Last Updated: 10/13/22 | October 13th, 2022
Switzerland conjures up many images. On one side, there are majestic mountains, delicious fondue and chocolate, big banks sheltering people’s money, precision watches, and an orderly society.
But those majestic mountains and stunning scenery come at a price: Switzerland is the most expensive country in the world.
Understandably, with visiting Switzerland so expensive, it’s easy to see why so many backpackers and budget travelers skip over the country and wait until they are older and (hopefully) wealthier.
When I mentioned I was visiting Switzerland on a budget, many people shook their heads and wished me good luck with a “poor soul to think he can do that” expression.
I’ll admit, I was worried. While I’ve found that not all “expensive” destinations need to be tough on the wallet (though some are unavoidably expensive), traveling to Switzerland on a budget seemed daunting.
But, while Switzerland will never be a “dirt cheap” country to visit, where travelers can visit on just a few dollars a day, there are definitely ways to save here so you can visit without breaking the bank.
To help you plan your trip, save money, and ensure you make the most out of your budget visit, here’s everything you need to know to avoid breaking the bank in Switzerland:
How Much I Spent in Switzerland
Here’s how much my trip to Switzerland (Zurich, Bern, Geneva, and Interlaken) cost (in Swiss francs, which at the time of my visit were worth around $1.03 USD):
Total: 613.71 (or 76.71 CHF per day)
Overall, I did a good job keeping my costs down, spending around $79 USD per day. However, it took a lot of work and constant vigilance. I relied heavily on the sharing economy (see below) and cooking my own food to make this happen. Being able to hike and visit free attractions also helped, though in wintertime when you have to pay to ski, this might not be the case.
Having spent a few days in Zurich in the past, I didn’t feel the need to eat out a lot so I was happy to eat my own food versus ordering expensive restaurant food. Alcohol cost a fair bit (11% of my budget) but there was no way I was going to Interlaken without partying in the famous Balmers (also the only hostel I stayed in the entire time).
My biggest mistake was not paying attention to the fact I was flying in and out of Zurich. Since I went from Zurich to Geneva to Zurich, that meant I doubled back, costing me an extra 100 CHF in train tickets! This was such as stupid mistake, and I still kick myself for it. I mean, how could I miss such a simple thing?!
If I had gone one way, I would have saved a substantial amount of money and significantly lowered my average spending. Always pay attention to your direction to save money on transportation. It’s a hard and fast rule of mine and I completely messed up.
Suggested Daily Budget in Switzerland
How much should you spend in Switzerland? Well, that depends.
Depending on where you want to spend your money you could spend as little as $60 USD a day on a tight backpacking budget. This budget would require you to couchsurf every night, cook all your food, do only free activities (there’s plenty), and avoid alcohol. You’d be traveling on a shoestring. It would be hard but not impossible.
Below is a chart of some suggested budgets based on different travel styles to help you plan out your spending. Prices are in CHF.
For reference, on a mid-range budget of around 200 CHF per day, you can stay in an Airbnb, eat out for a few meals, enjoy a few drinks, take the occasional taxi to get around, and do some paid tours and activities like visiting museums or going skiing.
On a “luxury” budget of 400 CHF or more per day, you can stay in a proper budget hotel, eat out for all your meals, drink more, take more taxis, and do whatever tours and activities you want.
How to Save Money in Switzerland
I kept a lot of my costs down because I don’t participate in many adventure activities and visited the country during a season when I could hike (a free activity). While I could have trimmed some expenses (gone in one direction, drank nothing, avoided that Starbucks in Geneva), I don’t believe that you should not do certain things simply for the sake of being cheap (live a little, right?).
Even if I had done ridesharing or Couchsurfing during my visit, I would have moved those extra savings into other activities. (Be frugal, not cheap is my travel philosophy. So, I think my budget was just right for the country.)
For those looking to keep costs low, here are ten high-impact ways to save money in Switzerland:
1. Use Couchsurfing
As in any destination, accommodation costs can eat up a big portion of your budget. To offset that, try 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. I put in 25 hosting requests in Geneva before I found someone to stay with.
2. Use BlaBlaCar
Transportation is very expensive, even more so than accommodation. Most intercity trains are 50-100 CHF. That adds up! Instead, use the ride-sharing website BlaBlaCar to avoid the trains and meet locals.
This website lets you rideshare with people. Drivers with extra seats in their car will post where they’re going and you can pay a small fee to join them. Not only is it usually faster than the train or bus but you get to meet some interesting people along the way.
Though I only used it once, it saved me $50 USD and I met a cool French father and son team on their way to Germany (I got to practice my poor French):
A word of caution: be advised that many rides cancel. I had three rides canceled on me at the last minute (and one guy who just failed to even show up), so the service requires some flexibility. But when it works, it’s awesome. And it’s definitely something I want to use a lot more in Europe.
3. Cash in hotel points
Hotel reward points are a lifesaver in expensive destinations, where even hostels are expensive and the chance of getting a Couchsurfing host is small. Rack up a few hotel points by travel hacking before your trip and burn them while you stay in the country. Most hotel sign-up bonuses are worth enough points for a few free nights in a hotel, saving you hundreds of dollars right off the bat.
4. Don’t drink
Alcohol is not cheap here. Most beers are around 8 CHF and cocktails can cost between 12-15 CHF. Plus, who wants to hike while hungover? If you must drink, stick to hostel bars where you can enjoy cheap beer during happy hours.
5. Cook your own meals
With sit-down restaurants costing 25-40 CHF per meal, eating out in Switzerland can be costly. If you’re on a tight budget, buy groceries at the supermarket and cook your own meals. A week’s worth of basic staples like pasta, rice, bread, eggs, and produce costs around 65-95 CHF. Just be sure to book accommodation with a kitchen.
6. 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. Do the same and limit your meat consumption. Your wallet will thank you.
7. Eat lunch specials
If you are going to eat out, do so during lunch, when restaurants offer lunch specials. Moreover, stick to Chinese, Middle Eastern, Indian, and Thai restaurants for the best deals and biggest portions. 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 — this is the only way I eat when visiting countries as expensive as Switzerland. Cook breakfast, eat out lunch, cook dinner — you can’t go wrong!
8. Ask for discounts
Many museums and other tourist attractions offer student discounts so always ask if there are student discounts if you happen to be a student.
9. Get a city tourism card
Most cities have a city card or city pass that gets you discounts or free admission to museums and sights. Most of them also provide free transportation too. If you’re planning on doing a lot of sightseeing, these cards are really cost-effective.
For example, the Zurich Pass offers free local transportation as well as free admission to forty museums in the city for just 27 CHF.
10. Bring a water bottle – The tap water in Switzerland is safe to drink so bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your plastic use. LifeStraw is my go-to brand as their bottles have built-in filters to ensure your water is always clean and safe.
Switzerland is an expensive country to visit — there’s no doubt about it. But no matter your travel style or what you plan to do, following the tips above will allow you to visit Switzerland on a budget. It won’t be a bargain-basement trip but it won’t break the bank either, allowing you to maximize your spending as you explore this stunning, postcard-perfect destination.
Get Your In-Depth Budget Guide to Europe!
My detailed 200+ page guidebook is made for budget travelers like you! It cuts out the fluff found in other guides and gets straight to the practical information you need to travel while in Europe. It has suggested itineraries, budgets, ways to save money, on and off the beaten path things to see and do, non-touristy restaurants, markets, bars, safety tips, and much more! Click here to learn more and get your copy today.
Book Your Trip to Switzerland: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Use Skyscanner to find a cheap flight. They are my favorite search engine because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned!
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the biggest inventory and best deals. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. My favorite places to stay in the country are:
- Balmers Hostel (Interlaken)
- Zurich Youth Hostel (Zurich)
- City Hostel (Geneva)
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- Safety Wing (for everyone below 70)
- Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
- Medjet (for additional repatriation coverage)
Looking for the Best Companies to Save Money With?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use to save money when I’m on the road. They will save you money when you travel too.
Want More Information on Switzerland?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on Switzerland for even more planning tips!
Editor’s Note: Visit Switzerland paid for my one-way flight from Zurich to NYC as well as reimbursed me for expenses. They provided no logistical support or had any input on how or where I went. I traveled the same way I would anywhere else.