With a hopping nightlife, filled with endless bars and restaurants, this cosmopolitan city is bustling with activity. Zurich (spelled Zürich) is also set on a beautiful lake, near the mountains, and is close to a lot of other cities. It’s a very international city and you’ll find expats and students from all around the world living and working here. I love the historic center that opens up on the lake, sitting in the parks, and drinking a beer on the lakefront. The city is also very arty and full of street art and exhibitions. While very expensive thanks to all the banks in the city, Zurich is a city worth staying for many days. This travel guide to Zurich can help you visit the city on budget and fill your time!
Hostel prices – Expect to spend about 50 CHF per night for a bed in a 6-bed dorm room. You can find a few private rooms as low as 90 CHF for a single, but you’re more likely to spending over 120 CHF. Hostels typically offer free linens, free WiFi, and some offer free breakfast.
Budget hotel prices – A night in a 2-star budget hotel in a room that sleeps two starts around 90 CHF. Included in this price are basic hotel amenities, like a private bathroom, free WiFi, and television. On Airbnb, shared rooms start around 20 CHF per night. Renting an entire home averages about 50 CHF per night.
Average cost of food – Food here is expensive! If you cook your meals, expect to pay around 130 CHF per week for groceries that will include pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic foodstuffs. Supermarkets also sell pre-made meals for between 5-9 CHF. Bars and cafés are the cheapest food option, cost about 9-15 CHF for a lunch special. Restaurants with table service are around 20 CHF for lunch and 40 CHF for dinner (starter, main, and drink). If you’re dining out, you’ll spend an average of 55-75 CHF per day. From there, the sky is the limit! For people who want to cook and eat the occasional meal out, expect to spend around 20 CHF per day.
Transportation costs – Taxis are expensive and unnecessary (a taxi in Zurich costs a minimum of 6 CHF and fares are 3 CHF per km). Instead, take the bus, train or tram, and save yourself a ton of money. A one-day pass transit pass ranges in price from 5-34 CHF, depending on how many transit zones you want to cover. A single ticket for 1-2 zones is 2.60-4.30 CHF. You can also save money by riding a free city bicycle.
Suggested daily budget – 110 CHF / 107 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
- Buy a Zurich Pass – The Zurich Pass can offer excellent value, with free airport transfers and local transport as well as free admission to forty Zurich museums. A 24-hour Zurich card costs 24 CHF, while a 72-hour pass costs 48 CHF. Tourist passes like this are always excellent value if you plan to spend a lot of time sight-seeing and will always save you money.
- Ride a free bike – In Zurich, city bikes, e-bikes, and children’s bikes can be rented for free! You can pick your bike up year-round with a valid ID and a deposit of 20 CHF at either the Bike Station North (Swiss National Museum) or the Bike Station South (Postbrücke). This service is available for every visitor.
- Use Couchsurfing — It’s a service that lets travelers stay with locals for free. It was a lifesaver that allowed me to keep my costs down the most. Since a lot of travelers use this service, make your requests for hosts early.
- Don’t drink — Drinking is not cheap here. Most beers are around 8 CHF. (Plus, who wants to hike while hung over?) Most wines are between 10-25 CHF a bottle. If you must drink, stick to hostel bars where you can enjoy 2-for-1 happy hours and cheap drinks for around 5 CHF or buy your beers at grocery stores for as little was 2 CHF.
- Cook — With sit-down restaurants costing around 40 CHF per meal per person, eating out in Switzerland can be very costly, so buy your groceries. A week’s worth of food (bread, pasta, rice, eggs, vegetables, cheese, deli meats for sandwiches, and some assorted fruit) will cost you 75-100 CHF. The major supermarkets are Migros, COOP, and Spar. COOP is the most expensive.
- Go veggie — Meat is expensive in Switzerland. Every Swiss resident or expat I talked to told me about how they limit their meat consumption because it costs so much. Stick to veggies and avoid buying meat for your meals (especially beef). While I was trolling supermarkets and butchers for grocery prices (travel writing is glamorous, huh?!), I found a pound of meat was 12-14 CHF. At that price, stick to deli meats for protein!
- Use lunch specials — If you are going to eat out, do so during lunch when most lunch specials at cafes and restaurants cost around 10-19 CHF. Moreover, stick to the ethnic restaurants like Chinese, Middle Eastern, Indian, or Thai for the best deals and biggest portions (and closer to that 10 CHF price). Lunch specials are a great way to get a lot of bang for your buck and to enjoy the dinner menu but at a cheaper set menu price.
- Take a free walking tour – To get a feel for the city and learn about its’ history, be sure to take a free walking tour with the company: Free Walk Zurich. Exploring a city on foot is the best way to understand it, and if you love architecture and history then this is a must!
Top Things to See and Do in Zurich
- Taste Swiss chocolate – With several chocolate shops throughout the city, you should visit a Sprungli store and see for yourself what makes their chocolate so good. If you’re lucky, you can catch them passing out samples and snack for free.
- Visit the National Museum of Switzerland – If you’re a history buff, this National Museum of Switzerland offers a detailed look into the history of the country. The exhibits are very detailed. Admission to the museum is 10 CHF and it’s open daily (except Mondays) from 10am-5pm with extended hours on Thursdays.
- Walk around the Old Town – Stop to eat at one of many restaurants. You can choose from the cuisine of pretty much every corner of the earth. Then, have a drink at a variety of pubs, and taste the city’s unique cheese and chocolates. This unique shopping district is like stepping back in time.
- Explore its vibrant nightlife – Zurich may be a relaxing city during the day, but at night it comes alive with over 500 nightlife venues – pubs, restaurants, music halls. With no open-container laws in Zurich, start your night with cheap drinks on the Limmat riverfront before moving to the bars and clubs. When you are ready to hit the town, head to Neiderdorf in the Old Town or Langstrasse just nearby.
- Eat in the dark at Blindekuh Zurich – Have you ever eaten a meal in complete darkness? At the restaurant Blindekuh (which means “Blind Man’s Buff” in German) that’s exactly what you’ll do. Founded in 1999, this restaurant became the first dark restaurant to employ visually impaired staff in the world. Now Blindekuh is one of the largest private-sector employers for people with impaired vision. Eat with only 4 out of 5 senses here and have a culinary adventure!
- Catch the Street Parade – Currently the biggest open air techno rave in Europe. It happens on the second Saturday of August, during which time trucks which function as mobile sound systems start driving along the lakeside. Every year, this event attracts nearly a million visitors who dance in the streets to music that can be heard from anywhere in the city.
- Go skiing – Flumserberg is the nearest large ski-resort. It’s popular with people from Zurich, with a good range of runs for beginners and experts. Retreat to the right side of the resort if the rest gets busy. A day pass costs 58-65 CHF, but there are reduced passes available (as low as 30 CHF) if you go after certain times or only to certain lifts.
- Spend some time at the Beyer Zurich Clock & Watch Museum – This is one of the world’s leading private museums dedicated to the horology, or “the study of time”. As you know, Switzerland is famous for its watchmaking. Take a gander at all of the timepieces housed in this well-designed museum, and be sure to pay attention to the one-of-a-kind, rare, and antique clocks. Admission is only 8 CHF.
- Walk the lake promenade – Especially during summer, the lake is a beautiful place to spend the evening or the weekend. Starting from Bellevue, the boardwalk goes for about three kilometers along the lake towards Tiefenbrunnen. About halfway from Bellevue, there is a meadow that’s nice to relax in during a sunny day.
- Celebrate Swiss National Day – Celebrated on August 1st, festivities are carried out in the evenings and fireworks are launched at night. Watch them over the lake, or if you have experience with (safely) launching fireworks yourself, you can buy them in the days leading up to the national holiday and have fun. The display over the Rheinfall, one hour away by S-Bahn, is also extremely popular.
- Go hiking – With Zurichberg to the East of town and Uetliberg to the West, the city has two mountains which offer good views and good hikes. While Zurichberg feels closer to town with its cemeteries and hotels, Uetliberg has a more natural ambiance with its hiking and mountain-biking trails.
- Enjoy the pastries on a Sweet Zurich Tour – Switzerland is famous for their almost 200-year-old chocolate empire. On the tour, a special treat will be waiting for you at each little-known pastry shops. You’ll also taste lots of chocolates, uniquely flavored truffles, bars, ice cream, and hot chocolate all while you learn about the chocolate trends of Zurich. Small tours (2-8 people) operate Tuesday to Friday afternoons (at 2pm) for 2.5 hours and cost CHF 85 per person.
- Check out the Rietberg Museum – For a day of international art, head to the Rietberg Museum, which contains collections from non-European lands. Some of the highlights here come from Asia, Africa, and Oceania. There are a lot of beautiful sculptures here, and the building itself is quite something. The museum is open daily (except Mondays) from 10am-5pm with extended hours on Wednesdays. Admission is 18 CHF.
- Take a boat tour – For a unique perspective of the city, take a tour on Lake Zurich. You can find tours for as little as 10 CHF, and bookings can be made at the pier on Bahnhofstrasse.
- Visit the zoo – Zurich has a zoo that is considered to be among the best in Europe. It has more than 2000 animals! A visit here can easily take up the better part of a day. The zoo is open daily from 9am-6pm (with reduced hours in the winter). Admission is 26 CHF.
- Smell the flowers at the City Gardens of Stadtgaertnerei – This great little botanical garden grows about 250,000 plants that are used in public flowerbeds around Zurich. It’s also home to 17 different species of tropical birds. It’s open daily for 9am-4:30pm and every Wednesday at 1:30pm there’s an informational talk about the plant life.
- Rosenhof Market – This is hidden in a square in the Niederdorf part of the Old Town. Go here to browse through shops selling intriguing goods like incense, jewelry, handicrafts, and bohemian style clothing. When you’re here, be sure to get some international food from one of the delicious food stalls. Open March through September on Thursdays (10am-8pm) and Saturdays (10am-5pm).