Switzerland is an expensive travel destination. But how expensive is it really? Is travel to Switzerland completely out of your budget? Or is it possible to travel to Switzerland on a budget?
I list my full 2-week Switzerland trip budget and provide you with tried and tested budget travel tips for Switzerland.
Can you travel Switzerland on a tight budget? Check my tips to help you manage your travel budget for Switzerland
How to travel Switzerland on a budget
Assuming you have a strict budget and you want to know how to get more bang for your buck when you travel in Switzerland, you’ve come to the right place.
Here are my top tips to set a reasonable budget for your Switzerland trip and how to stretch your travel funds to the max!
Start planning your Switzerland budget trip early
The sooner you know how much money you need, the better. That way, you can save up as much as you can for your trip and set a feasible travel budget.
It also allows you time to research budget options and discounts. When you book well in advance, you’re more likely to find a good deal on accommodation. The Switzerland budget hotels are sold out first so booking last minute can be more expensive than your budget can handle.
Main planning tip: Start as early as possible with the planning process. That way, you can set a travel budget and save up the money for your Switzerland vacation.
Pick your season wisely
Switzerland is beautiful year-round and there is no wrong season to visit Switzerland. But one season will be more expensive than the other.
Prime months to visit Switzerland are December to February and July and August. If you travel in the shoulder season, for example May or September, you can enjoy the beauty of Switzerland on a budget price.
Hotels will have different rates for winter and summer, and cheaper prices for the lower season. Same applies for tickets to museums and transport up into the mountains, for example the Jungfraujoch.
Main budget tip: Avoid the high season and see if the shoulder season works better for your budget.
Make sure to check the fine print and dates that apply to your situation.
Research discount options carefully
I have never seen such a plethora of different discount options as in Switzerland. It seems the Swiss know they are an expensive bunch and they do their best to offer all kinds of price reductions and discounts for different groups.
For example, students, elderly and disabled people can get a discount on nearly anything. But also check certain discount cards for transport, like the Swiss Travel Pass, Swiss half fare pass and Eurail options for anyone.
But also check the menu for children’s discounts. And some restaurants offer discounted menu prices at certain hours of the day. Hotels can also offer a 5+2 nights free stay on certain rooms. And the list goes on and on.
Main money-saving tip: Always check the discount options for everything you have to pay for. You might be eligible for a discount without even knowing it.
Where to stay in Switzerland to save money?
A huge travel expense in Switzerland is your accommodation. Of course, you can try couchsurfing or try to make local friends and stay with them. But that is not a suitable solution for everyone. If you’re like me and you’d like to pay for your accommodation, then there are a few choices to make that can reduce your travel expenses for accommodation in Switzerland.
Location Location Location!
Just as with prime real estate, location is everything and is a huge factor in pricing. Same applies for where you’ll visit in Switzerland. Switzerland can be divided in different areas and each area not only has their own language but also their own price level. So it seems.
For example, the French speaking part of Switzerland, around Lake Geneva was far more expensive for hotels, food and transport options than the area around Lugano in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland.
Also around the bigger cities of Bern and Zürich, it seems there were hardly any budget options for hotels, whereas Basel and Lucerne had more variety in the price level. Also, the area around St. Gallen in the north-east of Switzerland, seemed to have more variety in hotel prices.
Hotels vs self-catered apartments or AirBnb
Most of Switzerland’s cities are packed with luxury hotels aimed at the business traveler (in Geneva, Zürich, Lugano, Bern) or boutique style hotels for romantic (and expensive) get-a-ways.
They offer a mini-bar with overpriced nuts and drinks and tea and coffee makers. But no options for self-catering. Luckily, Switzerland has a wide range of different accommodation types that offer self-catering.
Although sometimes the price for 1 hotel night will be slightly cheaper than an apartment, when staying in a hotel, you’re forced to eat out for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
And here is where you can save some big bucks.
If you stay in an apartment, caravan, hostel with a kitchen or anything to store food and make an creative hot meal, you’ll save some serious bucks.
Budget tip: Look into different styles of accommodation. Although they might be slightly more expensive in their price per night, you’ll save a lot of money if you’re not forced to go out for food and drinks.
I used this website to book nearly all my hotels and apartments in Switzerland.
Stay away from major tourist sites and city centers
If you travel in Switzerland, you can save some serious money if you don’t stay at the 4-star hotel opposite the main train station. Consider looking at one or 2 villages further afield and base yourself from there.
This way, the price per night will be lower, you might find cheaper food opportunities in a smaller town and your overall spending will be lower.
Before you decide, make sure to check prices for additional transport costs and if there is any transport available. If you have your own mode of transport, then this isn’t an issue.
For example, in Lucerne we could only find pricey hotel options or dingy apartments. I found a lovely apartment with a self-catering option only 15 minutes away by train in the village of Eschenbach.
The village has a train station with frequent train services to Lucerne, it has 2 cheap supermarket options and more affordable shops and take-away options.
As we had a full apartment with a kitchen (and washer) we took full advantage of home cooked meals.
Same applied for Lugano. We found a few budget hotel options but they all seemed to have something wrong with them. We finally settled for a hotel room with kitchen and free laundry service which was near a bus stop and train station and several cheap supermarkets. Win win on all fronts.
Main budget tip for accommodation in Switzerland: Get off the beaten path and consider less popular areas in Switzerland to base yourself and to save some money.
Money saving tips for food & drinks in Switzerland
Eating out is expensive in Switzerland. The Swiss take great pride in their food and the way they prepare it. The service industry is a real job and people make a career out of making and serving food.
As fertile, farmable land is sparse in Switzerland, Swiss grown food is more expensive than in the rest of Europe.
Add this to high prices for real estate of the restaurant or food production facility.
Top it off with standard wages for servers, waiters and cooks and add in some Swiss taxes and you’ll have the perfect recipe for a pricy bill at the end of your meal.
However, you do have to eat when you go to Switzerland and I highly recommend trying at least once a Swiss dish like cheese fondue, raclette, chocolates and many more.
But where can you save some money? Here are my tips for eating in Switzerland on a budget.
Forgo of any alcoholic beverages.
Beer, wine and hard liquor is relatively more expensive than food. Leave the cocktails and bottles of wine at the dinner table and just opt for a glass of wine or sparkling water.
If you still want to try the Swiss wine or beers, opt for a single glass instead of a bottle or a six-pack. You’ll notice it instantly on your tap.
Self-cater instead of going out.
The prices for food and drinks in the supermarkets and shops are still considerably higher than in the rest of Europe, but it will still save you quite some bucks instead of going out.
Buy a 1.5 liter bottle of soda in the supermarket and fill up your own bottles to bring with you instead of ordering drinks and paying more than 4x the price.
If you travel with a family of 2 or 4, it is far less expensive to make a nice spaghetti with meatballs meal with a salad and desserts in your apartment then going out for dinner.
Meat and dairy products are relatively expensive in Switzerland. There is little room for cows to graze and pigs to roam, so a lot of meat will be imported from abroad. Adding a few extra francs to the bill.
Lunch specials and packed lunches.
If self-catering your meals is not an option, take advantage of nice lunch deals for a big meal half-way through the day. Many restaurants in the cities have lunch specials Monday to Thursday. These are set 3-course menus for a reasonable price.
Also roam the higher end supermarkets for lunch packets and lunch boxes. You can find a nice salad, wraps, sandwiches or hot and cold pasta meals in the local grocery store. Add a bottle of your favorite drink and sit outside in the park and enjoy your meal!
Go to budget supermarkets for your home cooked meals.
Switzerland has a range of different supermarket chains that cater to different budgets.
On the higher end, you’ll find Migros and Coop. But for the same products, we found Denner to be much cheaper for everyday products.
Also the Lidl stores and Aldi stores can be a huge money saver for daily grocery shopping.
We took full advantage of this. As half of our accommodations were self-catered, we could buy groceries and still eat like kings and queens every night for a fraction of our budget if we would go out to eat at night.
Budget meal options for eating out.
If you do decide to go out for a meal in Switzerland, here are some budget tips and options:
- Pizza and pasta is always a relatively budget option compared to haute cuisine
- Kebab shops offer a nice cheap quick bite or full meal
- Across Switzerland, you’ll find several pubs. Either English or Irish, they offer nice pints of beer with a wide selection of affordable pub grub. We had a lovely meal at the pub in Montreux.
- Of course, you have to try the fondue but portion sizes are quite generous, so don’t over order.
- Tap water in Switzerland is off one of the best qualities. So feel free to ask for table water with your meal.
Divide and conquer your meals.
Ok. This sounds odd. But what I’m trying to say is: don’t skimp on everything, but be selective with your spending.
For example, we took the railway up Mt. Pilatus near Lucerne. I could guess that one of their restaurants would be super expensive for lunch. So we brought our own sandwiches for lunch and we refilled 2 small bottles with sodas at home. But we did go into the restaurant and enjoy a cup of hot chocolate and we shared a massive piece of chocolate cake.
This way, we didn’t go hungry and still had the experience of treating ourselves to something delicious at a glorious location.
Main money-saving tip for food & drinks in Switzerland: Don’t follow your normal eating and drinking routine but look for alternatives and budget options.
How not to go broke on activities in Switzerland?
That is a tough one. Switzerland is filled to the brim with amazing things to do, awesome scenery to see and mountains to conquer. But it all comes at a hefty price tag.
In my opinion, you don’t come to Switzerland to skip all the amazing train rides and amazing mountain adventures. But how to enjoy them and not go broke?
If you followed my previous advice, you started planning (and saving up) as early as possible. You selected the right season to visit Switzerland and found ways to save money on accommodation and food. Then there is room in your budget for some amazing activities and sightseeing!
Find the right transport discount card for you!
Most activities in Switzerland involve some sort of transport option. From epic train journeys like the Bernina Express or the Glacier Express to breathtaking mountain rides like Mt. Pilatus and the Jungfraujoch.
A lot of our budget was allocated for transport around Switzerland and up the mountains.
And Switzerland has many different discount types to make travel and transport more affordable.
For example, Swiss half-fare cards for the train. This is a discount card that you buy and then you get half-price on all train tickets with the Swiss railway system.
Or a regional pass, like the Lucerne district pass. It offers a lot of discounts in the area of Lucerne.
As the options are various, it is impossible to mention all of them here. Just make sure to research if the card is value for money for you.
Research duration of the pass and check what things are included with the pass and how much discount you get.
Use the Swiss railway system to explore free things to do in Switzerland.
As we had a Swiss railway card, we could travel for 10 days in Switzerland, without buying any train tickets. We carefully selected these travel days and made the most of them to see more of Switzerland.
For example, on our travel day from Basel to Lucerne, we stopped at Augusta Raurica to see the Roman Ruins near Basel. As they are free to visit, it was a budget activity in Switzerland I really wanted to do.
On another day, we took the train from Lucerne to visit the city of St. Gallen and the nearby Rhine Falls. Spectacular views across the river from the fort for a few Swiss Francs. A real budget activity to do!
You don’t need round trips for every journey
They say, the best things in life are free and sometimes this can even be true in Switzerland. Hiking and being outside is usually free in Switzerland. But can also be super exhausting. So we did the divide and conquer rule again.
We took the funicular up the San Salvatore mountain near Lugano and decided to hike down. Of course, we could have taken the round trip, which is obviously more expensive. To still have an amazing experience, but also save some money, we decide to go up with the train and hike down. Half the costs saved and we had an enjoyable hike in a beautiful area!
We did the same thing in Montreux. We decided to walk from our hotel along the shore of Lake Geneva to Chillon Castle. As we enjoyed the lake views and lovely Swiss gardens and we also saved some money compared to taking the round trip bus or even a taxi!
Free things to do in Switzerland
And of course, the best way to save money is to find free things to do in Switzerland.
Like the aforementioned hiking, that is always free, but how about a visit to some of Switzerland’s grand churches, like the Cathedral of St. Gallen?
Or go explore some of the free museums in Switzerland, like CERN. And, an insider secret, some chocolate factories, and cheese factories also count as a museum.
You can tour the factory, learn about Swiss cheese and chocolate, and get some additional tastings in the end. Not all tastings are 100% free, but for a few Francs, you can fill your belly with cheese and learn about Swiss cheese. Win-win if you ask me!
Also, check if your hotel offers the city’s free transport pass. Cities like Lugano and Montreux have a free transport pass to get around the city if you stay in an official hotel.
Currency conversion and bank fees
I have to admit, as an avid traveler, I do not pay attention to bank fees and currency costs. As I travel mostly in Europe, and pay with Euro, this usually is not a problem for me.
But it was in Switzerland. With the Swiss Franc, each transaction costed a little money. In the end, I got so sick of thinking about it, I just paid everything with my credit card and threw away the bank statement in the end. Not smart, I know.
We did withdrew some cash from the ATM and I recommend to get a big amount at once and pay as you go.
My main tip to enjoy Switzerland on a budget
Be honest with yourself. If you have little to no money to spend, then save Switzerland for another time. It is expensive and if you fuss too much about every dime while you’re in Switzerland, you will not have a good time.
I researched all the costs before we went to Switzerland and found some money saving tips which I was happy about. In the end, we still went out to dinner and enjoyed Swiss cuisine. And we made home packed lunches and cooked meals at our apartment which we also enjoyed.
We splurged on some expensive activities and tried to find some cheap alternatives or even free things to do when possible. In the end, it definitely was not a Switzerland budget trip because we spent a lot of money during our 2 weeks in Switzerland but in my opinion: it was all worth it!
How much did we exactly spend in Switzerland?
In order to answer that question, I always break it down into different categories. Like transport to get to Switzerland and transport cost in Switzerland. But also accommodation expenses and our budget for food and drinks.
We are a couple without kids and we traveled in 2 weeks around the whole of Switzerland. We stayed maximum 3 nights in each place and we traveled by train. Our main goal of the trip was to experience as many scenic train rides in Switzerland as possible. Riding the rails in Switzerland was our main activity on most days.
Disclaimer: I was not paid or endorsed to write this article. All costs mentioned here, for myself and my partner, were paid by me.
We did get the train pass from Interrail for free but had to still pay the reservation fees ourselves. We were invited for a walking tour in Basel by the Basel Tourist office and we got an upgrade to a princess suite after paying the standard economy rate.
All the rest of my Switzerland trip budget came out of my own pocket. This post does contain affiliate links. If you decided to follow the link and book something or make a reservation, I’ll earn a small fee. This is at no extra cost to you.
Costs for Accommodation in Switzerland.
In total, we spent €1742 on accommodation for 15 nights.
This comes to an average price per night (for 2 persons) of €116
We stayed in city hotels, AirBnB’s (2x), guesthouse and luxury hotels with a sauna. The cheapest was €75 per night for a guesthouse with a kitchen. The most expensive was our final splurge in a luxury hotel with breakfast and sauna for €175 a night.
Below is a list of all the accommodation and location we used, their main features and the price per night:
- Rheinfelderhof Basel, city hotel with breakfast included, €96 per night
- Airbnb Eschenbach near Lucerne. Self-catering apartment 20 min by train from Lucerne for €99 per night
- Lugano Center Guesthouse, self-catering apartment-hotel with a laundry room for €75. Very basic.
- Hotel Steffani, The only Switzerland budget hotel in St. Moritz. We enjoyed the breakfast and spa facilities at this 4-star hotel but had a dorm-style room with a shared bathroom for €125. It was nearly the only budget option in this glitchy ski-resort.
- Airbnb Zermatt: amazing location for a fully fitted self-catering apartment. I wanted to move in and never leave again. At €106 per night, it was the best value for money we experienced and I highly recommend it.
- Royal Hotel & Spa Montreux: shore-side hotel with luxury breakfast. We booked a normal 2 person room for €140 a night but were upgraded to a princess suite.
- Arenas Lauberhorn Wengen: our splurge for this vacation. Jungfrau views, amazing breakfast, and spa facilities right in the mountains. For €174 a night, we had quite a basic room but with great views.
- Hotel Montana Zürich: We wanted a cheap option for the final night in Switzerland. It was located near the train station but at €143 a night quite pricey for the value.
Costs for transport to Switzerland
The whole goal of our trip was to explore Switzerland via train, so we didn’t want to fly to Switzerland. Obviously, this would be much faster and cheaper than taking the train, but at such a relatively short distance, it has a high Co2 emission that I could not justify.
Flights to Switzerland, for example, Zürich or Geneva are available for €99 from almost all major airports in Europe. Swiss Airlines and Lufthansa serve several destinations in Asia and America, so getting to Switzerland is never difficult.
We decided to take the train from the nearest train station in the Netherlands to Basel. The train journey took us 8 hours and would cost roughly €99 (booked in advance), per person in 2nd class.
As we had our Global Railpass, we used one of our train days to get to Switzerland.
A Global Railpass (Interrail for EU-citizens, Eurail for non-EU citizens) for 10 train days in 2 months time across Europe costs:
- Interrail: €361 pp in 2nd class and €481 pp in 1st class.
- Eurail: 461$ pp in 2nd class and 614$ pp in 1st class.
As we had the 1st class Rail Pass, we traveled comfortably by train, in 1st class from the Netherlands to Basel. On the last day in Switzerland, we traveled from Zürich to the Netherlands by 1st class train.
Check here what this travel pass would cost you. There are different discounts for people under 28, children and people over 60 years of age.
Costs for transport in Switzerland and entrance fees
Our main goal was to take as many scenic train rides in Switzerland as possible and we had the 10-day Global Railpass. As we used up 1 day to get to Switzerland and 1 day to return home, we had 8 train days left to explore Switzerland by train.
We managed to take the following scenic train journeys in Switzerland:
- Voralpen Express: Lucerne to St. Gallen via the Rhine Falls back to Lucerne.
- Gotthard Panorama Express: boat from Lucerne to Flüelen and panorama train to Lugano.
- Bernina Express: bus from Lugano to Tirano, panorama train to St. Moritz. Check out my Web Story here!
- Glacier Express: panorama train from St. Moritz to Zermatt
- Train from Zermatt to Montreux
- Chocolate train: vintage train to Broc and Gruyeres
- Golden Pass Line: panorama train from Montreux to Wengen and on the 2nd day we continued to Lucerne
All these train journeys in 1st class were included in the Rail Pass, but we did have to pay mandatory reservation fees. Obviously, the fee for 1st class is higher than 2nd class.
I paid € 420 in reservation fees for 2 persons. The reservation fee for the Glacier Express is seemingly absurd.
Is a rail pass worth it?
To answer the question if your desired railway card is worth it, you have to do the math. There are so many different discount cards for trains in Switzerland, you have to see if it actually will save you money.
In my case, I add up the different costs for tickets for the separate train tips below. We didn’t have to pay this, as we had the Global Rail Pass with 10 railways days:
- Train from The Netherlands to Basel: €140
- Voralpen Express to Rhine Falls and back to Lucerne: CHF198
- Gotthard Panorama Express: CHF153
- Bernina Express: CHF85 (without reservation fees)
- Glacier Express: CHF 268 (without reservation fees)
- Train from Zermatt to Montreux: CHF130
- Chocolate train: CHF99
- Golden Pass Line day 1: CHF93
- Golden Pass Line day 2: CHF58
- Train from Zürich to The Netherlands: €140
If you would have purchased single train tickets in 1st class for these train journeys, it would have cost CHF 1.084 + €280 = €1.287 for these 10 trips.
The Global Rail Pass also offered us numerous discounts up to 50% for certain other things we did, and we took smaller train trips on these travel days too. So the number only goes up.
And the Interrail card costs €481, we saved over €800 compared to buying regular tickets.
Other train rides and transport prices in Switzerland
On top of that, we also paid for train tickets and took scenic train rides. Some example costs for 2 persons:
- Train from Basel to Lucerne: €70
- Mt. Pilatus round trip: €80
- San Salvatore single trip: €30
- Sunnegga train in Zermatt to hike 5-seen Weg: €70
- Rochers de Naye near Montreux: €50
- Jungfrau train up the mountain: €285 (25% discount price)
- Other train tickets and bus tickets: €70
In nearly all the cases, the activities on top of the mountain were free. It was just a very expensive, but very scenic train ride that costs the money.
As these expenses fall partly into the transport category and partly in the entertainment category, it is a bit tricky to pin-point them to one category. I guess in Switzerland, the transport is entertainment.
To make matters complete, here are the other expenses for entrance fees and activities we did.
- Entrance to the St. Gallen Library: €20
- Entrance to viewpoint Rhine Falls: €10
- Chillon Castle: €12,50
As you can see, we didn’t spend that much on additional tours or activities. But you can add a food tour, guided city tour or panoramic wine tasting, hot air balloon ride, paragliding trip, and up your budget!
Costs for food and drinks in Switzerland
7 Out of 15 nights in Switzerland, we had our own kitchen and cooking facilities. I think we cooked our own dinner nearly every night.
Each morning, we made our breakfast and made a double amount and packed sandwiches for our lunch. On train days, we bought some nuts, crisps and some bottles of water and soda to take with us.
I know exactly what we spent on food and drinks, but I won’t bore you with an exact breakdown. Instead, I’ll give you some examples:
- Ice cream: 2x 2 scoops for CHF10
- Kebab dinner with soda: CHF 35
- 1 medium pizza and 1 burger with fries + sodas: CHF 59
- 2x Cola served cold: CHF9
- Cheese fondue for 1 and rösti in restaurant + drinks: CHF63
- 2x burgers at the pub with pints of beer: CHF58
- 2x cheese fondue with dessert and wine: CHF85
- 1 loaf of fresh bread + 2 croissants: CHF 6
- 1 beer on the train, served: CHF 6,40
At the time of writing, CHF 10 is €9,30 or $10.90 or GBP 8,44. Check for accurate exchange rates here.
Together with going out to eat and self-catering lunches, snacks, drinks and dinners bought in the budget supermarkets of Switzerland, we spent:
CHF 830 (€772 or $906 or GBP 700) for 2 persons for a 16-day trip.
That is an average of CHF 26 // €24 // $28 // GBP 22 per person per day.
Grand total costs for a 2-week train trip around Switzerland for 2 persons
Adding up all the costs, it was a freakishly expensive trip (until we went to Iceland and we managed to exceed this Switzerland trip).
We spent: CHF 4.972 // €4.624 // $5,420 // GBP 4.197
That brings it to the following amounts per person per day: CHF 155 // €144 // $169 // GBP 131
Breakdown of our Switzerland trip budget
21% of our expenses was for the Rail Pass to get to Switzerland and travel around Switzerland on the most luxurious train rides we could imagine. You can save nearly 33% if you choose a 2nd class train pass, instead of a 1st class train pass.
38% of our travel expenses in Switzerland were for accommodation. If we would have chosen cheaper hotels, the expenses for food would have been much higher. Of course, we could have saved money by staying in even cheaper accommodations throughout our stay, but we decided to balance things between basic hotels, AirBnB’s and luxury hotels.
23% of our Switzerland travel budget was for reservation fees to use the Rail Pass and additional bus tickets, train tickets and funicular rides up mountain passes. The costs for additional tours and entrance fees was very low, so let’s round these 2 categories up to 25% of our total travel budget.
If you add up the 21% of the budget for the Rail Pass, the whole costs for transport to and around Switzerland, make up nearly half of the budget. As you can see, if you stay in one place and don’t take all those scenic train rides, you’ll save a considerable amount (but where is the fun in that?)
16% of the travel budget is consumed for food and drinks. As we ate like kings, this feels like the category where we managed to save the most money.
Traveling Switzerland on a budget, is it possible?
As you can see from all the above examples, Switzerland is not for budget-travelers. But even if you have little money, you can make it last longer with my tips. I hope the insights into my travel expenses for Switzerland will help you, as a guide on what to expect for your daily Switzerland trip budget.
Do you set a travel budget when you travel? Are you considering visiting Switzerland but need to keep your spending in check? I hope my tips will help you travel Switzerland on a budget.