Consistently rated as one of the most expensive countries in Europe, Switzerland is somewhere you’ll probably want to avoid if spending $12 on a beer, $35 for a meal and $100 per night for a cheap hotel is something that scares you.
Knowing how to visit Switzerland on a budget should give you the confidence to visit one of Europe’s most picturesque places without having to worry each day about how you’re going to afford the flight home.
Being smart with your purchases, planning ahead and sticking to a personal budget will enable you to admire and experience all of what Switzerland has to offer.
Keep in mind that there is no way around it – Switzerland IS an expensive place to visit and you’ll probably spend more here than anywhere else you plan on travelling, but with the stunning natural beauty, fairy-tale landscapes and clean, modern cities I think it’s definitely worth it.
Daily Costs to Visit Switzerland
If you’re planning on spending time travelling between the major Swiss cities like Zurich, Geneva and Bern along with visiting some of the best natural areas like Interlaken, Zermatt and the Alps, you should expect to spend anywhere between USD $60 and $100 per day if you stick to a tight budget.
This amount will vary depending on where you’re staying, if you’re traveling alone or with a partner, how much you’re spending on food, how you’re getting around and whether or not you’re partying and drinking alcohol.
Obviously, the best ways to keep costs down are to avoid drinking and making an effort to eat at grocery stores or local restaurants rather than paying for higher-priced and more expensive meals at traditional eateries. Transportation can also eat up a lot of your budget and I recommend planning ahead to find the best deals and the most affordable ways of getting around.
OK, now that I’ve covered some of the basics let’s take a look at the details on how you can travel around Switzerland in an affordable manner.
How to Visit Switzerland on a Budget and Not Go Broke
The most important way to avoid overspending and paying more than you have to is to make a solid effort to keep your costs down.
This might mean avoiding going out to the bar every night with your friends, eating locally rather than going to restaurants and finding more affordable transportation and accommodation options.
Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t ever go out to party or eat somewhere nice but it’s up to you what you want to spend money on and if you want to spend as little as possible while still enjoying yourself in Switzerland it’s a good idea to avoid areas and settings where spending money is a must.
One of the biggest expenses for most travelers, even in more affordable cities and countries, is accommodation.
Finding somewhere to spend the night in Switzerland isn’t going to be cheap. For a starting point, most hostels begin charging for a bed in a dorm at around $30-$50 per night.
If you want to stay in a hotel or even an AirBnb you’re going to have pay anywhere between $60 and $100 per night.
These nightly costs can really cut into your daily budget and it’s not that enjoyable to shell out such a large sum of money just for a place to spend the night.
Thankfully, there are a few different ways that you can save money on accommodation even if you’re planning on staying at a hostel, hotel or using an AirBnb.
Hostels usually offer the cheapest nightly rate whenever you’re traveling. If you want to stay in a hostel I recommend booking as far in advance as you can.
I always use Booking.com to find places to stay and compare rates and if you’re booking more than 4-6 months before your trip there are usually plenty of options to choose from.
The longer you wait the less likely you’ll be able to take advantage of a cheap hostel because they’ll already have been booked up by budget savvy travelers.
If you’re traveling with a partner than staying in hotels sometimes cost the same per person, or is even cheaper, then staying in a hostel. Outside of the city center and closer to natural areas like the Alps you can sometimes find hotel rooms between $50 per night and $80 per night.
For a single traveler these prices probably aren’t so great but if you are traveling with a partner and splitting costs you’re looking at spending only $25-$40 per night for a hotel stay.
Again, I recommend booking early and comparing prices using Booking.com to get an idea of the best rates available. Also, the further outside of the city center you stay the more reasonable the prices will be so keep that in mind when you’re looking for a hotel room to book.
Usually AirBnb offers some of the best nightly rates when it comes to accommodation for traveling but in Switzerland I didn’t find this to be the case.
Many of the rooms and entire apartments that I found, especially in major cities and close to the most popular natural attractions, were actually more expensive than staying in a hotel.
Maybe I was unlucky or just having trouble finding somewhere affordable but I didn’t have any luck at all when it came to cheap accommodation in Switzerland on AirBnb.
However, if you really want to stay in an AirBnb apartment for an affordable price you’ll want to start by looking for private rooms, rather than entire apartments, and messaging the host directly to see if they’re able to offer any sort of discount for the timeframe you’re planning on visiting.
Free/Cheapest Accommodation – Couchsurfing
Be sure to start looking for a place as early as you can and message a wide range of hosts to see what’s available.
Even though it’s a free place to stay I still recommend bringing along a small gift, like a bottle of wine or box of chocolates, just to show your appreciation.
Another big pain point when it comes to traveling in Switzerland on a budget is transportation.
Getting around is expensive, especially if you’re having to rely on public transportation, taxis and transfers.
Personally, I’d suggest renting a car, especially if you’re traveling with a partner as this will allow you to see more of the country and splitting the cost of the rental/gas is likely to end up cheaper than having to pay for train and bus tickets.
Taking the Train
Taking the train is one of the easiest ways of getting between cities and to all of the natural areas you want to check out.
However, the train can be quite pricey and you can expect to spend anywhere between $40-$100 for a one-way trip depending on where you’re going.
If you’re planning on traveling somewhere new in the country every day these costs can really add up and are really going to come into your daily budget, likely causing you to even exceed the budget that you set aside.
If you have to take the train always try to compare prices online.
Alternatively, you could try taking the bus but the bus system in Switzerland isn’t nearly as developed as the trains and you’ll have a much harder time making connections.
Getting Around Major Cities
When you’re trying to get around and visit the different sights in cities like Zürich, Bern and Geneva your best bet is to explore on foot rather than using public transportation or taking taxis.
Many of the Swiss cities are very walkable and public transportation can be quite pricey compared to other cities in Europe so it’s always a good idea to just walk around on foot, enjoy the fresh air and get exercise while you’re exploring a new place.
Free Transportation: BlaBlaCar
Without a doubt, the most cost-effective way of getting around Switzerland is by taking advantage of BlaBlaCar.
If you’ve never heard of it, BlaBlaCar is a ridesharing service/website/app that pairs you with local drivers who are already driving the same route that you’re planning on taking.
You can use the website or the app to see a list of all the drivers, where they are going, their driving reviews and any of the requirements they might have.
You’ll be able to find either free rides or rides for an extremely competitive price compared to what you’d pay if you were taking the train.
Similar to when you’re using couchsurfing you’ll want to contact a variety of different drivers just to make sure you’re not too reliant on a single person who might not show up or cancel on you right before you’re ready to go.
If you’re flexible and open to meeting new people then BlaBlaCar is definitely one of the most affordable and funnest ways of getting around Switzerland.
Eat In and Avoid Restaurants/Alcohol
The next area of your budget where you can still keep costs low is food and drink.
Eating out, especially at restaurants, is very expensive in Switzerland and if you’re looking to stick to a budget you’ll want to avoid visiting any restaurants.
Sure, trying local cuisine is one of the best parts of traveling but sometimes you just have to suck it up and make the most of what you can find at a grocery store or local bakery.
If you’re comfortable spending anywhere between $15 and $40 for a single meal then of course you’ll have no problem finding options for meals, but if you’re looking to stick to your budget then you want to visit grocery stores and cook your own food whenever you can.
Surprisingly, groceries in Switzerland aren’t as expensive as I thought.
Coming from Toronto I was surprised to see that most of the grocery store prices were comparable to what I pay back in Canada and eating in/cooking your own food turned out to be one of the most effective ways of keeping costs down.
Also, there are plenty of local bakeries where you can find delicious breads, pastries and small snacks that are quite filling if you’re ever hungry and you need something to eat on the go.
Cooking abroad, especially at a hostel or for your couchsurfing host can be a fun experience but if you don’t want to cook there are still plenty of options when it comes to eating. You can always just have a quick picnic with some fresh bread, deli meat, vegetables, fruits, spreads and anything else that you can find that doesn’t need to be cooked.
While it’s much nicer to eat out every night when you’re in a cheaper place like Poland, Spain or Hungary it’s not as practical when you’re traveling somewhere expensive and it can really take a lot out of your daily budget if you’re eating out for three meals a day.
Along with cooking your own food or eating in you’ll also want to avoid drinking any liquor or beer.
Yes, I know, many people want to party in a new place and getting drunk somewhere that you never been is pretty awesome but liquor and beer in Switzerland is very expensive and I don’t find it to be worth it just to enjoy myself a little more for a few nights.
For example, the absolute cheapest I found a 0.5L of beer was about $6 with the average somewhere around $10 to $12 depending on where I went. Liquor and cocktails are just as, if not more, expensive but there are still a few places that you can find cheaper drinks during happy hour if that’s something you’re interested in.
If you really must drink then wine is probably your best bet as it’s the most affordable and best value alcohol option.
If you really want to drink then go ahead and enjoy yourself but keep in mind that to get drunk, visit a bar or club and spend the night drinking with your friends is going to cost at least $30-$50 and that really adds up after you do it two or three times.
Attractions and Activities
It’s hard to give an exact price on what you’ll spend when it comes to attractions and activities throughout Switzerland.
It really depends on whether what you want to do includes visiting museums and galleries or if you want to head into the Alps and check out some glaciers.
The reason that it’s a good idea to stick to a tight budget when you’re visiting is that so that when you do happen to come across something really cool that you want to do, like hike up to an alpine lake or check out a new gallery, it won’t be as painful to the wallet and it won’t take so much out of your budget.
Some of the best things to do are really expensive, like taking a cable car up to the Matterhorn, sometimes costing $100s of dollars, so it’s always beneficial to plan ahead, set aside a bit of money to do something really cool and once-in-a-lifetime so that you don’t have to worry about the cost and just spend time enjoying the experience.
Like I mentioned in the beginning, there is no getting around it, Switzerland is a very expensive place to visit and you’re just going to have to deal with the fact that nothing is going to be about affordable or budget friendly when you’re visiting.
Overall, I recommend setting aside between $60 and $100 per day during your visit. If you stick to a tight budget and you make an effort to spend as little as possible you could get away with spending the lower end of this budget range but if you’re not careful and you’re careless with your expenses you could easily exceed the higher end of this budget range.
As long as you practice some of the different tips and methods that I laid out up above you’ll be able to more comfortably enjoy everything that Switzerland has to offer its visitors without having to worry about how broken you’re going to be when you get home.
Above all, if there’s something you really want to do – just do it. Don’t let a tight budget or a high price keep you from doing something that you really want to experience.
In the end, travel is all about creating those once-in-a-lifetime and memorable experiences and you might think of how much something was for a few days but you’ll remember the experience for the rest of your life.