How expensive is Switzerland to visit? This must be one of the questions I hear the most, from friends and relatives to mere acquaintances, since I moved here almost three years ago. So I decided to put together some tips to visit Heidi’s land without breaking the bank.
Because Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries in the World for tourists, but it is also one of the most beautiful and really worth visiting. And yes, prices can be extremely high, but it’s also possible to find good deals if you know where to look and plan in advance.
Getting here. Dozens of low-cost airlines fly daily to and from Switzerland’s seven airports, especially the three main ones: Zurich, Geneva and Basel. So book your flight in advance and you are most likely to find a good price. You can also take advantage of Switzerland’s strategic position in central Europe and use SkipLagged for your flight search. I haven’t try it yet, but they claim to be better at finding cheap flights than any other website by exposing secrets of the industry. The concept behind Skiplagged is something controversial known as hidden-city, where your final destination is actually a stop-over and you simply leave the airport and skip the second leg of your flight.
Accommodation. Use Couchsurfing or Airbnb. Couchsurfing allows you to find free accommodation all over the world as well as host people in your own house. However keep in mind that the point here is not only to get a free bed (or couch for that matter) but also to meet new people and make new friends from different cultures. So some interaction with your hosts or guests will be expected. Airbnb, on the other hand, is not free but offers unique places to stay from local hosts in more than 190 countries and for very reasonable prices. I’ve tried both and can really recommend it.
Getting around. The swiss public transport system is one of the best and safest in the world. The bad news is that it’s not cheap. You can get literally everywhere in Switzerland by train, bus, tram or boat. But it will cost you a good part of your travel budget. So it’s in your best interest to plan ahead. Depending on the length of your stay it might be a good idea to buy a Swiss Travel Pass, which allows you to travel by rail, road and waterway throughout the whole of Switzerland and includes free admission to more than 480 museums. If you are travelling with other people, you should consider renting a car though. All in all, you will save money and have more flexibility to travel.
If you are planning a shorter stay, most cities have a travel pass like the ZürichCard, which offers unlimited travel on the local public transportation and discounts in museums, stores, city tours and other activities. Cities in Switzerland are relatively small, so exploring by foot or bike is also a good and cheaper option. Zurich even has a free bicycle rental service all year round.
Eating and drinking. The two main swiss grocery stores (Coop and Migros) have restaurants and takeaways, where you can buy a hot meal for very reasonable prices. Street food (make sure to try the traditional cervelat), as well as some pizzerias, Indian, Lebanese or Thai places are also inexpensive choices. You can also skip the drinks when eating out, since these are usually the most expensive item on the menu. Some places, like Hitlt (a must eat restaurant in Zurich if you are a vegetarian like me), even encourage this by having fountains with free tap water.
Speaking of water, you can find public drinking fountains of mineral water from the Alps almost everywhere in Switzerland. Free of charge.
What to do. Contrary to popular belief, there are free things to do and see in Switzerland. Here are a few suggestions:
- One of the best marked hiking nets in the world, with 68.000 kilometers of hiking and walking trails (free)
- Cathedrals and churches all over Switzerland (free; climbing the towers may be charged)
- Parliament building, in Bern (free guided tours when parliament is not in session)
- Omega museum, in Biel/Bienne (free)
- Maison Travel, in Geneva (free admission to the collection)
- Johanna-Spyr-Museum, in Hirzel (free)
- Geneva and Basel city sponsored museums (free on first Sunday of every month)
- Kunsthaus Zurich (free admission to the collection on Wednesdays)
- Olympic Museum, in Lausanne (free admission to the gardens, including the Olympic fire)
- MAPS Züri Agenda (free or low cost cultural activities in Zurich)
So what are you waiting for? Start planning your trip to Switzerland and let me know if you have any further questions or suggestions to add to this list.
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