budget. But it doesn’t have to bankrupt you.

Take that free breakfast at your hotel and load up for the day. When the lunch time pangs roll around, look not to the expensive restaurants lining the streets, but to the supermarkets. Coop and Migros have a great selection of hot foods, sandwiches, juices and coffees and all for a fraction of what restaurants are charging. Some would even say they are cheap. It became our regular routine to stop for local flavours tucked in a panini, or for one of their delicious hot dogs.

Saving Money in Switzerland
Doesn’t look it but that’s one tasty hot dog

Dinner was a different battle. We ate from the supermarkets twice on day and decided never again. Don’t expect things like pizza or McDonalds to be cheaper options- they aren’t. As a rule meat is inordinately expensive, with fish and vegetarian dishes been a more economical option in all restaurants. Shame I’m a carnivore. A good option is to look to more ethnic restaurants. Chinese, Thai and Lebanese food is cheaper, than its European counterparts.

Personally I think while it is good to save, there’s nothing quite like dining on some local specialities while travelling. And for that reason we let loose a little with dinner. Because above all you have to enjoy yourself. A fondu won’t break the bank.

Saving Money in Switzerland
Fondu- worth every penny

Switzerland on a budget – water

After encouraging you to splurge, I have to redeem myself. One thing you must not spend money on in Switzerland is water. Water is free everywhere but not from shops of course. Bring a reusable water bottle with you and keep an eye out for the many water fountains on the streets. The fountains are fed by the mountain streams and its as delicious a water as you ever likely to taste. It is also incredibly pure. I had the opportunity to drink water straight from a glacier, it was barely above freezing and beyond refreshing. The street fountains look like this.

Swiss Public water fountain
Swiss public water is incredibly refreshing

Switzerland on a budget – attractions

As nature is the biggest attraction, then this is the greatest way for saving money in Switzerland. Because nature is free you can visit it all day to your heart’s content, and it won’t cost you a penny. The mountains are its greatest asset, and providing you are the hiking type, trails lead up alongside all the main gondolas and cable cars, and the to the best attractions, such as the Eiger, and the towns of Wengen and Murren. Your legs may regret it, but your heart will thank you.

First Mountain hiking trail
There are many hiking trails through the Alps

Other Swiss Travel Tips

  • If driving, don’t rely too heavily on Google Maps especially around the main cities. Tunnels are common place and even offline maps failed me. Use your instinct and those old fashioned things called signposts
  • Dress wisely, it can be very cold up on those mountains even in summertime
  • Travel outside July and August. Not only is it cheaper, but these months are also known for their high rainfall.
  • Plugs are different. This one caught me out. I always bring 3 power adapters with me (cause you never know), and Switzerland was no exception. But lo and behold they didn’t fit in the socket. Bar one that is. I had to investigate. Switzerland uses its own SEV 1011 plugs, which may or may not have a grounding pin. Most European plugs won’t work in the sockets. But if you can get hour hands on a Europlug adapter, then your problems will be solved. I had one without realising and it got a lot of use.

Switzerland will never be what you would classify as a budget trip and to assume you can take a cheap holiday there is foolhardy. However there are edges you can take off to save a little and deploy your budget more wisely.

Now that you are set for Switzerland, I suggest you take a look at Bern. the Swiss capital, is the perfect introduction to Switzerland.

If I helped you on your way, please share or pin this post.

Thank you for reading.


Switzerland on a Budget
Switzerland on a budget

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