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Switzerland is universally known for chocolate, cheese, mountains, and… an expensive cost of living. ‘Switzerland on a budget’ is not a phrase you hear all that often, which has caused Switzerland to be almost completely overlooked by budget travelers everywhere. And that’s a total shame, because Switzerland is downright gorgeous.
I’m not going to lie, if I hadn’t grown up with a Swiss grandma and recently procured my own Swiss passport, Switzerland probably wouldn’t have been at the top of my list. Its reputation for being expensive almost scared me off from going over my spring break this year – and I had been longing to return for the last 10 years. But in the end, I’m so glad I decided to go.
I also think I did a pretty good job of traveling Switzerland on a budget.
All in all, I spent just over $1,000 including flights from Scotland and a Eurail pass for 10 days in Switzerland.
That measures out to almost exactly $100 dollars a day which, okay, isn’t great. But if you take out the flights and the Eurail pass (which for me was a Christmas gift, and I’m guessing that a lot of people wanting to travel Switzerland on a budget are doing a big European trip and so the cost of the pass goes into the overall budget), you can bring your per-day expenses all the way down to just under $65!
In the grand scheme of things, that’s really not so terrible. And stick with me, because I also have a few things to say about what I could have done different to bring my costs down even more.
Side note: if you’re not interested in the nitty-gritty breakdown of what I spent in Switzerland, you can skip straight to my Tips for Traveling Switzerland on a Budget at the end of this post!
So, where exactly did all of this money go? Let me break it down for you!
Switzerland on a Budget
I bought return tickets on EasyJet from Edinburgh to Geneva for £57.80 or $74.61. I didn’t actually end up using the outgoing leg of these flights because I changed my itinerary to include four days in Paris with friends, but for the sake of simplicity I’m just going to include these flights in the cost of traveling Switzerland.
If you’re traveling from somewhere else in Europe, then budget airlines are a great option for getting to Switzerland for a cheap. Otherwise, start checking out flights early and keep track of them through Google Flights‘ Price Tracker to be alerted when the price drops. This is what I always do (even when I’m planning trips within Europe on budget airlines!).
By far the biggest cost of my time in Switzerland was my Eurail pass at $271 for a 5 travel days in two months Germany-Switzerland select pass. Fortunately, this was a Christmas present from my Dad, so it wasn’t an actual expense for me (Hallelujah!).
Unfortunately, a one country Eurail pass for Switzerland doesn’t exist (but maybe if enough of us start bugging them it’ll happen!), so you’ll have to choose a neighboring country to get yourself a two country select pass. Or just go for the global pass if you’re planning a big Europe trip!
If you’re lucky enough to be a European resident of a country other than Switzerland (you can’t travel on an Interrail pass within your own country, which is why I had to travel on my American passport and a Eurail pass), then you CAN buy a one country Interail pass for Switzerland, which start at €90 for 3 travel days in one month.
A Swiss Travel Pass or a rental car are two other options for budget transportation in Switzerland.
My in-country transportation costs (outside of the Eurail pass) were pretty minimal. I walked almost everywhere, only buying a train ticket up to Uetliberg mountain for CHF8.80 ($9.11) and a transportation day pass in Zurich for CHF8.80 ($9.11) for a grand total of CHF17.60 or ($18.22)
Transportation Total: $74.61 (return flights) + $271 (Eurail Pass) + $18.22 (In-country transportation) = $363.83
Accommodation was easily my biggest expense in Switzerland. Even though hostels can be a really great way to travel on a budget, a simple bed in a dorm room can cost upwards of CHF30 in Switzerland – often without a lot of the cool amenities and social atmosphere hostels are becoming known for. But they’re definitely still the cheapest way to get a bed for the night, so that’s where I stayed.
Accommodation Total: $76.64 ($38.32 x 2 nights in Bern) + $110.25 ($36.75 x 3 nights in Lucerne) + $79.47 ($39.87 x 2 nights in Zurich) + $68.36 ($34.18 x 2 nights in Geneva) = $334.99
I cooked for myself for almost every single meal in Switzerland, which was one really great advantage of staying in a hostel. Groceries are of course more expensive in Switzerland than many other places, but cooking for yourself is definitely cheaper than eating out every meal.
In fact, I managed to eat in Switzerland for just $11 a day!
Food Total: $29.43 (Groceries in Bern) + $19.36 (Groceries in Lucerne) + $12.91 (Gelato and candied almonds in Lucerne) + $24.83 (Groceries in Zurich) + $12.91 (Panini in Geneva) = $112.35
This was easily the part that I could have done much better at budgeting. I fell into paying a lot of money for a lot of museums that I didn’t actually like that much. But I digress.
In one day in Bern, I spent $18.12 on two different museums – $4.66 at the Einstein House and $13.46 at the Bern Historical Museum.
My first day in Lucerne was a big one, as I did a day trip to hike Mount Rigi. I spent $17.09 on boats from Lucerne to Vitznau and Weggis back to Lucerne, and $32.41 for a round trip with Rigi Bahnen. That’s a total of $49.50 for one day, which wasn’t the best for my wallet but was super worth it.
Side note: I could have also included these costs in the transportation section, but I decided to include them in entertainment because the journey was like 3/4 of the reason why this day was so great!
In the actual city of Lucerne, I spent $26.92 at various museums spread over two days – $6.21 at the Kunstmuseum Lucerne, $8.28 at the Lucerne Historical Museum, and $12.43 at the Glacier Garden.
Zurich was another big one in the entertainment cost department. I spent $19.57 on a ticket for Die Fledermaus at the Neumarkt Theatre, $6.21 tipping my guide at Free Walk Zurich, $15.53 for a Ghost Tour, $20.71 for entrance to the Osiris Special Exhibit at the Museum Rietberg, and $19.68 for entrance to the Zurich Zoo for a total of $81.70 over two and a half days. Yikes. Definitely could have done better there.
I actually spent absolutely no money on entertainment in the one day I spent in Geneva! Score!
Entertainment total: $18.21 (Bern) + $49.50 (Mount Rigi) + $26.92 (Lucerne) + $81.70 (Zurich) = $176.24
What I Could Have Done Better
Easily one of the biggest things I could have done when it came to lowering my expenses would have been to visit less museums. Not only were these expensive, but I actually didn’t enjoy most of them. I probably would have been much happier keeping my money and spending more time wandering around the towns and cities I was visiting. If I had been in more hiking-centric areas (which is the goal for the next time I visit) this would have been a lot easier because nature is almost always free!
Another thing I probably could have saved money on was accommodation – either by CouchSurfing or traveling with a partner and splitting the costs of an Airbnb. Since it was my first ever solo trip though, I wasn’t comfortable CouchSurfing, and I didn’t have a partner to split costs with!
Tips for Traveling Switzerland on a Budget
Travel in the off season
As always, traveling in the off season generally means saving some money. For Switzerland, the off seasons are spring and fall.
Go for budget accommodation
Hostels, Airbnb, and CouchSurfing are your friends while you’re in Switzerland! Anything else is astronomically priced.
Cook your own meals
Restaurants in Switzerland are ridiculous. If you want to eat out, your wallet is going to cry. Instead, stay somewhere with a kitchen (like a hostel or an Airbnb) and cook your own food! You can definitely still try some of that famous cheese and chocolate – just do you best to cook for yourself as much as you can.
Visit fewer museums… hike more!
All in all, my experience with Swiss museums wasn’t the greatest. Unless there’s one that you’re absolutely dying to see, you’re far better off sticking to free activities – like wandering around the city or hiking. Switzerland is famous for its mountains, after all!
Visit fewer places
Trains are pretty much the only public transportation option in Switzerland, and they’re expensive! The less places you visit, the less money you’ll have to spend on trains. Plus, traveling slowly generally means that you spend less money!
Invest in a discount card
Traveling on a Eurail/Interail pass is by FAR the cheapest way to travel by train in Switzerland. There are also several other discount cards, such as the Half Fare Card and the Swiss Travel Pass. You can learn more about all of these options from Rick Steves.
Make use of free walking tours
Free Walk Switzerland has free walking tours all over Switzerland. Just leave a tip at the end if you really enjoyed yourself!
So there you have it! If you follow these tips, I think that a travelling Switzerland on a budget of $60 a day (including train transportation between cities) is more than possible!
While it’s certainly not the cheapest place in the world to visit, Switzerland is absolutely beautiful and so worth the money – and I’m not just saying that because I’m partial.
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