Switzerland on a budget: 20 helpful tips for saving money while visiting Switzerland

by | May 25, 2023 | Europe, Switzerland | 0 comments

The best tips for travelling Switzerland on a budget
The best tips for travelling Switzerland on a budget

There’s no point denying it: Switzerland is expensive. Even if you snag some cheap flights, visiting Switzerland will most likely require a bit of a bigger holiday budget.

The cost of living in Switzerland is amongst the highest in the world and things like food and accommodation generally don’t come cheap. According to a Switzerland Tourism survey, travellers in Switzerland spend an average of 100 to 200 Swiss Francs daily on food and accommodation.

But don’t give up on that Swiss adventure just yet! Firstly, Switzerland is tiny and you can see a lot in a short time.  I would still recommend at least 2 weeks to explore the country instead of just ticking off the highlights. But if your budget doesn’t allow it, you can easily combine a few days in Switzerland with a trip to a cheaper country like Germany, Italy or France.

Secondly, there are many ways to save some bucks whilst visiting Switzerland, many of which have saved me quite a lot of money in my almost 30 years of living in Switzerland.

In this post, I have compiled a list of my 20 best tips for travelling Switzerland on a budget

Tips for Getting around Switzerland on a budget

If you are wondering whether it is cheaper to travel Switzerland by car or public transport, the answer is “it depends”. It depends on many factors, like how many people you’re travelling with, fuel prices, parking costs and much more.

I’d recommend comparing the costs when you’re working out your Switzerland itinerary, and also think about comfort, convenience the type of trip you want to have, to determine what works best for you.

If you decide to travel around Switzerland by public transport, there are some great ways to save some bucks.
Travelling Switzerland on a budget by train

Save on transport with the switzerland travel pass

Switzerland’s extensive public transport is famous for its reliability and punctuality. You can get almost anywhere in the country by train, bus or boat, and you’ll very rarely arrive late.

If you’re planning on using public transport, the Swiss Travel Pass could be a game changer. With this ticket, you’ll get to use the public transport network for a set amount of consecutive days, or days within a month. And there are additional perks like:

  • unlimited travel on panorama trains (seat reservations are needed and cost extra)
  • public transport in over 90 Swiss cities and towns
  • free admission to over 500 museums
  • free use or discounts on many mountain railways

Can you actually save money with the Swiss Travel Pass? It really depends on your travel plans! The passes aren’t cheap, but if you’re planning on using public transport a lot, it could turn out much cheaper than buying individual tickets for each journey.

If you’re under 26 you’ll save even more because you’ll get 30% off on all Travel Passes!

Super Saver tickets & Day passes

Super Saver Tickets are one of the best hacks for travelling Switzerland on a budget, and something I look for all the time when taking the train!

Super Saver Tickets are basically discounted fares that you can get for a specific route at a specific time. The discount can be up to 70%, depending on how far in advance you get your ticket and what time of the day you’re planning to travel (the less busy the trains the higher the discounts).

Super Saver Tickets are only available online or through the mobile app. When you scroll through the different connections, look out for the % sign. This will show you whether discounts are available for that connection or not.

Important: the super saver ticket is only valid for the selected date, time and connection. If you miss that train, you’ll need to get a new one as your ticket will no longer be valid!

If you want more flexibility, go for a Saver Day Pass instead. Same procedure, but they are valid for a full day instead of a specific connection. They are available online 60 days in advance and the earlier you buy them the more you save.

Hiking the Swiss Wine Trail in Lavaux

Swiss Half Fare Card

If you’re planning on staying in Switzerland for longer and using public transport occasionally, I’d recommend getting the Swiss Half Fare Card. It’s valid for a full month and gives you discounts of up to 50% on trains, buses, boats, and many mountain railways.

The 1-month half-fare card is only available for people without domicile in Switzerland or Lichtenstein, but there is a similar ticket for people living in Switzerland and it is something that I’ve had for many years and can honestly recommend.

Budget hack: save even more by combining the Half Fare Card with the Super Saver Tickets.
The fiord-like Fälensee in Switzerland
Trail signs on the Fälensee hike.

Explore Switzerland on foot

Switzerland is a very safe country and you can walk anywhere. You could even save on transport altogether and visit Switzerland on a multi-day hiking trip.

Switzerland has many epic multi-day hikes, including the almost 400 km long Via Alpina that takes you across 14 of Switzerland’s most beautiful mountain passes and 7 cantons (states).

But even if you don’t want to be as active on your holiday, walking can help you save a lot of money. If you’re travelling Switzerland on a budget, explore cities on foot instead of using public transport, and go for hikes instead of taking cable cars.

Walking will also allow you to take in the small details, instead of just heading from one sight to the next. And the views at the top of the mountain are so much better if you’ve climbed it on foot, rather than by cable car.

Muttseehut near Limmerensee
The village and ski slopes of Arosa in Switzerland

Tips for saving money on accommodation in Switzerland

Travel during low or Mid-season

Switzerland doesn’t have a classic high season and the best time to visit really depends on what you want to do. You can read all about it in my post about the best time to visit Switzerland, where I go into detail about what to expect every month.

That being said, it does get quite busy, especially in the mountains, over Christmas and New Year, and during school holidays in February, July and August. Try to avoid these months if you’re travelling Switzerland on a budget.

Just before or right after the rush of summer school break, June and September are great months to visit Switzerland if you’re looking for lower prices and fewer crowds.

Unfortunately, June is also the wettest month of the year. But there is still a lot to do in Switzerland, even on rainy days, especially if you don’t mind getting a bit wet. The weather in September is a bit more stable, with fewer rainy days. It’s an amazing month to visit Switzerland for outdoor activities like hiking or mountain biking.

And if you’re visiting Switzerland on a skiing holiday, consider planning your trip for late March or early April. Many ski areas stay open until Easter, and some of them even offer end-of-season discounts on ski passes.

Avoid major tourist hotspots

Statistics show that the majority of travellers visiting Switzerland like to use Zürich, Geneva, and sometimes Lucerne or Interlaken as their base to explore the country.

While all of these are great places to visit, their popularity comes with a price, especially when it comes to accommodation and restaurants. The same goes for popular tourist destinations like Lauterbrunnen or Zermatt.

If you’re travelling Switzerland on a budget, try to avoid these “hotspots, and look for less popular, but equally (or often even more) beautiful places. Thanks to Switzerland’s small size, you’ll still be able to explore all the “must-see” places, but you’ll likely spend less on accommodation, and you’ll get to explore some more hidden gems too.

Some underrated and less popular regions in Switzerland worth checking out are:

  • the Jura & Three-Lakes-Region and the Fribourg Region in the French-speaking part of Switzerland
  • Eastern Switzerland and the region around Lake Constance close to the German border
  • mountain valleys like Lumnezia, Val Müstair, or Val D’Hérens, without popular towns like St. Moritz or Zermatt
A charming village in the Ottenberg Wine Region
Hiking the Swiss Wine Trail in Lavaux

Stay at a holiday home or apartment

Renting out holiday homes is very popular in Switzerland, especially in the mountain towns and villages and you can often find them on platforms like Interhome or e-domizil, as well as Airbnb or Booking.com.

If you’re travelling as a group or with your family, staying at an apartment or holiday home is often cheaper than booking individual hotel rooms. And it’s nice to have your own place where you can all hang out and spend time together. Plus having a kitchen will help you save a ton of money on eating out!

Sleep in hostels

Yes, this one is pretty obvious, but I wanted to mention it anyway.  There is also a wide network of hostels called Jugendherbergen. They offer cheap-ish accommodation all through Switzerland, some of them in really unique locations and buildings:

Dorm beds at youth hostels cost between 40 and 70 Francs per night, sometimes including breakfast. Hostelling International members benefit from various discounts at the Youth Hostels in Switzerland, including a 7 Franc discount on accommodation.

In addition to Youth Hostels, there are also a bunch of individual hostels in Switzerland. You can book many of them through Booking.com.

Budget hack: loyalty programs! I book most of my accommodation through Booking.com where I can benefit from the Genius loyalty program. Depending on your Genius level, you can save up to 20%, enjoy free breakfasts and room upgrades, and get priority support.

Drone shot of Muttenchopf

Go on a camping trip in Switzerland

Many Swiss people love being outdoors, and camping is more popular than ever. There are over 600 campgrounds in Switzerland, many of them in stunning locations by a lake or in the mountains.

If you’re planning on visiting Switzerland on a budget during the summer months, why not make a camping trip out of it? Some campgrounds stay open all year round, so you could technically camp in winter, but be prepared for some cold nights. Even if there’s no snow, temperatures often drop below zero during the winter months.

Prices for campgrounds can vary a bit depending on the location and time of the year, but in general, you can expect to pay between 15 and 40 Francs for a basic tent site, or a bit more for campgrounds with more facilities.

Wild camping in Switzerland

With so many amazing spots to put up a tent for the night, wild camping has become more popular in Switzerland too. While it is not generally allowed, there are a few exceptions.

Each canton (state) has their own laws, and each municipality has their own rules and regulations. In general, it’s ok to wild camp above the tree line, as long as you’re not in a nature reserve, and are mindful of nature and wildlife.

If you’re planning on wild camping in Switzerland, be sure to do some research beforehand at the local tourism office or online. And if you’re travelling with a camper van, check park4night where people share nice spots for motorhomes and vans.

June is the best month to visit Switzerland with fewer crowds
Hiking in Switzerland on a budget

Guest cards at hotels

Many hotels in Switzerland hand out guest cards to their guests. They are a great way to save money while travelling  Switzerland because they usually give you heaps of discounts for attractions like museums, public pools, and cable cars, and sometimes even allow you to use the local public transport for free.

If no guest card is included with your accommodation, it’s worth checking if you can buy one.

With the Zurich Card, for example, you can use public transport in the whole city, including some boats on the lake. You also get free admission or discounts on museums, walking tours and many other things for a fraction of the price. You can find more information on many available guest cards throughout Switzerland here.

Whenever I travel abroad, I always use Airalo to get an eSim with local data. It’s the easiest way to stay connected abroad!
Lake Suretta in Switzerland in May

Tips for saving money on food in Switzerland

Save money by cooking

There are many great restaurants in Switzerland, serving anything from local specialities to international cuisine. But with mains costing anything between 20 and 50 Francs, eating out will tear quite a hole into your budget.

If you are travelling to Switzerland on a budget, accommodation with a kitchen will be your best friend. Cooking your own meals most of the time will help you reduce your expenses.

Shop for cheaper and reduce food waste

In addition, you can also save money by shopping at Ässbar or Too Good To Go. Both companies aim to reduce food waste and sell products that would otherwise get thrown out at a cheaper price.

Ässbar has stores in different Swiss cities. They collect yesterday’s bread, pastries and salads from nearby bakeries. And they also sell milk and dairy products that can’t be sold at supermarkets anymore.

Too Good To Go provides a platform for restaurants and shops to sell their remaining products at the end of the day. Some places sell surprise boxes filled with groceries, while others sell salads, sandwiches, or even full mains at a much cheaper price.

Shopping at Ässbar or Too Good To Go is not only great for your wallet, but also for the environment and fight against food waste.
Fruit market in the old town of Lugano
A local butcher in the old town of Lugano

Shop at the right supermarkets

I know from my own experience that picking the “right” supermarket in a new country can be tricky.

In Switzerland, there are different supermarket chains and the prices can vary a lot. Try to avoid Coop and Migros if you’re shopping in Switzerland on a budget. Instead, go to Denner, Aldi or Lidl. Alternatively, look out for the budget product lines at Coop and Migros, Prix Garantie and M Budget.

In some of the smaller villages, you sometimes won’t be able to find any of these supermarkets. Instead, there might be a Spar or Volg, where the prices are typically a little higher. If you know you’re heading somewhere remote-ish, get your grocery shopping out of the way before leaving the city.

Save money on Lunch menus

Switzerland has many great restaurants, but eating out can be expensive. Cooking meals and packing lunches on day trips will always save you the most.

The best tip for saving money in restaurants is lunch menus. Restaurants often offer a “starter plus main” or “main plus dessert” special at a lower price during lunch. Oftentimes, lunch menus change daily and are not written down, but the waiters will tell you about their daily special when they bring you the menu.

Wandering through the old town of Biel

Drink water from fountains

Another small budget hack that will help you save a few bucks while travelling Switzerland is to bring a reusable water bottle. Switzerland has some of the cleanest tap water in the world, and there is no need to spend money on bottled water in shops.

Most fountains in Switzerland are also safe to drink from. Make sure to look out for a sign saying “Kein Trinkwasser” before you drink from a fountain. If you see this sign, you found one of the few fountains you shouldn’t be drinking from.

But there are so many fountains in Switzerland, over 1.200 in Zürich alone, that the next fountain is never far away.
Switzerland on a budget: free swimming spots

More tips for Exploring switzerland on a budget

Free swimming spots

Did you know that there are over 1.500 lakes and more than 60.000 km of rivers and streams in Switzerland? Many Swiss cities are built on lake shores and have rivers running through them. And especially during summer, a big part of daily life evolves around the water.

There are many popular swimming spots all over Switzerland, whether you’re taking a refreshing dip in a mountain lake, or floating through the Swiss capital. Here are some of the best (and completely free) swimming spots to jot down on your Switzerland bucket list:

  • Swimming in the Rhine is very popular in Basel during the summer months. The best spot to get in is the Tinguely Museum. From there, you can float 3 km down the Rhine through the city.
  • The half-sandy, half-pebbly Eaux-Vives Beach is one of Geneva’s best beaches, and access is completely free.
  • Whether you prefer lakes or rivers, Zürich has got you covered. Float down the Limmat at Oberer or Unterer Letten, or relax by the lake at one of the many free swimming spots around the city.
  • On the Aare River, you can even float or boat on the right through the Swiss capital city Berne with a view of the parliament building.
  • In addition, there are so many smaller lakes, tarns, and rivers, no matter where you go in Switzerland. I love a refreshing swim and always make sure to pack my swimsuit when going on hikes during summer – just in case!

Free Tours & Museums

If you want to learn about culture, nature, politics or history in Switzerland on a budget, look out for free tours and museums. Here are some of my favourite finds:

  • CERN in Geneva is one of the world’s largest centres for nuclear research. You can visit their permanent exhibition “Universe of Particles” free of charge, and on some days there are also free scientific shows.
  • You can visit the Bundeshaus, the Swiss Parliament Building on a free 1-hour guided tour. The tours are done in different languages on different days of the week, so make sure to check the schedule in advance here.
  • If you visit the watch-making capital of Biel, you can’t leave without taking a trip to the Omega Museum to learn more about the history of the two Swiss watch brands Omega and Swatch.
  • Augusta Raurica is one of Switzerland’s most important Roman sites and a must-see for archaeology lovers. It’s over 2.000 years old and one of the best-preserved Roman towns north of the Alps. And you can visit Agusta Raurica (except for the Roman museum) completely free of charge.
  • Some Swiss museums are free on specific days of the month. You can visit the art museum in Zürich for free on Wednesdays. And admission to the art museum in Lugano is free every first Thursday of the month.
Summer is the best time to travel Switzerland for epic hikes.

Enjoy free activities like hiking

As I said earlier in this post, exploring on foot is a great way to save money while travelling Switzerland. Hiking is one of the favourite pastimes of Swiss people, and the over 65.000 km of hiking trails throughout the country are very well-maintained and signposted.

As long as you skip the mountain railways and bring your own snacks and picnic lunches, hiking is a very cheap activity. In addition, it’s a great way to explore and enjoy Switzerland’s beautiful nature.

Hiking is popular all year round in Switzerland. During the winter months, you can hike through beautiful, snowy landscapes. In summer, you can cool off after your hike with a refreshing dip in an ice-cold mountain lake. And in autumn, wine hikes through wine-growing areas are especially popular.

Colorful houses in the old town of Biel
Wandering through Twann

Free Walking Tours

Free walking tours are another great thing to do while travelling around Switzerland on a budget. As you will be exploring a city with a local, you’ll get to learn about all the hidden gems, best bars and restaurants and other non-touristy things you can’t miss.

Free Walk Switzerland offers free walking tours in over 10 Swiss cities including Zürich, Geneva, Lucerne, and lesser-known destinations like Fribourg, Solothurn and Thun. Check their website to see if they offer any free walking tours in the cities you’re planning to visit and to find out when and where to meet.

Christmas market in Zürich
Christmas tree and fairy lights

Free attractions

Some places on your Switzerland bucket list might be completely free to visit. You can walk across the famous Chapel Bridge in Lucerne, or explore the castle and rose gardens in Rapperswil without spending a single cent (or Rappen, as it is called in Switzerland).

No permit is needed for the Swiss National Park, the oldest national park in Europe. You can enjoy over 80 km of hiking paths and trails completely free of charge, and even spot some ibex, marmots or eagles if you’re lucky.

You can visit the Rhine Falls in Schaffhausen, some Europe’s most powerful waterfalls. You only pay for the boat trips, but visiting the falls is free. Or you could hike to  Creux du Van, a giant natural amphitheatre that doesn’t make it on many Switzerland itineraries but is more than worth the trip.

I hope these tips will help you visit Switzerland on a budget too. Don’t forget to pin this post on Pinterest to save it for later!
The best tips for travelling Switzerland on a budget
The best tips for travelling Switzerland on a budget

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Welcome to my world!

Hi, I’m Sara, a twenty-something Swiss on a mission to become a full-time travel writer and digital nomad.